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Stabilizer Basics

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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!

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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

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.

 

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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.

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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.