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New to machine embroidery and still figuring out how stabilizers work and what to use when?
If so, you’ll soon discover that tear-away and cut-away stabilizers are two of the most common stabilizer types.
While these stabilizers may look similar, they differ in how they’re constructed, when they’re used, and how they’re removed.
Having both types in your embroidery room is important as you will use both as you embroider varied projects! But which to use for each project?
Learn about these two stabilizers and when to use cut-away vs. tear-away stabilizer in machine embroidery.
What is stabilizer?
For complete embroidery newbies, embroidery stabilizer is the material that goes on the back of an embroidery blank and provides support during the embroidery process.
Many different types of embroidery stabilizers exist, but tear-away and cut-away stabilizers are two of the most important (and also most different)!
Cut-Away vs. Tear-Away Stabilizer: The Basics
In short, cut-away stabilizer works best for stretchy fabrics and bigger, denser embroidery designs. Tear-away stabilizer is flimsier and suitable for lighterweight designs and stable (not stretchy) fabrics.
As its name suggests, cut-away stabilizer is cut away after embroidery, leaving residual stabilizer on the backside of an embroidery design. In contrast, tear-away stabilizer is torn away after embroidery, leaving a design back with just threads visible.
Now, let’s get a little more into the details and when to use each different stabilizer!
Using Tear-Away Stabilizer
The biggest advantage of tear-away stabilizer is that it is not permanent, meaning you won’t see it on the back of embroidery projects after removing it.
However, you can’t use it for all projects.
As tear-away stabilizer can be torn by hand easily, it can also be decimated easily by your high-speed embroidery machine! Thus, you can’t rely on tear-away stabilizer to provide adequate support for fabrics with stretch or designs with tons of needle penetrations.
Instead, use tear-away stabilizer for stable denim, terry cloth towels, stiff nylon, broadcloth, quilting cotton, blankets without stretch, canvas, twill, and similar fabrics.
On occasion, you can use tear-away stabilizer on stretchy fabrics, but this is ONLY if you’re embroidering something small with a low stitch density and stitch count. (Think a small Under Armour logo on a t-shirt.)
Tear-away stabilizers also come in different weights, from around 1.5 oz to 3.0 oz. The bigger the weight, the more stitches the stabilizer can handle.
Lightweight tear-away stabilizer is perfect for low-stitch count designs on stable fabrics. In contrast, the heavier weight tear-away stabilizers handle higher stitch count designs (think embroidering baseball caps with fill-stitch logos.)
While mediumweight tear-away stabilizer is my go-to in most cases, having other weights in your supply hoard can help troubleshoot embroidery problems.
Now, suppose you start with just one piece of thin tear-away stabilizer and realize it isn’t adequate for your project after starting? In that case, you can quickly stop your machine and float an extra layer of stabilizer underneath your embroidery hoop for more support.
Soft tear-away stabilizers have added materials that give the stabilizer a few more cut-away properties than regular firm tear-away stabilizer has. Thus, soft tear-away stabilizers can be used on “semi-stable” fabrics.
To use tear-away stabilizer, hoop your embroidery blank and stabilizer (or float, if needed), and embroider your design.
When done, gently tear away the stabilizer from the back of the design. If you pull too hard, you can accidentally distort your design and fabric, so be careful. It also helps to hold the design stitching in one hand and the stabilizer in the other.
Using Cut-Away Stabilizer
In contrast, cut-away stabilizer provides the support you need for high density, high stitch count designs or for fabrics that have stretch—for example, knit t-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts, and more.
I use cut-away stabilizer far more frequently than tear-away stabilizer because it’s more likely to produce a good stitch out.
Like tear-away stabilizers, cut-away stabilizers also come in different weights, ranging from around 1.5 oz to 3.0 oz.
The lightest cut-away stabilizers work for low stitch count designs on lightweight, stretchy embroidery blanks. Meanwhile, heavy cut-away stabilizers provide enough support for high stitch count designs.
Besides maintaining the drape of embroidered clothing more, no-show mesh stabilizer also shows through less on lighter colored embroidery blanks. (It does come in black and other colors, too.)
While one layer of no-show mesh (usually only 1.5 oz) doesn’t provide as much support as a layer of heavy cut-away stabilizer, you can layer two pieces of no-show stabilizer perpendicular to each other. Either that or float a layer of tear-away underneath the hoop for added support.
I also prefer to use no-show mesh stabilizer when creating quilt blocks in the hoop (in-the-hoop piecing, creating an all-in-one quilt block, etc.).
Because it’s thinner, it decreases stabilizer bulk, giving my blocks a softer, less stiff feel when assembled. (Above is a block from my Anita Goodesign doll house quilt, for the record!)
To remove cut-away stabilizer, use embroidery scissors (my favorite are duckbill applique scissors) to trim close to the stitching line.
If you’re worried about the feel of the cut-away, a few launderings will soften it up.
Tear-Away vs. Cut-Away Stabilizer: Conclusion
When comparing cut-away vs. tear-away stabilizer, remember:
When you have a low stitch count design to embroider on a stable fabric, you can use tear-away stabilizer, which is removed after the project is completed.
However, choose a cut-away stabilizer for the best results if you experience quality issues, have a dense, high stitch count design, or are embroidering a stretchy, unstable embroidery blank.
And, if neither of these stabilizer options fits your project needs, don’t forget that water-soluble (or wash-away) stabilizer is another option. Like tear-away stabilizer, wash-away stabilizer leaves only threads visible on the back of the stitched design. However, heavier-duty of water-soluble stabilizer can provide more support than tear-away stabilizer, making it perfect for projects like free-standing lace and embroidered patches.