How to Use & Remove Water-Soluble Stabilizer in Embroidery

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Water-soluble stabilizer is one of the niftiest inventions for machine and hand embroidery. Also called wash-away stabilizer, this product can function as a backing or topper for your embroidery projects. 

Not only does it help provide a clean stitch out on tricky fabrics, but it also leaves no trace on the back once removed. 

If you’re intrigued, let’s discuss the types of wash-away stabilizers, how to use water-soluble stabilizer for embroidery, and lastly, how to remove water-soluble stabilizer!

how to use and remove water-soluble stabilizer

What is water-soluble stabilizer & what is it used for?

Made from water-soluble fibers, water-soluble stabilizer is designed to dissolve in water after it’s served its purpose as either a topping or stabilizer backing for your embroidery project. 

There are two main types of water-soluble stabilizers: film-like and fibrous paper-like. Each has slightly different properties and can play a different part in creating the perfect project.

Using Water-Soluble Stabilizer as a Topping

topper for minky

Lightweight film-like water-soluble stabilizer (ex. Sulky Solvy) is perfect as an embroidery topper. 

If your fabric has any sort of fluff, pile, nap, or even squishiness you’ll benefit from using a layer of water-soluble topping.

This topping supports stitches and keeps them from sinking into the fabric. Even when embroidering t-shirts that are soft and squishy, I have better results when using water-soluble topping.

As an alternative, if your project cannot be exposed to water but you still need a topper, consider heat-away film, which later brushes off when ironed. 

There are two main methods for using water-soluble topping. You can hoop it with your fabric or you can float it on top.

When floating, use a light layer of temporary spray adhesive, pin, or even tape it to secure it well. Or, you can gently wet the sides of the stabilizer (OUT of the embroidery area) and stick it that way. 

Using Wash-Away Stabilizer as a Backing

two stabilizer layers

Wash-away backing types include the fibrous fabric type and heavy film-like water-soluble stabilizer (ex: Sulky Ultra Solvy).

To use this as a stabilizer, first, select the stabilizer weight and also the number of layers needed based on the characteristics of your fabric and the density of your embroidery design. (Read more in embroidery stabilizer guide.)

Wash-away stabilizer can be hooped behind the fabric that will be machine embroidered. Or, the fabric can be floated on top of just hooped wash-away. (There are also sticky wash-away stabilizers, which are so cool!)

And, in some cases, you can hoop just wash-away stabilizer and then embroider on top of it. This is the case when embroidering free-standing lace or making certain patches.  

Other use examples include hand embroidery, cutwork designs, in-the-hoop embroidery projects, and even embroidering tulle or other sheer fabrics. 

remove the washaway stabilizer

Wash-away stabilizer is a great substitute for tear-away stabilizer, providing a little extra stability and keeping you from having to later pick out tiny pieces from the back of intricate embroidery designs. Basically, use it any time you need no residual stabilizer and aren’t dependent on the stability of a cut-away stabilizer. 

For very dense designs or very stretchy fabric, though, water-soluble stabilizer just might not be an option. In this case, you’ll have to switch to a cut-away or no-show mesh stabilizer for added stability.

How to Remove Water-Soluble Stabilizer

Now, how do you get this stuff off?

soak the stabilizer in a bowl of water

If you’ve used wash-away stabilizer as your embroidery backing, the best removal method is to trim the stabilizer close to the back of the design using your favorite embroidery scissors. (Mine are duckbill applique scissors!)

Then, run the embroidered item through the washer, soak it in water, or even run it under the tap until the stabilizer is dissolved. 

You do need to wash all the paper-type of wash-away stabilizer out of the project the first time around. Otherwise, the stiffness it provides once dried might be permanent. While this may be preferable when embroidering free-standing lace, your in-the-hoop project might need a softer feel. 

tearing off the topper

If you’ve used a water-soluble topper, clip any jump stitches first and then tear off as much stabilizer as you can with your fingers. Then, you have a few options for removing the remaining water-soluble stabilizer. 

1. Tap Water

Soak the blank in water, run it under the tap, or put it through the washer. Easy peasy, but this takes some time for the blank to dry. 

You can even use a wet cotton swab or moistened paper towel if you want faster drying. I’ve seen some people use baby wipes, but the brand I use for my younger daughter leaves too much lint. 

2. Use a Seam-Fix Remover

use a seam fix-it

I saw the method of using a Seam-Fix to remove water-soluble topping on Craftsy, and I was excited to try it! It was kind of a let-down honestly. It worked GREAT for some fabrics, and then others like the towel above, not so much.

However, if you despise exposing your fabric to water to remove the topper, you might enjoy experimenting with this option!

3. Damp Paper Towel + Iron

how to remove water-soluble stabilizer with an iron

As per Sulky’s recommendation, it’s super effective to place a damp, textured paper towel on top of your finished design and then press with an iron on medium heat with no steam.

All the topping then sticks to the paper towel when you remove it. (I like using my mini-iron for better control of the area pressed.)

This is not my go-to, though, despite how well it works.

First, you have to be super careful that you’re only holding the iron there for a split second. And, ironing embroidery from the front is an awful idea if you’re using metallic threads or specialized types of fabric. I just don’t chance it for my delicate projects. 

4. A Tennis Ball

I just recently saw that you can use a tennis ball to help remove water-soluble topping. Here’s the link to John Deer’s video about this method. I’ve never tried it, but it looks intriguing!

Reusing Water-Soluble Stabilizer as Liquid Stabilizer

making liquid stabilizer

If you’re thrifty or a repurposing lover like me, you’ll be excited to know you can reuse the small water-soluble stabilizer scraps to make liquid spray stabilizer. 

This is a great way to stabilize thinner fabrics before embroidering (you’ll still want an actual stabilizer on the back, too.)

It’s also great for stopping knit fabric from curling at the edges and works well in place of starch or Terial Magic for many projects. When you launder your item the first time, it washes out. 

Here are instructions from Sulky’s blog for how to make some! I do usually omit the rubbing alcohol with no consequences. 

Final Notes

I hope this tutorial has taught you everything you need to know about using and removing water-soluble stabilizer.

If you want to learn more about other types, check out how to use stabilizer for machine embroidery!

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