A Review of Dress Stiffeners

A lot of people ask what kind of dress stiffener they should use when making a solo dress and it’s a fair question when there are so many products on the market.  There used to be a nice vilene product out there made specifically for Irish dance, but I can’t find anyone who still sells it.  I’ve been trying many others in the meantime and here are my reviews of several different stiffeners.  They are listed in order of stiffness, starting with the least stiff.
Pellon 926
Price: $4.29/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 mm
Distributor: Joann Fabrics (US) (and most fabric/craft stores)
This is the softest stabilizer, and I would not recommend it for the average Irish dance dress.  It is very flexible, yet still stiff enough to hold its shape and not collapse in on itself.  I would recommend it for very small dresses when you are afraid of too much bulk.  I have tried using it for a stiff-panel skirt, and would not recommend it for that, but it could be a softer under-skirt option for a small-sized dress.
Price: $1.75/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 1/4 mm
Distributor: Long Creek Mills (US)
I was initially skeptical of this one due to how cheap it is, however it is definitely stiffer than the Pellon 926 for about the same thickness.  It is still a little bendy for my preference, but would work all right for a small dress, or if you don’t want the most rigid stiffener.  Because it’s pretty thin, you could also fuse two layers together for a sturdier option (trim one layer out of seam allowance).  You’d definitely want to add an extra layer in most places.
Flexi Firm
Price: $6.87/yard
Width: 30″ wide
Thickness: 1 2/3 mm
Distributor: Fabric Depot (US)
Flexi Firm is about as stiff as the Stiffy, but a little bulkier.  It would work okay, but definitely isn’t my favorite.  It’s almost as bulky as the Pellon 70 and Timtex, but you’re not getting as much structure for it.
Pellon 70
Price: $5.99/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 2/3 mm
Distributor: Joann Fabrics (US) (and most fabric/craft stores)
This one (along with the 926) is definitely the easiest to acquire, being widely available at local fabric stores.  It’s one of the thicker stiffeners but it holds its structure well and is easy to find.  Being on the thicker end of the spectrum, I find it to be pretty bulky for multi-panel skirts.  I’ve done it before, but be prepared to have trouble sewing over 2-3 layers of it as you sew your dropped waist seam.  It works just fine in the under-skirt of a soft skirt style though.  Depending on the fit of your dress, you may find that 1 layer is enough. 
It also comes in 1- and 2-side fusible (Pellon 71 and 72).  I don’t like using fusible stiffener on skirt panels because they tend to show if the panel has gotten folded or wrinkled accidentally.  The fusible is nice on the underskirt however, where you have to cover both sides with fabric but it’s not a main feature of the dress.
S80 Vilene
Price: £8.20/meter or £20.50/3 meters
Width: 36 inches
Thickness: a bit under 1 mm
Distributor: Empress Mills (UK)
This might be my favorite, which is unfortunate as it’s the priciest (not to mention the cost of shipping to the US).  It’s almost as sturdy as the Pellon 70, but half as thick.  This makes it great for stiff panel skirts and sewers whose machine doesn’t handle bulk well.  Because it’s so thin, you can easily fuse two layers together for extra structure as needed.  If you don’t want to ship from the UK, it can sometimes be found on Etsy.
Price: £8.00/meter
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 2 mm
Distributor: Quilt Direct (UK)
Also available in 10 yard bolts (around $64) or smaller ‘craft packs’ from Amazon, Walmart, Joann’s.
Timtex is probably the stiffest product I’ve found.  It’s also the thickest, at over 2 mm.  I would not recommend doubling this stiffener; it is plenty effective in a single layer (but if you do, trimming one layer out of the seam allowance makes sewing much easier).  It is very sturdy and holds up extremely well.  Like the Pellon 70, be aware of how bulky it can get in multiple layers.  If you have a wimpy sewing machine, you may want to try something thinner as your dress will become bulky very quickly.
What stiffeners have you tried?  How did they work?  Is there another that should be on this list?  Share your experiences in the comment section below.

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