Old-fashioned boiled starch is still the best way to give fabric a stiff, crisp texture. It's good for Civil War petticoats, Victorian shirt collars and cuffs, or anyplace you need extra starch. Today it can even be made at home in the microwave quickly and cheaply.
You can purchase commercial powdered laundry starch such as Argo brand, but it's getting harder to find in stores. Here's how to make your own boiled starch from easy-to-find cornstarch. You can double the recipe, depending on how much you need.
Use regular cornstarch from the baking section of your grocery. Stir 1/4 cup of starch into one cup of water until it's dissolved. Then stir that mixture into a quart of water in a microwave-safe container. Mixing it that way, rather than stirring the cornstarch directly into all the water, helps eliminate lumps.
Microwave the mixture, stirring every 30 seconds, until it comes to a boil and thickens. You can also heat it on the stove, or even the old-fashioned way, over a wood fire.
For heavy starch, let the mixture cool so it's warm enough to handle, and use it just as it is. For medium starch, stir in one quart of cold water. For light starch, stir in two quarts of cold water.
While the starch is still warm but cool enough to touch, dip the garment in plain water, wring it out, then dip it in the starch, stirring it for a minute to make sure the starch soaks through it evenly. Remove it and wring it out. Repeat with all the clothes that need starched. Hang them on a line to dry, or dry them in the drier.
Now it's time to iron them. The clothes need to be almost dry, but still have a little dampness. If you can catch them at that stage as they're drying, great! If not, and they're completely dry, sprinkle them with water, roll them in a towel and let them sit for a few hours to let the dampness spread through them, or spray them lightly with water. When they're evenly damp, iron them, careful not to scorch the starch with too high heat.