Grow Your Own Starch

getting ready to grate potatoes to make starch

You can see I had a few purple potatoes in the batch, but the starch still came out white.

I recently started using starch when I sew, but I don’t like the high cost, scent, and chemicals in commercial starch, so I make my own. Starching fabric adds preparation time, but makes sewing easier, and you get permanently crisp creases on hems, collars, and pockets, rather than the puffy home made look. I’ve been using starch to press up hems so they require less pinning, make jersey knits easier to handle, and to temporarily glue pockets in place before I sew them on. Quilters often starch their fabric, too. The starch washes out quite easily once you are done sewing.

I have posted recipes for home made laundry starch. You can take it a step further and extract your own starch from potatoes. Or two steps further and grow your own potatoes. Potato starch can also be used in gluten-free recipes and as a flour substitute for thickening gravies and sauces. And if you’ve got a bunch of potatoes that have turned green, you can still use them to make laundry starch.

To Extract Starch from Potatoes:

Either wash and scrub your potatoes well or peel them. Unless you want to use the starch for making laundry starch that will be used on white fabric, I see no reason to peel the potatoes.

Shred the potatoes finely. The finer you grate the potatoes, the more starch you will be able to get out. Cover the shredded potatoes with water in a bowl and stir them. I just let my kids stick their hands in there and play with the potatoes for a while.

Grated potatoes covered with water

Strain out the potatoes and save the water (which contains the starch) in a bowl or cooking pot. If you want to get every last bit of starch you can, wrap the potatoes in cheesecloth and squeeze them. Put the potatoes in some fresh water, swish them around, strain, and squeeze them again. Strain all of the liquid through cheesecloth or a very fine mesh strainer.

Let the liquid sit for a while undisturbed. Some people say to put it in the refrigerator and let it settle for a few hours. I am not that patient, so I just let it sit for about 45 minutes on the counter. Most of the starch has settled out by then. You might get another spoonful or so if you wait longer.

Slowly and carefully pour off the dark foamy liquid to reveal the layer of starch on the bottom of the bowl or pot.

Dark liquid after potato starch has settled out

I like to add some fresh water to the starch, stir it up, and let the starch settle out again. The water will be much clearer this time. Slowly pour off the water.

Potato starch second rinse








Scoop out the starch, spread it out on a baking pan, and leave it in a warm place to dry. Keep the starch below 110°F / 43°C as it dries. I like to stir the starch and smash it with a potato masher when it is partially dry to break up the clumps. If you live in a humid area and you are not sure your starch has dried completely, store it in the freezer.

Potato starch spread out on baking pan

From 9.5 pounds (4.3 kg) of potatoes, I got just over a half pint (200 g) of starch.

Dried potato starch in pint jar

You don’t need to waste the shredded potatoes. Fry them up as hash browns or put them in soup. If you have more left over shredded potatoes than you can eat right away, you can dry or freeze them. Before drying or freezing, blanch the shredded potatoes briefly in boiling water, then cool in ice water.

Posted in Crafts, Sewing

More Free Printable French Curves + Hip Curves

If you’re looking for printable French curves or hip curves with measurement marks, here you go. I made both imperial (inches) and metric (centimeters) curves. The inch/centimeter marks are not numbered, so you can decide where you want to start numbering and add the numbers yourself. The pdfs have multiple pages – there are mirror image curves in case you need a curve facing the other way, and the French curves come in three sizes.

On my inkjet printer the scale only comes out right if I print on the highest quality print setting, so watch out for that. There are lots of fine lines in these drawings, too, so that’s another reason not to print with draft quality.

Either print the curves on heavy paper or print on regular paper and glue onto paperboard (such as a cereal box or notebook cover), then cut them out. The hip curves are too long to fit on a single sheet of paper, so cut along the borders and tape the two pieces together, then cut out the curve.

Click on the images below to download the pdfs.

Free printable French curve labeled in inches

Imperial French Curve

Free printable hip curved marked in inches

Imperial Hip Curve

printable French curves marked in inches

Metric French Curves

Free printable metric hip curve marked in centimeters

Metric Hip Curve

and here are the French curves I made previously:

Various sizes of free printable French curves

French Curves

Posted in Patternmaking

New Jeans Zipper Fly Tutorial

Jeans zipper flies

I am making a rub-off jeans pattern for one of my kids. When I got to the zipper fly, I compared the child-sized zipper to adult-sized ones, and to my surprise, they were about the same width. It varied a little from pair to pair, but my husband’s fly topstitching was almost the same width as that on child’s size 6 pair of jeans. So, that got me thinking that rather than trace the zipper fly pieces for this pair of jeans, I could just make a zipper fly template and use the same pattern when I make myself jeans, too. I’d just change the length of the pattern pieces, and maybe I’d make the topstitching a couple of millimeters further from the edge for adult jeans.

Despite the fact that I’ve sewn over a dozen zipper flies, they still make my head spin. I’ll get it all figured out, then after not sewing one for a year, I’ll have forgotten everything. For self-drafted patterns, I was using a variation of the women’s zipper fly instructions in the original version of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. I wasn’t really happy with this method. There is one step in particular, where you have to fold up the end of the zipper tape to keep from stitching through it, that I tend to mess up half the time and have to pick out my stitches.

I want to sew real jeans zipper flies that look like the ones on ready-to-wear jeans. I looked through all of my sewing patterns and only found instructions for sewing mock flies (the fly facing is part of the pants front and folded over rather than sewn on). I looked through all of my sewing and patternmaking books and struck out there too. I looked through a dozen or so zipper fly tutorials on the internet, and every single one was for sewing a mock fly. Except they don’t call them that anymore. They just call them a zipper fly. I’d be OK with a mock fly on a skirt, maybe dress pants, or even little girls’ jeans, but darn it, I wanted to sew a “real” jeans zipper fly and I couldn’t find instructions for one. So what did I do? I figured it out myself and wrote a tutorial, of course.

There seems to be no end of variations on how to sew a zipper fly, so I’m not worried about doing it “the right way”. There really doesn’t appear to be such a thing as “the right way” to sew a fly. Even looking through the zipper flies on the ready-to-wear pants in my house, I can see they used different construction methods.

Zipper fly template

Jeans Zipper Fly Tutorial

If anyone knows of any other good zipper fly tutorials (ones with a sewn on fly facing, not a mock fly), please post a link in the comments.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

New Page: Sewing and Craft Recipes

I added a new page for Sewing and Craft Recipes. So far I have paper mache recipes, a paste recipe, and home made laundry starch recipes.

Posted in Crafts, Sewing

Knit Hems, Double Needles, and Starch

I just got this free ebook. It has lots of information on hemming. Get your copy!

Free download: The Colette Guide to Sewing Hems

knit hemI’ve been sewing knit hems on T-shirts lately with a double needle (also called a twin needle). One suggestion in this ebook is to use Wonder Tape (page 94) to stabilize knit hems. I try to avoid buying expensive consumable sewing notions – so my cheap natural solution is to use home-made spray starch. To make heavy starch, shake up 1 tsp (5 mL) cornstarch (aka cornflour in the UK) in 1 cup (240 mL) of water in a spray bottle.

Shake the bottle each time before you spray. Spray the fabric until it is wet and then press up the hem. Your iron needs to be set on the wool setting (about 300°F / 148°C). Any hotter than that and you will burn the starch. Hold the iron down in one spot for a few seconds until the fabric is most of the way dry, gently twist the iron back and forth to loosen it, then lift it and move to the next spot. If you try to lift the iron too soon it will be stuck to the fabric. This isn’t commercial starch with additives to make it slippery! However, the stickiness can be useful – the heavy starch not only stiffens the fabric; it also temporarily glues the layers of fabric together if you use enough starch. Starch really only works well on natural fibers, which is pretty much all I sew with. It makes sewing a perfect knit hem really easy, then it washes right out.

Starch residue does build up on the iron. I use my old iron for ironing on starched fabric and fusibles. To clean it after each use, I turn the heat all the way up and iron over an old wet towel. This doesn’t get all of the build-up off, so very occasionally I will use commercial iron cleaner to completely clean the iron.

Starched cotton jersey knitWhen I was using lightweight cotton jersey that really wanted to curl at the edges, I made boiled starch and starched all of the fabric before I cut it. It really helped to make the fabric behave better without making it stiff. For medium starch: Put ¼ cup (40 g) of cornstarch in a cooking pot. Measure out 2 quarts (2 L) of cold water. Pour a little of the water into the cornstarch, sir out the lumps, then add more water until about half of the water is in the pot. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally. When it starts to thicken, start stirring constantly. When it starts to boil, turn down the heat and boil for 1 minute while stirring. Turn off the heat and mix in the rest of the water.

Wet the fabric with plain water, wring it out, put it in the starch mixture and swish it around. If you have more pieces of fabric to starch, wring out the first piece, then put the next piece of fabric in. For small pieces of fabric, squeeze out the liquid, then roll in a towel. For larger pieces of fabric, put the fabric in the clothes washer and set the washer to spin only (I used a low speed spin cycle to retain more of the starch). You can save some of the liquid to put in a spray bottle if areas of your fabric need additional starching later, or you can mix up some raw starch when you need it. Store the starch mixture in the refrigerator – it’s a food product, and it will spoil. It’s the price you pay for using starch without preservatives such as formaldehyde, which is perfectly fine with me!

Either let the fabric dry flat, or put in in the dryer and take it out when it is still damp. Put a towel or protective cloth over your ironing board. Iron the fabric dry with an iron set to the wool setting. Set the iron down in one spot for a few seconds, then slightly rotate it back and forth to unstick it before lifting. If you try to lift the iron too soon, the fabric will stick to it. If you have so much fabric that ironing the whole thing would take hours, just iron any curled edges or wrinkled areas, then hang the fabric on a drying rack or lay it flat to finish drying.

I didn’t realize this when I first started sewing knit hems with a double needle: In order for the stitches to stretch, you need to increase the upper thread tension and/or reduce the bobbin tension until you get a zig-zag on the underside. The problem with increasing the upper thread tension is that you can get a raised channel (aka tunneling) between the rows of stitching. Stitching on heavily starched fabric will help prevent tunneling. Loosening the bobbin tension sounds like a better idea, but I haven’t tried it, since I try not to adjust the bobbin tension too often (I don’t want to wear out that little screw). Although, now that I’m thinking of it, I have an extra bobbin case – I should just leave that one set to a looser tension. With starched fabric and a 3 mm wide double needle, I haven’t had any problems, but I imagine tunneling would be more of an issue with double needles set further apart, and you would really need to loosen the bobbin tension.

Did you know that double needles can be used with any zig-zag machine, whether or not they are mentioned in your sewing machine manual? Here’s how I use them in my Singer Fashion Mate 252. I fill up a bobbin and set it underneath my upper thread spool, with the threads unwinding in opposite directions to keep them from tangling.  I thread both threads through as if they were one, stopping before the last thread guide. I pull out a few inches of thread to get the twists out, then thread one thread through the final thread guide and into the left needle. Finally, I thread the other thread directly into the right needle, skipping the last thread guide.

When you buy double needles, make sure you are not buying needles set any further apart than the widest zig-zag stitch your sewing machine makes. You can get extra wide 6 and 8 mm double needles now that will only work on certain sewing machines. Get the right kind (universal, ballpoint, stretch) and size of needle for the fabric you are using, too.

Posted in Sewing

Wool Felt and Sand Pincushion

In a rather roundabout way, I made a new pincushion. I wanted to fill it with something that might sharpen my disappointingly dull new glass-head pins. I happened to have some fine sand, so I thought I’d give that a try for the filling. For the top, I wanted something that would keep sand in, but would let the pins slide through easily. Wool felt is ideal for that, but I didn’t have any. So I thought I’d make some.

I had a ball of somewhat lumpy wool yarn that I’d spun years ago while learning to use my spinning wheel. Weaving it into fabric and then felting it was a good project to involve the kids in. It was good math practice, too, figuring out how many warp threads and heddle strings we would have.

I made a frame loom out of scraps from a broken clothes drying rack. A paint stirring stick made an excellent shed stick, and the shuttles are made from an old yardstick. I found a good reference for using a simple loom, if you’d like to make one.

After I took the wool fabric off the loom, I sewed down the ends and ran it through the washer and dryer a few times to felt it. You can see it shrank quite a bit as it felted.

The wool fabric before and after felting.

The wool fabric before and after felting.

Now for the pincushion:

It remains to be seen if the sand will do anything to sharpen the pins. The pins slide into the pincushion very easily – in fact they slide in so easily they always end up pushed in as far as they can go, which makes it hard to grab a pin to pull it out, so I don’t think I’d like a sand filled pincushion for regular use. This large pincushion sits next to my sewing machine stuck full of my extra pins.

Posted in Sewing, Weaving

Zig-zag Treadle Sewing Machine

Singer Fashion Mate 252 TreadleI learned to sew on my mother’s treadle sewing machine when I was about seven years old. I thought our neighbor’s electric zig-zag sewing machine was super cool, so as a teenager I saved up my babysitting earnings and bought myself an electric zig-zag machine. After sewing on this for a few years, I really started to miss sewing on a treadle sewing machine, but I didn’t want to give up that nifty zig-zag stitch, so I decided to try to make a zig-zag treadle sewing machine.

I searched ebay* until I found a zig-zag sewing machine with a handwheel that stuck out over the edge of the sewing machine base. I found a Singer Fashion Mate 252 from the early 1970’s, in (not so) lovely shades of green. There are a few other Singer 200 and 300 series zig-zag models that also can be used with a treadle. Janome now makes a modern sewing machine to be put in a treadle base, too.

I didn’t have a cabinet the sewing machine would fit in, but apparently they fit right into a Singer 66 cabinet. I cut out a hole in a scavenged particleboard desk top and attached it to a treadle base I bought at a garage sale. I keep meaning to replace that particleboard with something prettier, but it works just fine, and I’m more into function than form, so it’s never made it to the top of my priority list.

This sewing machine is harder to treadle than a straight stitch machine, but my back gets tired from bending over the sewing machine before my legs get tired, so its not really an issue unless I’m doing a lot of satin stitching.

I like how universal the older Singer short shank machines are – I can use all of my vintage Singer attachments as well as modern attachments for short shank sewing machines.

I’ve sort of hacked this sewing machine. Here are the other modifications I’ve made:

  • The Fashion Mate 252 comes with straight stitch, zig-zag, and a blind hem stitch. In mMulti zig-zag cam in Singer 252y many hours spent looking at sewing machines on ebay, I’d noticed some flat black special stitch cams that looked like the ones inside my sewing machine. I took a chance and bought them, and luckily they fit, so I replaced the blind hem stitch cam with the 3-step zig-zag cam. You can also sew a blind hem with the 3-step zig-zag, so I’m not losing that function.
  • Usually stitch lengths are measured in millimeters these days, not stitches per inch as this Singer Fashion Mate 252 Stitch Length Thread Spoolsewing machine is marked with. I got tired of making the conversions, so I made a new label for the stitch lengths.
  • The thread holder is a section of a knitting needle that I glued in place with a huge glob of hot melt glue underneath, since the original thread holder had broken off.
  • I re-wired the light directly to a cord and re-attached it on the back of the sewing machine.

When I’ve told people about this sewing machine, they’ve commented that I could sew when the power is out. Which seemed kind of silly, since I’m not usually thinking about sewing when the power is out. I’m usually thinking about how I can keep the food from spoiling, and where the heck did I leave the flashlight. But we lost power several times this summer due to thunderstorms, and one of those times I noticed an article of clothing that needed mending sitting on my sewing machine and I took care of it, just for the novelty of sewing when the power was off.

I have been sewing with this sewing machine for years, and I love it. I have an electric sewing machine that’s only a few years old, but I hardly ever use it.

*I don’t recommend buying sewing machines on ebay. I bought three, and they all arrived damaged. Fortunately I was buying two of them for parts, and most of the parts were still good. Most people don’t know how to package sewing machines for shipping.

Posted in Sewing

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