Life is Too Short to Use the Wrong Embroidery Stabilizer!

Are you using the right stabilizer for your embroidery project?

I’ve seen so many instances in some of the embroidery groups on Facebook recently where someone has an issue with the stitch out of a design and so much of the advice that is given is – bad digitizing!  This really makes me cringe because the design is ONLY ONE step in the embroidery process.  There are so many factors that come into play when you are embroidering an item, to single it out to there being an issue with the digitizing is very disappointing.   

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t some terrible designs and digitizers out there (they usually fly into your PMs when you comment on a post on some irrelevant topic armed with credentials that don’t exist or working for companies who have never heard of this person – that’s right, do your research!).  However, the most common issue I see when designs don’t stitch well is – stabilization! 

You are about to puncture anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 stitches in your fabric – it needs HELP!  How much help.. Well how long is a piece of string?  There are so many factors that come into play, and while there is no “magic number” I’ll explore some of the puzzle pieces to consider…  

Why Embroidery is Like Building a House 

I’m by no means a builder of houses but one thing I do know, is when you build a house you have to assess the make up and stability of the land and lay the appropriate foundations before you start building your house.  Without the right foundation for your project, your house may be wonky or fall over while you’re building it.  Or even worse, it will collapse or have other structural issues 10 years down the track when the people living there least expect it – which is even worse! 

Stabilizer is like the foundation of your “embroidery house”.  Some fabrics need more help than others which is where the assessment part of the job comes in.  Now I’d love to give you the “magic formula” for assessing your fabric and choosing the correct stabilizer, but in all honesty, it’s a case by case basis.  Some knit fabrics are super thin and some are super thick.  What I can tell you is my reasoning and logic behind how I choose my stabilizer for my projects. 

How I Choose Stabilizer for My Embroidery Projects 

There are several factors I take into account when choosing stabilizer for my projects.  I digitize my own designs so I generally have an in depth knowledge about their make up and how much stitching is involved. 

Type of Fabric 

First and foremost, what are you stitching the design on?  This question should be asked by your embroidery digitzer long before you get to the stitch out stage, but ideally you should be factoring all of your costs into the quote you are giving your customer so think about it right from the start. 

You may want to consider: 

  • Is your fabric stretchy?   
  • How much stretch does it have? 
  • Is it thick or thin? 
  • Does it have a nap (like towels or fleecy fabric)? 

This Fabrics 101 article by Embroidery Library is incredibly helpful place to start when it comes to embroidering on different types of fabric.  If you are embroidering on a new type of fabric for the first time, I highly recommend you do your research before you begin your project! 

Now I will say straight off the bat that I have deviated from all of the advice given from every corner of the round earth and I survived – and you will too!  But, articles like these are a great place to start when you are starting from nothing.  You should still always test your design on a similar piece of fabric to the item you want to stitch it on to get the right mix of embroidery ingredients before you embroider on your customers $120 shirt!  (You will thank me later!) 

Stabilizers – What Are They and When Do You Use Them? 

Cutaway 

I won’t be shy to tell you that I am a massive fan of cutaway stabilizer.  A lot of the embroidery work I do is on clothing so cut away stabilizer is a big part of my life!  The only times I use tear away are for embroidering handkerchiefs for wedding clients or personalised towels. 

In this age where people are becoming more conscious about sustainability and reducing the use of plastics and single use items, embroidery that lasts is a big focus for many!  Someone once told me that people are reluctant to throw away embroidered items, even when they are worn out.  The embroidered part of the items is cut away and repurposed!  I do so much of this work with Amanda Betts and the Heart Speak Pieces we create! 

Make your embroidery last!  Cut away stabilizer creates such a fabulous foundation for so many fabrics, especially where you intend to WEAR it – for a LONG time!  If you are worried about the stabilizer showing through a white top for instance, use a See Through Cut Away.  Please don’t use tear away unless your fabric can really hold it’s own. 

Cut away stabilizer softens over time so if you are worried about stiffness – don’t be!  It won’t be like that after a couple of washes – but your design will still be perfect after 50!  Think long term! 

Tearaway 

Yes I do use this – a lot recently actually as I created 70 handkerchiefs for goodie bags at the recent Southern Bride – A Practical Wedding Planning Evening held in Dunedin, New Zealand.   

Tearaway works well when you don’t want the stabilizer to show through, your design isn’t heavy AND your fabric can handle it!  To embroider these handkerchiefs I used 2 layers of tearaway for each one. 

Washaway and Water Soluble Stabilizer (WSS) 

I know this heading probably confused you!  So many are confused about the difference between washaway stabilizer and water soluble stabilizer.  In this case, the answer is in the name… 

WASH-AWAY:  It feels like a fabric and needs to be washed away after use.  Like literally put in your washing machine and washed away.  If you dab it with water, it turns sticky and tacky and will dry hard.  It’s most commonly used for free standing lace, patches or sometimes I will use it on top of an incredibly high or stubborn fabric nap. 

WATER SOLUBLE (WSS):  Feels like and looks like glad wrap and dissolves with water.  WSS is a great topper stabilizer for towels and fleecy fabrics and even sometimes knit fabrics (if your small stitching is sinking into the fabric a bit). 

Quick thought:  Be careful with using too many layers of washaway or water soluble stabilizer on your projects.  These stabilizers are going to DISAPPEAR.  If you use too many layers and then they disappear, your stitching may be left lose with nothing to hang on to!  I would stick to one or 2 layers at most!  

I Can Help You With Your Embroidery Business! 

If you want more information on the different types of stabilizers, Echidna Sewing Supplies has this really useful guide. 

If you own your own embroidery business and need designs digitized – get in touch with me!  I offer reasonable flat rates so there are no surprises and you can factor your digitizing costs into your quotes up front.   

I also offer more than just digitizing, I embroider myself so I understand the challenges that come with creating and enjoying embroidery – and I want you to LOVE it too!  

Are you based in New Zealand?  Come join my New Zealand Machine Embroidery Addicts Facebook Group where we inspire and support each other!