A good stabilizer prolongs the life of
machine embroidery, helps keep the
stitches intact, and keeps your sewing
machine running smoothly. Stabilizers
play a key roll in producing professional
looking embroidery designs, but how do
you choose the right stabilizer for each
Take the mystery out of stabilizer
package labeling and end-uses for the
general groups of stabilizers. Extensive
charts correlating fabric type to stabilizer
types are in my book, Stabilizers—The
Foundation Guide Book. Read more
details expanding on today’s blog post in
As we go forward, I’ll be talking about stabilizers used in machine embroidery. Stabilizers and interfacings for
garment sewing will be another blog post for another day.
Machine embroidery stabilizers can be broken down into three categories:
Most manufacturers have their stabilizer packaging color coded into these categories, as well. In the book, you’ll
find each of these sections is also color coded.
How to Choose
When selecting a stabilizer for your embroidery project, you should consider the following variables:
How dense is my stitching design?
What is the end use of my project?
How is my project fabric laundered?
How long will this embroidery project be used?
Is my embroider area difficult to hoop?
Does my fabric have a nap or pile?
Generally speaking, lightweight stabilizers are used for lightweight fabrics with fewer stitches in the embroidery
design. Heavyweight stabilizers are used with high stitch count embroidery designs on medium to heavyweight
fabrics. Test swatches are always recommended as the heavier the stabilizer, the more fabric drape and integrity
will be affected.
Choose adhesive spray such as 505 spray or an adhesive stabilizer if your project is not easily hooped.
As with anything, the more you practice embroidery and the more you know about the products, the easier it will
be to choose the stabilizer best for your projects.
Cut-Away Stabilizer Tips
As a general rule, if a fabric stretches, use a cut-away stabilizer. These stabilizers are permanent, resist stretching,
and remain on your fabric for the life of the project. The area of stabilizer that remains under the stitches after
trimming offers continued support to the embroidery design through laundering and wearing. Cut-aways eliminate
pulled or sagging stitches, and are excellent stabilizers to use on knits, dense embroidery designs and open weave
Note from Nancy: Trim stabilizers about 1/4″ from the design. Trimming too closely may cause the design to pucker
at the edges. Leaving too much stabilizer causes an indentation on the right side of the fabric around the design.
Cut-Away Stabilizers Weights
Translucent textured nonwoven (lightweight)—Semitransparent stabilizer resists stretching, eliminates showthrough, and is comfortable next to skin.
Fusible Mesh Cut-Away Stabilizer (lightweight)—This stabilizer is applied with a low temperature iron, and it
ensures fabric will not shift while embroidering.
Nonwoven (medium weight)—This category of stabilizer provides optimum support and eliminates pulling or
sagging of designs. It can hold adhesive spray or fusible web for hoopless embroidery.
Iron-On Nonwoven (medium weight)—Applied with a low temperature iron, this stabilizer ensures fabric will not
shift during stitching and eliminates the need for additional adhesive products. This stabilizer is somewhat soft
Water-activated adhesive nonwoven (mid-heavyweight)—Hoop the stabilizer, moisten with a damp sponge, and
apply the fabric to the stabilizer. It will not leave gummy residue on your project.
Nonwoven (heavyweight)—This stabilizer resists washing damage and shrinkage and provides optimum support
for heavy duty projects.
Iron-on textured crisp nonwoven (heavyweight)—This heavyweight permanent stabilizer has a soft hand and
excellent stability. It has a permanent fusible coating and is ideal for projects that need extra stiffness and
Tear-Away Stabilizer Tips
Tear-Away stabilizers are best used with woven, non-stretch fabrics and are temporary. The fabric is stabilized
during embroidery and after stitching is completed, the excess stabilizer is torn away from the design. Unlike cutaways, most tear-aways may deteriorate after repeated washing.
If you are using multiple layers of tear-away stabilizers, remove each layer separately to minimize stress on
Tear-away stabilizer is commonly used in a float. A float is an additional piece of unhooped stabilizer placed
between the fabric and hooped stabilizer. It provides additional support to stitches and is easily removed.
Note from Nancy: When removing stabilizer, place your thumb on the edge of the embroidery stitches as you tear
away the stabilizer. This will alleviate unnecessary and damaging stress on the stitches and the fabric, plus you will
get a closer removal of the stabilizer.
Tear-Away Stabilizer Weights
Iron-on translucent film (very lightweight)—This opaque film turns translucent after applied to fabric with a low
Nonwoven (lightweight)—This stabilizer provides good stability with effortless removal.
Iron-on nonwoven (lightweight)—Fusible and handy to support stitches without shifting, sliding, or puckering. This
stabilizer is recommended when pairing stabilizers for the float technique.
Fusible/adhesive nonwoven with release liner (lightweight)—This double-sided adhesive stabilizer is ideal for
appliqué designs. Iron the fusible side to the back of the appliqué fabric, remove the liner to apply, and stitch.
Flame retardant nonwoven (light-midweight)—Nonflammable stabilizer is made of 100% polypropylene. Perfect
for embroidering children’s sleepwear.
100% cotton nonwoven (light-midweight)—100% cotton nonwoven is soft and gentle to the touch, yet strong and
firm for hooping and stitching. This stabilizer is extremely comfortable against the skin.
Nonwoven (midweight)—Nonwoven is an excellent all-purpose stabilizer; soft to the touch, strong enough for
hooping and stitching. It is a good stabilizer to choose when using the float technique.
Iron-on nonwoven (midweight)—This product eliminates the need for additional fusibles or adhesives and holds
projects taut and straight while stitching.
Tear-away disintegrating nonwoven (midweight)—This stabilizer disintegrates in the wash. Simply tear off the
excess, and any additional bits that were not removed will be eliminated over time in the laundry.
Colored vinyl (midweight)—Use this unique stabilizer to prevent the base fabric color from showing through the
embroidery stitching. It prevents embroidery from sinking into high nap fabrics and gives a 3D lift.
Adhesive stabilizer with release paper (midweight)—Eliminate hooping your fabric when you use this ecofriendly adhesive stabilizer with release paper.
Nonwoven (heavyweight)—This very heavy stabilizer is surprisingly soft, pliable and easy to tear away. Be mindful
to not pull the stitches when tearing this product from behind your design.
Water-activated adhesive nonwoven (heavyweight)—Only hoop this dense stabilizer as it removes the need to
hoop the fabric. After moistening the stabilizer with a sponge, the fabric will stick!
Wash-Away stabilizers are best used on specialty fabrics, various fabric weights, and unique embroidery
techniques. Make sure your fabrics are washable before using wash away stabilizers.
Wash-Away stabilizers can become brittle and dry when exposed to air, and in humid conditions the may begin to
dissolve. Store them in airtight containers to help keep them pliable.
Wash-Away stabilizers are applied to the top of the fabric in the embroidery process. The translucent film is easily
removed in one of these main methods:
Soak the fabric in water. This is best for heavyweight wash-away stabilizers.
Mist the stabilizer using a spray bottle. Misting is best for lightweight wash-away stabilizers.
Massage stabilizer under warm running tap water. Adhesive wash-aways may require this treatment.
Wash-Away Stabilizer Weights
Water-soluble web (very lightweight)—Use this stabilizer to prevent stitches from sinking into pile fabrics and
prevent loops from pulling on knitted or napped fabrics.
Transparent film (very lightweight)—This eco-friendly stabilizer leaves no residue after washing and can be
removed by misting with water or blotting with a damp sponge.
Water-soluble fabric (lightweight)—Water-soluble fabric looks like a sheer fabric but it will actually wash
completely away. It is easy to hoop and is very stable.
Transparent film (lightweight)—This film is twice as heavy as the very lightweight transparent film and will
require more water for removal.
Water-soluble nonwoven (midweight)—This stabilizer is soft and flexible. It is easy to cut, handle, and hoop. It
looks and feels like mesh cut- away but completely washes out.
Adhesive water-soluble nonwoven (midweight)—This soft and stable adhesive provides extreme stability
when stitching. The release liner protects the adhesive, and once you are finished with the embroidery design it
all washes away, even the adhesive.
Transparent film (mid-heavyweight)—An extra firm plastic-like film such as this provides great stability and
doesn’t stretch. Embroider directly on it to create lace and other free-standing projects.
Water-soluble paper (mid-heavyweight)—Paper with an attitude. It is traditionally used for foundation piecing by
transferring designs via copy machines/printers. It does not hoop well but is an excellent choice to top small
Adhesive transparent film (heavyweight)—Adhesive transparent film bonds to fabric without heat or spray
adhesives and leaves no residue.
Heat-Away Stabilizers are best used for fabrics that cannot be washed, such as velvet, satin, and some corduroy.
Special techniques like making lace will use heat-away stabilizer as the designs are too delicate for other support
Heat sensitive clear film (light-midweight)—Heat-Away stabilizers are removed when exposed to the heat of an
You may be curious how I keep all these stabilizers sorted. Once the packaging is removed, how do I differentiate
between the stabilizers?
The first product I enjoy is Stabilizer Wraps. These bands come in packages of 16, wrap around the unused
portion and it is easily customized with a permanent marker.
Once I have everything labelled, I like to sort my stabilizer by type into this large ten pocket organizer. It hangs
neatly behind the door in my embroidery and sewing space.
If you are new to machine embroidery and stabilizers, get
started with my book, Stabilizers—The Foundation
Guide Book and watch the following episode of Sewing
Watch Machine Embroidery in Six Easy Steps (Part One and Two) on Sewing With
To watch Sewing With Nancy on your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone, download the app.
Bye for now,
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