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Firming Up Fabrics with Gelatine

Treating fabrics with this gelatin solution will help stabalize them.
Add 1 tsp. of gelatine to 16 oz. of water and let sit for 30 minutes.
Pour solution out.
Treating fabrics with this gelatin solution will help stabalize them.

Treating fabrics with this gelatin solution will help stabalize them.

The idea of temporarily stabilizing a soft and drapey fabric is nothing new – there's starch, there's stitching on tissue paper, there are all kinds of dissolvable and tear-away products, there's sugar water (you can imagine how stiff something coated with that would feel!) But one technique that works awfully well uses old-fashioned gelatine – the kind we used to dissolve in water and drink in the hopes of strengthening our fingernails. Well, who knows if that ever worked, but it does do wonders with silk chiffon and silk charmeuse. They're nicely firmed up while you're working with them, then the gelatine is rinsed out and the fabrics return to their original demeanor.

I've seen the same technique used at Legeron (who produce silk flowers for the couture houses) in Paris. Large sheets of China silk are soaked in big buckets of gelatine and water, stretched out on big frames (the fabric is held in place by nails), left to dry, then stacked in layers (by this point, it's like working with thin sheets of paper). Metal dies are used to cut flower petals, which are then hand-dyed. 

I teach in Houston every year, and one of my students, Ronnie Braden, mentioned an article she'd read online about using gelatine to treat silk chiffon and charmeuse, to make them easier to work with. You do your cutting and sewing, then you rinse out the gelatine. Ronnie happens to be a chemist (she has her doctorate in synthetic organic chemistry), so it didn't take much convincing for her to experiment.

The silk charmeuse and silk chiffon we plan to treat, along with the gelatine.

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Comments (44)

Design Empress Design Empress writes: This looks great and would love to try it, but the test was done with large swatches.
My issue, what if you have 7 yards of fabrics? How do you soak that and in what, the bathtub? And how much gelatin would I have to use?

Posted: 7:10 pm on August 13th

catstexas catstexas writes: What woul you do for fabric that is 58" x 4 yards? I've been trying to imagine solutions, but can't see how. Any hints would help.

Posted: 1:12 pm on September 20th

ELewis28 ELewis28 writes: I tried this using polyester chiffon with the goal of making flat piping for batik pillow shams ( I was copying RTW shams). It was an amazing success and I thank you so much for this tip. That slippery, slinky polyester was so obedient I didn't recognize it again until I washed it. Cheers!!
Posted: 5:28 pm on June 28th

harmoniousoul harmoniousoul writes: Honestly, if I had experimental fabric that wasn't as spendy as the piece
I have now, I would try this without abandon.

But since I am relying on this fabric to be the top to my silk outfit
for my daughter's wedding in less than a month,
I cower until I am secure in knowing that my bias top is finished to the
best of my ability without any obstacles. . . .

Next time, though - I will try it and look forward to the results!

I too, am learning so much on Threads - I love it! Thank you, all!

Posted: 3:53 pm on March 26th

jokevelema jokevelema writes: Do you use the normal gelatine? The one for in food?
Posted: 4:01 am on October 11th

MarthaR55 MarthaR55 writes: I've saved this article because I knew it would come in handy someday. I'm trying to make silk chiffon scarves but am having a great deal of trouble cutting on the grain & then using a machine foot to make the rolled hems. Can you give me any idea how to make sure the fabric is on grain when I cut it? I've tried pulling threads but still am having problems. Thanks for any help you supply.
Posted: 5:14 pm on March 16th

Lessing Lessing writes: should be Otherwise you're taken off course.
Posted: 12:29 pm on January 22nd

winterful winterful writes: to user-2173479
you could use fusible web (interfacing). iron it to the fabric then cut out your flowers. they won't fray since attached to interfacing, and it will stay through washing.
Posted: 8:52 am on November 17th

user-2173479 user-2173479 writes: will this method keep the fabric from fraying while working with it? is this why it is a method used for silk flowers?
I am thinking of using a dye cutter to make silk flower cut outs to attach appliqué to my work. It would be amazing to find something to slow down the fraying. but it would need to stand up to washing. Any ideas?
Posted: 2:12 pm on November 11th

nani nani writes: As an alternative, what about Mary Ellen's Best Press, the starch alternative? I have never used it, but ordered some yesterday from Amazon for regular ironing, based on the reviews. It seems like you could just spray that on and iron for a quick way to firm up silk. Has anyone tried it?

I want to pleat some silk chiffon with a Perfect Pleater, and thought maybe that would help hold the pleats.
Posted: 5:39 pm on November 5th

user-1142875 user-1142875 writes: Hi, I find this technique wonderful and I am trying it so I put the gelatine in the cold water. I doubled the amount of gelatine and water but after I poured the hot water I was wondering if I should put my fashion fabric in it. I did and I am grateful it did not loose its colour. My question is Should I put the fashion fabric in the hot mix of gelatine and water or should I wait until it cools down? Thank you for this great tip
Posted: 8:26 pm on November 2nd

HappyGenny HappyGenny writes: Great idea! Thanks. A few comments, please:

1) In connection with an earlier comment, it seems to me you could make it stiffer by using a more concentrated gelatin solution.

2) As mentioned previously, metric measurements would certainly help a LOT for those of us not in the U.S.

Thanks! :)
Posted: 6:29 am on November 2nd

TheSassySEWer TheSassySEWer writes: Who knew! Thanks for posting this great tip!

Posted: 8:22 pm on October 29th

TheSassySEWer TheSassySEWer writes: Who knew! Thanks for posting this great tip!

Posted: 8:22 pm on October 29th

diniedo9844 diniedo9844 writes: What a fabulous tip....I love silk chiffon but it is so difficult to sew...not any more....I have tried the gelatine treatment and the results are wonderful. For all of the subscribers who live in USA I can tell you there is a marvelous family-run shop in New York ( where the same methods of making fabric flowers are used, and you can use your own fabric as well. New York is a most exciting city....I visited from Australia in May of this year and met up with members of the American Sewing Guild for a six-day tour of the garment/fabric/textile district....I had such a great time I am saving to come back again!!! Diana Heuston,Australia.
Posted: 7:13 pm on October 27th

pinkcatflower pinkcatflower writes: I actually tried out this tip and made my own tutorial on it a while ago! I have to say it really worked and made my chiffon a lot more manageable. I made my first chiffon top using this tip- bias cut and everything!
It's genius really! :)
Posted: 11:08 pm on October 26th

MrsHGW MrsHGW writes: I had been thinking that gelatine would be a good sub for the commercial stuff. Thank you. Now I don't have to figure out the recipe. Since many asked about pressing, perhaps using half Elmer's Glue half water, might be what you'd like. I have used it for Halloween masks. You scrunch up your fabric or manipulate it as desired and let it dry and it becomes like stiff paper. It can be pressed like paper if desired and sewed. Then after the event, a vinegar rinse turns the glue all wet and easily washed out. You can make your own glue from milk if needed. Many recipes are online. For homemade glue, I used 1/4 cup Borax, 1 cup warm water and 1/2 cup powdered milk. You have to store the remainder in the refrigerator if you don't use it all because it does not have preservatives in it. But once dry on the cloth it lasts. It makes the cloth very stiff. So that is another idea too. But I like the Knox recipe for softness and drape if you need that more while sewing.
Posted: 12:16 am on October 26th

Wrapaquack Wrapaquack writes: Yes, it is a great idea. I, too, would like metric measurements. Thank you for a great magazine
Posted: 5:47 am on October 25th

user-986456 user-986456 writes: Great idea, can you give metric measurements please? I have some silk chiffon in the " too hard" basket and am really keen to try this
Posted: 1:01 am on October 25th

SusanKhalje SusanKhalje writes: And yes, we did pour the left-over gelatine water into the plants (I was teaching at a hotel in Houston, and there was shubbery outside the door.......). I don't think we did any lasting harm to that poor plant - I think it suffered more from the 100 degree heat than the fluid.....!!!
Now, as for stretch velvet, I have no idea....I'd be more afraid of what the water would do to it than what the gelatine would do to it!
I do recall once, though, at another class (this time at The Sewing Workshop in SF), when a student was having trouble with a really slippery velvet, and Karine Langan (owner of TSW) grabbed some sort of spray adhesive - I totally forget the name, and boy, it worked like a charm. It seemed a little drastic at the time, but boy, it did the trick!
Posted: 4:04 pm on October 24th

smockerlady smockerlady writes: Hi there Susan,

What a great tip to try out. I enjoy working with silk charmeuse ( underwear for my teenage daughter) and georgette for lovely flimsy summer tops. However, always use the tissue paper method. Really love the idea of this and can obviously see that it works.

Totally agree that applying bias binding to the fabric treated this way, would be, well, a breeze.

Thank you yet again for giving us such a huge helping hand.

PS. Would so love it if you would actually do some more courses for I am missing you!!
Posted: 2:46 pm on October 24th

smockerlady smockerlady writes: Hi there Susan,

What a great tip to try out. I enjoy working with silk charmeuse ( underwear for my teenage daughter) and georgette for lovely flimsy summer tops. However, always use the tissue paper method. Really love the idea of this and can obviously see that it works.

Totally agree that applying bias binding to the fabric treated this way, would be, well, a breeze.

Thank you yet again for giving us such a huge helping hand.

PS. Would so love it if you would actually do some more courses for I am missing you!!
Posted: 2:46 pm on October 24th

Sshort Sshort writes: Wow! What an amazing idea. I have always used starch but do not like the mess it leaves on my iron. Is the solution being poured on a plant? Great idea, very nourishing.
Threads is the most important magazine I subscribe to. A very good teaching tool. I was talking to a clothing conservator at a university costume museum about techniques she used. She asked if I subscribed to Threads, referring to a technique she used. I was proud to say "Yes."
Posted: 12:33 pm on October 24th

barbarar barbarar writes: To Jokevelema: I think a "die" in this sense, is like an industrial cookie cutter, meant to cut a particular shape over and over in manufacturing. Have you heard of "tool and die makers?"
Posted: 10:29 am on October 24th

Judyta Judyta writes: WOW ! What an "amazing" idea !! I love 2tango's description of trying to sew water. Boy have I been there ! Thanks agai.....
Posted: 10:15 am on October 24th

SusanKhalje SusanKhalje writes: Yes, it can be pressed - in fact, we had a lot of fun pressing little pleats into the chiffon. Sadly, though, they'd disappear as soon as you washed out the gelatine. Oh well!
And I totally agree, lots of pins is the way to go, as is lots of hand-basting, but - and I'm the last one for tricks or gimmicks - this does firm things up a bit. Will it make the fabric super stiff? No, but it will make it a little easier to work with - and as I mentioned in the post, I kept thinking how much more stable the chiffon, especially, would be, when cutting and applying a bias binding. I've often put an inner layer of silk organza into chiffon bias binding, just to firm things up and make the whole process more stable, but this would eliminate that step. And of course, factor into the whole situation the various hands of silk chiffon - sometimes it's super slick (the iridescent ones in particular); sometimes it's grainier (the georgettes) - but it's just nice to have one more tool when it comes to controlling a slippery fabric.
Posted: 10:13 am on October 24th

sweetserenity sweetserenity writes: This is a very valuable tip. I also need to know about pressing the seems.
Posted: 10:04 am on October 24th

ElizabethRochester ElizabethRochester writes: to user 2000844: No. it's not confusing. Directions say to add the GELATINE SOLUTION to the quart of hot water. (But. upon rereading, you've probably already figured that out!)

BTW: the tip about using gelatine is terrific. Thanks, so much, for sharing it with the rest of us. I cannot wait to try it the next time I'm working with such soft, slippery fabrics.
Posted: 8:42 am on October 24th

user-2000844 user-2000844 writes: Could you please clarify the instructions? In one phrase, it says to 'introduce 1 tsp. of gelatin to 1 quart tap water' but later on, it says to add 1 qt. of boiling water to the 1 quart of *hot* water.

Should the first quart be hot tap water, just regular tap water, what?

Thanks for the tip and for the clarification. This tip would've saved me a lot of time, frustration and grey hairs last year when sewing a special occasion dress for my daughter.

Posted: 6:00 am on October 24th

jokevelema jokevelema writes: I really like this article. I will sure try it. I have only one question. I love to make flowers myself. Please can you explain the following a little bid more.
"Metal dies are used to cut flower petals, which are then hand-dyed". What is meant by metal dies are used to cut flower petals. I do not understand this. Maybe somebody can help me out.
Posted: 1:31 am on October 24th

user-1115414 user-1115414 writes: This is the best tip I've read lately! I'm so going to try this. I sew a blouse of acetate last weekend for my mom and it was a nightmare to deal with it. I'm only wondering how I should do the drying when the fabric is 60" width, because I think it would be better to stiffen the fabric before cutting the pattern pieces,right?
Posted: 12:49 am on October 24th

MDNB MDNB writes: Just a note of interest; I make synchronized swim suits so I know many swimmers, those ladies set their hair in buns with super thickened (3 packages to half a cup of hot water) knox gelatin. They let it harden before swimming. It's shiny and stays put.
Posted: 8:49 pm on October 23rd

user-1114236 user-1114236 writes: Thank you for sharing. I like the idea very much but can you press it. does the water have to be hot.
Posted: 8:11 pm on October 23rd

Stitcher75 Stitcher75 writes: From one sewing organic chemist to another, please tell Ronnie thank you for reminding you of this tip! I can't wait to try it out.
Posted: 7:02 pm on October 23rd

jansquires jansquires writes: Knowing Susan, I have faith that it will work. She is one of the most talented and sharing educators in the field.

Posted: 7:01 pm on October 23rd

sewing_teacher sewing_teacher writes: Great idea, I am going to use it to finish something I asm working on. I love the spirit of sewers always ready to share great ideas!
Posted: 6:47 pm on October 23rd

lastminutelady lastminutelady writes: I have used spray starch before with good success, but it's always nice to have another trick up one's sleeve! I can't see where this would make the fabric so stiff that it wouldn't be possible to ease and coax it into shape where it's needed. Along with some others though, I too am curious about pressing seams when the fabric is treated in this way. I also have another question. I live in Southeast Asia where it is very humid. I wonder how this would hold up. I have used Sulky Solvy, but I find I have to be very careful not to leave it out. II keep it in a bag with a dehydrating substance along with it. I suspect that in this climate, fabric treated with gelatin would just get sticky. I do plan to move back to the Midwest before too long and I think it will be quite a handy trick there!
Posted: 6:44 pm on October 23rd

Majick Majick writes: Hi
This may be a great technique, but I have found that the most slippery fabrics can be tamed by hand basting. It takes a little longer, but I can't imagine finishing something and then rinsing it out! Call me crazy but I enjoy the feeling and manipulation of fabric. I find that hand basting seams etc solves so many problems and leaves your hands free to massage any tricky areas during sewing.
Just saying.....................
Posted: 6:27 pm on October 23rd

Elaine1958 Elaine1958 writes: I would also like to know if you can press the fabric with the gelatin in it.
Posted: 5:26 pm on October 23rd

LuvThreadsMagazine LuvThreadsMagazine writes: Susan's world is full of amazing people and intriguing techniques.
Posted: 5:24 pm on October 23rd

Josefly Josefly writes: I'm so happy to have this tip. Is it okay to let the mixture cool down first, or does the mixture have to be hot when the fabric goes in?
Posted: 5:23 pm on October 23rd

zanzi zanzi writes: Sounds and looks good but, can you press it during sewing? There are many steps where I use iron before I proceed to next step of sewing. That is not a question when cutting flowers - they only have to be assembled, never ironed.
Posted: 5:03 pm on October 23rd

TigerB TigerB writes: I wonder if the fabric will still take dye with the gelatin in it. This might make for an interesting shibori method....
Posted: 4:48 pm on October 23rd

2tango 2tango writes: What a great tip!! I wonder if it would work on stretch velvet which can be like sewing water its so slippery
Posted: 4:36 pm on October 23rd

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