Size matters…

No, this isn’t another post about that scant 1/4″ seam allowance.  This is about sizing and starch.


Back in the day… we used to pre-wash everything.  You were considered foolish, reckless and a real risk-taker if you didn’t.  Then fabric got better – much better.  And we didn’t have the time… okay, we became impatient.  We wanted to sew now.  Then pre-cuts were invented and there was no turning back.  No, you’re a rebel if you do pre-wash.  Or a throwback… one of those.

I can’t remember the last time I pre-washed any fabric.  I do occasionally test some fabrics – reds, purples and blacks – if I know I’m going to be using a lot of white or cream.  Maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve never had a fabric bleed or run.  I also take precautions when I wash the quilts – I always use Color Catcher sheets and I don’t let the wet quilt sit in the washer.  As soon as the wash cycle is done, it’s into the dryer.

But I still have to worry about shrinkage because I press with steam.  A lot of it.

Yes.  I know.  Steam is the enemy.  At least that’s what some quilters will tell you, and there is some validity to what they’re saying.  As quilters, steam can be our best friend, and our worst enemy.  It can press a block flat and smooth, and it can stretch it out of shape and distort it.  It can help you improve the accuracy of your piecing, or it can fight you every step of the way… especially if your cut, stitched fabric decides to shrink after it’s been pieced.

So I size or starch my fabric ahead of time to pre-shrink the fabric.  Whether I press it dry or allow it to dry and then steam-press it smooth, the fabric is shrinking.  The smooth, crisp finish of the sized fabric also allows me to cut four layers of fabric easily, and it gives my pieced blocks the same look.  In short – it works for me.

As for what to use, there are a lot of options.  Some are fancy, some are basic, and they all work equally well.  It’s simply a matter of what you like best and what works best for you.  I like Mary Ellen’s Best Press – a lot.  As much as I loved some of the scents, I used the Unscented.  But I keep going back to regular starch and regular sizing, the kind I can get at the grocery store.  Part of the reason is convenience and part of the reason is cost.  I use a lot of it.  I also use the Light Body Sizing or the Regular Starch.

On a side note, I have tried homemade starch, and Sta-Flo Starch Concentrate.  Both work beautifully and some folks swear by it.  I’ve also tried soaking the fabric, and putting it in a bag until I’m ready to iron it.  I even tried putting the fabric in the freezer after someone suggested that.  It worked but I prefer regular starch and sizing.

A huge part of the reason is the spray grip I heard about from Lisa Bongean of Primitive Gatherings.  She’s a genius – she’s also a rock-star sizer.





Obviously, Rust-o-leum and Krylon created these for cans of spray paint.  But it fits on the can and it works like a charm.  They’re easily found most anywhere that sells spray paint and they cost about $3.00.



They’re a bit different in how they fit on the can but they work the same way.  Beautifully.

And they let you turn the bathtub in the spare bathroom into a laundry room – drying room.



Gardenvale Layer Cake squares drying on the line… sort of.

This has been pressed and is getting ready to be made into half-triangle squares this week at retreat.

(If you follow @modafabrics on Instagram, you might see what the fabric in the other picture looks like later this week…)

Happy Tuesday!


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33 thoughts on “Size matters…

  1. I read one of your posts on the Miss Rosie blog some years back, about starching fabrics, and immediately tested your method and became a convert. I starch EVERYTHING now, and find it has made my cutting and piecing much more accurate (yay, points!). But I go back and forth between steam, and no steam. For me, it depends on what I’m ironing. First press, with starch, I steam. Once my blocks are complete and during various stages of completion, I use dry heat. I found a fabulous non-aerosol starch that smells like it just flew in from Provence (lavender….), and I bring it in from the US to Nova Scotia because the product is so good, it’s worth it! So again, thanks for the great tips – today, and in the past! I do not Instagram, so hope you’ll show us what those lovely silvery greys turn into on The Cutting Table (as well as on Instagram)……….pleeeeeeeeeeez?

  2. Thanks for the post. I will be buying the spray handles. I hate the way a can of spray starch sometimes makes a mess, hope this helps.

  3. GREAT POST! what are and wehre can I find those hooks on the bath rod to hang the fabric?

  4. Yes, I too am curious about the hooks. A google image search failed to turn up candidates. What are they called?
    Please post!

  5. I love starch and sizing, too! It makes me a better quilter. I can hardly wait to try that spray grip.

    Now about those hooks….where can I get a bunch of them?

  6. best press always makes me think of “the emperor’s new clothes”

    prewash when it comes in the house, spray starch when used here.

  7. During the manufacture of fabric, printing, etc. what kind of chemicals are used? I think about this when I don’t wash the fabric and use a lot of steam when pressing each seam because I am then breathing in those chemicals.

    1. I don’t know about now, but back in the late 60’s, I worked in a garment factory when I got out of high school. When new shipments of permanent press fabric came in, we almost couldn’t breathe. We found out that back then, they used formaldehyde to set the permanent press in the fabric. We got some awful rashes when it was hot and humid in the summer.

      1. All I can think of to say is, “holy cow!”. There is a lot of information coming out now with regard to “vaping’ and e-cigarettes that says that the combination of formaldehyde and high temperatures raises the risk of cancer. Something to keep in mind when it’s time for screenings–and something I’ll consider when I want to steam, steam, steam.

  8. I can’t wait to try this. Maybe I’ll be a better piecer after all. i can’t wait to read more. Have a spectacular time at the retreat. Thank you for another great posting.

  9. Yes, we all want to know about those clips. And thanks so much for all the information on shrinkage, starching, etc!! I’m going to get one of those sprayer things to attach to my can.

  10. Great information-I like to starch and I’m going to be checking out the various toes of starch and sizing available locally. Those clips…must find them. I know I’ve seen them somewhere it might have been at a dollar store or camping store.

  11. I’ve never used starch before. How wet do you let the fabric get with it? I need some better accuracy with my cutting and think this might be a good step to add.

  12. Vodka and water together act as a starch? Just want to be sure I understand. I have a old bottle of vodka I want to try.

  13. I never use starch because of the chemicals and no steam either. To get really flat seams I use some water and a paint brush (not the one I clean my machine with but one with a flat head) and put some water on the seam. It works great for me!

  14. Carrie, I rarely read blogs because it’s so time consuming, but I never miss yours … witty, fun, and filled with great tips. Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I discovered that Niagara Starch comes in a non-aerosol bottle. I bought a box of it. Ended up being like $1.73 each bottle or something like that. I love the darn thing. I recently used this method when I was making my bias strips for the Austin Bluebird quilt and they turned out FANTASTIC! I will be looking for the spray nozzle but I REALLY need to know about those clips (like everyone else)!

  16. I can’t decide if I’m a rebel or a throwback (not sure I’ve been quilting long enough to be a throwback), I just know that working with unwashed fabric (particularly when I’m hand piecing or quilting) makes my allergies flare up! The spray handle looks like a great idea – I’ll keep an eye out for them the next time I’m in B&Q!

  17. I wish I could understand why you would go through all of this — paying for starch and sprayers, finding a place to spray all your fabric, turning your bathroom into a laundry room with wet fabric hanging all over. And then having to wash the quilt anyway to get rid of the starch, so that it doesn’t look like lunch to bugs. It is so much easier to just wash your fabric, preshrink it in the dryer, and iron it before you start! Then you have removed any chemicals, dirt, and smells from the fabric, and assured that all of you fabrics have already shrunk completely. There is nothing more disheartening than to wash your quilt, and have the different fabrics shrink at different rates, and your beautiful work becomes a twisted mess. Prewashing gives you the opportunity to know how the fabric is going to behave BEFORE you have put a lot of time into working with it. Perhaps if the only fabric you work with is Moda, then you don’t have the different amounts of shrinkage, but honestly, how many of us only work with fabric from one company? And if you work with any batiks, your longarmer will thank you profusely for prewashing, since longarming through unwashed batiks is like trying to stitch through concrete, and can cause lousy looking stitches. I know I’m in the minority, but just sayin’…

  18. Lots of viewpoints on this subject but after doing it your way I’m a believer! My fabric behaves much better when subjected to the spray and press method. My iron, which I have dropped repeatedly, is not longer allowed to have water and I’m still pleased with the results.

  19. Guess I Need to make a trip to the hardware stor for the handle, they look fablous. Love the starch

  20. Steam spray from Mark Lapinski: 1cup distilled water
    1 oz cheapest vodka
    Few drops of scented oil(lavender, cherry blossom,etc)

    I double it and store in an air tight bottle (a clear plastic one with a tip to pour easily into the iron).
    This makes all ironing smell great, doesn’t seem to damage irons and is inexpensive.

  21. I cannot imagine breathing in all those chemicals ironing unwashed fabric. Nor imagine all the time and expense of piecing/quilting only to have different shrinkage percentages from one manufacturer to the next.

  22. I have always heard that starch attracts bugs. Is that true? Given the amount of time some of my pieced tops sit before they are quilted, bound, and then washed, I don’t want to use anything that would attract bugs.

    Is sizing different than starch in this regard? Or should I just go with the vodka and water solution?

    1. I starch my fabric, with sizing, with Sta-Flo, Best Press, vodka/water..whatever I have available..mostly Sizing and Sta-Flo. I store all of my fabric in labeled plastic containers and never have had a bug problems…when I say store my fabric, I mean some of it has been in a container for 10 years (in a basement) waiting for the perfect project. I have 15 quilt tops waiting to be quilted, too. Crossing my thimbles…no bugs yet.

  23. I’m a long arm quilter, and I can always tell when my client has pre-washed his/her fabric. It quilts so much better, and I don’t end up blowing my nose by the end of the day. There are chemicals in unwashed fabrics that I have become sensitized to over my long sewing career. I recommend everyone pre-wash their fabric!

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