Thursday, May 15, 2014

Starch alternatives...your fabric's BFF?

There is a great debate in the quilting/sewing world on whether or not to use starch or a starch alternative when pressing your fabrics...almost as great a debate on using steam or no steam with your iron.
We could spend countless hours debating all the different starch options and weighing the pros and cons!  My purpose is to give you my take on how to sew a better bag.

Let's narrow down the field right off the bat..."Regular" aerosol starches (the kind you find at your grocery store in the laundry section) are not options for me.  Besides the 'chemically' smell, they leave a nasty starch "dandruff" on your fabrics.  That crispy flaky, stuff is for the birds!
Some people like to make their own starch/sizing agent by using things such as corn starch and water or vodka and water.  I'm gonna be honest, I'm not a chemist!  And most attempts I've had had at making crafty ingredients from scratch have been a miserable failure (ask me about my homemade play dough!!)  So I'll let the experts stick to the mixing and combining of potions!
Actual starch in ironing agents has been said to attract bugs (yeeeuck!) so I prefer starch alternatives..I'm going to focus on 2 brands that I use:

Flatter by Soak
Mary Ellen's Best Press

Both of these brands come in various scents (if you prefer a scent).  I like the scent-free and scentless nose is SUPER sensitive and I can't tolerate heavy perfumes and artificial scents.  I personally don't want my fabrics to smell like a Misty Dew or a Citrus!

While neither of these brands has any noticeable chemical-like scent to them, the ingredients of the Mary Ellen's brand seems to be some sort of a mystery.  ???  Mary Ellen's does not list anywhere on the bottle or anywhere online the ingredients of their "Best Press".  Although I did find something online that says that Best Press is not carcinogenic, I STILL can't find an ingredients list!  I wonder what all the secrecy is about???
Flatter by Soak on the other hand, discloses and lists its ingredients on the bottle.  
Flatter's description says it is a mild formulation made from plant derived and renewable ingredients..YAY!  I'm not the chemical police, but our household is trying to be more "Green" and less chemical-y.

Now down to business!
Why do I use a starch alternative?  Simple...they give you a better "base" on your fabrics to build your bag with.  And not just bag projects...quilts, garments, pillows--whatever!
So yes, in my opinion, they are your fabric's BFF!  Your fabrics will be crisp, sleek and relieved of wrinkles, which you will notice, will make fabrics easier to work with, sew with and use in general.  
Fabrics can be "floppy" especially when they have a soft hand.  Sometimes piecing these "floppy" fabrics can be troublesome causing accuracy problems and/or stretched, distorted seams. (Boo!) These mishaps (and excess fraying) can be relieved by using a starch alternative before you cut out your pieces.  A starch alternative will stiffen up your fabric (don't worry, not cardboard stiff!) giving it a light "crispness".  For bags, this is ideal!  Once you add on woven interfacing to a starch alternative pressed fabric, you will be in wrinkle-free bliss!

The good news is that there isn't any major difference in these two brands as far as wrinkle removal.  Both remove wrinkles very well...but there IS a difference in how MUCH of each you'll have to use to get your fabric crisp and wrinkle free.  
Neither one will flake or give you that dreadfed starch dandruff.  However, there are some notable differences in other areas:
•You can use LESS of Flatter and get remarkable wrinkle results.
•Every once in a while, on certain fabrics, BEST PRESS may leave a slight stain.  I have not found FLATTER to leave any stains on any fabric--including denims, knits and dark fabrics.
I've had to discard several pieces of fabric that BEST PRESS has stained.  For some reason, it likes to leave (what looks like) water/grease stains on certain fabrics.  This doesn't happen on every fabric, it is sporadic (based on the content of the fabric I imagine) 
•Both are pricey!  The FLATTER is more expensive than the BEST PRESS by far.
•BEST PRESS is truly a sizing agent and will shrink your fabrics, much more than
In this pic, I had 4" squares that were sprayed and pressed.  The Flatter square had minimal shrinkage while the Best Press shrinkage was almost 1/8" in one corner.  This is why it is best to spray/press your fabrics BEFORE cutting out your pieces if you're using a starch alternative/sizing.
•The spray mist from FLATTER is fine and airy.  The spray mist from BEST PRESS is heavy and dense.
Here is a video example of the mist that comes out of 3 sprays of BEST PRESS
Here is a video example of the mist that comes out of 3 sprays of FLATTER
As you can see, the FLATTER spray is a light, fine mist.  This provides even distribution and allows you to control your sprays much better.  The spray from BEST PRESS was not evenly distributed.  It was actually a bit much, completely saturating the fabric.  
Note: The mist coming from the BEST PRESS could be remedied by using a different spray nozzle, but you will still need more sprays of the BEST PRESS to get the wrinkles out.

Here's an example on a different fabric--3" squares.  I scrunched the fabric up to give it more wrinkles.  Then I used 2 sprays on each fabric:

After pressing:
There are still wrinkles in the BEST PRESS square.  The tiny ones are hard to see, but there is quite a large one at the bottom (see arrow).  
Now considering that 2 sprays from the BEST PRESS nozzle uses quite a bit more product, you would think that it would win the wrinkle war, right? Wrong!  Ultimately, you will have to spray the Best Press piece again and re-iron.  With the Flatter piece...I'm done!
At the end of the day, I prefer the FLATTER because:
•They fully disclose the ingredients-there are no sulfates, parabens, SLS or SLES
•The light, airy, controllable mist
•No stains ever on any fabrics I've used it on
•Gets wrinkles out with less sprays
I just found out about Flatter in February and am completely in love.  I bought 3 bottles of Best Press last year at a super sale, so I still have some to use up.  I'll continue to use it because like I mentioned, it does get the wrinkles out.  But once it's gone, I'm switching 100% to Flatter for the reasons listed above.

The down-side... Flatter is not cheap :( 
An 8.4oz bottle will run around $12.00 USD, depending on where you buy it.  In comparison, a 16.9oz bottle of Best Press will run anywhere from $6.00 to $12.00 USD.  Keep in mind that although you get more of the Best Press, you use less of the Flatter overall for the same wrinkle removal results.
Flatter is made by SOAK, they are based in Canada, so if you are in Canada, it should be relatively easy to find locally!  If you are in the US or elsewhere, you can order directly from the SOAK website or use their store locator to see other online vendors and check if there is a quilt shop near you that carries it!  Soak Website
For all the non-starchers/sprayers, here is another comparison I did:

I took 3 pieces of solid fabric the same size

I then scrunched them up reeeeeaaal good--much more than your average wrinkled fabby

I used Flatter on one, a steam iron on another and no steam iron on the last:

See how much easier Flatter can make your pressing?  I pressed the Steam Iron and the No Steam Iron pieces alot longer than the Flatter piece--and the wrinkles are still extremely visable.
If you were working on a project and using Flatter, you would already be moving on to the next step.  No Flatter?  Yep, you'd STILL be pressing the same piece!
Now some may interject here and say "Hypernoodle, you could have sprayed with good old fashioned water and gotten the wrinkles out of the steam iron/no steam iron pieces!".... a certain degree.  Spraying with water will help remove the wrinkles better, but still not as efficiently or quickly as using Flatter.  Water also won't give your fabric that nice, crisp feel.  Using a starch alternative is like adding a light weight stabilizer.  It will give your fabric just the right touch of body.

The best way you can tell the difference is to try for yourself.  Ultimately, your preference will be your preference. 
Do a test of your own, get 3 pieces of fabric and on each piece use a different method:
2-Water Spray and Steam
3-Water Spray and No Steam
I think you will find that the Flatter piece is smoother and has body (making it easier to piece with)

Let me know your results!

Happy Sewing!


  1. Replies
    1. You're so very welcome! Thank you for reading!! :) Happy Sewing!

  2. I just heard about Flatter and was curious about it. Thanks for all of the great info! :-)

    1. You are so welcome! I love the "Flatter" spray, it really is a fabric's best friend!

  3. Your post is very nice. useful information. Thanks for sharing.
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  4. Do you thing a starch alternative would work as well as starch to hang fabric on a wall like faux wallpaper?

  5. Thank you so much for doing this comparison. I just bought a bottle of Flatter from Missouri Star as a Deal of the Day, and haven't tried it yet. I was basically going to do the same type of test you did. You saved me some work. Hmmm, maybe I can test flatter against the homemade at my next quilt retreat?

  6. Your post is very nice. useful information. Thanks for sharing.



  7. Please keep updating this blog, it's been too long. Great post! We adore this blog and This information is very good.




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