Choosing the Correct Stabilizer
Fabric stabilizer is an essential tool for using embroidery features and stitches in the decorative apparel industry. The tight, multi-directional stitches of machine embroidery put great stress on the fabric being stitched. Stabilizers hold the fabric flat and taut - to keep puckers, thread nests, and distortions from developing during stitching. Some stabilizers also permanently strengthen embroidery on thin or stretchy fabrics to keep the embroidery design from getting distorted by wear and washing. The rules of stabilizing are simple and logical. Once you understand what every type of stabilizer is supposed to do, you should be able to match an appropriate embroidery stabilizer for each project easily. Soon you will be proficient on stabilizers and which fabrics each is best used on. Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to make an informed decision and save quite a bit of time and money.

Embroidery stabilizers can be logically divided into two main types: backings and toppings.

Backing is a piece of special material (usually nonwoven) that is placed UNDER the main fabric on which you intend to embroider, to make this fabric more stable. Embroidery backings prevent fabric puckering, fabric stretching and deformation of embroideries after laundry.

Topping, as you may already have guessed, is placed OVER the fabric on which you want to embroider. Embroidery topping is a special material that is designed to stop embroidery stitches from "sinking" into stitches-absorbing types of fabric. For example - if you embroider on fleece, jersey, terry cloth, velvet, corduroy, artificial fur and so on - using embroidery topping is simply a must. A topping is also great to use if you want your design to "stand out" a little, even on regular fabric.

Embroidery stabilizers can be divided into four major categories: Tearaway, Water Soluble, Heat Removable and Cutaway. Cutaway stabilizer attaches itself to the fabric that you are working with; Water Soluble, Heat Removable and Tearaway come off when you are finished sewing. These four types of embroidery stabilizer come in a variety of sizes that are designed to fit various hoops. All of these types of embroidery stabilizers have their purposes - and within these groups there are subtypes, like fusible and sticky, for different fabrics and uses. Fusible stabilizers are joined to cloth by warming them with an iron, and sticky stabilizers use an adhesive to join to the fabric.

Tearaway Stabilizer is torn off of your embroidery when you are done sewing. Some tearaway stabilizers tear off easily. Others require more work, and possibly the use of tools. Often it is better to stack tearaway embroidery stabilizers rather than using one thick one. After your design is complete, carefully remove one layer at a time.

Water Soluble Stabilizers will dissolve when washed. If you need continual support for your embroidery project, this is not the stabilizer to use. This type will not stand up to being wet, so you will need to choose a different embroidery stabilizer. Water Soluble Stabilizers are often used as a topping (on top of your embroidery) or in the hoop. When used on textured, high pile, or knit fabrics - water soluble can be utilized as a topping and will help you to not lose your stitches. Water soluble stabilizers are useful on sheer, delicate fabrics (like silk or lace).

Heat Removable Stabilizers will flake away when they are ironed. Use heat-away stabilizer for fabrics that can stand high heat, but don't tolerate washing well. Heat-removable stabilizer also works well for lace and thread appliques. It can be used as a topper for terry cloth or knits. Heat-removable stabilizer is faster to remove than the water-soluble variety, since the finished product doesn't need to dry after the stabilizer is off.

Cutaway Stabilizers come in a range of thicknesses (the thicker your fabric is the thicker the cutaway stabilizer should be). Cutaway stabilizers are useful on projects where you are afraid of losing your stitches, and can be used when you are creating emblems or patches. They can be used on fabrics as thick as upholstery, or on more common thicknesses (such as knit shirts).