Making Sense of Stabilizers
by Jill McCloy
from Threads #98, pp. 54 - 57
From improved appliqué to the creation of entirely new fabrics and embellishments, there's hardly a decorative sewing process that hasn't benefited from the explosion of new stabilizers recently ignited by the popularity of machine embroidery. Designed to support, or even replace, fabric under the stress of dense and multi-directional machine stitching, stabilizers can be applied in many ways, but are usually used in conjunction with an embroidery hoop to hold fabric as flat and inflexibly as possible. But while the number and variety of new or improved stabilizers continues to grow, there are still only four basic types of stabilizers to choose from. I'll describe each type and its basic uses, provide brand names and sources for current examples, and offer tips on getting the best results with each type.
Four basic types of stabilizers
The four basic types of stabilizers- cut-away, tear-away, heat-away, and wash-away- are defined by the method used to remove them from the fabric once the embroidery is complete. Some stabilizers remain permanently affixed to the fabric, for example, cut-aways and some toppings (stabilizers used on top of the fabric rather than beneath it), while most are temporary and are removed once the embroidery is finished. Stabilizers in various weights, as well as forms-fusible, nonfusible, and adhesive-backed- are available in most categories. There are many Stabilizers available from mail-order sources, and you can also purchase stabilizers at fabric stores, notions departments, and most sewing-machine dealers.
|Click to enlarge
Stabilizers make smooth machine-embroidery possible, but matching stabilizer to fabric is key. Keep several types and products on hand, and make test samples before permanently stitching out a design.
The stabilizer you choose will depend on your fabric, the nature of the embroidery design, and the end use. For example, natural fibers and thicker, softer fabrics are more likely to relax around the stitching and lie flatter after embroidery, so a tear-away stabilizer would be a good choice. And thin fabrics, knits, or synthetics would do better with a cut-away stabilizer. You also need to consider the stitch density of the design when choosing a weight of stabilizer, regardless of the type of stabilizer you select. The denser the stitch count, the sturdier the stabilizer needs to be. See the Stabilizers at a glance for a capsule comparison chart.
Because there are so many stabilizer options, experiment with various products to find the best results for a particular project. Also make test samples with your fabric before the final stitching; if you do a lot of embroidery, label and keep these samples for future reference. In some cases, you'll get the best results by using several layers of the same stabilizer or more than one type of stabilizer in the same project. And, finally, bear in mind that some fabrics and embroidery designs are simply not meant to go together, and no stabilizer will change that fact.
|When embroidering on knits, use a permanent cut-away stabilizer (at left) to keep the fabric smooth during stitching and prevent stretching during wear. Tear-away stabilizers (at right) may not offer as much support.|
|For fabrics like leather or velvet that could be permanently marked by hooping, use an adhesive-backed cut- or tear-away stabilizer, like Sulky's Sticky tear-away. Hoop the stabilizer, remove the paper, stick the fabric to the stabilizer, and stitch.|
Cut-away stabilizers- Cut-aways are permanent stabilizers that remain on the fabric and keep it stable during and after embroidery. They're a good choice for knit fabrics, because they prevent the designs from stretching out with frequent wearing and washing. I also recommend using a cut-away stabilizer on loosely woven fabrics and on projects to be framed, where visibility of the stabilizer is not an issue.
Cut-aways are available in heavy to light weights, and in black as well as white. Choose a lightweight cut-away (like Sulky's Soft & Sheer or OESD's Poly-Mesh) for designs with light stitch density and a heavier stabilizer (like Sulky Cut-Away Plus) for dense embroidery designs, or use more than one layer of a light- to medium-weight product with the latter. If you're stitching on a fabric that will easily crush or otherwise be marked by the embroidery hoop, like velvet or leather (see the photo at right), hoop the stabilizer only, then spray it lightly with a temporary fabric adhesive, and position the fabric on the hooped stabilizer. For fabrics that won't be marred by needles or pins, whether hooped conventionally or as just described above, baste or pin the fabric securely in place so it won't shift while stitching, keeping the pins out of the design area. (You may also find basting or pinning helpful when working with tear-away stabilizers.)
To remove a cut-away stabilizer, first rough-cut the excess stabilizer from the fabric. Then, using sharp embroidery scissors, trim close to the stitching.