For this entry in Snowflake Week, I’ll continue with my article on finishing techniques. Today we’ll discuss some of the ways to stiffen crochet.
It seems that crocheters and designers are always struggling against the inherent firmness of crochet. We’re constantly on the lookout for special tricks and techniques that will give crochet fabric the feel and drape of knit fabric. Use larger hooks. Use extended stitches rather than standard stitches. Use lighter yarn. We even have tools like the “Knook”, where you use a crochet hook to create knitted fabric. (As a proud crocheter, I like to pretend that the Knook is an affront to my sensibilities. In actuality, though, I do some loom knitting from time to time. Everything has its place.)
It might therefore seem counter-intuitive to explore ways to make crochet even stiffer, but stiffening crochet does have some practical applications. For example, in the 1954 pamphlet Wrought Iron Crochet, a heavy starching was used to turn otherwise ordinary thread crochet pieces into trivets, wall hangings, candlesticks, and vases. You can find the patterns on freevintagecrochet.com.
We can use the same idea to turn our delicate crochet snowflakes into Christmas ornaments. They won’t exactly have the durability of wrought iron, but they will last from year to year as long as they are stored carefully and not handled too roughly. There are three methods you can choose from. Be warned – all of them are a little messy. You may not want to use your regular blocking board. An alternative is to use a piece of corkboard or Styrofoam with a piece of wax paper over it. Wax paper will protect the surface and keep the snowflake from sticking to the board.
How to Stiffen Crochet 101: Starch
You can try using a spray starch, but for real durability you will want to go old school and use a boiled starch method.
1. Boil 1 cup of water.
2. Mix 1/4 cup of cornstarch with 1/2 cup of cold water. Add the cornstarch mixture slowly to the boiling water, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to simmer until it thickens. If the mixture becomes too thick you can add extra water.
3. Allow the mixture to cool.
4. Saturate the crochet with the starch mixture, gently squeeze out the excess fluid, and block.
This makes a fairly large amount of starch solution, but it’s cheap – better to have too much than too little. This recipe is from Hodgson Mill cornstarch. It should work for all cornstarch but you can modify the recipe if your brand provides slightly different instructions.
How to Stiffen Crochet 102: White Glue
This is a very easy, effective method that doesn’t require making a huge mess in your kitchen.
1. Thin white glue with water until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Usually this will take equal parts of water and glue, but it all depends on how thick the glue is initially (i.e Aleene’s Tacky Glue is thicker than Elmer’s glue). It needs to be thick enough to coat the crochet, but thin enough so that the excess glue runs off and doesn’t make a gloppy shell on the project.
2. Saturate the crochet with the glue mixture, gently squeeze out excess fluid, and block. See? Easy!
Bonus: Buy some fine glitter and lightly sprinkle the snowflake either before or after it has been pinned to the blocking board. Glue can dull some of the natural luster of the thread – glitter adds back a little Christmas magic.
How to Stiffen Crochet 103: Sugar
For the sake of completeness, I will include instructions on how to stiffen crochet using a boiled sugar solution. It is a very traditional method, but it has its problems. First and foremost, you are using a sugar solution. You are essentially candy-coating your crochet, so bugs may become an issue if the pieces are not stored carefully. Second, a boiled sugar solution is very hot and sticky, so serious burns are a possibility. If you choose this method, please be careful and respect the sugar. You may want to consult candy-making websites for other instructions/precautions about boiling sugar solutions before you commit to this.
1. Combine equal parts of sugar and water in a saucepan.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the sugar dissolves completely.
3. Remove from the stovetop and allow the solution to cool completely.
4. Saturate the crochet with the sugar mixture, gently squeeze out excess fluid, and block.
5. Allow to dry completely. This stiffener can take a while to dry, but once it sets up it is very strong.
Did you miss my article on blocking? You can read it here: FInishing Techniques, Part 1: Blocking Crochet. Please note, any of the stiffening techniques described above will set the fibers, so you can skip the steaming step when blocking.