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embroidery stabilizer guide

Machine Embroidery Stabilizer Guide

The purpose of an embroidery stabilizer is to give support to the fabric you are stitching your design onto.

Stabilizer is the foundation of your embroidery. The stabilizer will support your fabric and embroidery thread. Without the use of the proper stabilizer, the alignment of the design can be compromised. If you do not use a stabilizer your fabric may pucker and your design can be distorted.

It is important to choose a stabilizer that is determined by the fabric type of the item you will be stitching the design onto. Your choice of stabilizer can “make or break” your stitch out.

Four Kinds of Stabilizers

Embroidery Stabilizers are divided into 4 different categories. Their names are based on how they are removed from the project after stitching the design:

  • tear-away
  • cut-away
  • wash-away
  • heat-away.

There are also stabilizer which are called “toppers”. These toppers are placed on top of the fabric after it is hooped. The purpose of a topper is to keep the embroidery stitches from getting buried within the nap of the fabric.

Tear-Away Stabilizer

Tear-away stabilizer is probably the most used stabilizer. It is formed from low-density short fibers and will easily “tear away” from the backside of the design.  It comes in a variety of weights, most commonly light or mediumweight.  High-quality tearaway will tear equally in all directions.

When removing the tear-away stabilizer, hold the embroidery design with one hand, and tear with the other hand. Try to be gentle and not pull or distort the fabric while removing the stabilizer. It is best to tear away small sections at a time.

Tear-away stabilizer is best for stable, woven (non-stretchy) fabrics such as quilting cottons, linen, canvas, poplin, and broadcloth.  This type of stabilizer does not provide much support, which is why the fabric needs to be strong to support the embroidery stitches.

Tear-away is not a good choice for knits or t-shirt fabrics.  When you tear away the stabilizer, you will risk pulling out your stitches or stretching your fabric.

I prefer to buy pre-cut stabilizer sheets because they are so convenient. You can also buy a roll of tear-away stabilizer, if you prefer to cut your own sizes.

Here are my favorite Tear-away stabilizers that I like to purchase:

Pre-cut Tear-away sheets – 200 precut medium 12×8 sheets –

Roll of Tear-away stabilizer – medium weight – 12” by 50yds –

Cut-Away Stabilizer

Cut-away embroidery stabilizer is formed from denser fibers and is stronger and more stable than a tear-away stabilizer.  After you finish embroidering your design, you will need to cut the stabilizer from around the design.  The remaining stabilizer under the stitches will support the item through continued washings.

A cut-away stabilizer does not stretch in any direction. You can use a cut-away stabilizer for embroidering knits and other unstable, stretchy fabrics like fleece, sweatshirts, Minky, and more.

A cut-away stabilizer will also provide good support for densely stitched designs on all fabric types.

If you are not sure what stabilizer to use, choose a cut-away stabilizer for your project.

Here’s a tip for you. When trimming the stabilizer around your design, try to leave only about ¼” or less of cut-away around the design.  If you don’t trim closely enough, you may be able to see the stabilizer through the fabric on the front of the design.  Also, trimming too closely can cause a sunken appearance around the design or accidentally clipping the stitches or fabric.

Cut-away stabilizer comes in several weights. It also comes in a black color to help camouflage the stabilizer on the back of dark colored fabrics.

Here are my favorite Cut-away stabilizers that I like to purchase:

Pre-cut Cut-away sheets – 100 pre-cut medium 10” x 12” sheets –

Roll of Cut-away stabilizer – medium weight – 10” x 50yds –

No-Show Mesh Stabilizer

A special type of cut-away stabilizer is a No-Show Mesh stabilizer. It is a soft and strong stabilizer with a waffle imprint on the stabilizer.  After you have stitched your project, you can cut around the No-Show Mesh stabilizer (just as you do any cut-away).

No-show mesh stabilizer is more translucent than a regular cut-away and is great for minimizing show-through on light-colored fabrics.  When I embroider light-colored t-shirts or onesies, a no-show stabilizer is what I use.

It doesn’t stretch and it doesn’t shrink.  To get even more support, you can use two layers placed perpendicularly to each other and stitch your design on top of both layers.

Here is my favorite No-show Mesh stabilizer that I like to purchase:

Roll of No-show mesh stabilizer – light weight – 12” x 50yds –

Wash-Away Stabilizers

There are two types of wash-away stabilizers:

  • stabilizer that is hooped and placed under the fabric
  • a topper that goes on top of your fabric (usually used with a fabric that has a nap)

A wash-away stabilizer that is hooped under the fabric feels similar to paper.

A wash-away topper stabilizer is a  heavy film-like stabilizer that is placed on top of the fabric. This is usually used with a fabric that has a heavy nap.

Both kinds of wash-away are removed by water after stitching – thus the name “wash away”.

1. Wash-Away Stabilizer – hooped on under-side of fabric

This stabilizer is hooped under the fabric. It is most commonly used on woven fabrics such as cottons and batistes. It’s also great for lightweight fabrics that need some stability such as sheer fabrics such as organza and for embroidering free-standing lace.

Wash-away stabilizer works best as a disappearing stabilizer on fabrics that could be potentially be damaged by pulling on the fabric to tear away a stabilizer.  It’s also helpful as a substitute for tear-away stabilizer if your design has lots of small areas where you would spend a long time picking off each small area of stabilizer. It’s so much easier to just “wash away” the stabilizer!

Wash-away stabilizer is more expensive than tear-away and can only be used on fabrics that won’t be damaged by water.  It’s also not a good choice for denser designs where a cut-away stabilizer would be a better choice for fabric stability.

Here is my favorite Wash-away stabilizer that I like to purchase:

Roll of Wash-away stabilizer – 12” x 25yds –

2. Water-Soluble Topper

A water-soluble topping is a lightweight, transparent film that can be used on top of fabrics. It’s purpose is to smooth down the nap of a fabric and create a smooth surface for the embroidery stitches to stitch onto.

When you are finished stitching your design, dip your design area into warm water and the topping dissolves.

Water-soluble topping is necessary when embroidering fabric with nap, grooves, or pile.   It prevents the embroidery stitches from sinking into the fabric.  Use it when embroidering terrycloth towels, fleece, sweatshirt knits, velvet, corduroy, and even knits for t-shirts.

You can either lay the stabilizer on top of your fabric and hoop them together or the float water-soluble topping directly onto the fabric after it has been hooped.

TIP: I often use a basting stitch to hold the topper in place while stitching the design on top of the fabric.

Here is my favorite Water-soluble topper that I like to purchase:

Roll of Water-soluble topper – 9” x 10yds –

Heat-away Stabilizer

This last type of stabilizer is uncommon and a little more difficult to find.  It’s a substitute for a wash-away topping and is used on fabrics that cannot be washed such as velvet or satin.  It also prevents stitches from sinking into the fabric nap.

To remove the Heat-away stabilizer, after you have stitched your design, apply heat with an iron and pressing cloth over the fabric. It melts the Heat-away stabilizer in ten seconds with no residue left on your fabric.

Here is my favorite Heat-away stabilizer that I like to purchase:

Roll of Heat-away stabilizer – 12” x10yds –

Sticky Self-Adhesive Stabilizer

A sticky, self-adhesive stabilizer is a piece of stabilizer with one side having a sticky coating underneath a topping paper.  When you remove the paper backing, the sticky coating is exposed.

It’s good for adhering lightweight stretchy fabrics that may move in the hoop as well as small items such as socks and cloth napkins. It is also very helpful when embroidering on baseball caps.

It’s also great for hard-to-hoop items or items too small to hoop that you’ll have to float.  For example, collars and necklines.

Unfortunately, there are not many weight options for this type of stabilizer. You may need to float an extra layer of stabilizer underneath your hoop for dense designs.  It’s also more expensive and can be difficult to remove from the back of some fabrics.

Here are my favorite sticky stabilizers that I like to purchase:

Roll of Sticky Tear-away – 12” x 10yds –

Roll of Sticky Cut-away – 10” x 10yds –


Soft Embroidery Backing

This is not a stabilizer, but is can be very helpful to iron onto the back of your design after stitching.

Use it to cover the embroidery stitches and protect the skin from the scratchy stitches. It works great on baby clothes or other outfits where rough embroidery designs may rub sensitive skin.

Here is my favorite embroidery backing that I like to purchase:

Roll of soft Embroidery Backing – 8” x 9yds –


Stabilizer vs Interfacing – Important!

Sewing interfacing and embroidery stabilizer not interchangeable.

Sewing interfacing is not a good substitute for an embroidery stabilizer.  Neither are household items like coffee filters or paper towels.  Using a good quality embroidery stabilizer will be worth the cost. You and your project are worth it and you will be happier with your results when you use the appropriate embroidery stabilizer.

Test Your Stabilizer First

Choosing the best embroidery stabilizer depends on many factors. It is important to try embroidering on a small sample of your fabric and experiment with different stabilizer options until you find the best option for you project.

Testing your design on a similar piece of fabric and stabilizer BEFORE stitching onto your expensive project saves you much heartache.


Embroidery Stabilizer Guide – Conclusion

I hope this guide has been helpful to you in understanding the many types of embroidery stabilizers and how to choose the best one for your project.

If you’re completely new to embroidery, check out my tutorial for HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR EMBROIDERY DESIGNS.

If you would like a FREE copy of this Stabilizer Guide, just fill out the form below and a pdf copy will be emailed to you shortly.

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