Floating Embroidery Fabric: 6 Ways to Secure Your Project

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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.

tips for securing floated fabric for machine embroidery

What is floating fabric for embroidery?

Floating fabric means placing fabric on top of your embroidery hoop rather than placing it within the two frames of your hoop.

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.)

how to float fabric: hoop stabilizer first

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

attach a layer of cutaway stabilizer to the back of the sweatshirt with 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

how to hoop and stabilize the paper

Painter’s tape also works to hold floated embroidery items in place.  It’s great for holding down water-soluble topping, for example, or even 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

remove the adhesive backing

You can buy tear-away, cut-away, and even no-show mesh stabilizer with a layer of sticker backing that pulls away, revealing a sticky surface on one side.  There’s also water-activated sticky stabilizer available.

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. Recently, I even used it when embroidering balsa wood!

4. Pins

embroidery on a baseball cap - lining it up

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 most 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

adding a 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. 

Grab 13 free basting boxes here at GG Designs Embroidery if you’re interested in this method!  And, if you want to learn more or desire to create your own basting stitches, I’ve also written an entire post 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

Sulky 12-Inch by 12-Yard Totally Stable Iron-On Tear-Away Stabilizer RollThis one’s a bit of an extra effort, but I’d be remiss not to include it. Fusible stabilizer (comes in tear-away, cut-away, etc.) has one side that will fuse to your embroidery blank. 

If you 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 doing in-the-hoop quilting projects. It’s also nice when embroidering on baby onesies and hooped items that may move during embroidery, which causes puckering.

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!

5 Comments

  1. Excellent! I just saw someone asking a question about floating fabric in a FB post and didn’t know the terminology of floating in embroidery. Thanks for clearing it all up for me. I’m following you now and very happy that I found you. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind comment! 🙂

  2. Very good your instructions, have helped a lot. 💯
    Thanks 😊

  3. I try to post this article whenever someone asks about floating. So easy to understand and follow. Thank you!!

    1. Thanks!! The concept of “floating” was one of the most difficult things for me to grasp as a beginner embroiderer, so I’m glad this article has been helpful to others 🙂

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