How to Float Fabric for Machine Embroidery – Tips & Tutorial

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While I’m a fan of always hooping fabrics to be machine embroidered when possible, there are several circumstances when it’s just not feasible.

For instance, fabrics like bulky towels that are too thick to fit between the hoop frames need to be floated.  Furthermore, fabrics that are too delicate to be hooped without damage, items that are smaller than the size of the hoop, and in-the-hoop designs require floating above the hoop.

In these cases, it’s important to know how to float fabric for machine embroidery.   For embroidery beginners, I want to teach you the process of floating fabric on top of the hoop so you’ll have this skill ready when you need it.  We’ll even discuss how to float an extra piece of stabilizer underneath your hoop when required.  Let’s get started!

tips for securing floated fabric for machine embroidery

What does it mean to float fabric?

When I first heard this term when I started embroidering, I scratched my head wondering what on earth floating fabric meant.  For those of you who are new to embroidering, floating fabric simply 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 fabrics and embroidery blanks may move more during embroidery when floated, it’s important to know how to correctly float and then secure the fabric outside the hoop.

How to Float Fabric

Here’s a quick tutorial.  First, hoop your stabilizer(s) tautly between the inside and outside frames of your hoop.  Refer to how to hoop fabric if you’re not sure how to achieve a good hooping result.

how to float fabric: hoop stabilizer first

Then, secure your embroidered item on top of the stabilizer.  There are 6 main methods I use to stabilize the floated fabric on top of the stabilizer to keep it from moving during the active stitching period. Sometimes I use more than one method to make sure things are extra secure. Let’s review those methods now!

6 Ways to Secure Floated Fabric In Your Hoop

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, which is my favorite) comes in a can and works to provide a temporarily sticky surface where sprayed.  You’ll spray the front of your stabilizer and then 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 (things can get messy, and it can gunk up your hoop!)

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.  Just before using, make sure your tape will leave no adhesive residue on your project after removing it.

Above, I’m using it to hold down cardstock cards when I was embroidering on 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 is pulled off to reveal a sticky surface on one side.  There’s also water-activated sticky stabilizer available.

I was against using sticky stabilizer for the longest time because it’s more expensive compared to regular stabilizer.  However, there’s something SO easy about sticking an item directly to the stabilizer with no extra need for sprays 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 opt for much smaller pins for more delicate 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 that there won’t be permanent marks left before you place your first pin.

5. Basting Box

adding a basting box

A basting box is a simple rectangle of long-length straight stitches (basting stitches.)  You’ll have your machine stitch the basting box to secure your fabric before you load and stitch your actual embroidery design.  When you’re done stitching, simply remove the basting stitches.  Grab 13 free basting boxes here at GG Designs Embroidery to use if you’re interested in this method!  If you want to learn more or desire to create your own basting stitches, I’ve 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 (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’ll need to add a little extra stabilizer and don’t want to hoop it.  Did you know you can just float the stabilizer?  This simply means placing it underneath the hooped stabilizer but on top of the embroidery arm right before you start embroidering.  Once the machine does its first few stitches, the stabilizer will be held in place, and that’s it!

How to Float Fabric in Machine Embroidery – Conclusion

And that’s it!  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!

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  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! 🙂

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