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Embroidery designs, especially machine-embroidered ones, can be hard and itchy on the back. For instance, embroidered infant items. No baby wants to sport a onesie with a scratchy embroidery design!
Thank goodness for iron-on embroidery backing.
In addition to this benefit for machine embroiderers, embroidery backings are also helpful for hand embroiderers.
Backings can stabilize fabric for hand embroidery and decrease thread tail show-through to the front of sheerer fabric. They can also keep hand embroidery threads from unraveling after repeated laundering.
Not sure which backing to use and how to use it? Learn when and how to use backing for embroidery! I’ve even included notes about the best embroidery backing fabric options and their intended uses.
What Embroidery Backing Actually Is
Embroidery backing is a soft material ironed onto the back of a finished embroidery project to cover rough stitches. Backings can also be fused to the back of the fabric to add stability before embroidering.
Backing is used by both hand and machine embroiderers.
(In machine embroidery, the stabilizer you hoop with your embroidery blank is also sometimes referred to as embroidery stabilizer backing, which I’ll not focus on right now. If you want information about stabilizers (tear-away, cut-away, wash-away, etc.), you can learn about those in my machine embroidery stabilizer guide.)
How to Use Embroidery Backing
Each brand of embroidery backing has slightly different application instructions, so check with your backing’s manufacturer for the specifics. Also, make sure your fabric is heat-safe before ironing the backing on!
However, in general, to apply embroidery backing, follow this process:
- Cut the mesh backing to size. To cover stitches, cut the backing slightly larger than the design on each side. For use as a stabilizer, cut to slightly smaller than the fabric size.
- Place the rougher side down on the embroidery surface with the smoother side of the backing facing up.
- Using a medium heat iron (I also use my Cricut Easy Press set to 260 degrees), press for 15 seconds.
- Let cool, and make sure the backing is fused. If not, repeat. You can use a pressing cloth (or a Teflon sheet for Easy Press) if your fabric requires extra protection.
What to Consider When Choosing a Backing for Embroidery
- Does it affect the feel of the fabric? If you are adding backing to a drapey blouse, for instance, the last thing you want is a hard piece of stabilizer or interfacing affecting how the fabric flows. However, if you need to significantly stiffen fabric before embroidering, a lightweight, stretchy backing won’t be as helpful as a firmer, non-stretchy backing.
- How long will the backing last? Even if the container says it’s permanent, will it hold up over continued washings?
- How easy is it to use, and what sizes does it come in? Bigger embroidery projects need larger backings, and I like my backings fused in one piece.
- How sheer is it? If you use a stitch cover on sheer fabrics, will the backing show through to the front?
The 5 Best Embroidery Backings
Now, here’s a list (not necessarily in a specific order, as needs for backing depend on intended use) of my favorite good-quality embroidery linings and backings.
I’m a huge Sulky fan because their stabilizers and embroidery products are high-quality AND available in local craft stores at a reasonable price. As such, this is the embroidery backing I often use with my embroidery machine.
Sulky Tender Touch is a soft, stretchy mesh stabilizer that irons over embroidery designs and is permanent.
You can also use this as a stabilizer for hand embroidery if you iron it on before embroidering. It’s especially useful for adding extra strength to thin or stretchy fabrics when embroidering a denser design.
If using as a machine embroidery “stabilizer” backing, you do still need to hoop another type of stabilizer, as Tender Touch will not provide enough support during the stitching process. (Use tear-away, cut-away, wash-away, etc.)
One last use for Sulky Tender Touch is covering annoying, intrusive seams.
Over time, I’ve had some Sulky backings peel off in the wash. As recommended by Sulky, I’ve discovered that using pinking shears along the edge of the backing before applying it makes this less likely to happen. Also, it’s essential to use sufficient iron pressure for the entire 10-15 seconds of recommended time.
I recently started using my Cricut Easy Press 2 (mostly because it’s more fun!) to apply backings, and I’m convinced the uniform heat and even pressure provide a better backing seal. Since not all fabrics and designs work with a heat press, test before pressing.
Designs in Machine Embroidery, the maker of Exquisite threads and magnetic embroidery hoops, carries Fuse So Soft, a lightweight fusible tricot backing.
In addition to using it as a cover for scratchy embroidery stitches (like wiry metallic threads), dime markets its backing as a permanent stabilizer option for quilt backs.
It’s applied similarly to Sulky Tender Touch and has a similar feel. While it’s marketed by a machine embroidery company, it will work for hand embroidery also.
3. Other Major Stabilizer Manufacturers’ Versions
Other major embroidery stabilizer brands have their versions of “over the back” fusible linings or embroidery backings.
OESD Gentle Touch Backing is one example and is made by OESD (Oklahoma Embroidery Supply and Design), the owners of the super-popular Embroidery Online website.
Cloud Cover Stitch is made by SuperStable and is a popular alternative to Tender Touch.
Floriani, another prominent embroidery supplier, has their version of embroidery backing called Floriani Dream Weave Fusible. This is what my local sewing shop stocks.
4. Pellon Interfacing
If you don’t want to invest in specialized backing for your embroidery, you can also add stability to fabric and cover stitches with sewing interfacing.
One of my favorite interfacings for embroidery is Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex fusible. It’s a stiffer hand than Tender Touch and other machine embroidery backings, but it provides more stability on the back of fabrics and can help prevent the puckering of denser designs on less stable fabrics.
As with Tender Touch, interfacing is not a substitute for true embroidery stabilizers, and you will still need a layer of tear-away or cut-away stabilizer when machine embroidering.
In contrast, if you use interfacing as a stitch cover, choose a lightweight option.
Lastly, depending on the interfacing you choose and the fabric you use, take care with steaming and washing, as dissimilar shrinkage rates of interfacing to fabric can cause puckering.
5. Fusible Tricot Knit
Choose your favorite interfacing manufacturer, and try out some of their fusible tricot knit.
The lighter-weight tricot knit interfacing options are similar to specialized embroidery backing like Sulky Tender Touch and dime Fuse So Soft.
Now that you know what embroidery backing is, how and when to use it, and what type to use, I hope you put this knowledge to good use in your next embroidery project.