More On Stabilizers


Using Different Stabilizers

Written by Carolyn Duncan
uthor of Husqvarna Tutorials and designer of Sew What Designs 

Stabilizers are essential to machine embroidery, but there are so many available at the moment that many people find them a confusing topic.  We all have our favorites and you will often hear people disagreeing about which is the best.  In the end it all comes down to which one works for you.  The combinations of thread, machine, fabric and stabilizer and design can provide a bewildering complexity of choices.  You will need to experiment to find out which stabilizers suit your machines and the designs that you have.  All makes of software display the stitch count of a design. 

To generalize you will need to have more stabilizer in the following situations:

  • The higher the stitch count of the design
  • The more movement in the fabric
  • The lighter the weave of the fabric

Through my digitizing classes I have come across the situation where the design or the digitizing is often blamed for a poor result, when in fact it was the choice of a stabilizer that caused the problem.  I always recommend that a sewing product be used as a stabilizer and not any other household products.  If you are going to spend the time embroidering something then you need to spend a small amount more to make it worthwhile and lasting.  

Many people are surprised when they realize how tight the fabric needs to be in the hoop.  With the fabric really "drum tight" you can use less stabilizer.  The most common problem for new owners of an embroidery machine is in getting the hoop tight enough.   I now use non-skid matting in all my embroidery, computerized or free motion. 

Stabilizers can be divided into a few simple categories based on their method of use.

  • Tear away 
  • Iron on tearaway
  • Cut away
  • Adhesive papers
  • Disappearing Stabilizers, Cold water Soluble( liquid ,plastic or woven),       
  • Hot water soluble or Melt away
  • Hydro stick

Sheer fabrics
Choosing a stabilizer is primarily based on the fabric you are using and secondly on the use for the embroidery.  I have placed Tearaway at the top of the list as I regard this as an absolute essential.

For the majority of embroidery on woven fabric have it tight in the hoop and use one, two or even three pieces of tearaway For heavier stitch counts the tearaway can be hooped with the fabric with an additional layer underneath.    To make the hooping easier a light spray of adhesive can be used.

HINT: When buying your tearaway hold it up to the light.  Do the fibers run in all directions or predominately in one.  There are a variety of brands on the market and some tear only in one direction and are not as easy to remove. 

If you are using a stretch or knit fabric them stabilize with iron on tearaway first and then treat as a woven. Make sure that the iron on stabilizer is larger than the hoop so that the fabric will not stretch. I always mark my center lines onto the fabric to make sure that it is square when hooped.

Adhesive Stabilizers - Adhesive stabilizers are great if the fabric is too small to hoop or to thick to adequately tension.  I prefer to hoop the entire piece of stabilizer into the hoop and then remove the paper from the inside of the hoop.  Although more expensive there is no waste from these papers as they can be patched and reused.  Try the different makes as some have really strong adhesive qualities but do gum the needle up.  If the design is dense I will use an additional layer of tearaway underneath. 

This is great for stabilizing knit fabrics instead of the iron on tearaway but is more expensive.  If I am doing a lot of repeats of a design I will use this stabilizer for the first design and then use the surrounding area that remains to stick down the fabric and place tearaway underneath the opening left in the hoop.  I can get up to 8 repeats on a quilt panel this way with one piece of adhesive paper before it loses its stickiness. 

Then the edges from this piece that are still covered by the protective paper can be used as patches in other hoopings.  When I patch a hole I take the paper out of the hoop and re-tension it after several designs.

I also use this stabilizer when positioning is critical in a design.  The adhesive holds the fabric firmly but it can be repositioned easily.  I position the fabric according to my starting point that I have drawn on the fabric and then check my positioning using an outline of the design.  If I am not happy I can reposition the fabric easily without needing to re-hoop it. 

Cut Away stabilizers  - Cut away stabilizers are used a lot in the embroidery industry.  They are available in a variety if weights:

  • Heavy woven is used for medium to heavy weight knits
  • Soft touch is recommended for baby wear and if  the design has a low stitch count it can be used with knits
  • Medium weight is for medium knits or two layers for heavier knits or stitch counts
  • Light weight is for lighter knits

Polymesh cut away is available in three perforated sizes and is used on light colors to prevent shadows from showing through on the front where the stabilizer has been cut away.

Water Solubles
Water Solubles are stabilizers that dissappear, or dissolve when you wash them.  

Heat-Away are Heat Dissappearing Stabilizers that melt away, or dissentergrate when you heat them with an iron.

Hydro-Stick is a product that is an alternative to self-adhesive embroidery where the needle "gums up" or you wish to avoid aerosol sprays.  It is available in tearaway light or heavy weights and in a cutaway.  It becomes sticky when wet and it can be repositioned.  It is released when wet again.

Several layers of organza can be embroidered directly onto if the designs are appropriate.  Organza can be used in the hoop under the fabric as a stabilizer for very light fabrics.  For best results when using organza alone Carolyn Duncan recommends non-skid matting in the hoop and has more information on this in her Stitching on Organza tutorial. Cut the organza away after embroidering. To get rid of the "pokies" melt them away with a soldering iron or stencil burner.  Sandwich tulle or organza between layers of water-soluble stabilizer, place in hoop and embroider for machine lace and 3D effects.

Paint with liquid stabilizer for additional stiffness and use water soluble Vilene underneath for machine stitches or embroidery.

As I mentioned before your choice of stabilizer will be determined by a number of factors including affordability and availability.  I always keep a stash on hand so that I am not likely to run out of a particular product.  It can be really frustrating to want a project finished by a particular date.  It is worth looking around for discounts and buying up when you find one.  I found that in some cases shopping on the Internet was a good way to get a bargain, even allowing for postage.  

Secrets of Embroidery has a great range of stabilizers at this link.

Happy embroidering.


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