Normally when I make a ruff I start by starching my silk organza. I spray it down good and wet, then I iron it dry. The downside here is that my iron gets gunked up, and frequently any dirt on my iron transfers to the lovely sheer silk and makes it ugly in patterns that match the metal under the cover on my ironing board. Or the iron just catches the lovely sheer silk and stretches the weave into awkward patterns, while leaving blotches of starch here and there in the mesh. Not ideal. So I wondered if it would be possible to just spray it down good and wet, then hang it to dry out, THEN iron it. Based on my reading, that seems pretty reasonable since it seemed that the period method of starching was to wash the ruffs, soak them in starch, hang them to dry then shape them with various hot irons. And then I thought, well I've got two different bottles of starch here - one the typical aerosol can of Niagara and the other something I picked up as an impulse buy next to the register at Hancock's that claimed to be the "starch alternative", which is non-aerosol and smells lovely. This stuff, called Best Press, works just fine on linen, btw, but I hadn't used it for making ruffs yet. Downside: I have no idea what either of these products are made of, other than "starch".
THEN I thought, well, hell, if I'm already going down the road of wanting to know what it's made of, I can just make my own. So I found an article about that. I immediately eliminated cornstarch as an option because that's a New World plant, as are, I think, potatoes. But rice - AHA! I've got rice! They COULD have had it, maybe not for making starch but, you know, I'm new to the period starch thing. Then I thought, now that I'm down this road of making this stuff from scratch, maybe I should be trying out a period method and see what they were dealing with, so let's just do some research and see what they made starch out of and try to do that. So I found an article about starching which cited a 15th century recipe for making starch from bran. Now we're in business! I hit my local Lunardi's and picked up some oat bran, pulled out some pots and in the process of looking for the rice I found something in our cupboard from a Japanese grocery labeled "Potato Starch". Okay, I thought, since we're here, one more pot won't take much more effort, so out of curiosity I threw another pot on for the potato starch.
Here's the lineup for my Exciting Starch-Making Experiment:
For the initial kickoff I started with a 4:1 water to starchy thing ratio:
1/2c Potato Starch, 2c water
2c Bran, 8c water (I had a lot of it)
1c Rice, 4c water
The first thing that happened was that I learned that the Potato Starch was already concentrated and refined, so it immediately got gluey (also take a moment to admire the manfully hairy yet muscular arms of my lovely assistant, cathyn):
I added 6 more cups of water while stirring to bring the ratio to about 16:1 (water:potato starch). The potato starch was the first one done, so I strained it through the same silk I will use for the ruff to get out any particulate matter that might catch in the mesh of the silk and make it look uneven and clumpy:
So then I had a bowl full of potato starch.
I had cut several strips of my ruff silk and labeled them with a sharpie, so I ran my P strip through the bowl and hung it to dry in the bathroom. The next one up was the rice. It takes a long time to cook rice to mush. It hangs in there as discrete rice grains for a long time then finally all at once it's mush. Check it out - rice mush!
I strained the rice out, then strained the resulting liquid through the silk again just to be sure:
Then I ran my silk strip through the rice starch liquid and hung it up to dry with the potato starch test strip.
Here's a look at the resulting liquids. You can see that the rice starch, on the RIGHT, is a lot thicker than the potato starch, on the LEFT. The potato starch was a lot more consistent in suspension, whereas the rice starch tended to settle a bit at the bottom of the container.
So that was Phase 1. Phase two had to wait, since the recipe for bran starch was the boil the bran in water then wait three days. It wasn't clear what happened next so I tried 4 different things.
First, I ladled out the bran mixture cold from the pan it had been chillin' in on the stove top for 3 days, strained it as described above, and ran my silk strip through it (OB1), then hung it up to dry. The resulting liquid was very thick and cloudy, I didn't think it was what I wanted because it was very separated. Here's the bowl with the bran starch liquid without boiling on day 3. You can see the water accumulating around the edges and on top of the bulkier starch:
This starch was very slimy and I thought, Hmm, maybe you're supposed to boil it again after 3 days, so I started it up boiling. I had to add some water, so I added 4 cups of water while it got up to boiling. I strained the resulting liquid and ran a silk strip through that (OB2). It was very thick and goopy, so I thought maybe I should wait until it cools, then take a half cup of this in dilute it with water, that seems reasonable, so I did 2 more test strips, one with 1/2 cup of this starch solution diluted in 1 liter of hot water (OB3) and one with 1 cup of the starch solution diluted in 1 liter of hot water (OB4).
After all my silk test strips had dried, I ironed them and compared the results.
It's hard to tell in the picture, so I'll describe for you from left to right my findings.
1. Best Press ("starch alternative" from fabric store): Gives a light starch very similar to:
2. Niagara. Light starch, heavier than Best Press but just barely. Upside: No blotching or clumping for either of the store-bought starches.
3. Potato starch. Definitely the most interesting result - the texture is very glassy and paper-like. It crinkles like wax paper and is very stiff.
4. Rice starch. My least favorite result - lots of clumpiness making the silk look messy and uneven.
5. Oat Bran 1 - No second boil after 3 days sitting. Good, consistent look, minimal clumping, similar feel to 1 and 2, but slightly heavier starch feel.
6. Oat Bran 2 - Boiled after 3 days sitting, no dilution. Terrible result. Clumpy and uneven.
7. Oat Bran 3 - OB2 diluted 8:1 - can hardly even tell it's been starched.
8. Oat Bran 4 - OB2 diluted 4:1 - can hardly even tell it's been starched.
So, I'm boiling up another pot of bran for making my new ruff. I'll let the bran mixture sit for 3 days after boiling, strain it cold and use the resulting liquid for starching the silk for my new ruff. But if anybody has a need to turn organza into something that resembles wax paper, I highly recommend potato starch!
Also - I'm happy to make my test strips available for fondling if anybody local is interested.