When working with yardage that’s lightweight, slinky, or otherwise tricky, a fabric stiffener DIY might make the sewing experience more pleasant.
That’s because fabric stiffener (temporarily) changes the body of a textile to make it, uh, more stiff and less drapey.
Fabrics that lie flat and don’t shift around are faster to work with, and it’s easier to be more accurate.
In this article, you will discover:
✔️ Why you might try a fabric stiffener DIY.
✔️ Recipes for three fabric stiffeners you can make with stuff you’ve (probably) got around the house.
✔️ How each stiffener recipe performed on a piece of lightweight rayon.
✔️ The pros and cons of each fabric stiffener DIY.
If you’ve ever struggled against fabric that seemed to have a mind of its own, this post is for you.
How to Read this Article
I recommend reading the article all the way through, then watching the video (below).
I think once you understand the process, the visuals will make more sense and be more impactful.
The video shows:
➡️ How to make each stiffener and what it looks like
➡️ What the fabric looked like at each step, including:
🔸 No stiffener
🔸 Dried overnight but not pressed
🔸 Pressed and ready to sew
🔸 Stiffener washed out and pressed
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Why Try a Fabric Stiffener DIY?
There are three main reasons to use a fabric stiffener.
1.) Cutting is easier.
Fabric stiffener gives fabric just enough body so that it doesn’t shift around while cutting pattern pieces.
2.) Sewing is easier.
Similar to reason No. 1, the extra body makes the fabric easier to handle under the needle, and you likely won’t have to use as many pins.
3.) Pressing is easier.
Have you ever had shifty fabric move around on you while you’ve been pressing — and you accidentally pressed in a wrinkle? UGH, so frustrating.
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Recipes for Cornstarch, Gelatine, and Glue DIY Fabric Stiffeners
I searched the internet for the most common fabric stiffener DIY’s.
I wanted ingredients you could easily find around the house. That’s why I settled on testing fabric-stiffening solutions of cornstarch, gelatine, and glue.
About the Fabric and Experiment Process
The DIY stiffeners were tested on three pieces of lightweight rayon. I wrote the name of the stiffener on each piece of fabric.
Each piece of rayon is about 13 by 22 inches.
I also cut a control piece of rayon to demonstrate the fabric’s original properties and to compare the control against each DIY mix.
To test the stiffeners, I used the following recipes and directions. (Deviations are noted.)
Recipe for Cornstarch Fabric Stiffener
I used this recipe before to stiffen lightweight rayon jersey knit for a Cass T-shirt.
It’s from sewing educator and pattern designer Pamela Leggett. You can find it on her website as a PDF; the title is “Stabilizing Silky and Soft Fabrics.”
The cornstarch recipe is:
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup warm water
- 2 cups boiling water
I doubled the recipe.
Whisk the cornstarch into the warm water. Whisk in the boiling water. Make sure the cornstarch is dissolved.
To starch fabric before cutting, immerse the folded fabric into the starch solution for a few minutes.
After it soaks, gently wring out the excess solution and hang the fabric to dry.
Press the dry fabric before cutting.
The cornstarch solution can be used as a DIY fabric stiffener spray. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and keep it fresh in the fridge.
Recipe for Gelatine Fabric Stiffener
The recipe for gelatine fabric stiffener comes from the Cashmerette blog. Our sewing hero, Jenny Rushmore of Cashmerette, recommends stiffening silk with this gelatine solution.
The gelatine recipe is:
- 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatine
- 16 ounces hot water
You can multiply this recipe if you need more liquid for your fabric yardage. I doubled the recipe.
Mix together gelatine and hot water. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes to let the gelatine activate (bloom).
Submerge the fabric in the liquid and swirl it around so it gets soaked. Let the fabric sit in the solution for one hour.
Remove the fabric from the mix. Hang it overnight to dry.
If the fabric isn’t flat after it dries, you may press it.
Cashmerette’s original directions didn’t call for pressing, but I had to use an iron to make my test fabric flat and (mostly) wrinkle free. I recommend pressing.
Recipe for Glue Fabric Stiffener
This recipe specifically calls out Elmer’s glue, but I think any washable and non-toxic school glue would work.
Washable is the most important quality, because you want the glue to come out of your handmade garment.
The glue recipe is:
- 1 part (Elmer’s) glue
- 1 part water
Whisk the glue and water. (I recommend warm or hot water to help the glue dissolve.) I mixed 1 cup glue to 1 cup water.
The solution should be “a thin but creamy texture.”
I tried to coat the fabric with the glue stiffener mix vs. letting it soak in the solution. I dipped the fabric in the liquid, aiming to get it on the fabric’s face.
(This original recipe says, “Use this solution on your (fabric) piece and let it dry.”)
I squeezed out the excess liquid and hung the fabric to dry.
P.S. I wore rubber dish gloves while handling the glue solution so I didn’t get it on my hands.
DIY Fabric Stiffeners for Sewing Video
Additional Test Steps and Results for the Fabric Stiffener DIY’s
The test fabrics hung overnight on a rack to dry. The next day I took them off the drying rack and gave them a press with my iron set to silk and low steam.
I used a silk organza press cloth to protect the soleplate of my iron from gunk from the stiffening liquids. (BTW, the press cloth did its job.)
After they were pressed, I washed the fabrics to remove the respective stiffeners.
Washing and Drying Details
I set my washing machine to delicate, with warm water, a 20-minute soak, and an extra rinse. The cycle was about an hour long. I used a very small volume of regular liquid detergent.
I normally wash rayon in cold water, but I thought warm water would be better at removing the DIY stiffeners (especially the glue).
The fabric came out of the washer feeling pretty normal. I hung them on a drying rack overnight.
When I brought the fabric into my sewing studio for closer inspection, I realized the stiffeners hadn’t fully washed out.
TBH, I probably would have been fine wearing a garment with *a little* residual stiffener (especially if I were feeling impatient), but I wanted to go the extra mile for you guys.
So, I washed and dried the fabric again — the same way I did the first time.
The next day I gave the (finally) clean test fabrics a final press to remove wrinkles.
Following are my conclusions on the experiments after the final press.
Cornstarch Fabric Stiffener
What I Liked
This is a cheap DIY stiffener. A pound (16 ounces) of cornstarch is $2.29 at a Milwaukee-area Target — that’s about 14 cents per ounce.
And, according to Leggett, you can use it as a DIY fabric stiffener spray, too, and keep it fresh in the fridge.
The fabric had more body and was less smooth after it dried overnight and was pressed. Would have been simple to sew vs. the original rayon.
What I Didn’t Like
The cornstarch sample that was ready to sew (dried overnight and pressed) had spots that were stiffer than others. It wasn’t enough to make cutting or stitching impossible, but it was noticeable.
I think letting the fabric soak longer would have resolved this issue.
After the second wash, the rayon wasn’t quite back to its original state. It had a bit of body that reminded me of Tencel (lyocell) twill.
That said, the fabric still was soft and would have been a joy to wear. I think with subsequent washes, it would be good as the control.
Gelatine Fabric Stiffener
What I Liked
The gelatine soaked most evenly into the fabric of all the solutions. After the second wash, the rayon was back to the control fabric state — soft, drapey, floaty.
As for sewing, the overnight-dried-and-pressed-gelatine-treated fabric had more body and less smoothness to its face. It would have been relatively straightforward to sew.
What I Didn’t Like
Brand-name unflavored gelatine at a Milwaukee-area Target is $2.59 for 1 ounce, making it the most expensive DIY fabric stiffener option.
Unflavored gelatine also does have the tiniest whiff of animal when it’s being dissolved. (Not surprising considering where it comes from.) However, I did not notice this odor on the fabric at any point.
Glue Fabric Stiffener
What I Liked
I paid $7.44 for a 32-ounce bottle of Elmer’s washable school glue at Walmart; that’s about 23 cents per ounce. That puts it in the middle in terms of cost.
What I Didn’t Like
The fabric rectangle, after it dried overnight and was pressed, was like a piece of paper.
I’m sure this would have been easy to cut, but I don’t know if it would have been easy to sew.
The fabric’s qualities, even after the second wash, were too different from the control to be acceptable in my opinion — still too much body and not enough drape.
The stiffening solution was unpleasant to work with, because GLUE. I also don’t like washing dishes for non-food applications; weirds me out.
What’s more, this recipe just felt like a huge waste of glue, and that bothered me.
Final Thoughts About Fabric Stiffener DIY’s
In a good-better-best framework, here’s what I think:
I think glue is good, because it was the worst compared with cornstarch and gelatine.
I think cornstarch is better, because it outperformed glue, but it didn’t have the finesse of gelatine.
I think gelatine is best, because it most consistently stiffened the fabric and it washed out better than cornstarch and glue.
I probably would use cornstarch before gelatine because it’s significantly less expensive and works *almost* as well.
I would not use glue as a non-permanent fabric stiffener, ever. Too messy, and cornstarch is a better option, every time.
I might consider using gelatine over cornstarch if I had a high-value cut of fabric and wanted the cutting and sewing process to be *just so.*
Over to you, gentle reader: What’s your favorite fabric stiffener? Have you tried a DIY option? Please leave a comment.
Thank you for this, it’s very helpful! I’ve used cornstarch in a spray bottle, with only mediocre results.
I’m very interested in trying the gelatine for knits
Hi, Laurinda! Thanks for reading.
I think gelatine for knits would work great. Test and see!
Another solution is Sta-Flo starch diluted to the proper proportion. I’m dating myself, but growing up cotton shirts and blouses were dunked in a starch solution and then hung out to dry. This is before perma press and good steam irons. Then you sprinkled the now crispy clothes with water, put them aside until the moisture had migrated throughout the garment and then you pressed them. I still use Sta-Flo in a spray bottle when I want to stiffen up delicate or slippery fabric. Sta-Flo has preservatives so it does not spoil like cornstarch. Quilters use what they call Quilter’s Moonshine. It’s nothing more than cheap vodka mixed half and half with water and a drop or two of scent. I bought my last bottle of Sta-Flo at my local Ace and before that at a big WalMart. The mix proportion is based on how stiff you want the fabric.
Thanks for sharing, Theresa! I’ve never heard of Sta-Flo.