When it comes to fabric crafts, experienced seamstresses will be the first to tell you that fabric can be tricky. Sometimes it doesn’t lay right, or it doesn’t line up neatly, or it bunches as you sew.
There’s even an old saying to “pet the fabric,” in other words, to gently smooth it with your hands until it’s laying the way you want. This can be tedious and time consuming.
A way to get around the mess of flimsy fabric is to stiffen it. This can help with sewing or be used to form a specific shape for a project.
So, how can you stiffen fabric? To stiffen fabric, you can use a variety of products such as glue, gelatin, or starch and either submerge your fabric in them or spray them on. Allow it to dry, and your fabric will be shaped. For sewn-in stiffening, you can utilize interfacing.
There are several options when it comes to the type of product you use to stiffen your fabric, and each of them has their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll explore all of these methods below to help you choose the best one for your fabric project.
Why Stiffen Fabric?
For those of you who use fabric to make everyday clothes, you may be wondering why you’d stiffen fabric at all. The drape of fabric is sometimes the best part of a clothing item, and you wouldn’t want to ruin the flow of the silhouette.
Stiffening fabric is useful for a lot of situations, though. You can stiffen fabric to make it easier to sew. For example, trying to pin on a thin, delicate lace accent to a piece of silk fabric can be a headache. If you stiffen the lace first, it will pin much easier.
It can also be used for stiffening specific parts of the clothing, such as the collar or cuffs on dress shirt sleeves.
Aside from sewing and clothing uses, stiffening fabric is handy for arts and crafts such as ornaments, making doll clothes, handmade pouches for pencils or makeup, and adding fabric to sculpture work.
You can even stiffen fabric to use as home décor. For example, if you’ve crafted macramé feathers or knit flowers that you want to hang up on the wall, try using one of these stiffening methods to keep them looking their best all year round.
Methods To Stiffen Fabric
There are several different methods for stiffening fabric, all of which we’ll describe in detail below.
The first five methods are all intended for shaping the fabric for craft use, while the last method is intended for use with sewing projects such as clothing items.
Read through each method to determine which best suits your project needs.
1. Commercial Stiffening Products
Your first, and probably most obvious, choice for stiffening fabrics is to use a commercial stiffening product. You can find stiffening sprays or liquids that can be brushed onto the fabric.
This is probably the simplest method, as it only involves picking up an item like Aleene’s Stiffen-Quik or Mod Podge for Fabric from your local arts and crafts store and following the directions on the label.
These items also tend to give better results than DIY solutions because these are special formulas designed to stiffen fabric.
However, it’s important to search for the type of commercial stiffening product best suited to your needs. Some products are designed only for temporary use, and some are permanent. Read the label carefully to know which product is right for you.
An incredibly simple method you can probably do without even making a trip to the store is the glue method! Some people use wood glue for this, but it works just as well with plain white glue.
How to stiffen fabric with glue:
- Take a bowl or bucket large enough to submerge the fabric in and add equal parts water and glue. This is important, and we recommend measuring each to ensure equal distribution.
- Once you’ve poured both into your bucket, mix it thoroughly. You need to ensure the glue and water are totally blended for correct consistency.
- Now you can add your fabric. Dunk the whole piece you want stiffened into the bucket and let it soak. Make sure that no section of the fabric is hanging out of the water/glue mixture.
- If the fabric is floating on the surface, you can try and weigh it down with a rock or large bowl. Be sure to let it soak for a good amount of time, around 5-10 minutes or so, to ensure the fabric is completely saturated.
- When you take out the fabric, place it in between two of your fingers and squeeze tightly, pulling the fabric through. This will get rid of any excess water. Don’t wring out the water, as the fabric is now soaked in glue and this can distort the shape you’re trying to make.
If you want the fabric to stiffen flat, simply lay it out to dry. If you want it dried in a specific shape, you can use plastic or newspaper to shape it how you want, and then allow it to dry.
The fabric may take anywhere between 2-24 hours to dry, so keep an eye on it and touch it to see when it feels fully dry.
Mostly known for its use in baking, gelatin is another great method for stiffening. In foods, it’s used to create a specific shape within a mold, such as gelatin cakes. Because of its natural ability to harden, it makes for a great fabric stiffening agent.
This is only a temporary stiffening method but will work great if you’re looking to stiffen slippery or smooth fabrics such as silk or satin.
For this method, simply add a teaspoon of gelatin to 2 cups of water. Mix and let rest for 30 minutes, then add an additional 4 cups of hot water and stir. Your gelatin is now ready for fabric!
With the gelatin method, you can choose to either soak the fabric like with the glue or pour it into a spray bottle and spray it onto the fabric. Either way, once you have your fabric soaked in the mixture, let it dry and it should be stiff to the touch.
Starch is probably the most common method for stiffening fabric. People have long been using starch sprays to stiffen fabric, especially when ironing dress shirts or pants.
You can use this method at home by simply mixing a tablespoon of starch with 16 ounces of water, mixing gently to avoid forming clumps. Pour the final mixture into a spray bottle and spray onto the areas of your fabric you want stiffened.
Because this method works so well, you want to start with lower amounts of the starch mixture before adding more. You can spray just one or two layers over the fabric and let dry, then test it and see how stiff it feels.
We recommend this method as being the best homemade solution to fabric stiffening. It provides great stability to all kinds of fabric, from cotton to silk to polyester, and it’s easy to make and use at home.
5. Rice Water
A surprising method to stiffen fabric is by using rice water. We don’t highly recommend this method, as it has a terrible smell, but if you’re in a pinch, this will work just fine.
Boil rice in a pot of water, then drain the water into a large container. It’s best to use a fine mesh strainer because you want to leave as little rice residue as possible and just get the water.
Soak the fabric in the drained rice water, then lay it out to dry. Setting it outside to dry is best due to the horrid smell. This method is also good for temporary use, as the stiffened effect will wash out in soap and water.
Interfacing is a special type of fabric that is designed to provide stiffness to a piece of fabric. It’s made in two ways: fusible or sew-in.
The fusible interfacing will have one shiny side, which is the adhesive side. The fabric you intend to apply the interfacing should be washed first to prevent uneven shrinking.
To apply fusible interfacing, lay it shiny-side down on the wrong side of your fabric. Lay a presser cloth on top, and iron over these three layers of fabric.
The presser cloth will prevent the interfacing from sticking to your iron and help it to adhere better to your fabric. For sew-in interfacing, also referred to as non-fusible interfacing, cut it to be the same size as the piece of fabric you want stiffened.
Pin the non-fusible interfacing to your fabric and sew around the edges, keeping the stitching just above or outside the seam allowance. You don’t want the stitching that attaches your interfacing to overlap with the seams for the overall piece.
Once the interfacing is sewn in, you’re good to go!
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