How to Starch a Doily

crocheted items before washing and starching

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).

crocheted items after washing and starching

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.

Faultless brand  laundry starch

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.

the result of heavy laundry starch

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.)

Don't do this!  Take the time to pin them out!

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.

Yes, that's better!

In the picture marked “YES,” I pinned all the loops. It takes longer, but the results are worth it.

Here they are, all pinned and ready to dry.

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!

Good starching makes a world of difference!

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.

8 Responses to How to Starch a Doily

  1. wool winder July 10, 2006 at 6:20 am #

    What a difference! Thanks for posting how to renew old dollies like these. I always learn so much from your blog. I’m bookmarking this post.

  2. bunbun September 24, 2006 at 6:58 pm #


  3. Laura November 2, 2006 at 8:40 am #

    Thank you so much for the Starching instructions. Most interested in the sugar starch. A friend made me some bells and I want to starch them. I’ll place them over a wine glass to fit.


  4. marie fournier April 30, 2007 at 10:53 am #

    i would like the old fastion starch like my mother made.

  5. Theresa February 24, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    I myself have spray starched my doilies. It gives them body but does not stiffen like the commercial and sugar starches. Sometimes they do not lay totally flat. I am using your directions to starch my doilies this time. I will be much happier with the outcome and my grandmother did this when i was young.

  6. suzann March 2, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

    Yes, when you soak the doily in the old-fashioned starch, the result is much better. But spray starch works well for some things, like when you want to sew the doily to a quilt or other project. I recently tried liquid starch, instead of making my own from powdered starch. Will let you know how I feel about that, soon! Thanks for commenting!

  7. Chris. Worron March 5, 2018 at 12:31 pm #

    I loved reading this article about starching doilies. Couldn’t have found it at a better time.
    Question: I have an antique doilie made by a great grandmother and I would like to have it framed to hang on the wall.
    Do you have any suggestions for me? I will gently wash it. Starch it. Pin it and let it dry. But – what is best to mount it onto? Velour? And then have glass over. It’s a good sized doilie.
    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  8. suzann March 7, 2018 at 10:29 pm #

    Thanks for reading the doily-starching post!

    If you’re going to take it to a framing shop, the people there will have the best advice for you. I would add that you should ask them to use acid-free materials, to preserve the doily as long as possible. If you cover it with glass, be sure that air can get to it. I know it seems odd, but textiles need to breathe, and you wouldn’t want to trap any moisture with a doily in a sealed environment.

    Would you consider mounting the doily yourself? If so, you can buy a stretched canvas at a art supply or craft store, and cover it with fabric. Ask about the best spray mounting adhesive for your fabric–it should be formulated to preserve fabric, if possible. I would go for velvet instead of velour, but that’s just me. Cotton fabric would be nice, too. You can bring the doily with you to a fabric store and see which fabric looks best with it. Then you can hand-stitch the doily to the canvas, through all the layers (canvas, fabric, doily). Be sure a use enough stitches so the doily doesn’t sag.

    I hope this helps. I’d love to know what you decide to do. Would you let me know? And maybe email me a photo when it’s done? Thanks!


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