Fabric used for dollhouse curtains is usually stiffened to help hold their final shape. There’s definitely an art to getting the threads of fabric to conform to and retain a 1:12 pleated shape even when using a pleater.
You can pleat dollhouse curtains by hand, holding the pleats in place using sewing pins, but a pleater makes the job much easier. Here’s a link to our DIY dollhouse miniature window curtain pleater which uses stiffened fabric to make pleated curtains.
Another benefit to stiffening fabric to be used for dollhouse curtains is that it sometimes eliminates the need to hem all the curtain edges because the stiffener reduces fabric fraying. I still hem the bottom of curtains by 1/8 of an inch, but sometimes the sides are left unhemmed. Here are some tips for creating 1/8 inch no-sew hems on fabric for dollhouse miniatures => How To Hem Dollhouse Miniature Fabric Without Sewing
Choosing A Fabric Stiffener
There are a lot of choices in choosing a stiffening agent, both commercially available products as well as DIY. I’m not a huge fan of using glues or thick liquids for stiffening dollhouse curtains; the results never seem to be consistent for me (but maybe I’m not doing it right). I also prefer curtains not to feel or look like hard plastic after being stiffened, which can be the case with glues or stiffening liquids.
What type of fabric stiffener to use depends on the type of fabric being stiffened, as well as a lot of trial and error through testing. Synthetic fabrics are harder to stiffen. They might get darker, swell as they absorb the stiffener, or become slightly translucent (especially satins). Some fabrics take on a completely different color or texture after stiffening, so testing a swatch beforehand is always a good idea.
What has worked best for me over the years is either gelatin, hairspray, or a combination of both. A good quality hairspray provides the best overall results. TRESemme freeze hold is my favorite. It has a superfine mist and dries very quickly. Cheaper hairsprays work in a pinch, but they seem to have a higher water content that makes the fabric swell.
Iron Your Fabric Before Stiffening
I always iron fabric both before and after stiffening. Iron before adding your stiffening agent to remove any hard crease lines. Crease lines will be almost impossible to iron out after you have stiffened your fabric.
Because stiffening agents can get discolored or even burn during ironing, place parchment paper over your fabric before ironing.
My gelatin fabric stiffening recipe
I mix 3/4 teaspoon of gelatin in 1/2 cup cold water. Once it is fully dissolved, I add a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of very hot water. Once the gelatin mixture has cooled down, I dip my fabric in, let the excess liquid drip off, and then hang it to dry. I prefer to use gelatin for white cotton fabrics. If applied too heavily, gelatin can leave white specks or a slight shimmer on darker fabrics.
For satin, lace, synthetics, and dark fabric I usually apply hairspray in several layers to both sides of the fabric, allowing each layer to fully dry in between applications. The first application is applied heavily especially to the back of the fabric, almost saturating it. The remaining applications of hairspray are applied thinly, until the fabric has the right stiffness.
The right stiffness for dollhouse curtains varies depending on how they’ll be shaped or pleated. But in general, the right amount of stiffness is when the fabric holds a crease when pinched but still has some movement to it (like plain printer paper). Again, your curtains shouldn’t look like plastic; the are supposed to look realistic. They should be stiffened, but the fabric should still have a little ‘give’ to it.
In the picture below, you can see that the unstiffened fabric strip on the left just falls flat. The stiffened fabric on the right of the picture is stiffened just enough to add structure, maintain soft curves, and hold its shape. You can also see that the synthetic fabric has darkened after stiffening.
Here’s a list of different DIY fabric stiffeners:
- Mod Podge
- Elmer’s Glue
- Rice Starch
If you want to learn more about different stiffening methods, check out some millinery boards. These discussion boards have some of the best advice out there and can give you some insight as to why something works (or doesn’t work) or what may have gone wrong.