attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

Things to do with potato starch

So.  I have this standing collar, it's featured on my web site.  I took it out a month or so ago, and decided the lace around the edge looked horrifically plastic and modern, and switched it out for some vintage lace I have.  Then I got a mad idea and dug out some reproduction lace I got years ago for Bob, and actually went ahead and made him a lace-edged falling band and matching cuffs.

So far, so good.  While Bob's falling band does not need starch, his cuffs, my cuffs, and my standing collar all did, and Niagara Spray Starch just wasn't going to cut it.  While perusing Patterns of Fashion 4, I had noticed there was a bit in the back about starching ruffs and such with rice starch, so I went back and looked at it, and then ran into a bit of a problem; one of the steps, after painting on the dissolved rice starch, was to bake the ruff in the oven.  The book says that the starch will not cook unless you do this, and the iron won't work.

I don't know about you, but baking my precious lace in a regular old oven, the type most of us have, no matter how clean, did not seem like a fabulous or easy idea to me.  I dithered, I tried baking the dissolved starch with an iron (indeed, it does not work), and I dithered some more.  Then I realized, by mistakenly putting the starch in the microwave to heat it up, that potato (and rice, but I was using potato) starch cooks if you heat it.  If your ratio of starch to water is too high, you will end up with jelly.  If, however, you work with a ratio of approximately 1/4 cup starch to 2 cups of boiling water, you will get something you can work with.  Yes, you're going to get lumps and lose a bit of starch, but the important thing is you don't have to bake your lace in the oven to make it work.

For the oven-shy among us, this seems like a good thing.

So, here's what you start with:

1/4 cup potato starch
1 Pyrex or other boiling-water proof measuring cup
2 Cups (or slightly more) boiling water
1 metal spoon, for stirring
1 small sieve, about cereal bowl-sized
1 heat-proof cereal bowl
1 pastry brush
Plastic wrap to cover your counter or other flat surface, because this makes quite a bit of a mess
A bunch of paper towels

First, lay out your plastic wrap over the surface you're working on.  I used a foam-core board, so I could move the starched items to dry somewhere other than where I needed to make dinner.

Then, lay your item to be starched out flat (this works best with flat items, but I'm pretty sure it can be adapted).

(This is one of Bob's cuffs.)

Next, measure the 1/4 cup starch into the measuring cup.  Add a tablespoon or so of cold water, or as much as it takes to turn the starch into a very stiff wet paste (this helps it dissolve better).  Boil the water.

Then, stirring as fast as you can, pour the boiling water in a steady stream into the cup until you are at 2 cups.  Continue stirring.  Don't worry, you're going to get some lumps at this stage.  The fast constant stirring helps keep the lumps to a minimum.

Put the bowl under the sieve, and pour the jellied starch into the sieve.  Stir until you have drained all the liquid starch into the bowl.  Discard the starch lumps, or save them for your own nefarious purposes.

What you will have left is a very strong starch that you can paint on your item.  I like to use an old-fashioned pastry brush for painting, as it is less likely to shed hairs as it is used (the heat can loosen the glue on paint brushes), or you can smooth it on with your fingers, or, if it's a small piece, just dip it in the starch and squeeze it out (gently).  I find at this stage, it makes the starch absorb better if I give the linen and lace a light spritz of water, like one does when ironing.

Now, take your paper towels, and blot all the excess starch from your piece.  This will stop any shiny bits lingering between the openings on the lace, and allows it to dry faster.  Lift the paper towels gently off the piece to stop it from being pulled up off your working surface.  Once the piece is blotted, smooth out any wrinkles (or put the wrinkles where you want them, depending on the desired look), and set in a safe warm place to dry where the animals can't get at it and decide it's dinner.

(I had a friend lose all her gorgeous dough Christmas ornaments that way.  Terrible carnage, it was.)

And that's that.  You'll get to see the finished product in photos when I get back from Double Wars. *grin*  I made a special carrying-case that just barely fits in my suitcase.

You'll probably find you have some starch left over; it keeps very well in a covered jar in the fridge.  Just warm it up (gently!) when you want to use it next.  If you want a thinner starch, use less dry potato starch, or simply add more boiling water to the starch you already have.

Hope this was useful for y'alls - it's been a while since I did a costuming post.  I got an e-mail yesterday from a lovely girl who wanted to know why I haven't updated my web site; well, I'm wondering, too.  That will be my summer project - including starching!

See you soon!

Tags: costume, research, ruffs

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