Stabilizer Basics


What is Stabilizer?

When doing machine embroidery, most fabrics will require that you use stabilizer in order for the embroidery design to stitch out successfully.Stabilizer serves as a foundation, helping to support the fabric while the embroidery machine stitches out the design. If you don’t use a stabilizer, you may experience issues like fabric distortion, puckers within or around the design, or stitches ‘sinking’ into the fabric – just to name a few!



Though there is a large selection of stabilizers available today, the 3 basic categories of stabilizer are tear-away, cut-away and wash-away.

• Tear-away stabilizers are temporary, supporting the fabric during embroidery. They are usually recommended for woven (non-stretch) fabrics. After embroidery, the excess is carefully removed from area around the design.
• Cut-away stabilizers are permanent, meaning that the stabilizer stays in the design after embroidery is finished. Only the excess around the outer perimeter of the design is trimmed away. Cut-away stabilizers are usually recommended for stretch knits and unstable fabrics. Even after frequent laundering, the embroidery design will stay intact because the stabilizer stays in the fabric.
• Wash-away stabilizers are a good choice when embroidering light weight fabrics, fabrics with a nap, or on fabrics where the design will show on both sides. After carefully removing the main excess stabilizer, the excess is simply rinsed away.

Within these three main categories, however, there are variations such as lightweight, medium weight, heavyweight, fusible, non-fusible, mesh and more. Knowing how to properly stabilize involves a little trial and error at first. Follow the stabilizer manufacturer’s recommendations for best results!

Stabilizing for Common Embroidery Projects

Here are tips for some of the most common embroidery projects. Check out our handy reference chart at the end of this article for information on choosing stabilizer for additional fabrics!


Towels can introduce challenges because of their thickness and texture. A towel’s thickness can make hooping difficult, and a towel’s texture can cause embroidery stitches to become ‘buried’. Choose embroidery designs that offer good coverage of the towel. Avoid tiny design detail or tiny lettering.
Stabilizer is used not only on the back of a towel, but also on the top to help prevent stitches from getting buried in the towel’s surface texture. The “topper” is usually a wash-away stabilizer, placed on the top of the towel, either hooped with the fabric or secured with pins. The “backing” is usually a tear-away stabilizer on the back side of the towel. It may be hooped along with the towel or hooped alone, depending on the thickness of the towel.
Hoop the towel and backing stabilizer. Place the wash-away stabilizer on top of the towel, then use straight pins to pin the topper and towel to the hooped stabilizer. Make sure the pins go through to the backside and that they are outside of the area to be stitched. Embroider the design, then carefully remove the stabilizers.

T-Shirts, Sweatshirts & Fleece

To embroider T-shirts, sweatshirts, or fleece, apply a cut-away stabilizer underneath.
This will stabilize the stretch and provide a soft, permanent backing. For non-fusible cut-away stabilizer, it may be helpful to use a temporary fabric spray adhesive to help prevent the fabric and stabilizer from shifting.  Alternatively, you could opt for a fusible cut-away stabilizer. Hoop the fabric without stretching it, and don’t overly tighten the hoop adjusting screw.  If desired, a wash-away topper (see the “Towel” section, above) can also be used, particularly helpful for embroidering fleece, so the machine’s presser foot can move more freely.

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Sweater Knits

When working with sweater knits, the best sweaters to work with are those that have a small, even rib, rather than heavier bulky knits. To embroider directly onto the sweater, first hoop a cut-away stabilizer. Apply a temporary fabric spray adhesive to the stabilizer, and then place the sweater directly onto the stabilizer. It is important not to “hoop” the sweater, as hooping it will cause distortion of the sweater and likely leave hoop marks. If you pin the sweater to the stabilizer, make sure the pins are outside the area to be embroidered. A wash-away stabilizer can be used as a topper.





Denim or Twill

Denim fabric is actually an unstable twill weave, and a firm weight of cut-away stabilizer is recommended. If the embroidery design is very dense, more layers of stabilizer can be added to support the heavy stitch count. After embroidering the design, trim away the excess stabilizer, leaving about ⅛” – ¼” of stabilizer around the outside area of the embroidery.



Napped Fabrics

Fabrics like velvet or corduroy have a nap, and therefore will show “hoop marks” if hooped in the traditional way. The inner hoop will crush a “ring” into the napped fabric that will be nearly impossible to remove!

To embroider napped fabrics, first hoop a medium weight tear-away stabilizer. Apply a temporary fabric spray adhesive, then, place the fabric on top and secure with pins outside the embroidery area. Carefully pin a wash-away topper over the fabric. Embroider the design, then carefully remove the excess stabilizer from the top and bottom side of the fabric.

For even more helpful tips, check out our Stabilizer Recommendation Chart.


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Troubleshooting Tips for Successful Sewing

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Troubleshooting Tips for Successful Sewing!

Whether you are a more experienced sewist or you’re just getting started, here are a few tips we’d like to share with you to help keep your sewing easy and fun!






If Thread Loops Are Showing on the Underside of the Fabric

Thread looping on the underside of the fabric is always an indication that the upper thread is not correctly threaded.  This happens when the upper thread is not correctly placed in the tension mechanism and has not been threaded through the take-up lever.  To resolve this, rethread the machine, making sure to first raise the presser foot lifter and raise the needle to its highest position, so that the thread can be properly seated in the tension mechanism and take up lever.



If Bobbin Thread Is Showing on the Top of the Fabric

This can be caused if the top thread tension is too tight, or if the bobbin thread is not in the bobbin case tension.  Check that the upper thread is feeding freely without obstruction (like getting stuck behind the spool cap or getting caught on any rough spots o the thread spool itself).  Make sure the bobbin is correctly seated  in the bobbin case (bobbin holder), and check that the upper thread tension is not set too tightly.



If Thread Is Shredding

Thread can shred when you sew if it is old or poor quality.  Thread can also shred if the machine needle is worn out, or if the needle is the wrong style and size for the thread being used.  The thread should pass freely through the eye of the needle in order to sew properly.  Use threads that have a smooth, even filament.



If Fabric Is Not Feeding Properly

If the machine is not feeding fabric when you start sewing, it could be that the presser foot lifter has not been lowered before stepping on the foot controller.  Lower the presser foot and resume sewing.

Another reason the machine may not be feeding fabric is that the feed dogs (or feed teeth) are disengaged, so make sure that they are properly engaged for sewing.  (Note:  If your machine has drop feed, resume normal sewing by moving the drop feed lever to regular sewing mode, then turn the hand wheel toward you one full revolution to re-engage the feed dogs).

The machine may also not feed fabric if the stitch length control is set to “0”.  Increase the stitch length setting and resume sewing.

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If Needles Are Breaking
Needles can break if they are bent, dull or damaged.  Discard the old needle and insert a new needle, appropriate for the thickness and type of fabric being sewn.

Needles can also break if you are “pushing” or “pulling” the fabric while sewing, as this causes the needle to deflect.  The feed dogs (or feed teeth) are actually designed to do the work of drawing the fabric under the foot as you sew – you just need to guide the fabric!

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If Upper Thread Is Breaking

If the upper thread is breaking, it could be that the thread path is obstructed, the machine is not correctly threaded or the upper thread tension is set to tightly.  Be sure that the machine is correctly threaded and there are not obstructions (for example, thread getting caught behind the spool cap or a “rough spot” on the spool itself).  Check also that the upper thread tension control is set correctly (consult your machine manual).



If Stitches Are Skipping

If your stitches are skipping on the fabric as you sew, this could be an indication that the needle was inserted incorrectly.  Make sure that the needle goes all the way up into the needle clamp and that the flat side (at the top section of the needle) is facing toward the back.

Another reason stitches can be skipping is if the needle is the wrong style for the fabric.  For instance, if you are sewing a stretch knit fabric using a regular point needle, you could be experiencing skipped stitches.  Switching to a ball point needle will prevent stitches from skipping on stretch knit fabrics.

Worn out or damaged needles can also cause skipped stitches on a variety of fabric types.  Discard the needle and insert a new one, appropriate for the fabric you will be sewing.

Check out our blog on needles to learn more.

needle illustration


If Thread is Bunching at the Beginning of Sewing

Threads can get bunched up at the beginning of sewing if the top and bobbin threads have not been properly placed underneath the presser foot before starting to sew.  Ensure that both threads are under the presser foot and placed toward the back of the machine before lowering the presser foot to start sewing.

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If Stitches Appear Distorted

Stitches can appear distorted on the fabric if you are “pushing” or “pulling” the fabric as you sew.  Just let the feed dogs (or feed teeth) do the job of drawing the fabric along under the foot.

Another reason stitches could appear distorted is if the incorrect presser foot is used.  For example, dense stitches usually require the use of either a Satin Foot or Open Toe Foot, so that the stitching can pass freely underneath.  If the regular, All-Purpose Foot is used for dense stitching, stitches could get “stuck” under the foot.  Just switch to a presser foot more appropriate for these types of stitches.



If Fabric Is “Tunneling” or “Puckering” under the Stitches

If fabric appears to be pulling together under the stitches, this is a good sign that you should use a fabric stabilizer underneath the fabric.  Generally, use a tear-away stabilizer for woven fabrics and a cut-away stabilizer for stretch fabrics.



Sewing Machine Needles

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Does this describe you?

You’ve heard that sewing machine needles should be changed frequently, but you’re not totally convinced that this is necessary (after all, you’ve been sewing with the same needle for several projects!).  When you sew, however, you’ve noticed stitches skipping on some fabrics, while at other times you’ve seen little ‘snags’ or ‘pulls’ along the seam lines.  Your thread is shredding, or your needles are breaking. Perhaps you’ve even come to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with your sewing machine!

But did you know that many of these common problems can be fixed by simply using the correct needle in your machine?  Read on and allow us to demystify sewing machine needles!  We’ll explain basic needle parts, styles and sizes, how to choose the right needle for your project and how to avoid some common mistakes so you can sew with success!

Needle Parts

The main parts of the needle are the shank, groove, eye and point.

  • Shank:  The shank is the top part of the needle that fits up into the needle clamp of the sewing machine.  The front side of the shank is rounded, and the back side is flat. The flat side of the needle always goes toward the back of the machine.
  • Groove:  The groove runs down the middle area of the needle, starting below the shank and ending above the needle eye.  The groove helps guide the upper thread as you sew.
  • Eye:  The eye is the hole through which the thread passes.  The size of the eye is proportionate to the needle size.
  • Point:  The shape and size of the needle’s point varies, depending on the type of fabric it is designed to sew.

(Example shown is Style 2020, size 14/90)

Example Needle Parts

Needle Styles

Needle style indicates the type of fabric the needle is designed to sew.  For general sewing, the most commonly used needle styles are SINGER Style 2020 and SINGER Style 2045.

  • The SINGER® Style 2020 is a Regular Point needle, designed for sewing woven (non-stretch) fabrics.  It is usually indicated as a regular point needle by a red color on the top. Regular point needles are sometimes called ‘sharp’ needles.

Regular Point copy

  • The SINGER® Style 2045 is a Ball Point needle, designed for sewing stretch (not woven) fabrics. It is usually indicated as ball point needle by a yellow color on the top. Ball point needles have a rounded tip, allowing them to “push” their way between the fibers of stretch fabrics without snagging.

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After you determine which needle style is right for the general type of fabric you want to sew, then select the size of needle that is appropriate for the weight or thickness of the fabric (see chart below).

Needle Size

Needle size refers to the thickness of the needle’s diameter, which essentially determines the weight or thickness of fabric it can sew.  The smaller size numbers indicate a smaller (thinner) needle size, used for lighter weight fabrics.  The larger size numbers indicate a larger (thicker) needle size, used for heavier weight fabrics.

There is a wide range of sizes available, but the most common sizes used are SINGER® sizes 11/80 (for light weight fabrics), 14/90 (for medium weight fabrics) and 16/100 (for medium to heavier weight fabrics).  There is also a size 9/70 available for very light weight fabrics (chiffon, lace, etc), and a size 18/120 for heavy weight fabrics (upholstery, etc).

Needle sizes are displayed by two numbers, simply due to the use of two measuring systems – American and European (Imperial/Metric).

Choose the Right Needle for Your Project

Here’s a guide to help you select the right needle for sewing some common fabrics.

Choose Needle Chart

Top 10 Needle Troubleshooting Tips

1. For best sewing results, needles should be replaced every 8-10 hours of stitching time.

2. Snags or pulls in woven (non-stretch) fabrics:
This can occur if the needle is either bent or dull, or you are using the wrong style of needle. Use a regular point needle (Style 2020) for woven fabrics.

3. Skipped stitches on woven fabrics:
This can occur when the needle is old, bent or dull.
Remove and discard the old needle. Replace it with a new regular point needle (Style 2020).

4. Skipped stitches on stretch fabrics:
This can occur if you are using a regular point needle instead of a ball point needle.
Switch to a ball point needle (Style 2045) which is specifically designed for sewing stretch fabrics.

5. Popping sound while you are sewing:
This is a good indication that the needle is bent or damaged. Remove and discard the old needle.  Replace it with a new one that is appropriate for the type and weight of fabric.

6. Thread is shredding:
This can mean the needle is too small for the thickness of thread, so change to either a larger size needle or a finer weight thread.
Shredding thread can also occur if the thread is old or poor quality (uneven filament).

7. Needles are breaking:
This can be an indication that the needle size is too small for the thickness of fabric being sewn, so change to a larger size needle. Additionally, when you sew, do not “push” or “pull” the fabric, but rather, let the feed dogs draw the fabric along. If you push or pull the fabric as you sew, the needle could deflect causing it to break.

8. Large holes in the seam line of lighter weight woven fabrics:
This can be an indication that your needle is too large for the weight of the fabric.  Change to a smaller needle size.

9. When removing and inserting needles, it can be helpful to place a small piece of paper over the presser foot area, so that you don’t accidentally drop the needle down into the machine!

10. When inserting a new needle, be sure that is inserted correctly into the machine, or it may not sew properly.  The flat side of the needle should be facing toward the back of the machine. Make sure it is all the way up in the needle clamp, then tighten the needle clamp screw securely. Check your machine manual for specifics on your machine model, or contact SINGER Customer Care at 800.474.6437 for personal assistance, or email them at talktous@singerco.com.


Your Sewing Machine’s Stitches

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Every sewing machine has a selection of stitches from which to choose. Some machines have just a few, and some have many, many more!  Regardless of the number of stitches your machine has, it can be very useful to make yourself a “stitch-out” of all the stitches, so that you can see what they look like when actually sewn. It’s a fun way to get familiar with your machine, too!


Depending on your machine model, stitches may be displayed on a dial, on the body of the machine itself, on an LCD display, as well as in the manual. It may, however, be difficult to imagine what the stitches will look like when sewn out – let alone deciding on what project you would like to use them! That’s where your “stitch-out” can really come in handy.

If you are fairly new to sewing, you may not fully realize that by simply altering the length and width of stitches, you have almost unending possibilities for how your stitches can look!

Changing Length: The distance between each stitch changes, making the row of stitching appear more or less dense.

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Changing Width: The size of the stitch pattern changes from side to side, so that the row of stitching appears narrower or wider.



To prepare your fabric for this type of decorative stitching, add a fabric interfacing to the back side of the fabric.  You may also want to use a tear-away stabilizer when you sew, which will give the fabric added stability for sewing some of the more dense stitch patterns. We often use a 30wt cotton thread when sewing out the stitches, which helps make stitches stand out more prominently on your fabric. Use all-purpose thread or bobbinfil in the bobbin, and a SINGER Regular Point Needle in size 14.

Use a Satin Foot or an Open Toe Foot, which accommodates dense stitching.



You can even try your stitches with a twin needle, which opens up all sorts of new possibilities! Space them apart to create fabric texture, or sew the rows of stitching closer together to make border designs.



You might want to mark the fabric itself, or attach notes to the fabric, to record what your machine’s settings were for each stitch. That way, if you want to repeat the look of that stitch for a future project, you’ll know exactly what to do! It’s a great time saver, too.

Have fun as you re-discover your machine and get to know your stitches!



Hemming Jeans

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One of the most common garment alterations is hemming jeans. Whether it’s tailoring a pair of designer jeans, or hemming up some hand-me-downs for the kids, there probably comes a time sooner or later when you’ll want to hem a pair of jeans! Hemming jeans by machine, however, can present particular challenges, so we’ll show you a couple of methods and also share some tips for success. Regardless of the method you choose, be sure to use the right needle in your sewing machine – either a SINGER Denim needle (size 16) or a SINGER Heavy Duty needle (size 18), to help accommodate the thickness you’ll be sewing.

There are 2 main ways to hem jeans:

•  One way is to hem the jeans by removing the original hem. In this technique, you basically cut off the existing hem, fold up the hem and then topstitch it in place. The manufacturer’s original hem is cut away, and the end result is a neat looking hem, but the jeans will no longer have the “distressed” look of the original jeans.

•  The other way to hem the jeans is to do so and keep the original hem. In this technique, you basically take up the excess fabric, shortening the jeans, but keeping the original hem intact. The manufacturer’s original distressed look hem is preserved.


Hemming Jeans & Removing the Original Hem

1.  You’ll need scissors, pins, a removable fabric marker and the right style/size of sewing machine needle (as mentioned above). Also, for this style of hem, the topstitching will show so you’ll want the thread to match as closely as possible to the rest of the topstitching that appears on the jeans. Some thread manufacturers actually have jeans thread available to match that used in store-bought jeans. This special jeans thread is thicker than all-purpose tDSC_0091hread (another reason you’ll want the large sewing machine needle). You can use regular sewing thread in the bobbin.


2.  Fold up the jeans to determine the desired finished hem length. Don’t cut yet. Pin them in place, then try them on in front of a mirror, with the shoe height that you plan to wear with the jeans. Adjust the hem as necessary.


3.  Mark the finished length desired for the jeans using either pins or a removable fabric marker. Open out the hem and trim away the original hem, leaving a 1” hem allowance.


4.  At this point, you can do either of 2 things to prepare the hem.


a)  You can fold the fabric up ½”, then ½” again and press. Pin in place, and it’s ready to be topstitched. The seams with this method can become quite bulky. If the jeans you are hemming are very thick, you may prefer method (b).

b)  OR, to help eliminate bulk at the side seams, where the fabric thickness can become very, very thick, try this method of preparing the hem. Cut the hem allowance down to approximately ½”. Thread the top of the machine and bobbin with regular sewing thread. Use an overedge stitch or serger to finish off the raw edge of the fabric.


5.  Pin the fold in place. Thread the top of the machine with jeans thread, regular thread in the bobbin. Convert the machine to free-arm mode, which will make it easier to sew around the hem. Select the straight stitch, and then set the stitch length to a medium-long setting. Sew around the hem area at the desired distance from the bottom edge to finish.


Hemming Jeans & Keeping the Original Hem

1.  You’ll need scissors, pins, a removable fabric marker and the right style/size of sewing machine needle (as mentioned above). You can use regular sewing thread in the bobbin, as there is no need for the topstitching thread with this technique.

2.  Try on the jeans and determine the desired finished length and pin it in place.

3.  Measure the distance from the desired finished length’s fold line to the very bottom edge of the distressed hem. For our demonstration, the distance is 3”. Mark a line on the jeans with the removable fabric marker.


4.  Lay the jeans on the table. Measure the size of the original hem from the very bottom edge to the topstitching line. As this is usually about ½”, double this to equal 1”, and then mark a line 1” above the first line that you drew on the jeans.


5.  Fold up the jeans so that the very bottom edge of the hem is lined up with the top line drawn on the jeans. Pin in place.


6.  Thread the machine with regular sewing thread in the needle and in the bobbin. Convert the machine to free-arm mode, with will make it easier to sew. With the machine set for straight stitch, sew around the hem, right next to the original hem.


7.  When finished, sew an overedge stitch and trim the excess fabric.


8.  Remove the fabric marker line, then press the original hem down. The fold line will be barely noticeable!