When a group of embroiderers gathers, one subject is certain to come up . . . . . stabilizers
The stores are loaded with these important products. Annthegran alone has dozens of different stabilizers for every need. Some of the types are Tear Away, Cut-Away, Water-soluble, and adhesive, the list goes on and on. It is no wonder we have trouble with what stabilizer to use when doing our beautiful craft.
We can presume that some fabrics can be paired with certain stabilizers and be reasonably certain we have a good match. For instance, if we have a very heavy fabric such as canvas or denim, we can use a lightweight stabilizer for optimum results. In this case, I would use a lightweight tear-away or water-soluble over the TOP giving the very best 3-D effect of the design.
I cannot even estimate how many fabric types are available today. Those numbers challenge today’s embroiderers to have a consistently beautiful product.
Let me try to summarize some of the information I think you will find useful.
First of all, if you are not already doing a ‘discovery sew’ of your project, you are opening the door to disaster. That failure may not be apparent at the time of sewing but failed after being cleaned. Even Ann, Always, always, always strongly recommends that discovery sew.
Let’s consider some of the variables
1. Stability and weight of fabrics,
a. weave (cotton, polyester, blends, linen, etc.)
b. knit (t-shirt, double knit, two-way stretch, etc.)
c. unstructured (felt, leather, fleece)
2. stitch density
3. stability of the design
4. stitch length
5. amount of detailing in the design
6. size and weight of the resulting embroidery
7. no puckering of design (see image at right)
8. design does not sink into the fabric
9. registration keeps its alignment
10. design maintains its integrity for its useful life
Here are my findings on different stabilizers.
Tear Away – Tear away is great for medium to heavy-weight fabrics. However, a poorly performing tear away will test your stamina. If it completely falls apart with just a few needle holes or does not tear away cleanly, you have a stabilizer that is underperforming. Use a quality tear away such as found here at Ann’s for best results (as a bonus, an Ann’s Club Membership saves you money). Using two layers of tear-away backing pulled off one at a time is a technique that can avoid a distortion problem. There should be some modest effort on your part to separate the tear away from your design and no fuzz left on the back of the design.
Cut Away – A better selection for lightweight fabrics as well as one that can remain with the design permanently, cut away tends to have more bulk than tear away, but will not distort fabric or designs. It can be used in two and even three layers on a delicate fabric. Another great feature to cut away is enhancing colors. For instance, if you are doing a snow scene, cut the stabilizer to the approximate size of the field and place it atop your fabric in that area. The snow area will be more dense and defined.
Adhesive/Iron on – Generally the strongest variety because it becomes a part of the fabric with which you are working. Its major drawback is that frequently these will gum up your needle and/or machine. Its best use is for super stretch items such as bicycle shorts. Adhesives are a must because some fabrics are so stretchy they can force themselves down the throat plate with a lesser stabilizer. Be careful when applying these stabilizers to avoid stretching your fabric. Many embroiderers use adhesives for hard to hoop items such as suede. I will be discussing hooping in my next blog. Be sure to mark your calendars for June 7 for my take on hooping. I just might knock your hoops off…
Water Soluble – Multiple weights and ease of use are the two main attributes that make these stabilizers a workhorse in embroidery. They can be used under, over, and even in between fabrics and bottom stabilizers. Used on the top of towels, corduroy and any fabric with a loose topping will allow the stitches to remain well above the fabric. Again, use the best quality you can afford, a few cents of savings can result in disasters making the inexpensive too expensive for most of us. It is also used in Free Standing Lace and is great for CutWork. I will be discussing those two specialized, and my personal favorites, embroidery methods in future blogs.
Each of the above varieties comes in multiple weights. A good rule of thumb is to match lightweight fabrics to heavyweight stabilizers and vice-versa. Don’t fear using multiple layers of stabilizers. In the case of tear-away, some tear only vertically and not horizontally. In this case, it is sometimes effective to use two layers in a crossed pattern creating even greater strength.
- Create a very firm piece of fabric by use of the proper weight of stabilizer
- Discovery sew with the same materials can guide you accurately
- Use multiple sheets of stabilizer when necessary
- Use top stabilizing for maximum thread uplift (standing off the fabric)
- Water-soluble stabilizers can be used in the same manner as a tear away
- If you are seeing puckering as you are sewing, you are already under stabilized
- You can add stabilizers after you start sewing, slipping either under the hoop or atop the design
- You cannot over stabilized, but you can under stabilized
- Use the best quality stabilizers you have available
Your tests and results may vary and you need to rely on your own judgment. This blog is my findings and personal experiences. I believe the information to be accurate and the best practices available today.
It is doubtful that you can over-stabilize. A rock-solid design, perfect registration, and stitches lying just above the fabric can be its own reward in beauty and personal satisfaction.
Break the rules at your own risk, you may be able to get away with less, but you are gambling your hard-earned reputation. Stabilizers are generally an inexpensive assurance of quality.