Substitute for Fabric Stiffener

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Fabric stiffener is also used to iron button-down shirts.
Fabric stiffener is also used to iron button-down shirts. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Fabric stiffener is a common tool for crochet, applique and jewelry arts and crafts. Fabric stiffener allows craft makers to manipulate fabric into desired shapes and ensures that the object holds its shape. If you don't have fabric stiffener you can also use substitute solutions that provide the same hardening effect.

Sugar Water

Sugar and water make a syrup that helps hold the shape of fabric when dry. Heat and mix equal parts of white sugar and water over the stove. Bring the sugar water to a slight boil and thicken until it reaches the desired consistency. A thicker syrup will produce a harder finish. The mixture stiffens fabric but should be used sparingly because it can attract pests.

Starch Water

Starch is the main ingredient in commercial fabric spray starch used to iron clothing. For a homemade version combine 1/4 cup starch and 1 1/2 cups of water and cook over a medium heat until it is translucent and the desired thickness. You can use any kind of starch powder to make this mixture including corn, potato, wheat or rice.

Diluted Glue

Fabric dipped in or painted with diluted glue will become stiff with a shiny finish. Mix equal parts of clear drying white glue or fabric glue and water. Use less water for a harder finish. The mixture requires a long drying time since the glue penetrates the fibers of the fabric but will provide a long-lasting finish.

Hairspray

Hairspray is an inexpensive and effective substitution for fabric stiffener. You can use any kind of hairspray on fabric but an aerosol rather than a spray pump will more evenly distribute the hairspray across the fabric. Use an alcohol-free hairspray because alcohol can cause discoloration or bleeding dyes in fabric. Apply heat with an iron or hair dryer to set the hairspray.

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