How to Stabilize Embroidery Designs

By Kathy Jones - Last updated: Monday, March 29, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Stabilization is a tricky and complicated part of machine embroidery; but it is also the underlying foundation of good embroidery. Without proper stabilization, designs may pucker or sag and outlines may be off, stitches may sink into the fabric or fabric might poke through the stitching. Stabilization is the one area of embroidery that causes more heartache and frustration than anything else.

Many embroiderers have developed their own technique as to proper stabilization and the types of stabilizer that work for them. If you do find a stabilizer or several stabilizers that work with different fabrics, you are usually better off to stay with those stabilizers instead of trying out the “latest and greatest” stabilizers every time there is a new one. Yes, do try other stabilizers, but usually after a lot of experimentation, the ones you find work best for specific fabrics are the ones you should work with.

There are many methods of stabilizing fabrics, including adhering the underlying stabilizer with an adhesive spray and stitching a template around the hoop to attach the stabilizer to the fabric prior to stitching out a design. One method I would never recommend is hooping the fabric and then sliding a piece of stabilizer under the hoop – this just doesn’t work, as your fabric essentially has no stabilization without also hooping the stabilizer.

Type of Stabilizer

Used for

Tear-Away

Light to medium weight woven fabrics

  • Typically used on cottons, canvas, satin and corduroy.
  • Usually considered a light weight, soft stabilizer, though does come in several thicknesses.
  • If using a large filled design (ie lots of stitching) it is recommended to use two layers of tear-away to improve stabilization. I personally use two layers most of the time.
  • On completion of design slowly and firmly tear away stabilizer as opposed to pulling too quickly.
  • Redwork and some appliqués may only require one layer of stabilizer.

Cutaway

Stretchy, unstable fabrics

  • Typically used for knits, fleece, stretch denim, velvet, toweling, corduroy.
  • Considered a medium weight stabilizer.
  • If using a larger filled design, it might be necessary to use two layers of cutaway.
  • Need to cut away excess stabilizer upon completion of stitching, leaving at least half an inch around the outer design area.
  • Do not use on sheer fabrics or fabrics where the stabilizer may show through on the front of the fabric.

Iron-On

Most fabrics – especially lightweight fabrics

  • A paper based stabilizer which has a waxy-like film that you iron onto the back of the fabric.
  • Can be used in combination with a layer of tear-away if you require further stabilization.
  • Helps ensure proper hooping.
  • Excess can be carefully torn away or peeled off upon completion of stitching.
  • Try to avoid iron-ons with too much glue which will gunk up a needle and cause stitching problems.

Water-Soluble

Freestanding lace designs and as a topping on toweling, corduroy, velvet and knits

  • Can be used on top of or underneath fabrics.
  • Good to use on top of toweling to ensure fabric nap does not poke through embroidery designs.
  • Good for intricate designs where it is impractical to tear away or cut away a stabilizer.
  • Excess washes away in water.

Sticky-Backed Stabilizer

Fabric or quilts that can’t be hooped

  • Sticky on one side (and covered by protective sheeting).
  • Typically used where fabric can’t be hooped including quilts, shirt collars, cuffs, socks.
  • Place stabilizer in hoop with sticky side up and place fabric on top of hoop/hooped stabilizer.

Heat Removable

Fabrics/projects that cannot be washed and delicate fabrics

  • Removed with the application of heat.
  • Use only on fabrics that will not burn.

Spray Adhesives

Appliqué designs and multi-hooped designs; any fabric where hoop marks may show.

  • Multi-hooped embroidery designs or anywhere that a stabilizer cannot be used.
  • Can combine spray adhesive with a stabilizer.

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