Monday, October 13, 2008

How to starch clerical collars

I was determined to figure this out. And I think I have. I combined some expertise from Wippell and from my mother-in-law, who has a lifetime of experience starching uniforms for a Senior Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy (aka my father-in-law). Here's my method:

Step 1: I wash my collars by hand in the sink. You can wash them with the whites in the regular laundry. But this way I can wash and starch them all in one fell swoop. I use a small brush to give them a quick scrub as well. And I use OxyClean or some other oxygen bleach based detergent -- as clorine bleach will eventually cause them to yellow.

Step 2: Next I use some bluing to make 'em superwhite. PROCEED WITH CAUTION HERE. This stuff will dye your collars blue in no time. So follow the instructions to the letter, and make sure you're following the 'tub rinse' instructions.

These collars were in the diluted-and-then-mixed bluing rinse for no more than 5-7 minutes. And then rinsed and rinsed, and then rinsed again. Even if you leave them in too long, repeated rinsing will probably get the bluing out of them. Once you're done rinsing, wring them out and set them aside.

Step 3: Next it's time to mix up the starch! I follow the instructions on the package for Heavy Starch -- with a few emendations. I add a bit more powdered starch (a couple of tablespoons more) and a bit less water (about a cup less) to make the starch mix as starchy as I can. You'll want to follow the rest of these instructions carefully though; adding first some cold water and then boiling water. Don't add the boiling water directly to the powdered starch, it'll just clump up.

I mix the starch in a plastic container, and then store the mixture in the refrigerator for the next time. A batch will last a few months. (Update: Well, it'll last several weeks at least. After a while, it will sour. So, keep it well refrigerated!)

Step 4: Soak the collars in the starch for about 10 or 15 minutes. This is a batch of liquid starch from a few weeks back that I've taken out of the fridge and brought to a boil on the stove. You want to put the collars in the starch when the starch is -- not actually boiling exactly -- but still hot. Notice how milkly white the mixture is. That's because it's got a higher starch to water ratio than the instructions recommend.

Step 5: Once you've taken the collars from the liquid starch let them cool for a few minutes. Then remove the excess starch with your fingers. Be sure to let them cool first. And wash those tongs really carefully when you're done. Denton hates starchy tongs.

Step 6: Then lay the collars flat on a smooth surface to dry. You'll want to smooth them out with your hands, working from the center outward. You'll squeeze out a bit more starch when you do this. Dry this up by dabbing with a paper towel. You can lay the collars out on anything, I suppose. I've heard that the toilet tank lid works well! This is the discarded glass door from an old stereo cabinet that we found in our apartment when we moved in.

Step 7: Leave the collars to dry overnight.

Important Update:

After some trial and error, I realized that if you leave the collars to dry completely, there's no need to iron them. In fact, they're better off dried and un-ironed. They stay stiffer for a longer period of time (no indecorous comments, please) if they're un-ironed. BTW, putting your sheet of glass, cookie sheet, drying surface of whatever kind on your good, old fashioned, hot-as-hell New York City radiator and they'll be dry in a couple of hours!

Updated Step 8: Once the collars are completely dry, peal them off the drying surface, and fold them along the seam.

Updated Step 9: Then store your collars in your Wippell collar box to keep them nice and round over the next couple of weeks. Or...

Store them in the alternate collar box aka a Chinese food container from Grand Szechuan on Ninth Avenue.

Three starched collars usually last me for two weeks or so (even with wearing them while riding my bike to and from work!) After the first wearing, they have that sort of Titus Presler je-ne-sais-quoi wrinkled look.

I'd say this whole process takes about half an hour to wash and starch -- and a few hours on the radiator, or overnight to dry. I don't mind it at all as -- as many of you know -- it's the one thing I do in the kitchen in the course of two or three weeks. And yes, I thank God for Denton Stargel every day.

And the big pay off is that cloth collars are so, so much more comfortable than plastic ones (which for some reason turn yellow on me...) So, at least for now, I'm a home-starching cloth collar-wearing Old Skool priest.


Anonymous said...

As funny as this is, it is also extremly helpful. We were at a little bit of a loss about the cloth ones. Thanks!

Nathan said...

Clair P. has forwarded this all over creation, apparently we have all been waiting for this good news.

I stick my - plastic! - collars in the dishwasher, myself. WAY easier, although far less elegant (I also drink cheap port, though, and get my evensong streamed live over the web, so there you are). I was out near the Wippell offices in a$$-fu*k NJ recently, though, and I swung by to pick up some collar studs - in the process they sold me on some new shirts AND my first-ever linen collar (I have to buy a half-size smaller collar for most of the Wippell shirts I wear, is this normal, former Wippell rep?) So, to conclude, I'll be using this advice in the near future. When the dishwasher just won't cut it.

Mark said...

Thanks, Sarah & Nathan. And Nathan, YES, as a matter of fact, I have to get cloth collars 1/2" smaller than my plastic ones.

I'm happier in my cloth collars, but I might trade them in for a dishwasher!

Chris said...


Where did you purchase your collars from and do you know any other stores, as a seminarian I am shopping around for them.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your commentary - and the pictures are very helpful. I've tried a variety of methods for starching my cloth collars. I prefer the liquid starch so I don't have to mix it myself, but I'm having problems finding it lately. So, I'll be trying out your method this week. Thanks a million!
Rev. Kim

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Anonymous said...

O Pisky Priest, please, please share with we lowly Lutherans where you found real LINEN collars!

Anonymous said...

Great info, even for us unwashed, unordained heathens who have to prepare stiff wing collars for evening wear. Thanks.

Shame your collar boxes are so shallow, though.

Thanks, too, to Nathan who brought my impression of the clergy back to reality. Who knew priests also referred to geographically remote and inconvenient locales as "A.F.," too?

Harry said...

Tried the method. My husband is very happy. I used liquid instead of dry starch because that's what I could get. I would have never thought of the bluing!

Thanks a million for this. I'd been ironing the damn things and this is so much nicer!

Bob said...

An English barrister wanting to clean his dirty starched wing court collars thanks you for this great step by step guide! We buy from Wippels too!

Anonymous said...

How do you attach the collar to a collarless shirt? I have the studs that look like a butterfly which way round should it go?

The Shirt Wallah said...

Hi everybody, I was really impressed by your efforts in starching your collars.........but I would love to offer you our non starchable clerical collars just wash with your whites and press when dy and bingo a beautiful comfortable collar...easy please visit my website for further information

Unknown said...

I was taught by Benedictine Sisters in grade school in the 1960s. The Sisters had to wash and starch their coif and bandeau every Saturday evening. They had a special machine to form the various pieces. Father Bob

Justin said...

Thanks for this excellent guide! Professional launderies in England charge barristers almost as much to clean and starch as it it to buy a new collar. Have also sourced some Blueing, so looking forward to the next batch!

Clair P. said...

As Nathan so kindly pointed out, I have found this quite helpful- and I'm tired of rocking the TP tropical missionary look.

Another good use for bluing: after your hair turns white from parish ministry, you can add it to your shampoo and avoid that dingy yellow look!

Sven said...

Thanks for the instructions. I was told by a General Grad about a technique using the oven - I have yet to find that elusive instruction. Your instructions are basically what I have be doing since I got ordained. The one thing I would add is that I use a clean window or mirror to dry them.

And to all those who asked in the comments, Cokesbury usually has a good selection in stock.

Ana said...

I totally loved reading this, although I doubt I will ever wear a collar. (I don't say "never" in case...) Also cool was realizing all along that you work with Mother Kathleen, who is one super priest, having cut her teeth with us in Cheshire, CT! Love to you all at Christ and St. Stephen's!

Wessex Formal Wear said...

Thank you Father Mark for this information.

We at Wessex Formal Wear manufacture the collars and have the collars starched at Barkers in Bournemouth UK. We are asked quite regularly how the collars can be starched without send them to a laundery and if it is OK with you we would like to pass on the contents of your blog. We do not supply the public direct but we do have close relationships with our stockists such as Wippells

Andrew Furzer

Matthew said...


Thank you Father Mark for a great article.

Henry watson said...

The pictorial representation of starching clergy collar is awesome. The beauty of your blog is the explanation that you gave through pictures. Usually the collars shrink while washing.

Herry said...

Thank you Father for sharing this valuable information. Your post about starching clerical collars will be very helpful for clerics all over the world.

Lea Colvill said...

Trevor Flloyd's fabric collars are excellent.

Anonymous said...

All OK as far as it goes, but how do you get the collars (or shirt fronts and cuffs if you're a 'tails' man) to SHINE?

Reginald Jeeves

knittingboykit said...

If you want them to shine, iron them. While the starch is still damp. If the collars are linen, just press them out on the glass really wet, no starch needed. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a collar for longer than a day with out laundering--they'd be filthy! That being said, I'd less be caught wearing plastic!

In any case, a great article on starch and how to use it--a dying art!