Stiffening your snowflakes is really just step one in the whole blocking process. If you don't like them too stiff, just spritz them with spray laundry starch before blocking so that the blocking will hold. But do block them -- they'll look so much better if you do. I like stiffened snowflakes for several reasons. Stiffener lets snowflakes with long lacy chains hold out their arms, and not droop pathetically. Glue stiffener and the lightest dusting of ultra-fine glitter gives that snowy sparkle without hiding your intricate stitching. Finally, I love beaded snowflakes, and the weight of the beads makes some serious stiffening necessary, or else the beaded flakes will be hopelessly floppy.
I use Elmer's (or generic white glue) thinned with water about 50/50, or until it's the consistency of whipping cream. This is my stiffener of choice when I want glitter on my snowflakes. I make it in a small but wide half pint plastic deli container, so I can put on the lid and use it again later. If you keep it a while, all the glue separates from the liquid and sticks to the bottom of the tub, but if you scrape it up from the bottom and mix it back into the liquid, it works fine. Dip the snowflake, let it soak a bit, and then squeeze it out as well as you can using just your fist. Dab the snowflake on a paper towel if it the snowflake is still so wet that your crocheting isn't visible. Then I sprinkle with glitter (as described on the sparkle page), then block.
I've decided that I don't think glue is the best stiffener for non-glittery snowflake, at least not if you're using shiny premium thread. Glue pretty much obliterates the thread's sheen. I hadn't noticed this until recently, presumably because I always put glitter on the flakes I stiffened with glue. But recently I crocheted a catalog of snowflake centers to use in designing new flakes, stiffened them with glue but no glitter, and noticed that they had no sheen compared to their unstiffened cohorts. So now I'm recommending that glitter-free flakes be stiffened with starch instead. Be glad -- it's cheaper, and much less sticky to work with!!
When I've crocheted beads into my snowflakes, or used metallic threads to make them glitter, I prefer to stiffen them with starch. I use plain old cornstarch, since I can't find non-spray laundry starch around here anymore (and the spray stuff just isn't strong enough). Simmer a tablespoon of cornstarch in 1/2 cup of water until it becomes transparent. Be careful if you want to simmer it in the microwave because it likes to boil over and somehow slime the entire interior surface of the oven of the oven. This makes a huge mess. Believe me, really, I've been there, done that (repeatedly. I'm stubborn). I think it's better to nuke a small amount of starch gloop in the bottom of big quart measuring cup, cooking on high and watching it every moment. Stop and stir every minute, and take it out as soon as it thickens up. If you don't have a big cup, use a big covered dish, and don't let it boil over! Do be aware that freshly cooked starch slime is very hot, and it sticks to your skin much better than you'd like it to. Treat it with respect.
Keep your cooked starch in the fridge between uses. As with the glue stiffener above, I keep it in a wide mouthed half-pint deli container, convenient for dipping snowflakes, but with a lid to put on when I'm done. I've heard that a little essential oil of mint or cinnamon is supposed to keep things from growing in it, but nothing has grown in mine yet, so I haven't bothered.
To starch your snowflakes, just let them soak it up, blot them off with a paper towel, then block them.
This is the most traditonal stiffener. Some people swear by it, other people get ants. Sometimes a humid climate makes sugar stiffened stuff slump, but other humid-climate people survive slump free. I hear that stuff stiffened this way is nice, stiff, and sparkly, but my vivid imagination has prevented my ever giving it a try -- my dog would cheerfully eat the sugar-stiffened items and die of intestinal macramé, I would be overrun with ants (and insecticide makes me really really sick), etc. etc. etc. I think I'll leave it to those of you with impeccable household hygiene -- I simply have too many incorrigible pets to dare it. Tell me what you think.
To make sugar stiffener, heat 2 parts of sugar and 1 part water in a saucepan. Don't do it in the microwave, and don't leave it unattended. Boil it just until the sugar is all dissolved, and then let it cool. Be careful with this stuff! Hot sugar solutions can cause terrible burns. Don't ever add water to a boiling sugar solution (it can explode in your face), and don't slop it onto yourself, children or pets. Just because it's made of simple household ingredients doesn't mean it can't hurt you.
Recently I've noticed (mainly on tatting lists) discussions of epsom salt used as a stiffener, very much like sugar stiffening -- with the advantage of being unattractive to ants or hungry pets. I mean to try this some time soon. It's suppposed to make the snowflakes sparkly, like sugar does.
What I've heard is that you make a saturated solution by heating the water and adding epsom salts until no more will dissolve. For non-science types, hot water allows more epsom salts or sugar to dissolve than cold water does -- this is exactly what you do when you make crystal sugar candy on strings, btw. Anyway, you dip the snowflakes in the saturated solution and then block as usual. Gotta try this soon...
I used to believe that stiffener was just a scam for Aleene to sell you white glue at twice the normal price, but then I noticed that things I stiffened with Aleene's stiffener yellowed faster than things I stiffened with Elmer's, so maybe they are different after all. I did not notice the ones done with stiffener being any stiffer than the ones stiffened with white glue. I wouldn't be surprised if other people have had different experiences though, so I'm open to dissent. And if using something that says "stiffener" on the bottle makes you feel more secure, by all means use it -- we're doing this to make ourselves happy, aren't we?
There are also aerosol and porcelainizing stiffeners. Aerosol substances disagree with my lungs, so I've assiduously avoided them. On the other hand, you can speed dry this stuff in the microwave (no glitter, no metal pins!). I have no idea how I've resisted the odd allure of porcelainizing my crochet -- perhaps the odd pinkish hue of the substance in question?. Email me and tell me what you think of these products if you think there are some that I should try.
If you really want to buy stiffener, first go look at the the Crochet Memories Stiffeners page. She's done a really good job at reviewing them there.
Hmmm, while wandering around online, I discovered a substance make by Stiffy (another commerical stiffener), But this version has "Pearl Shimmer" -- doesn't that sound nice and snowflakey? Unfortunately nobody around here sells it, and shipping would cost more than the item in questions. OTOH, Michaels does sell Glow in the Dark Stiffy... sounds like a great way to make little boys more interested in your crocheted flakes!
Problems with Stiffeners
Sometimes stiffener or glue yellows. If you're lucky, you can soak & scrub the item and the yellowed stuff comes out (I've done it). Sometimes you have to soak it again with detergent & very little bleach (not much at all, or you'll weaken the thread). Yeah, I know bleach is bad, but we're talking salvage here, and sometimes you're just out of luck and nothing works. I've seen suggestions to use dishwashing detergent for this -- be aware that it contains some sort of chlorine bleach type ingredients (to disinfect your dishes), so it can also deteriorate your thread. I personally prefer to add my own bleach, so I know exactly how much is in there... There are also special museum-quality cleaning products for fine needlework, but I don't know how well they'd work to get rid of old glue, stiffener, etc, and I seem to have lost the URL for where to buy them anyway...
UPDATE: Recently I had really good luck getting glue-stiffener out of some snowflakes by putting the snowflakes, water, and heaping tablespoon of laundry detergent into a microwave container and nuking it until it was nearly boiling. I stirred them around a bunch, let them soak, strained out the snowflakes and rinsed them well, and then repeated the process all over again. This got all the glue out!! I was impressed. The flakes in question were crocheted from Cebelia, and while they shrank just a little bit, they weren't otherwise worse for the wear. I don't know if I'd recommend this for flakes made of less indestructable thread
It seems to me that storing your snowflakes away from light and air helps prevent yellowing -- the ones I've kept in envelopes in ziploc bags haven't yellowed. Keeping things year round in the sun seems to cause the worst problems. My experience with yellowing suggests that commercial stiffener is the worst culprit, white glue is somewhat better, and starch is the best. Anybody else done comparisons between these three? Let me know...
If your thread or un-stiffened snowflaked yellow, many people suggest using Oxy-Clean or Biz to un-yellow them. I've also had fine results simply crocheting up snowflakes with yellowed thread, then washing them as I was everything before blocking, with hot water and Tide.
People using glue or commercial stiffeners sometimes have a problem with flaky little bits of dried stiffener adhering to their flakes after blocking. This means your flakes have too much stiffener on them -- just squeeze them out before you pin them down. I do this by just squeezing them in my fist -- seems to leave enough stiffener that they get good and hard, but not so much that I have flakies, and the excess stiffener just drips back into the container to be reused. Another suggestion is to press them between paper towels, if you don't mind wasting more paper towels and more stiffener -- but your hands might stay a little cleaner...
I've put recommendations for stiffening 3-D items like hollow crocheted ball-shaped ornaments onto a separate page.
For More Info
There are some very comprehensive reviews lots of different stiffeners on the Crochet Memories Stiffeners page. Check it out!
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