The Challenges of Stiffening Tatting – Part 2

Over the past couple of weeks I have spent some time trialing the various stiffening methods described and linked in the previous post. I decided to try the wax method first. I selected likely candidates that were of white cotton thread, colored cotton thread (Lizbeth and DMC perle cotton) and metallic blended thread. These would give a range of tatted motifs to try.

Next I raided my paintbrush stash to find new, unused paintbrushes for the application of the wax. I chose a package of food-grade Gulf wax that hadn’t been opened before, sliced off a chunk and melted it in a clean tuna can immersed in hot water that was kept hot in an electric potpourri crock.

At first I simply attempted to apply the wax broadly to the tatting:

Applying wax using a 3/8″ wide flat tip brush

In spite of quickly wiping out excess wax, this type of brush left so much wax on it that it over-saturated the thread. The wax has such a low melting point that it hardens quickly. This made for a quick re-evaluation of the technique. Perhaps a smaller, rounded-tip brush would be an improvement. Going back to the unused brushes, I chose a number 6 round tipped watercolor brush and began again.

This time, I chose a piece created with the slightly larger DMC perle cotton, size 8. I first determined which was the back side of the tatting and carefully applied the wax using only the tip of the brush and being careful not to over-fill the picots with the wax. This yielded a much improved result.

One observation was clear in this image : if the wax is applied too heavily, it can change the color of the threads. The yellowed areas above indicate this. This presents another reason to use the back-side only for stiffening using the wax method. The blended cotton-metallic thread was another example of this situation as shown here:

This shows the back-side of the piece. Note the white, waxy surface and the places that are darker because the wax has soaked deeply into the fibers of the cotton thread. The front looks better and the synthetic metallic filament is minimally affected, but my observation is to be sparing in the amount of wax used to stiffen cotton pieces.

Careful examination of the photo above shows wax residue on many of the “blossoms” and the thread that makes the leaves and vines is considerably darker than it was before the wax application. Overall, the wax method worked well, once I got the hang of it. Another observation was that the brushes were rendered essentially useless for any other application once they were used to apply the wax. They can be cleaned by immersing them into very hot water and wiping them with a clean cloth repeatedly until no traces of wax remain. But they can also be labeled as WAX ONLY brushes and reserved for that purpose.

Next I decided to try the corn starch method. Cornstarch is my “go to” gravy thickener so it’s always around. I followed the directions and dissolved a cup of pure corn starch in a cup of cold water then began to warm in over a medium-low flame on my stove.

Once it began to show signs of thickening, I added 3 1/2 cups of very hot water and continued to stir until the solution became translucent around the edges of the pot. It’s important to keep the heat consistent and to avoid any attempt to stop stirring. This will lead to lumps in the solution. Granted these can be strained out or re-dissolved later, but that is inconvenient at best and messy as well. The image doesn’t show well that the edge of the solution is as clear as it was, but the solution never became very clear.

The tatted motif or larger piece should be clean before it is dipped into the warm solution. That the solution be warm is an important factor essential to this process. Once saturated, gently press out the excess solution before placing it onto wax paper and gently picking the decorative picots and other features so that they are open and stand out. The drying time depends greatly on the size of the thread itself and the size of the piece. something created with size 80 cotton thread will dry much faster than a larger piece created with size 5 perle cotton. Metalic threads don’t always need stiffening, but if you choose to stiffen them, they don’t hold as much starch because they are made from non-pourous, synthetic fibers. Even the blended cotton / synthetics only absorb a portion of what traditional cotton threads do.

This is the image from the above photo. After only 1 application, it is stiff enough to be used as a Christmas tree ornament individually or inserted into a clear orb as an ornament. There is no apparent sheen or glossiness to it and there is no powdery substance to flake off. The next image shows 2 mixed metallic thread motifs. The metallic sheen is not dulled by the starch after a single application. I didn’t apply any additional coats because they seemed stiff enough for what I was using them for. The scissors are only to show scale.

The last thing to test was how did the corn starch work when additional embellishments were part of the motif. Using a tatted motif surrounding a plastic button, there seemed to be no residue of the corn starch clinging to the button when the piece was dry.

This was a relatively small piece as witnessed by the AAA battery used for scale in this image. Pure Corn Starch seems to do just fine on a wide variety of pieces and threads. It’s still up to the creator to decide what would work best for his or her design or pattern. Corn Starch is quite failsafe when put into practice. Wax takes a bit more practice and care to keep the thread from becoming overly saturated. Of course, nothing can work fine as well. This is especially true of the smaller size threads working on smaller motifs. But in the event that additional stiffening is needed, the choice may depend on the intended purpose of the tatting. Glue is still going to be necessary if the piece is going to be afixed to a card, for example, but using pure corn starch for more stand-alone pieces or as a part of clothing (such as collars and cuffs) works well with a minimum of fuss. Waxing may be better used if the piece is intended for shaped doilys that really need to “stand” (I’m thinking of the ones with ruffled edges).


2 Responses to "The Challenges of Stiffening Tatting – Part 2"

  • Nice exploration and experimentation. Thanks for sharing.

    1 muskaan said this (January 30, 2021 at 7:56 am) Reply


    • Thank you! Please feel free to share this information among your followers as well. There is so little information about this practice out there that I felt it could be useful within the tatting community

      2 admin said this (January 30, 2021 at 6:36 pm) Reply


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