When I was at QuiltCon, one of my friends told a story from a quilting retreat she attended a few years back. She walked by the ironing table, and there were some older quilters spritzing their fabric with some starch, and then things took a turn for the weird. Those sweet little old ladies sprayed some in their mouths, laughing uproariously. What was in there: Turpentine? Icky chemicals? POISON? Turns out that they had made their own spray starch from a combination of water and… wait for it… vodka. I came home and did some research, and you know what? THIS IS A REAL THING. People have been doing it for decades! I’d had no idea.
Why vodka? you ask. Can I use any alcohol? Bourbon? Tequila? Moonshine? The science behind this is actually really simple and straightforward. Vodka, as you probably know, comes from potatoes (or, as Instagram reader whatshequilts reminds me, grains); it’s made by fermenting and then distilling potato or grain starch. Mix it with water and you have yourself some 40-proof starching power. I recommend this for when you need more heavy-duty stiffening action; it’s definitely stronger (though not nearly as lovely) as something like Flatter by Soak, but more akin to the starch spray you’ll find at the grocery store.
But, dear ones, please do not break out the Grey Goose or the Belvedere for this recipe. No. What you want is the vodka you drank in college when you were at your pinnacle of Poor Decision Making. You want Aristocrat. You want Popov. You want something distilled in Murfreesboro with some made-up Russian name that has a price tag of under $3.00 for a fifth. The stuff you would now never, ever drink in a million years. There’s been some debate online as to whether the vodka should be POTATO vodka or if it can be other forms too. Wheat, rye, and corn all contain starches as well; it’s these that ferment to produce the alcohol. While some folks have sworn by potato vodka only, others have claimed to have had good luck with any cheap vodka. Your mileage may vary; if one type doesn’t work for you, there’s always Jungle Juice.
Here’s what you’ll need to make enough to last you a good long time:
- 32-ounce empty spray bottle (I used an old store-bought one)
- 1 cup bottom-shelf, rat-gut vodka
- 2 cups water
- A few drops essential oil of your choice (lavender, thyme, lemongrass, orange, etc.); totally optional*
1. Pour all ingredients into bottle. Shake to mix.
2. Spray on fabric.
* The essential oils don’t add any starchifying properties to the mix; they just keep your fabrics from smelling like they’ve had an all-night bender at a dive bar. I added some because I think about my daughter in 14 years attending her first frat party and going, “Hey, this smells just like my mom’s sewing room!”