Fabric Stiffeners and Hardeners For All Occasions Plus A Recipe For Home Made Starch Alternative

I have had to become better acquainted with various ways to harden, stiffen or prevent fraying in cloth lately. It has been an enlightening journey, and I thought that I would pass it along the lessons that I have learned about a variety of excellent products that suit any need to 'tame' fabric for a variety of reasons. 

Fray Check. Who among us has not used this ubiquitous little potion over the years? It works like a charm to 'glue' up those raw edges on some of the most beautiful fabrics I use; ensuring that I can sew the fabric without fear of endless unraveling. This product has remained a favorite since I first discovered it many years ago. The only change that I think Prym/Dritz has made to it over the years is a finer application tip.

I have re-discovered my admiration for this product as I was making a holiday gift from some beautiful cotton that was especially prone to fraying! I have also recently learned that Fray Check can be removed with rubbing alcohol. If needed, soak the area in full strength alcohol for 30 minutes. Caution though. because alcohol can change the color of a fabric - test it fist! The product is non-flammable when it is dry, but flammable while it is wet. In much the same way, it is non-toxic when dried, but toxic when wet. Fray Check is made from a nylon plastic in an alcohol base, which is also why alcohol will dissolve it. 

One of my newest favorite textile hardener is called Fabri-Glaze and it is made by Innovative Craft Products. The company had, most graciously, sent my a jar to try, and I finally needed something just like it the other day - so try it I did! And I like it I did! When you open the jar it looks like a generic white glue. 

It is non-toxic, super fast drying, and it is water soluble which makes cleaning up a breeze. 

I wanted to harden a piece of fabric to use in a mixed media project. I did not want to use a simple starch because I wanted something more durable - something that would be easy to cut and react more like paper than cloth. 

I thinned the Fabri-Glaze just a bit and liberally applied it to my fabric 
with a foam brush, and then allowed it to dry completely. I was especially hoping
 that there would be no loose threads left after I cut the fabric.
As you can see, Fabri-Glaze dried perfectly clear with a perfect matte finish. No brush strokes were visible - which is exactly what I had been hoping for ! The fabric did not have any visible hanging threads or unruly threads after it was cut! 

Fabri-Glaze is the hardest of all of the stiffeners/hardeners that I had tried. You can adjust the stiffness with water as I did, but you can effect a hard shell or create a softer result as desired. You can mold fabric easily into a bowl shape or vessel with this amazing stuff. 

Yes, Fabri-Glaze has earned a permanent place on my bulging shelves!

What I believe is the latest thing on the market in this particular fabric hardening/stiffening/fray checking category is water soluble and called Terial Magic. I happened upon it at our local craft's supply store, Creative Passions. Terial Magic is touted as being a low, or no, fray fabric treatment, and I agree with that statement.

It was originally developed for fabric flower making. It obviously has other applications as well. You spray your fabric to soak with Terial Magic, air dry and then iron. You are encouraged to thoroughly soak the fabric with the product.

I consider this product to be a heavy starch, somewhere between spray sizing and the much harder coat of Fabri-Glaze. I like it, but think that it is a tad pricy at $14.95 for 24 ounces. I have not yet compared it to what one or two coats of regular spray starch. Nor have I compared it to bottled starch that I buy and can make as light or stiff as I need to with water. I'm glad that I bought it, and I will be using it, but I want to experiment with using it more and compare it to other, perhaps less expensive options.  

Which brings me to my latest search. 

In September I bought my first bottle of Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch Alternative to try. Always the skeptic, I wondered what, exactly, made Mary Ellen's the best and also what made it a starch alternative? Did I even know that there were starch alternatives other than, perhaps, sizing as opposed to regular starch. My education was beginning!

I searched on line for a list of the ingredients in Mary Ellen's Best Press. Needless to say, I could not find any information about the ingredients, and, it seemed, that others had also been wondering the same thing. I paged through volumes of forum posts and many blog posts looking for an answer. No one knows, it seems, what, exactly is in Mary Ellen's Best Press. The nagging question remained. What made it an alternative to starch?! I like using Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch alternative, but why do I like better than my regular starch?

I like this product enough that I was looking into buying a gallon refill for my bottle when I started to wonder if I could make my very own starch alternative that I would like as well. I was still 'hung-up' on what made this an alternative to starch, and what was in it that made it different. I kept reading and searching.
Voila! The answer! Potato Vodka!
 Huh?  Although I don't drink anything alcoholic anymore thanks to the potential for some adverse medication reactions, I was delighted to learn that there was another use for what had once been a favorite drink. After more "web wading" and researching a variety of helpful recipes and hints for starch alternatives, I found the following recipe which I think it is the easiest as well as the best:

I thank ExScapes blog for this recipe and her own inspiring article that helped me in my own search.

8 OZ (1cup) water - I used distilled
1 ounce (shot) potato vodka
spray bottle to put it in!

The key to making this best possible alternative is to use potato vodka

Mixed grain vodkas work too, but not as well.

Of course, for some odd reason, I had always presumed that vodka was, necessarily, made from potatoes. Since I had last been in our single, local, liquor store things had changed and been moved around, but I found the vodka. I was looking for a small, one pint, bottle, thinking that if this worked as well as I had hoped I would, I could make use of a pint. Big surprise! There was only ONE brand of potato vodka on the shelves - a large bottle at that - of the brand shown above, Chopin Vodka.  The others were all made from mixed grains.

The clerk was of no help what-so-ever. I think that he thought that I was on the lunatic fringe when I mentioned that I did not want to actually drink the vodka, but that  I wanted to use it on fabric! He just went about his business and tried to avoid the crazy woman in his store (me).  I was about to give up hope, but tried riffling though the mini bottles that were is metal baskets  towards the front of the store. I unearthed ONE single mini bottle of Glacier brand potato vodka. This mini was $5.00 for 50ml (1.69 ounces). I snapped it up.

I am, indeed, happy to report, that my experiments with potato vodka do, in fact, work! It really is an alternative to regular starch! The starch from the potato vodka provides a nice crispness. I wonder if this is what Mary Ellen's uses? I would never in a million years have thought to try using potato vodka as starch! Amazing. 

My next step  will be some experiments to add essential oils for scent. Mary Ellen's offers many scents in her starch - which sounds like a good thing to me. I want to experiment with some scent blends. Some oils will not be suitable of course. Perhaps fragrance blends , such as I use for my soaps, would be a bit better? I dunno yet, but I will and will keep you posted.


  1. Does your potato vodka recipe work if brushed on rather than sprayed on? Will it stiffen fabric without ironing, or is ironing necessary?

  2. The starch is removed in the process of making vodka from potatoes. The vodka in the spray recipe is to stabilize the essential oil that was listed in the original recipe of water, vodka and Essential oil of Lavender The recipe was intended as an alternative to plain water used in steam irons.

    1. Thanks CindyB for this excellent information!

  3. If the starch is removed when making the vodka, what gives it the starching effect? I've seen this formula before without the essential oils so I thought there was something in the vodka that provided the effect.

  4. I want to make a crocheted tear drop shape pendant. I worry Aileen's Fabric Glue or stiffener may get sticky/tacky if the person wearing the pendant should perspire. Do you know if Fray Check will stand up to being a little wet?

    1. or is there an alternative the item can be soaked in?

  5. I would like to stiffen some inexpensive cotton 3/8" rope to be used as lassos for a cowboy themed dance prop. They need to be stiff yet still somewhat flexible in 15' lengths. They need to be water resistant, as they will be used outdoors for football game halftime shows. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!

  6. I could not find the fabri-glaze anywhere for sale. Any ideas?


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