starch: still great stuff

In our world of modern materials and technology, things like ironing and starching garments aren’t as common as they once were. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider ironing a chore and I guide my husband toward permanent press for his work shirts because, ugh, that’s a lot of ironing. But when I do it, I do it well, and on garments that really benefit from it as opposed to hang-it-up-straight-from-the-dryer-and-it-looks-okay clothes.

This technique isn’t suitable for every garment, but high polyester content fabrics were designed to avoid ironing, so it shouldn’t be necessary for those. Cotton, linen, ramie and the various blends though, all benefit from starch and steam.

I love linen. I made these palazzo pants a couple years ago after the pair I bought eight years previous wore out. I copied that beloved pair of pants pretty closely, except I made the pockets bigger. But they are 100% linen, a fairly dense weave (the first pair were very thin, which is why they wore out so fast*). So, they pretty much wrinkle just by looking at them. Ironing isn’t optional, and dip starching makes a big difference.

  • linen is a very tough fiber, lasting up to hundreds of years and even centuries when processed and cared for well. King Tut wore linen, his clothes are in a museum.


Here are the pants hung straight from the dryer, not bad, but definitely could use some freshening up.


Ok, standard spray starch and a good hot iron. Below is the result.


That doesn’t look terrible, but just from ironing wrinkles have already set themselves. So, on to a dip starch!


The materials: liquid concentrated starch, water, a container big enough to fully immerse the garment, and a safe place where spills won’t be an issue. I’m using a bowl from my kitchen without worry, starch is a byproduct of processing food, mostly potatoes. Color and scent have been added, so I wouldn’t eat it, but you could boil some potatoes then use the leftover starchy water the same way. That’s how they did it in the ‘olden days’.


Read the bottle, it gives ratios for how stiff or light you want your starch. For these pants I want “heavy” which was 1:5 starch to water, so I used a pint glass as my measuring device as I needed to fill a fairly large bowl.


Stir the starch and water, then dunk your garment.


Let it soak 20 minutes to an hour. Longer than that the starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl and get weird and thick.


Wring out and hang to dry.

starch after

I got busy, so my pants hung there all wrinkly for several days. No big deal other than they haunted me to finish this post project.

starch after2

That’s pretty stiff!

starch after3

Plug in the iron and set it to the appropriate heat for your garment. linen needs high heat.

NOTE: Most irons come with a water reservoir and a steam setting. Really good quality irons this feature works really well, for a while. Cheap irons it rarely works even fresh out of the box. I’ve yet to come across even a high quality expensive iron that doesn’t drip or leak water when you don’t want it to after several years of use. Therefore I recommend keeping your iron dry and using a mister spray bottle for when you want steam. My iron (pictured above) is ten years old, and as good as it is thermostat-wise, it even leaks after all this time.

starch after 4

ready to iron!

starch after5

you can see the damp areas before I apply the iron. In order to activate the starch in the fabric, we need it pretty damp before applying heat.

starch after 6

hey, look at that!

starch after 7

Finished pants. Notice how the hems are standing in big loops instead of falling flat? that’s the starch working. I’ll update after I get another person to take a picture for me so you can see how good they look on a body.


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May 18, 2016 · 3:52 pm

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