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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!


( 8 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
May. 9th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this step by step with potato starch. I've only used blue bottle store stuff for my big ruff, which worked ok, but I need to play around more with starch and ruffs.

And take my advice, hard earned - do NOT put your ruff in the ovens in the USA. Most modern ovens do not turn on unless you close the door which is a safety feature. I did this with my first hand sewn large ruff in 2009, and then shut the door to turn the heat on since it wouldn't warm up otherwise. It burned portions of it to a burnt crisp before I could stop it, and a friend was in the room and couldn't smell the burning until I returned to find it that way - I was gone only a few minutes.

I've since told Ms. Tiramini about that problem, through a friend of mine who is really really into researching and making ruffs, and who taught me how to make them.
May. 12th, 2012 03:10 am (UTC)
Is your oven electric? I think that may be the major difference, as mine is gas and does not have said safety feature.
May. 12th, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
Yes, it is electric, and is newer with the safety features. I've spoken with others who have older electrics and they also don't have that feature.

A safer option if one wants to "bake" a ruff instead of cooking up the starch first, is to heat it in a dryer. That is what a few friends have done successfully. I've not done so as I'd prefer to just not put ruffs into things if a cooked starch works as well. I guess I'm still gun-shy about losing a whole ruff.
May. 9th, 2012 04:53 am (UTC)
Hmmm... but heat is supposedly how they set ruffs (standing & of course curled) in the 16th & 17th centuries. Otherwise, it's very difficult to get the starch to dry in all the gathers/pleats.

Back in 2008, I did indeed bake a ruff -- linen, using modern liquid Stay-Flo starch, baked at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes. I hung it from the racks by means of large metal safety pins, making sure that no fabric touched any part of the oven. The only reason I stopped was that I'd edged the ruff in gold lace that apparently had some plastic in it. That started to melt ever so slightly & stink up the kitchen, so I turned off the oven asap. Minimal harm done tho -- the metallic lace uncurled when I ironed & set the ruff w/a not-as-hot curling iron. This is detailed & photographed on my website at www.trystancraft.com/costume but unfortunately I'm having technical difficulties right now :( That said, this ruff is still super-stiff & has held the sets nicely.

More recently, my good friend, Baroness Elena Edgar (lifeofglamour) has done many experiments with wheat starch, barley starch, rice starch, potato starch, & modern starches, & testing different ratios of each, on both silk organza & linen. She held a Starch Petting Zoo at last weekend's Beltane in our encampment to display the latest results. Potato, rice, & modern starches were low on the list as both not-period & not as crisp. Wheat starch ruled the roost. I'm sure if you message her, she'd be happy to share her ongoing research :-)

Edited at 2012-05-09 04:56 am (UTC)
May. 9th, 2012 12:50 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful! I'm the local chronicler, can I publish this in our next issue? -- Dagonell
May. 10th, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
Elena's work would be better to publish, as she's done more with period sources. Please do message her thru LJ & tell her I sent you. She's been writing about this on her journal & teaching classes in the West Kingdom.

(My baking episode will be back online in about a day, so tech support promises; feel free to check that out if it's of any use.)
May. 9th, 2012 11:47 pm (UTC)
I'm extremely happy with my how my starch turned out, thanks. It's stiff as a board, and works very well.

I can't bake my standing collar in an oven because it won't fit, and what I get from the stuff I've looked at is that it goes through a stage of heating, then a stage of heat setting, not necessarily in an oven, but by a fire.

I get that potato starch isn't period, but being gluten-free, it's what I have in my house. Wheat and barley are not hanging around casually in my area. :)

I'm also not looking to give people the nth degree of period; as you can see from the comment above, some people have problems with that, and alternatives for people without the means to bake their ruffs can be nice.
May. 12th, 2012 03:30 am (UTC)
Noel has also done similar using cooked starch, no baking. He says he hangs his ruffs to dry, outside usually. He also does the rounder iron-poked pleats, not the narrower pleat sets, so maybe that might be a difference.

I'm still too oven-shy to ever do oven drying again.

Lynn McMasters has done dryer based heating to dry her ruffs, putting it on a dryer rack that she has. But she stuffs them with papers (or was it foam rollers) to set her pleats.

Thanks for sharing about your friend's experiments with starches. I saw your photos of her starch petting zoo so I'm slowly reading her articles on what she has done. I so need to make a small ruff to practice setts on before I go back to redoing my big ruff.
( 8 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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