Remember my cheater 1916 petticoat?
I’m sure a lot of you looked at it and thought: “It’s so limp!” And “There is no way that is going to support a skirt as big as her inspiration image!”
Behold the wonders of starch:
The photograph above was taken after I starched my 1916 petticoat, let it sit around the house for a week in the Wellington damp, handled it a lot threading the ribbon through, shoved it in a suitcase, took it to LA, wore it, let it live in the hot humidity there* for 10 days, shoved it in a suitcase again, let it sit in damp, cold, humid Wellington for another 10 days, and then pressed and photographed it.**
Plus, at some point in this process Felicity managed to conscript it as a bed for a luxurious nap…
And it’s still poofy!
A reminder of how poofy my 1916 ‘Gather Ye Rosebuds’ dress was on the night:
So much poof!
So how did I do it?
Lots & lots of starch!
How to starch a petticoat:
You will need:
- 1/4 cup cornstarch (per large petticoat)
- 1/2 cup + 4 cups of water (per large petticoat) (This is for a very stiff starch. Use 8 cups of water for a moderate starch – blouses and overskirts. Use 16 for a very light starch – as with chemises and everyday summer clothes)
- A large pot
- Heavy duty rubber gloves to protect your hands
- Somewhere to dry your dripping, messy, starched petticoat – preferably somewhere you can hang it out in a circle, so it doesn’t stick to itself as it dries, and so you begin forming fullness as it dries.
- An iron, ironing board, muslin/calico to cover the board or a sacrificial ironing board cover, a pressing cloth.
Pre-wash your items to be starched (or just run the shower over them if you’re in a real hurry). Fully washing is preferable, as it thoroughly wets the fabric, and cleans out any dirt or soiling so they aren’t sealed into the fabric with the starching.
Cooking the starch:
Mix your cornstarch with 1/2 cup of water in your pot. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, add the remaining 4 cups of water.
Bring the starch mix to a boil, stirring constantly (starching is an excellent arm workout). Once it comes to a boil, let it boil for 1-1.5 minutes. It will turn slightly translucent, and is thick and goopy, like runny glue, rather than totally liquid.
Turn off and remove from heat.
I wear thick rubber gloves for the next few steps, to protect my hands from the hot starch.
Take the pot somewhere where it won’t make a mess if you drip starch goop everywhere. This is where I love that my kitchen exits right on to the cement patio, which is equally handy to our washing line. I carry my pot out to the patio, and starch there. Then it doesn’t matter if I drip starch all across the lawn to the line.
If you have to do this indoors in a sink/bath/shower, it’s best to plug the sink/bath/shower so that you can run a bunch of water to dilute any dripped starch when you’re done. Thick undiluted starch can dry and clog drains, which really isn’t the best for your plumbing.
Once you are set up, dunk your damp petticoats in the starch. Stir them round using a stirrer, tongs until they are fully impregnated with starch.
Fish out the petticoat. Use your (gloved!) hands to wring and squish out the excess starch, so you just have a nice, thin layer of starch evenly coating the fabric.
Hang or spread your fully starched petticoats out to dry, trying to hang/spread them in as wide and circular a shape as possible.
When it’s sunny and warm outside I use my clothesline, clipping each side of the skirt to the furthest-apart parallel lines, to hold it in a wide, circular-ish shape.
It was rainy and cold when I starched the 1916 petticoat, so I dried it indoors, over my plastic-tubing hoopskirt, with rags beneath it to protect the floor, and a dehumidifier under it to dry it as efficiently as possible.
A petticoat that stands up by itself!
Felicity could not decide if it was the best cat house ever, or a prison…
You have two options with ironing a starched item: before it’s dry, or after.
Ideally you iron starched items while they are still ever so slightly damp, before any creases dry in. This makes them a lot easier to iron, and the ironing seals in the starch, creating a slightly glazed finish. Obviously things like petticoats don’t dry evenly, so I try to iron them when the main body is just the tiniest bit damp, even if the gathers at the waist are still very wet.
If I’m travelling with a large starched item, I sometimes let it dry completely, and shove it in my suitcase. I then iron it when I am ready to wear it – so I don’t have to iron it twice. This does mean that I have to use a LOT of steam when I iron the totally dried item. You’ll loose a little bit of the stiffness and fullness of the starching doing it this way, as the steam softens the crispness slightly. However, as my skirt shows, you can still get a lot of volume.
Whether I’m ironing a starched item damp or dry, I cover my ironing board with a length of calico/muslin, or use a really old ironing board cover, to avoid getting starch on my nice ironing board cover. I also use a pressing cloth, so I don’t get starch on the iron, and because starched fabric can scorch with a hot iron if you aren’t careful.
Ribbons & trim:
Starching something with decorative beading ribbon, like my 1916 petticoat, is always a bit of a problem. You can starch with the ribbon, and get starch on the ribbon, which doesn’t look that nice. Or you can remove the ribbon, and have to re-thread it after starching. This is what I chose to do, and it is a pain. The starch glues the layers of fabric together, and you have to pries them apart as you thread the ribbon through.
I did a lot of muttering threading my beading ribbon. Luckily I only had to do 1/4 of it by myself. For another quarter I got some help from a very charming 18 month old. I poked my bodkin through, she grabbed hold of it, pulled the ribbon through, and handed the bodkin back to me, saying “Again!”
This may be the only time I’ve ever wanted a toddler to day “Again” 30 times in a row!
For the final half of the beading, my wonderful mother in law took over, threaded it all through, twisted it all straight, and tied perfect bows in it.
*Yes, LA can be humid!
** And then washed the poor thing!