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My Secret Weapon to Make Fabric Behave

starch - secret sewing weaponStarch.


Simple. Cheap. Old-fashioned. Starch.

It has been crazy humid here this summer.

It’s beyond humid. It’s wet.

We had over 17 inches of rain in the first week of July – and we’ve continued to have heavy rains in the last few weeks. We usually get about five inches for the whole month.

My flour is clumpy. My cereal boxes are soggy. My salt is unsprinkleable. And my applique pieces won’t stay folded!


Five minutes after I press them they look like this.

It’s coming unfolded before I can even press all the pieces for one block!

The solution, my friends, is starch.

Look at the difference.

applique with starch

This is two days after I pressed it.

Starched folds stay folded.

I just use regular spray starch from the grocery store. Nothing fancy or expensive. And I think I’ve been working off this same can for over 10 years.

You can spray it on just before pressing, like I do in this video.

Or you can spray some into a small dish (like a little custard cup), wait for the foam to subside, then paint the liquid starch on with a paintbrush. If you do that you don’t have to paint the whole seam allowance – just make sure you get it right up against the freezer paper. That’s where the fold will be that you’re desperately trying to hold in place while you get the rest of the pieces for the block pressed.

I use both methods interchangeably. It depends on my mood, how many pieces I’m working on, my tolerance for mess that day, and how generally lazy I’m feeling.

If I’m only pressing a few pieces I just spray it on and ignore the mess from the overspray. The extra flakes of starch will brush right off my ironing board and wipe off my iron.

If I’m doing a whole bunch of pieces I’ll actually go downstairs and get a dish, then dig around for a paintbrush and use the paint-it-on method. I actually prefer that, but sometimes I’m too lazy to go to the extra trouble.

If you want to see the details of the machine applique technique I’m talking about here, click here to find all the tutorials about it in one handy dandy place.

But starch isn’t only useful for applique! That’s where I use it most often, but it’s great for holding any pressing. It’s especially useful for hemming – particularly if the fabric you’re trying to hem isn’t a crisp woven cotton. It can be really helpful in making slippery synthetic fabrics behave like a nice, obedient cotton. 🙂

Happy sewing!

Applique Wendi (with fabulous hat)



  1. Gramma Suzi SAYS...

    Spray starch is awesome. I once had to hem chiffon overlays on 6 dresses.
    spray starch saved my sanity.

  2. Gean SAYS...

    I love to look at quilting tutorials.

  3. I noticed you sometimes just spray it on, and sometimes paint it on. How do you choose which to do? I feel like just spraying it on. Is there a reason not to?

    • Honestly, it just depends on my mood. Just spraying it on is fast and easy – but it’s impossible to just spray that little edge so you get a lot of overspray and that can really build up on your ironing board cover. Painting it on gives you more control and makes less of a mess – but it’s slower and more fussy. Some days I’m not in the mood for mess – and some days I’m not in the mood for fussiness. 🙂