Stabiliser – How, What, Where & Why


Stabiliser is something that every embroider needs, that we tend to collect as soon as a new item comes out in the market place, and that sometimes we end up keeping on our shelves for months/years, because we don’t know how to use it.

Designed to give support to, or even in some cases replace the fabric under the stress of dense and multi-directional machine stitching, stabilisers can be applied in many ways.  For us Machine Embroiders, we generally use them in conjunction with an embroidery hoop to hold fabric as flat and inflexibly as possible. Over the past few years, the number and variety of “new” and “improved” stabilisers has seen a massive growth – however there are still only four basic types of stabilisers to choose from. I’ll describe each type and its basic uses, and offer tips on getting the best results with each type.

Four basic types of stabilisers

Stabiliser is are defined by how you remove them from your project.  The four basic ranges are Cut Away, Tear Away, Heat Away and Wash Away.  Whilst most stabiliser are temporary, and removed once the embroidery is finished (Tear Away, Heat Away and Wash Away), the Cut Away range remain permanently fixed to the fabric. Within each range, stabilisers come in various weights, as well as different forms, such as fusible, non-fusible, and adhesive backed.   When you are purchasing your stabilisers, look for a good quality.  For instance, if you are going to tear it away, try a small sample, and make sure that it tears away without leaving many fibers.

With each embroidery project that you undertake, we need to analyse the project, and match the stabiliser to the project.  For example if you are doing dense embroidery, I will use two layers of tear away, to ensure that the embroidery does not move, and yet comes away from the design after embroidery.  For embroidery on t-shirts, I use Poly-Cut stabiliser, that gives a soft backing feel, and yet still supports the fabric whilst wearing.  The rule regarding stitch density is – The denser the stitch count, the sturdier the stabiliser needs to be.

When you are beginning a new project, you may need to experiment with various stabiliser products to find what will work best for your project.  Make samples with the fabric you will be using, and different stabilisers before the final stitching.  Finally remember that some fabrics are not mean to be embroidered, and no amount of stabiliser will change that!

Cut-away stabilisers

Cut away stabiliser is the only permanent stabiliser.  It remains on the fabric even after embroidery to keep it stable.  Cut Away stabilisers are a great choice for knit fabrics, because they prevent the embroidery from stretching out with frequent wearing and washing.

Like most stabilisers, cut away come in heavy to light weights, and in both fusible and non-fusible.  I like to use my PolyCut© and PolyCut Fusible©  stabiliser.  The PolyCut©  brand is a lightweight soft and sheer mesh, and by itself is perfect for designs with light density.  For denser designs, I use the PolyCut Fusible© , with a layer of TearClean© underneath.

If you are stitching on a fabric where you cannot hoop the fabric, you can still use the PolyCut©  range.  Simply hoop the stabiliser, and either baste the fabric onto the hoop, or pin it onto the hoop.  Many people recommend spraying with a temporary adhesive, however I am always concerned about the products that are included in the spray discolouring the fabrics over time.

To remove a cut-away stabiliser, first roughly trim the excess stabiliser from the fabric. Then, using sharp embroidery scissors, trim close to the stitching.

Tear-away stabilisers

Tear away stabiliser is the most popular stabiliser, and the stabiliser that most of use, most of the time.  Tear Away comes in fusible and non-fusible. Tear Away is generally easy to remove, however be careful to remove the stabiliser without pulling or stretching the fabric.  Some tear away stabiliser tear easier than others, so it is very much worth checking this out before you purchase.  Most tear away stabilisers have a directionality (the direction in which the fibres have be laid).  This is important to note, as you can add strength to your stabiliser, by using two layers in different directionality.  My favourite tear away is the TearClean© 

TearClean©  is a fantastic product, because it has multi-directionality tear, it is a medium weight product, and comes in 2 different widths in the Non-Fusible, and a single width for the fusible.  When I am working on a project that requires stronger support, and you require a tear away, I simply use two layers of the TearClean© , and lay it in opposing directions for strength.  If you are going to use multiple layers of tear away, a good trick to ensure you don’t pull the fabric too much when removing, is to remove only one layer at a time.  The other amazing feature with the TearClean©  product is that you can use it as a topper for designs that are extremely dense (such as Kimmni Dolls), and because it does tear away so cleanly, it simply comes away looking like you have cut out a template of the design.

TearClean Iron-on©, makes it easy to keep the fabric and stabiliser on-grain during hooping without stretching or distorting the fabric. It also prevents any grain shifting that can occur during stitching, which can happen easily when stitching a large area.

Heat-away stabilisers

Heat Away stabiliser is a fantastic product, and is perfect for when a fabric is too delicate for a tear-away, too sheer for a cut-away, and not washable.

Heat-away stabiliser is a plastic-like film, which “melts” away when touched with the iron.  My favourite Heat-away stabiliser is HeatAway© HeatAway© is used mainly as a topping to prevent stitches from getting lost in a dense nap or pile. It remains under the stitching, continuing to support it during washing. The excess stabiliser around the stitches disappears when heat is applied. To remove the excess HeatAway©, use a hot dry iron to remove it, just touching the surface, trying not to slide across the film. Wipe away any beads of stabiliser from the iron’s sole plate with a paper towel or scrap of fabric.

Wash-away stabilisers

Wash away stabilisers are made to dissolve when wet, and come in a plastic (glad wrap) like style, and a soluble fabric style. If you need to hoop your stabiliser, the best bet is to use the soluble fabric style, and the plastic styles are perfect for toppers, on top of the fabric to keep the embroidery stitches from sinking into a nap or pile. Because a wash-away will dissolve under the stitches when washed, HeatAway©  is a better choice if you need continued support during washing and wearing.

There is also adhesive-backed film wash-away, (WetAwaySticky©) which are great for embroidering lace and Richelieu, or cutwork, designs.

WashAway stabilisers are great for free-motion embroidery, especially with fabrics that are difficult to mark, simply draw your design on the stabiliser with a fine marking pen to use as a stitching guide. All wash-aways require different water temperatures for removal.  For my Wet&Sticky© range, you can remove with a warm to hot running water, however before you begin any project, check the instructions, and test a small patch.  Ensure when you remove the stabiliser to rinse the fabric thoroughly (this may mean rinsing several times) so there’s no residue left to make your fabric stiff.

Stabilisers at a glance

Used for:

Best used on:

Comes in:

Removal:

Cut-away stabilisers

PolyCut© , PolyCut© Fusible

Permanent support

Knits, loosely wovens

Lightweight

Not removed, simply trim away the excess

Tear-away stabilisers

TearClean©

TearClean©  Iron-on

Temporary support

Firmly woven, natural-fiber fabrics

Medium Weight

Torn away, but not always completely removable, depending on brand and stitch pattern

Heat-away stabilisers

HeatAway©

Temporary support

Nonwashable, delicate fabrics and for off-the-edge stitching techniques

Plastic film

Completely removable with iron and caution

Wash-away stabilisers

WetAway©

WetAway©  Sticky

WetAway©  Topper

Temporary support

Delicate, mesh-like, and difficult-to-mark fabrics; also for cutwork and embroidered appliqués

Plastic film, fabric style

Completely removable with warm water

Store stabilisers carefully

Most stabilisers look very similar, so it can be difficult to keep them organised.  I like to use my stabiliser wrap bands to label each of my stabilisers.

When you are storing your stabilisers, remember the environment that you are living in.  Store water soluble stabiliser in plastic bags to ensure that moisture in the air cannot permeate it.  Do the same with HeatAway©  stabiliser if you live in a warm dry climate, to insure that the film does not become brittle.

Stabiliser can be difficult to store.  I have found that the handbag storage hangers are perfect for this purpose.  Simply hang over the back of the door (or from a hook on a wall), and slide your stabiliser in.  There are many links over the internet to make your own stabiliser storage organiser.

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