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While I’m a fan of hooping fabrics to be machine embroidered whenever possible, there are several circumstances when it’s just not feasible.
For instance, thick fabrics and bulky towels are simply too thick for an embroidery hoop. Furthermore, fabrics that are too delicate to be hooped without damage, items smaller than the hoop’s size, and designs stitched in the hoop require floating above the hoop frame.
Thus, for embroidery beginners, this post will teach how to float fabric for machine embroidery and also discuss how to float an extra piece of stabilizer underneath your hoop when needed.
What is floating fabric for embroidery?
“Floating” fabric refers to hoopless embroidery, which is when you place an embroidery blank on top of the embroidery hoop rather than placing it within the hoop frames.
This is very easy to set up, but, because floated embroidery blanks can shift during embroidery, you can’t just place the blank on top of the hoop without a plan to secure it.
6 Ways for Floating Fabric for Embroidery
To prepare to float fabric, first, hoop the stabilizer(s) tautly between the inside and outside frames of your hoop. (Refer to how to hoop fabric if you’re unsure how to get a good hooping.)
Then, place your embroidered item on top of the stabilizer. I then use one of six methods to stabilize the floated fabric and keep it from moving during the active stitching period.
1. Temporary Fabric Adhesive Spray
This stuff is genius and my go-to for several embroidery projects.
Temporary fabric adhesive (like Odif 505, my favorite) comes in a can and provides a temporarily sticky surface where sprayed. Spray the front of your stabilizer, and smooth the fabric in place on the stabilizer to adhere.
Three notes of caution: Be careful of spraying too much or you’ll gunk things up, use in a well-ventilated area (it can stink!), and protect your work surface from residual spray.
2. Painter’s Tape, Embroidery Tape, or Masking Tape
Painter’s tape also works to hold floated embroidery items in place.
It’s great for holding down water-soluble topping, for example, or providing another layer of stability for items sprayed with temporary adhesive. Before using, make sure your tape will leave no adhesive residue on your project after removal.
Above, I’m using it to hold down cards when embroidering on cardstock paper.
3. Sticky Self-Adhesive Stabilizer
You can buy also buy sticky stabilizer with a sticker backing that pulls away, revealing a sticky surface on one side. (Sulky Sticky Tear-Away and Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy are my favorite tear-away and wash-away options, respectively.)
If you like the idea of stabilizer, check out dime’s Sticky Hoops, which are specially made to have only one bottom, flat-edged hoop. These are so helpful for embroidering blanks that run into the elevated sides of regular embroidery hoops.
There’s also water-activated stabilizer that you can wet to make a temporary sticky surface. I’m too afraid to use this with my machine, though.
I was against using a sticky stabilizer for the longest time because it’s more expensive than a regular stabilizer. However, there’s something SO easy about sticking an item directly to the stabilizer with no extra need for spray or tapes.
I always use it when machine embroidering hats, embroidering socks, and monogramming ribbon bows. (It works great for holding my Sock Easy, as shown above.) Recently, I even used it when embroidering balsa wood!
To provide extra stability, you can also pin fabric or items to stabilizer. Above, I’m using T-pins, but I usually opt for smaller pins for my projects.
Tips: Make sure to pin carefully so the pins don’t pull through the stabilizer, ensure the pins are not within the stitching area, and check there won’t be permanent marks left before placing the first pin.
5. Basting Box
A basting box is a simple rectangle of long-length straight stitches (basting stitches.)
Your machine stitches the basting box to secure the fabric before stitching the embroidery design. After the project is complete, you can use a seam ripper to remove the basting stitches.
If your machine doesn’t have this option built-in, grab 13 free basting boxes here at GG Designs Embroidery! And, if you want to learn more or desire to create your own basting stitches, I’ve written about what an embroidery basting box is and how to create one using software.
As a note, make sure the fabric you’re stitching the basting box onto will not be permanently damaged. For instance, when embroidering on leather or paper, a basting box is a bad idea because needle holes are permanent! Some digitizers may also include a basting box with design purchase, so keep an eye out for these.
6. Fusible Stabilizer
If you first hoop your fusible stabilizer, you can then use a mini-iron (I love my Clover II mini-iron!) to press and fuse your blank to the stabilizer. While I don’t regularly use fusible stabilizer, I always use it when making in-the-hoop quilt projects.
It’s also nice when embroidering on baby onesies and hooped items that may move during embroidery, which causes puckering.
A Shout Out to Magnetic Hoops
While this is a stretch for “floating” embroidered fabric, I also can’t help but mention magnetic embroidery hoops.
There are several types of magnetic embroidery hoops I’ve recently written about, and it’s worth looking into if you regularly embroider quilt sandwiches, work with bulky fabrics, or have difficulty hooping with regular hoops.
While dime Monster Snap Hoops are incredible and popular, machines that don’t have a compatible option (like my SE1900) may still have Embroidex options from Amazon.
Floating an Extra Piece of Stabilizer
Sometimes, you may need to add a little extra stabilizer after a project has started stitching. Did you know you can just float the stabilizer?
This means placing it underneath the hooped stabilizer but on top of the embroidery arm before embroidering. Then, once the machine does its first few stitches, the stabilizer is held in place.
Floating Embroidery Fabric – Conclusion
I hope learning how to float your next embroidery project will help you think outside the box and discover even more fun things you can embroider. Anything less than 5-6mm in thickness that’s soft enough and just one layer could be fair game to embroider if you set it up correctly!’
Confused about other machine embroidery words? Check out my free printable embroidery terms glossary!