Permanent Fabric Stiffening Techniques Update 06/2022

I came into a dilemma trying to make a stiff petticoat for a vintage 1950s type dress. To complement the retro aesthetic, I desired a fully three-dimensional clothing. When I learned how to stiffen fabric, I discovered this.

Stiffeners are used to maintain the shape of a piece of fabric. Sugar, gelatin, cornstarch and hairspray are all common fabric stiffeners. Stiffening sprays, glues, and interfacing can permanently alter the structure of a material.

You’ll find out how fabric stiffeners operate in this article. Additionally, you’ll learn ten simple ways to stiffen fabric. Lastly, you’ll learn about the kinds of materials that are self-shaping.

What is Fabric Stiffener?

how to harden fabric

If you want a piece of clothing to retain its shape, you need a fabric stiffener. Sewing, handicraft, and even sculpture can all benefit from the usage of fabric stiffeners.

A common type of stiffener used in sewing is interfacing. In most cases, iron-on interfacing is the most convenient choice because it clings rapidly to most types of fabric when pressed. Spray-on stiffeners, on the other hand, can aid in the creation of tidy cuffs and collars on several types of sewed clothing.

It’s possible to make armor and full-bodied skirts out of stiffened fabric if you’re like cosplay, costume, or vintage attire.

Fabric stiffeners can also be used to shape hats. Making your own hat may seem quaint in today’s world. This time-honored craft calls for a variety of stiffening fabrics, from the hat itself to the embellishments such as ribbons and flowers. However, it is a time-consuming task.

Stiffened fabric is used in a wide variety of crafts. As a dollmaker, you may need a stiffened fabric for specific parts of their body. To make a basket, you’ll likely need to bake the burlap until it hardens into a specific form. Weave ribbons into curls or freeze an elegant crochet doily in a circle to make a wreath for your front door!

In addition to traditional artistic endeavors such as painting canvases or producing fabric sculptures, fabric stiffeners can also be used for other creative endeavors.

You may want to utilize household things as fabric stiffeners if you are a DIY craftsman or sewer. Gelatin, sugar, and cornstarch are just a few examples.

Purchasing professional fabric stiffeners at an arts and craft fair is an option if you choose to save time. For those who have Mod Podge and wallpaper paste on hand, you can also use these to create a fabric stiffener!

If you’re looking for a product that doesn’t leave behind any residue, opt for one that dries clear. Of course, the fabric’s shape should be held firmly in place as well!

How to Stiffen Fabric Permanently: 10 Methods

how to make fabric stiff

Stiffeners that do their job well will dry hard and keep the fabric’s shape. However, most fabric stiffeners are water-soluble, which means that the rigidity can be washed away. As a result, only a small number of fabric stiffeners can claim to be permanent.

When used as directed, spray-on starch provides a strong grip. Crisp edges and a beautiful form are achieved by using a rotary cutter. Despite this, it will come off in the wash, necessitating a second application when ironing the item.

Water-soluble stiffeners can be used permanently on items that won’t be washed. The stiffener will keep its shape indefinitely if it is not exposed to water.

Only iron-on interfacing and some types of glue give a truly permanent set of fabric stiffeners.

As a side note, not all projects necessitate the same level of rigidity! A poof of netting for a fancy dress or a clean edge to a tailored blazer may require firming up.

There is a specific application for each of the stiffeners listed here. Specific types of fabric are better suited for some dyes than others. The most important thing to remember is that you need to match your project to the best fabric stiffeners for it!

1. Iron-On Interfacing

A variety of weights and thicknesses of stiff, light interfacing are available. Buttonholes, collars, cuffs, and waistbands are just some of the places where it is used by both professional and amateur sewists.

Because it is used as a backing for the primary fabric or as a sandwich between the primary fabric and a lining, interfacing is often white in color.

Due of the glossy side that melts onto the fabric when ironed, iron-on is the easiest interfacing to use. The only type of fabric to which you should not apply interfacing is sheer or see-through, as it will show through.

Make your cloth stiff by following these simple instructions with iron-on interfacing!

  1. Cut a tiny piece of both the interfacing and your fabric. When ironing, make sure that the heat and the interfacing adhesive do not cause any harm to the fabric. Determine the maximum temperature at which your iron will not burn or melt the fabric.
  2. Pre-wash your garments. Prewashing isn’t required for most sewing tasks, but if you’re using interfacing, you should. Alternatively, the fabric and interfacing could shrink at various rates in the future.
  3. Choose the parts of your project that require more body or stiffness. Do you need additional support around the buttonholes or in the collar of your shirt? Use interfacing to cut out the pattern parts you need.
  4. The interface should be matched to the material. The glossy side of the interface must be placed on the incorrect side of the cloth in order for it to work. It’s important to check that everything lines up straight before you start cutting.
  5. It’s time for your iron to reach its maximum temperature. The interfacing adheres better when the iron is hot and steamy. You can also use a low and slow method for delicate and synthetic textiles.
  6. Use a pressing cloth if the material is sensitive.
  7. The cloth and the interfacing should be ironed together! ” Tighten the interfacing to make sure the adhesive has melted onto it when the garment has cooled.

2. Glue/PVA Glue

PVA glues, or polyvinyl acetate glues, make up the majority of the glues you use every day. Elmer’s glue, wood glue, and craft glue are all included! These glues are water-soluble, which means that they will dissolve if they come into contact with water.

In spite of this, making a mixture of glue and water remains one of the most popular procedures for stiffening fabric. A door wreath, a fabric basket, or some parts of a costume can all benefit from this procedure because of the hard material they require.

  1. Mix equal amounts of glue and water in a disposable container. If you need to stiffen a significant piece of fabric or ribbon, use more glue and water! The solution should not get too thick or too thin if you employ a 50/50 ratio.
  2. For some tasks, it may be necessary to soak the material in the glue solution before applying it to the finished object. The adhesive will be fully absorbed in five to ten minutes.
  3. The next step is to mold the wet fabric to the desired form.
  4. Alternatively, you can use an inexpensive brush to apply the glue solution to the cloth after arranging the ribbon or fabric on a frame of some sort (often wires bent into the appropriate shape).
  5. Before the mixture dries, remove any extra glue that may have dripped onto the surface.

Creates a hard plastic-like surface on the fabric and holds it in a three-dimensional shape with this method. That includes see-through and fragile materials, too!

3. Gelatin

Using gelatin as a fabric stiffener is a low-cost option. It won’t make your cloth wobbly like jelly, so don’t worry! During the heating and cooling process, the protein in the collagen hardens, creating gelatin.

In water, gelatin dissolves easily, as anyone who has ever prepared jello would attest to their familiarity with this fact. This means it’s not waterproof and won’t last forever. Gelatin, on the other hand, provides good grip and a rigid feel to most materials.

This method is fantastic for working with silk that is prone to slipping. Silk is easier to cut, line, and sew when it is stiffer.

  1. To prepare a gelatin bath, heat water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Avoid letting it boil, but do keep it at a simmer.
  2. For every two cups of boiling water, add one teaspoon of gelatin. Measure your water so that you have enough to easily cover your fabric.
  3. When the gelatin has dissolved, mix the ingredients together.
  4. Wait 30 minutes before using the combination. Activation of the gelatin occurs as a result.
  5. Make sure the fabric is completely submerged in the gelatin and water bath before adding it to the mixture.
  6. The substance should be allowed to soak for at least an hour.
  7. When you remove the cloth from the bath, try to press some of the water out of the fabric. Wringing it out could cause damage to the delicate fabric!
  8. For sewing projects, you’ll need to dry the silk on a flat surface or hang it on a drying rack to make it stiffer.
  9. It is vital to use supports if you want the material to dry in a three-dimensional form.
  10. Overnight, let the damp material to dry.

4. Commercial Stiffeners

A synthetic glue-like material is typically found in commercial fabric stiffeners. Applying them is a snap thanks to their spray tops. They’re generally safe, although the stench isn’t for everyone.

Spray-on stiffeners are often able to be applied in many coats.

Aleene’s, Mod Podge Stiffy, and Spray N’ Bond are some of the most popular brands of commercial stiffeners.

Be sure to follow the directions on the package if you choose to use a professional stiffener. When it comes to application and drying timeframes, you should be able to follow these instructions with ease.

5. Hairspray

Stiffening cloth using hairspray is an inexpensive and convenient option. Dolls and crafts that can’t be washed benefit greatly from this technique. It can also be used as a substitute for starch if you’re in a pinch!

Hairspray that contains alcohol should be avoided at all costs. The dye in some materials may run or bleached spots may appear on your garment if you consume alcohol.

Just follow these simple steps to get the job done!

  1. Work in a well-ventilated environment, or take a little object outside to freshen up your air supply.
  2. Spray the material until it is completely saturated using a steady back-and-forth motion.
  3. Arrange the damp fabric into the desired shape and then allow the material to dry in that shape for 3D shapes such as hats or numerous crafts. Let the material.
  4. Hairspray can be used to stiffen clothing by ironing it on the ironing board while it is still damp.

6. Mod Podge

Mod Podge may stiffen a variety of fabrics by acting as a clear, hard layer. You only need to follow the instructions in the glue section of this article to get the job done.

Regular Mod Podge is really simply PVA glue diluted down! (I know, I know.)) You could have saved money by using craft glue instead of decoupage and scrapbooking glues you’ve purchased over the years!).

In addition, Mod Podge Stiffy, a spray-on fabric stiffener, is available for purchase. As a bonus, you don’t have to waste time mixing up your recipe because this holds material quite well.

Please read the instructions on the package before using Mod Podge Stiffy.

7. Cornstarch

When heated and damp, cornstarch undergoes a chemical transformation known as gelatinization, which makes it an excellent fabric stiffener. It thickens and goopy as it soaks up the water surrounding it!

Adding starch to non-washable objects provides a crisp, long-lasting grip. Cornstarch, on the other hand, will lose its grip on moist objects quickly. In addition, cornstarch will not work as well on any synthetic material.

Using cornstarch as a stiffener is easy to do at home.

  1. One spoonful of cornstarch and six tablespoons of water should be mixed together in a small saucepan. This mixture can be multiplied if more is required. Just stick to the one-to-six water to cornstarch ratio.
  2. Stir in the cornstarch until it dissolves.
  3. Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. Submerge your fabric in the warm mixture and form it while it’s still wet, or paint the thick cornstarch slurry over your shaped cloth using a cheap paintbrush after you’ve already shaped it that way.

8. Commercial Starch

A lovely crisp finish is achieved by applying commercial starch, commonly known as spray starch. In addition to making shirts and pants look smart, it can provide a touch of extra body to voluminous clothing like gathered skirts. It’s important to remember that this is only a temporary stiffener for items like clothing that you intend to wash.

Spray starch, on the other hand, can be used to generate a semi-permanent stiffness for a variety of crafts and aesthetic tasks. In the case of synthetic fabrics, you can achieve the same effect by utilizing a spray agent known as sizing.

These simple procedures will help you starch your cloth. The ironing phase is crucial because it activates the starch’s thickening capacity, allowing it to stiffen the fabric.

  1. The fabric should be washed and dried first. You’re removing anything that could interfere with the starch adhesion to fabric fibers, like chemical coatings and dirt.
  2. Place the fabric on your ironing board and arrange it so that it is ready to be ironed.
  3. Spray starch liberally all over the surface. Allow yourself some time to process this.
  4. Use your iron to apply pressure to the wet material. To avoid damaging your material, use a heat setting that is safe for it.

9. Sugar

Isn’t it amazing that you can use sugar to create a simple and effective fabric stiffener? There are many commercial solutions on the market that claim to deliver lasting benefits, but this is an old-fashioned recipe that may not be as effective. However, it’s worth examining because it has been a popular method of fabric stiffening for a long time.

  1. In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar in a 1:1 ratio.
  2. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Boil the mixture down to a simmer.
  4. Remove from the oven.
  5. If you notice sugar crystals forming around the rim of the saucepan, use a damp pastry brush to remove them.
  6. Using tongs, dip your doll into the sugar mixture and set it aside to dry.
  7. Make sure the fabric is cooled down before arranging it in the desired form.
  8. Overnight, allow it to dry out.

10. Wallpaper Paste

A fabric stiffener can be made from wallpaper paste dissolved in water. Starch and cellulose ethel, two ingredients with great stickiness, are used in most wallpaper paste.

Is wallpaper paste preferable to glue for hanging wallpaper? You may want to test it out first to see if it dries clear before using it. This is dependent on the paste’s manufacturer.

Wallpaper paste is more expensive than Elmer’s glue, too.

Other than that, it will almost surely produce a long-lasting stiffness in any fabric object.

  1. Mix water and wallpaper paste in a 1:1 ratio. Powder packets of paste are the most common form.
  2. Make sure there are no lumps visible on the surface by thoroughly mixing the ingredients.
  3. Use this mixture to soak your fabric.
  4. Drape the wet fabric over a frame or mold it by hand to the desired form.
  5. The fabric must be allowed to dry completely.

What is the Best Fabric Stiffener?

The ideal fabric stiffener for your project depends on what you’re making. When sewing clothing, you may need to use interfacing or a commercial spray to make the material more rigid. Doilies should be soaked in a cornstarch or sugar solution if you’re crocheting snowflakes.

Check out these three well-known brands if you’re looking for the best commercial goods on the market!

Mod Podge Plaid Stiffy Fabric Stiffener

Firm-hold fabric adhesive from Mod Podge has a well-known brand name and lives up to it! A clear, hard coat forms on many types of cloth, including woven material and lace, and it can be applied to a wide range of materials.

On the down side, it’s available in both a spray bottle and a bottle, so be sure to pick the right one!

When washed, this substance is water-soluble, which means it will be removed.

Aleene’s Fabric Stiffening Spray

With a wide variety of goods, Aleene’s Stiffen-Quick spray bottle may be the most popular fabric stiffener on the market.

The drying time of this spray-on coating is incredibly fast. If your work needs a more hard finish, you can apply more coats.

When exposed to water, Aleene’s stiffening sprays will wash away.

If you’re looking for a last-minute solution for gifts or decorations, this is a great option!

SpraynBond Fabric Stiffener

SpraynBond is another spray-on, fast-drying fabric stiffener. Using this method, you can cut the fabric without worrying about the edges fraying.

Useful for those who enjoy quilting or appliquéing!

Alternatively, you can iron the cloth to set the stiffness immediately. If you’re stiffening heavy-duty materials, you’ll probably need more than one coat of this spray, but it works great on delicate materials like macramé and ribbon.

Homemade Fabric Stiffener

Sugar or cornstarch can be used to manufacture your own DIY fabric stiffener, as discussed earlier in this article. Another dish that only calls for a small amount of rice can be made as well!

  1. Put two cups of rice and four cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Cook for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil.
  3. Clean, shallow dish: Strain the water. As a bonus, you can keep the rice in the fridge and consume it later!
  4. Another cup of warm water should be added to the rice water in order to dilute it further.
  5. For five minutes, soak your fabric in the rice water.
  6. You may either hang it to dry or leave it to air dry after a few minutes of letting it drip.

Rice can be transformed into a new starch using this process!

What is a Waterproof Fabric Stiffener?

Almost typically, a final coat of silicone or acrylic spray is required to waterproof or weatherproof fabric. Water-soluble and water-resistant fabric stiffeners are far more common than fully waterproof ones!

Since most commercial products use water-based glues, even those discussed in this article will dissolve in the washing machine.

Commercial waterproofing sprays are readily available, which is a good thing. Awnings, patio umbrellas, and even a tent can benefit from these.

Such sealants are available from a variety of manufacturers, including Scotchgard, Mod Podge, and Krylon.

Stiff Fabric That Holds Shape

There are times when a cloth’s natural stiffness can be used instead of a fabric stiffener! Netting, canvas, buckram, organdy, interfacing, and several types of denim are all examples of inherently stiff fabrics.

Even cotton, which has a loose weave, can keep its shape if it is heavy or thick enough. There is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to thin felt, for example. However, thick felt may easily hold a shape.

If you want to give a lighter cloth some structure, you can employ one of these materials, such netting. Netting is sometimes used to enhance the shape of formal gowns, such as those with a voluminous skirt.


Sugar, gelatin, cornstarch, rice, or Elmer’s glue are some of the most common ingredients in homemade fabric stiffeners. It is possible to get the same result with commercial products such as Mod Podge and Aleene’s, as well as SpraynBond, which are widely available. Certain types of cloth stiffeners function better than others.

Fabric stiffeners come in a wide variety of water-soluble varieties. Using an acrylic or silicone sealer helps provide a long-term hold on the fabric.

The answer to this question is probably “no.” What was the recipe you followed? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

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