Embroidery Stabilizer Guide – How to Choose Correct Backing for Fabrics

Embroidery is one of the beautiful and delicate works of art. It may need just a needle and thread and knowledge of embroidery stitch and floss. But you might need a few embroidery equipments to make the experience enjoyable and get a beautiful near-perfect result.

The issue that most people face during embroidering by hand or even with the machine is that the fabric may slip off, or the thread is either too tight or loose. This issue is resolved by using embroidery backing or stabilizer. You can choose from a variety of options when it comes to stabilizers. But here, selecting a stabilizer according to the cloth is very tricky for beginners, to be honest.

Embroidery Stabilizer

In this article, we are going to discuss everything about the stabilizers. From what exactly it is to how many kinds are available in the market for what type of fabric. This is our ultimate guide from you to rely on!

What is a Stabilizer?

The stabilizer or sometimes called “Backing,” is used for easy and clean workability. You have often seen the stabilizer right under the embroidery. Of course, it is entirely your choice to use it, but you will feel the difference in the result and the process with the stabilizer.

You may have often seen the embroidery you buy from stores. Even though they are machine embroidered, you will find a sheet of white pressed cotton under the threads. This material gives stuffiness to that specific part of the cloth where the threads are knitted together as a beautiful and intricate pattern. These white sheets, or sometimes black, are the stabilizer.

If you feel that the stabilizer may degrade the show and feel of the original cloth, and then there is a catch, you can tear it away, or it will be removed or softened within a single wash.

Why and when to use a stabilizer?

A stabilizer is like a foundation for many embroideries. The fun part is that selection of stabilizer does not depend on what type of embroidery you want to do or what needle or thread you are using; it depends on the kind of fabric that lies as a base. Yes, you really do not need a stabilizer all the time, but when you use it, the result is finer and near-perfect, just like you have imagined.

However, using a stabilizer can use a cheat sheet. Furthermore, here are a few important points that you must understand when it comes to the decision of using a stabilizer:

  • For the stability of the fabric: Once you have decided that you will be using a stabilizer. Later in the article, we will briefly discuss all types of stabilizers with the recommended fabric.
  • To improve the stitch density: If you are going to embroidery heavy designs, then you need more support to the fabric. Therefore, you need a heavier stabilizer. If you are going for a lightweight and distant design, then you can use a thin and light stabilizer in specific areas.
  • How often the fabric is washed: If you are embroidering daily use clothing, then they will be washed often. Therefore, the heavier stabilizer is ideal because every wash will wear off the stabilizer. Otherwise, the lighter stabilizer is fine for a few washes.

Sizes of Stabilizers

Since we are talking about heavier and light stabilizers, it is essential to know what sizes are available in the market. Typically, you will find the stabilizer ranging from 1 ounce to 3.5 ounces. Here is how these are categorized:

  • Lightweight stabilizer: It ranges from 1 ounce to 1.5 ounces.
  • Medium-weight stabilizer: It ranges from 1.75 ounces to 2.75 ounces.
  • Heavy-weight stabilizer: It ranges from 3 ounces to 3.5 ounces, as 3.5 ounces is the maximum you will ever find.

Types of Stabilizers

Stabilizers come in four basic shapes that are sized differently according to their weight. They are compatible with a wide range of fabrics, thanks to their properties and attributes. Each stabilizer is discussed below:

1. Tear-Away Stabilizer

The tear-away stabilizer is one of the commonly used stabilizers for fabric support. As the name suggests, it is torn away since you are done with the embroidery. It comes in different sizes, but there is a little rule to follow, i.e the heavy fabric uses the heavy tear-away, and the light fabric will use the more lightweight stabilizer. 

The choice of tear-away stabilizer also depends on the stitch counts. For heavy embroidery, the thick tear-away is perfect or vice versa.

Furthermore, we have water-activated and tacky types of tear-away stabilizers too. These stick in place onto the fabric once they are wet. When it is tried, you can start embroidering over the fabric. Thus, it is an ideal choice for towels, cuff, collars, or any fabric that needs stability and does not need looping again and again.

2. Cut-Away Stabilizer

It is mostly used in machine embroidery, but it is also an ideal choice for handwork, especially for stretchy fabrics. It is often used in multiple layers and comes in many sizes and weights, from mesh as lightweight to medium and heavy. To use it, we hoop it in place under the fabric and cut off the excess embroidering. It is ideal for t-shirts if hand embroidered and for any type of cloth if you are going for machine embroidery.

3. Water-Soluble Stabilizer

The water-soluble stabilizer is like a temporary tear-away. But the difference is that once it gets in contact with water, it starts to dissolve. It is an ideal choice for thin and see-through fabrics like organza. Many artisans use it for marking the pattern and then embroidery at the front of the fabric instead of back.

4. Fusible Stabilizer

It is more likely to be used for interfacing, but you can use it for embroideries too. One of the best things about it as a stabilizer is that you can iron it to stick onto the fabric. The stiffness after ironing helps a lot with the embroidery, especially for the slippery or non-stable fabric. But do keep in mind that it is not water-soluble or tear-away; it will remain on the cloth as you left it.

Colors in Stabilizers

The stabilizers are usually available in white color. Rarely will you find this one in black too. However, the white-colored stabilizer is ideal to use under the light-colored fabric and black for the darker ones.

Few stabilizers also come in no-show backing options. You can ask for the no-sow or sheer stabilizer for the embroidery in the different stabilizers too.

Types of Fabric and their Compatible Stabilizers

It is essential to understand which stabilizer will help you work efficiently with the embroidery. Here is the most common fabric used and their compatible stabilizers:

  1. Sheer or Semi-sheer Fabrics 

The Semi-sheer and light fabric are more likely to be see-through. The threads of the embroidery that back are often visible, and then think how a stabilizer can help you.

The lightweight stabilizers are perfect for such fabrics. It not just makes the fabric stiff for easy embroidery but also prevents those extra threads on the wrong side from being seen at the front. Feel free to use permanent stabilizers like a cutaway.

2. Stretchy Fabrics

Stretchy fabrics are a bit tricky for embroidery. The stabilizer that is often used with the stretch fabrics is lightweight, water-soluble, tear-away, and sometimes cut away too. The temporary stabilizer is used because it will help with the embroidery. But do keep in mind that it may wear off upon frequent washing, too, so leave the stabilizer over the 

fabric for support.

3. Loosely Woven Fabrics

You will find fabrics that have little gaps in their fibers. These types of fabric are often considered the tough ones for embroidery because the embroidery threads have no fiber to latch on to. Therefore, a stabilizer works wonders for such fabric. It helps in keeping the thread in place and easy use of needles too. We recommend using a permanent stabilizer for such material.

4. Canvas or tightly Woven Fabrics

For tightly weaved fabric, usually, there is no need for a stabilizer. But we recommend a lightweight stabilizer, especially the water-soluble and tear-away because it gives a smooth and nice space for the embroidery.

5. Lightweight Fabrics

The lightweight fabrics pucker up when you tuck the embroidery thread. Therefore, a stabilizer helps you with neat embroidery. When it is hooped to the fabric, it creates a tight surface for easy needlework and neat embroidery. We recommend using a permanent stabilizer to keep the embroidery long-lasting.

Here is a cheat sheet that will come in handy when you are confused about all the stabilizers and fabric combinations. Indeed, we keep it with us while shopping for stabilizers.

Type of ClothingStabilizer
T-shirt Lightweight water-soluble backing
Light-weight tear-away
Medium-weight cutaway 
Denim  Heavy-weight Cut-away       
Heavy-weight Tear-away 
CottonHeavy-weight cutaway
Heavy-weight tear away
Fleece Light-weight Tear-away
Woven clothingHeavy-weight cutaway
Heavy-weight tear away
Canvas For thick: Light-weight tear-away
For thin: Medium-weight tear-away 
Coated fabric  Light to heavy-weight water-soluble
Light to heavy-weight tear-away 
Silk Lightweight water soluble
Light-weight tear-away 
Organza  Lightweight water soluble
Light-weight tear-away 
Leather and vinyl Light-weight tear-away 
SpandexMedium-weight cut-away
Medium-weight water-solubleĀ·       
Medium-weight tear-away 
NylonLight to heavy-weight cutaway 
SatinLight to heavy-weight cutaway 
Sweater Medium to heavy-weight cutaway 
Terry cloth Medium-weight tear-away 
Sweatshirt  Heavy-weight tear-away       
Heavy-weight cutaway 
TowelLight-weight tear-away
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best stabilizer for embroidery?

Even though the stabilizer depends on the fabric, the best stabilizer we recommend beginning with is the lightweight soluble tear-away stabilizer. It is better you use the sturdiest one so that you can even use it under the sheer fabric like organza.

Can I use a dryer sheet as an embroidery stabilizer?

Yes, you can use a dryer sheet in place of lightweight stabilizers when embroidering by hand. Take a dryer sheet, iron it flat, and use it as a stabilizer under the fabric. It will leave the clothes smelling very fresh and nice too. But we do not recommend it as a good stabilizer when working with a machine embroiderer.

How do I choose a stabilizer for my embroidery machine?

For choosing a stabilizer for an embroidery machine, you must understand the fabric you are using. If you are using non-stretch material, then a Tear-away stabilizer is a good choice for an embroidery machine. For stretchy fabric, feel free to use your cutaway stabilizer. You can use either two or three layers of a stabilizer depending on the thickness too.

Conclusion

On a concluding note, the stabilizer lays a foundation of embroidery for many fabrics. It does not just help in keeping the fabric in place for embroidery; it helps in making the embroidery long-lasting on the fabric with a near-perfect result. You will see the difference for yourself. 

Moreover, a stabilizer can open endless possibilities for embroideries. So why wait? Try one now and see for yourself.

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