Experiments with textile stiffeners

Using Elmers glue to coagulate and stiffen textile, has proven really effective in my process so far. Glue was readily available from the supermarket during lockdown, and I have since been able to source bulk containers that are more cost effective and use less plastic. I really like the transparency of the glue when it dries, and I enjoy the squelching of it in my hands as I work with it. A residue of glue always remains on my hands at the end of a process, it’s like the glue has mixed in with my skin to make a process-glove just for this specific task. I peel it off as part of a closing, like a doctor might remove gloves at the end of a surgery.

Looking for a more natural option to congeal and stiffen the fabric, I discover a recipe on the back pages of a discontinued library book, circa 1970 – that suggests a combination of sugar and water. I placed towel threads on a plastic toilet seat and sponged with the solution as advised. It dried overnight and surprisingly worked like a light glue. I didn’t get the frosting effect that was promised (thank goodness), it actually dried really clean with no glue skins in the gaps between the threads. The result was still quite soft.

Wanting to keep purchases local I’m trying out a fabric hardener from a nearby art shop. The product looks like glue although it is a lot more expensive and has a toxic warning on the label that I’m not keen on. I decide to paint onto one side of the the sugar test and see how they compare.

After two days, the test seems to be dry but still has a wet appearance. It has a faint rubbery latex feel. It seems to have a lighter touch than glue and the residue rubs away between my fingers. Similarly to the sugar solution, it hasn’t set really hard, there is still quite a lot of flexibility in the weave.

Both options seem to have retained the shape I set at the start. The test reminds me of an old lace glove, and perhaps because of the colour towel-thread I decided to use – it’s a bit like a gnarly skin graft.

The fabric stiffener has been applied to the left side, the appearance is more wet. The sugar solution, which looks drier – to the right and around the edge, is much more favourable – for now.

Using corn starch on a lace towel, kinda how my mum used to starch her petticoats.