3 Natural Fabric Stiffeners to Make at Home

How to Upcycle a Coffee Sack into a Burlap Box

DIY: Natural Fabric Stiffeners

Check out these natural fabric stiffeners made with common household ingredients, along with the pros and cons for each one!

When I made this fabric box with burlap, I used fusible web to stiffen the sides. But I wanted to find out what natural fabric stiffeners would be like. So I tried three stiffening methods using common household ingredients.

The idea for natural fabric stiffeners came to me when I read Julie’s homemade spray starch and natural glue tutorials and I wondered if I could modify the formulas to use them as fabric stiffeners.

I tested three ingredients for stiffening: Elmer’s Glue, cornstarch, and flour. Here’s what I found out:

DIY: Natural Fabric Stiffeners

1. Elmer’s Glue All As a Natural Fabric Stiffener

Equal parts of glue and water.

Elmer’s glue is listed as being non-toxic and safe on its label and on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). But the ingredient is still a type of plastic – polyvinyl acetate, to be exact. So while it’s labeled as being safe, I don’t think I’d eat it. In order to mix the solution, I used a glass bowl that I wouldn’t use for eating and an old plastic spoon. The mixture is solid white and it dried as clear film. The residue comes off clean with warm water and soap.

DIY: Natural Fabric Stiffeners

2. Cornstarch Natural Fabric Stiffener

1 Tbsp, 1/4 C cold water, and 1/4 C boiling water.

Dissolve 1 Tbsp of cornstarch in 1/4 C cold water. Meanwhile, boil 1/4 C of water. Slowly, add the cornstarch solution to boiling water and whisk and boil until the solution bubbles. Take the solution off the heat and cool to room temperature before using.

The consistency is thick, like Tapioca pudding. It is translucent and dries clear. Since it’s cornstarch, there is no concern whether it’s toxic or not. I didn’t have to use separate pots or bowls to make this solution. After I was done, I washed them with warm soapy water and they were safe to cook with afterwards.

DIY: Natural Fabric Stiffeners

3. Flour Starch Natural Fabric Stiffener

1 Tbsp, 1/2 C Cold Water, and 1/2 C Boiling Water

Mix 1 Tbsp flour with 1/2 C Cold water. Boil 1/2 C of water in a small pot. Briskly whisk the flour mixture into the boiling water. When the consistency become thick, like gravy, take the pot off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. If you need to stiffen a larger fabric piece, make a bigger batch using this ratio and dunk the whole piece.

As time goes by, the mixture becomes more goopey. You can add more water if you need a thinner solution. The color is “linen white” and not “ceiling white.” If you are stiffening white fabric or lace, it may not be bright white after it dries.

DIY: Natural Fabric Stiffeners

These are the three different types of natural fabric stiffeners, from the left: Elmer’s Glue/Water, cornstarch, and flour starch.

As you can see they resulted in three different colors. If you need to stiffen white fabric or lace, the Elmer’s Glue or Cornstarch methods might be the best to maintain the whiteness.

Want to make your project more vintage-y looking? The flour method will be fine. Since Elmer’s Glue is not exactly “natural”, you may need separate equipment to use this method. However, the Elmer’s Glue method would make the stiffness last longer. It takes repeated washings before it gets soft. Cornstarch and flour method wash off easier, making stiffness not as long lasting.

I could have tried the rice method as my grandmother used to use rice water as starch spray when I was growing up. But as we no longer eat white rice, I didn’t have any on hand to experiment with. But it works great as starch spray so I presume it works well as a stiffening solution like cornstarch and flour. But the only drawback is that you have to boil white rice for a long time with a copious amount of water until you get a thick consistency.

Check out Crochet Memories for more stiffening methods.

Which method are you going to try?

Written by Karen Lee

Karen lives a simple, frugal, green life and shares her eco tips and news on ecokaren and is a co-founder of Green Sisterhood, a network of community of green women bloggers, making change. When she's not managing Green Sisterhood or blogging on ecokaren, she is a chauffeur to two greenagers, wife to an accidental recycler, master chef to hungry locavores, seamstress, knitter, and dumpster diver, not necessarily in that order.

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