Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Starching a Shirt Collar

I never posted finished pictures of my Victorian shirt because I needed to starch the collar and cuffs. In the past I've simply mixed corn starch with water and used that (and more on that method later in this post), but I wanted to think about using other methods.

I have a book from 1907 titled Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas, Recipes and Processes, which in the manner of manuals from that time continues with a rather long subtitle: "Containing ten thousand selected household, workshop and scientific forumlas, trade secrets, chemical recipes, processes and money saving ideas." This sort of book is common for the era, and is similar to Beeton's Book of House Management. It describes how to do just about anything one might need to do around the house - and I mean everything. From laboratory methods to making adhesives and laundry soaps, to alloying metals, to making coloured paints, to mixing concrete, to making beer, this book has it all. Need to know how to repair your meerschaum pipe? This book will tell you how. Need to drill glass? This book will tell you how. Need to make dynamite, smokeless gunpowder, or blasting powder? You got it - this book will tell you how.

One problem with many of the recipes is that I imagine many of the chemical ingredients required for the recipes aren't as easily obtained these days. For instance, if I want to cure my canary's asthma (no joke, this is in there) I need:

Tincture capsicum, 5 drachms
Spirits chloroform, 90 minims
Iron citrate, soluble, 45 grains
Fennel water, 3.5 ounces
Give a few drops on lump of sugar in the cage once daily.

Now I'm pretty sure it's hard to get chloroform these days. To quote Back to the Future, "I'm sure that in 1985 plutonium is available in every corner drug store, but in 1955 it's a little hard to come by." And that brings us to the starch recipes. Here's what the book has to say about starch:

Most laundry starches now contain some polishing mixture for giving a high luster.
I.--Dissolve in a vessel of sufficient capacity, 42 parts of crystallized magnesium chloride in 30 parts of water. In another vessel stir 12 parts of starch in 20 parts of water to a smooth paste. Mix the two and heat under pressure until the starch is fluidified.
II.--Pour 250 parts, by weight, of water, over 5 parts, by weight, of powdered gun tragacanth until the powder swells uniformly; then add 750 parts, by weight, of boiling water, dissolve 50 parts, by weight, of borax in it, and stir 50 parts, by weight, of stearine and 50 parts, by weight, of talcum into the whole. Of this fluid add 250 parts to 1,000 parts of boiled starch, or else the ironing oil is applied by means of a sponge on the starched wash, which is then ironed.
III.--Starch, 1,044 parts, by weight
Borax, 9 parts, by weight
Common salt, 1 part, by weight
Gum arabic, 8 parts, by weight
Stearine, 20 parts, by weight
Number II gives me a headache just reading it. I'm pretty sure borax is available, at least by mail order, but I have to admit I'm not sure about some of the others. So...I think I'm going to just stick with using plain starch, 2 tablespoons in 1 pint of water, and for a shine I'll rub a bar of soap on the collar when I iron it. Process: soak the collar and cuffs in the starch mixture for a few minutes and remove, using your fingers to work the starch into the fabric and make sure there are no lumps. Allow to dry overnight on a flat surface. Before ironing spray with water, rub a bar of soap on the collar, and iron and polish until almost dry. Place in a collar box or pin the ends together and allow to dry completely in a curved shape.


  1. What sort of soap did you use?

    1. Ivory. I figured a plain, non-scented bar would be the best. :)