These little pieces came in a tin I bought at an antique store. They were dirty and smelled of pipe tobacco. These scans show before cleaning and starching and after cleaning and starching. Isn’t the difference amazing?!
Before washing and starching (left).
After washing and starching (below).
Careful starching is part of the finishing process for these decorative pieces and also for small things like bookmarks and crocheted snowflake ornaments. It is some trouble, but thank goodness, you only need to starch after a piece has been finished or washed.
Ivory Liquid is a favorite gentle cleanser among a lot of textile and fiber folks. But I didn’t have Ivory, so I washed these in shampoo. They still looked dirty, so I tried a brightening wash:
1. Half-fill the bathroom sink. Add a handful of borax powder.
2. Swish doilies around and let them soak a few minutes.
3. Rinse in running water, while you drain the sink.
4. Run another half-sink or water. Add about 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice.
5. Soak and swish doilies again.
6. Rinse again in running water.
7. Lay flat to dry, preferably in sunshine.
As you read the next steps, take it from someone who has learned this lesson in the school of experience: lazy methods produce inferior results. With that in mind, prepare for starching:
1. Lightly stretch the doily and measure its dimensions. For a round doily, measure across. For a square, rectangular, or oval doily, measure length and width.
2. On a piece of parchment paper or wax paper, use a pencil or waterproof pen to draw the shape of the doily to be starched. Leave a wide border around the drawing. For round doilies, trace around a plate or platter that is about the right size. For squares, rectangles, and ovals, use a ruler to measure and draw an outline.
3. If your round doily is obviously divisible into quarters, fold your circle drawing into quarters, with the center of the fold at the center of the circle. This will give you guidelines for evenly pinning your doily.
4. Tape the drawing to a piece of cardboard. Find a bunch of pins.
You can use your eye to estimate the lines if you want, but I guarantee you will have a better product if you take the time to draw the lines.
Now prepare the starch. I use Faultless powdered starch, which comes in a box (see picture above). My supermarket carries this product alongside the spray starches. These proportions will make your doily fairly stiff, as you can see in the photo below. This recipe makes enough to starch several medium sized doilies.
1/2 c water (4 fluid oz.)
1-1/2 Tablespoons laundry starch (= 1 T + 1-1/2 tsp)
1/4 c water
1 c cool water
Mix starch powder into 1/4 cup cool water until smooth. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil. Remove from heat and slowly stir starch mixture into hot water. Add cool water and mix well. Let cool.
OR make sugar starch with 1 part water, 2 parts sugar. In a saucepan, heat and stir water and sugar until solution is clear. No need to boil. Let cool.
Make doily wet and squeeze out excess water. Put doily into the starch solution (laundry starch or sugar starch). Let stand for a few minutes. Remove from starch solution and squeeze out excess.
Pin doily onto the cardboard, using the drawn lines as a guide. My drawn circle was a fraction too small, so I pinned each loop just outside the line all around. For best results, pin each point or loop in place. Take time to straighten and smooth each flower petal. (Go back to the top and compare the flower centers, before and after.)
In the picture marked “NO,” the loops have not been pinned. They’ll dry like that, and the outside of the doily will look crumpled. You can see the penciled line I used for a guide.
In the picture marked “YES,” I pinned all the loops. It takes longer, but the results are worth it.
Let the piece dry completely. Remove the pins, and enjoy your beautifully finished doily!
A few more notes:
Do not iron flat doilies. There’s no need to do that, in spite of information presented on other websites.
For doilies with large ruffles, make some kind of support for the ruffles, like cones made by rolling paper and taping. Once the ruffled doily is dry, you may need to touch up the ruffles with the iron. I’m talking about the ruffles that stand a couple or three inches high. These doilies were popular at one time, I guess when people had more time for starching!
I have read about spray starching doilies and similar pieces. I have never done this. My concern is that the spray starch wouldn’t penetrate the piece like the liquid starch does. Please comment if you have spray-starched doilies.
In my experience, sugar starch does not attract ants. I sugar-starched some snowflakes over twenty years ago, and they have been ant-free all this time.
Commercial fabric stiffeners are available at craft stores, under brand names like Stiffy(r). They are like white glue, and they do a good job. I think pieces stiffened with commercial stiffeners have a bit of a translucent look, almost as if they are still wet. Starch and sugar give a fine, dry-looking finish to cotton thread.