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As a beginner embroiderer, not only is it essential to differentiate between types of stabilizers, but it’s also important to know how to position and even remove stabilizer on your embroidery projects.
Want to learn more about how to use embroidery stabilizer? I’ll first start by explaining the types of machine embroidery stabilizers and follow up with instructions for using each type of stabilizer plus tips for beginners.
Embroidery Stabilizer Is Required For Most Projects
Stabilizer supports fabric during stitching and goes behind items you plan to embroider. It can be hooped with an embroidery blank or used to “float” the project outside the hoop. Without stabilizer, you may end up with puckered designs, holes, distortions, and other poor outcomes.
One of the few times you can ditch stabilizer is edge-to-edge quilting–just hoop the quilt sandwich if it includes batting, and go for it!
How to Use Embroidery Stabilizer
Whenever you face a new project, here’s an overview of the steps to take to know which embroidery stabilizer to use and how to use it.
1. Choose What Type of Stabilizer to Use for Machine Embroidery
The most crucial decision regarding stabilizers is choosing the right type. There are four different types that I’ll briefly describe. (If you want more in-depth information than what’s provided below, check out my free printable stabilizer chart.)
A. Cut-Away Stabilizer
Cut-away stabilizer is the most “stable” stabilizer and is the best choice for embroidery blanks that need extra support. For instance, stretchy fabrics like sweatshirts and t-shirts work best with cut-away stabilizer.
Cut-away stabilizer is permanent on the back of embroidery designs, providing support throughout the life of the embroidery blank.
One special type of cut-away stabilizer is no-show mesh stabilizer, which shows less through white fabrics than the more opaque cut-away stabilizer.
It is also more pliable and my go-to when given the option of cut-away vs. no-show mesh.
B. Tear-Away Stabilizer
Tear-away stabilizer is softer and less stable than cut-away stabilizer. It tears away from the back of embroidered designs and is not visible after removal.
Because it tears easily, it does not work well for dense embroidery designs that need extra support. It also doesn’t provide enough support for most stretch fabrics.
Choose tear-away for more stable, woven fabrics like canvas, twill, or towels or when using very light designs like redwork embroidery. (Check out this cut-away vs. tear-away stabilizer comparison for more differentiation.)
C. Wash-Away Stabilizer
You can use wash-away (aka water-soluble) stabilizer on the front or back of an embroidery project.
For instance, use thin film-like water-soluble stabilizer on the front of fabrics with a nap or pile to support embroidery thread and keep stitches from sinking into fabric fluff.
On the back of fabric, wash-away stabilizer provides support for stable fabrics or embroidery designs made just of thread. What’s great about using wash-away stabilizer is all that’s needed to remove it is a bit of water.
This is especially helpful when embroidering patches, free-standing lace, and even jewelry when you don’t want stabilizer left over.
D. Heat-Away Stabilizer
Heat-away stabilizer is an infrequently used film that replaces wash-away stabilizer for items that cannot be exposed to water. I only use heat-away stabilizer a handful of times each year.
2. Decide If You Need Specialty Stabilizer
Now that you’ve chosen the type of stabilizer, take it one step further and start thinking about specialty options of each type that make hooping or floating easier.
For instance, if you float your embroidery blanks, you’ll need to consider how to attach your stabilizer and embroidery blank. Even if you’re just hooping embroidery blanks, the process is more straightforward when the stabilizer and blank are attached.
Consider these options.
A. Fusible Stabilizer (Iron-On)
Fusible stabilizer has a coating that adheres to your embroidery blank when pressed with an iron. It’s applied like interfacing, but the adhesion is not permanent.
Instead, when finished embroidering, gently release fused yet unstitched parts from the blank with your fingers.
Fusible tear-away, fusible no-show mesh, and fusible cut-away stabilizers are among the most popular fusible options. I love using fusible stabilizer with stretchy items that I plan to hoop or items that need a little extra stabilization before I float them. Iron-on stabilizer also works well with in-the-hoop piecing, which is one of my new favorite pastimes.
B. Sticky Stabilizer
Sticky, self-adhesive stabilizer is a (slightly pricey) but amazing invention among embroidery stabilizers.
Some sticky stabilizers have a paper layer that can be removed to reveal a sticker-like surface. Other sticky stabilizers are activated with water and will dry over time.
Adhesive stabilizers are helpful when floating items and can decrease the need for basting boxes, pins, or a magnetic hoop for items that aren’t hooped easily.
C. Mimicking Adhesive Stabilizer with Spray
Temporary fabric adhesive spray like Odif 505 (or your favorite quilt basting spray, for that matter) can turn a piece of stabilizer into sticky stabilizer. Don’t forget this is an option if you’re trying to keep your embroidery fabric from shifting in the hoop.
3. Choose the Right Weight of Stabilizer
Stabilizers come in different thicknesses, or weights, from around 1.5 oz to 3.0 oz. The denser the design, the heavier the stabilizer you need.
Thus, choose a lighter weight embroidery stabilizer for low stitch count designs with a low stitch density. Opt for a heavier weight stabilizer for high stitch count and highly dense designs.
And, don’t forget to consider the weight of your fabric. Lightweight fabrics are not a good match for thick stabilizer (or dense designs), as the bulky stabilizer can affect fabric properties.
When in doubt, I recommend using a medium weight stabilizer and adjusting weight if you experience issues.
4. Embroider Your Design
The next step is to hoop or float your blank, embroider your design, and remove the hoop from the embroidery machine when done stitching.
5. Remove Stabilizer
Here’s how to remove your embroidery stabilizer from the back of the design, depending on the type you used.
- Tear-Away: Gently tear the stabilizer away from the back of your embroidery blank. I like to hold the embroidery design in one hand and tear stabilizer with the other. Tearing with too much force can induce distortion in your project, so be careful.
- Cut-Away or No-Show Mesh: Trim cut-away stabilizer with a 1/4″ margin using your favorite embroidery scissors–mine are duckbill applique scissors.
- Wash-Away or Water-Soluble: When used as a backing, trim wash-away stabilizer close to the back of the design. Then, run the project underneath the water or in a cycle in the washer. If used as a topping, remove as much water-soluble stabilizer as possible with your fingers. Then, follow the directions above or wet a paper towel, lay it over your design, and press with an iron.
More Tips for Using Embroidery Stabilizer
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that I didn’t yet cover above.
- It’s okay to use more than one piece of stabilizer or more than one type of stabilizer for the same project.
- Over-stabilizing is better than under-stabilizing.
- While stabilizer can be blamed for several machine embroidery problems, don’t forget there are so many other things that can affect project integrity!
- Black and even beige stabilizers are a thing, so don’t forget these options when looking to match the fabric back.
- Make sure your stabilizer is at least 1-2 inches larger than each side of your hoop, or you’ll have issues hooping.
- Stabilizer comes in rolls or pre-cut pieces. I like pre-cut pieces for my small hoops and rolls for my large hoops.
- If your embroidery design is scratchy, embroidery backing can be ironed over the back.
- Save small pieces of stabilizer for other uses. For instance, water-soluble stabilizer can be dissolved in water to make a liquid stabilizer spray.
- You can mark on stabilizer to help center embroidery designs in the hoop.
- Wash-away stabilizer and humid or steamy environments don’t mix well together!
Floating Extra Stabilizer
If your project requires additional stabilizer and you can’t or don’t want to hoop it, you can float an extra piece of stabilizer underneath the hooped embroidery blank.
Simply place the stabilizer piece under the hoop but on top of the needle plate. You may need painter’s tape to hold it in place under the hoop until some stitches are made in it.
I often use a sheet of crisp tear-away stabilizer underneath the hoop when I use no-show mesh stabilizer and notice I need extra support.
I hope you now know what type of stabilizer to use for machine embroidery and how to use it for your projects. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions I didn’t answer! (And, check out how I organize and store my embroidery stabilizers.)