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White rolls of stabilizer and cans on wooden background

Know your Stabilisers

When you’re new to machine embroidery, it can be super exciting and scary at the same time. You just want to start sewing out all those adorable pictures, but all the things you need to know can be a bit daunting! 

Knowing your stabilisers, what they’re used for and when, is essential for gaining the best results from your machine embroidery. Here’s a breakdown of what stabilisers are used for, when, where and how.

What is a stabiliser?

Think of a stabiliser as a temporary part of your project – it serves the same purpose as pins would when you are making a garment.  

In this case, the stabiliser is keeping your fabric stable in the embroidery hoop while you are embroidering. However, it’s not something you want on your finished project. It’s something that needs to be removed once its work is done, so you’re left with only the embroidery. This is especially true for clothing.  

For some projects you may need more than one kind of stabiliser, to do the different jobs you need. For example, if you embroider on a towel, you may need a stabiliser at the back to stop the towel from stretching, and you will also need a film on the top to keep your stitches from disappearing into the pile.

What is out there?

Stabilisers are classified according to how they will be removed:  

Tearaway – tears away from your design. It is fairly stiff and creates a firm foundation for your embroidery. When torn out, it leaves a hard edge, which can be scratchy if used in clothing. Tearaway is best for craft projects in general.

Multiple white sheets and a roll of stabiliser on wooden background
Torn piece of white stabiliser

Cutaway – this stabiliser does not tear and needs to be cut away. This type cannot be completely removed, so it is important to choose one that is soft to the touch if you’re using it for clothing (especially unlined).

White and black fabric on wooden background
Water-soluble – these are like magic and dissolve in water! They remove completely. Water-soluble comes in two types - film (this looks a bit like plastic) and a non-woven fabric (looks like interfacing). Film mostly gets applied to the top of an item (like towels) and the non-woven type to the bottom, or for freestanding designs like lace.
White fabric and film on wooden background

Heat dissolve this type dissolves with heat. It is normally a film: smooth on the one side and bumpy on the other side. This stabiliser is removed by ironing with high heat directly on to the stabiliser and then picking away the ‘melted’ bits.

Transparent stabilizer and woman’s hand on wooden background

How to choose? Consider the following:

Will the back of the embroidery be against the skin? 
Yes – Cutaway
No – Tearaway

Is the fabric stretchy?
Yes – Cutaway
No – Tearaway

Will the back of the embroidery be visible during normal use?
Yes – Water soluble
No – Choose a kind according to the stretch

Tips for using stabilisers

  • If you can adhere the stabiliser to the object you’re embroidering, do it. Many stabilisers are available as a fusible option or even as a sticky back (just like a sticker!). Another option is to use an adhesive spray (Madeira makes an excellent one that has only the faintest lemon fragrance and is a temporary bond).   
  • Use the smallest hoop you can   
  • Do not over stretch your fabric when hooping, but do tighten the screw well (invest in a Brother Multi-Function screwdriver!)
  • Press your fabric before starting. It will also help to use a pressing agent, like Best Press or Soak. For very soft fabrics, you can use a fabric stiffener, like Terial Magic.


Fusible tearaway

Brother BM3 Comes in a pack of three conveniently sized sheets (28 x 100cm). It heat fuses to the back of your project, and can be removed or left in, depending on the end use.

White stabilizer and woman’s hand on wooden background

Adhesive Sprays

Adhesive sprays are a handy way to create a temporary bond between your project and the stabiliser. Madeira’s MSA is a good one. You can also use Quilt Basting sprays like 101 or 202. Trial them until you find your favourite!  

Terial Magic is a textile stiffener which needs a little preparation. It’s used to supply the support you need for embroidery, especially on delicate fabrics. Bear in mind that the item you’re using it on needs to be washable and will need to be laundered before you use it. 

Please be careful though when using adhesives. Spray spray far away from your embroidery machine so the particles do not harm your machine.
spray cans on wooden background
And there you have the low-down on the most used stabilisers for beautiful embroidery results!

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