How to Use Machine Embroidery Stabilizers

The main question is how to stabilize fabric while embroider, to avoid defect.

There are simple and logical rules to choose right stabilizer (nonwoven). Once you understand the meaning, then you know what type to use in each particular case.

In my opinion, there are two major categories of stabilizers:

  1.  Embroidery Backing
  2.  Embroidery Topping

Here below, you can find the description of most used types of stabilizers:

Embroidery Backings

Backings – special materials, (often nonwoven) which are located under the fabric. They are used to support and stabilize fabric during the embroidery process. They prevent fabric from folding; deformation and stretching while embroidering as well as after wash.

There are five types of  Backings:

  1. Tear Away embroidery backing
  2. Cut Away embroidery backing
  3. Adhesive embroidery backing
  4. Soluble embroidery backing
  5. Fusible embroidery backing

Tear Away Embroidery Backing

These stabilizers work very well with most natural fabrics. However, they give just temporary support to embroidery. General guidance for use: this stabilizer easy to remove. It can be used when you can see both sides of embroidery (i.e. towels, plaid, scarf, rug, etc.) Also, we use this type of stabilizer for bright, opaque fabric; for thick natural fabric, for example, jeans. Not recommended for use with knitted fabric (knitwear).

Tear Away stabilizers mostly, made of paper with different thickness.

Cut Away Embroidery Backing

Cut Away stabilizers are used, when we embroider on easy stretching fabric. So, we must support and stabilize fabric at all times. We also use them to embroider design with a large volume of stitches. In this case, we save embroidery from such deformation as waviness, bulge, and concavity, even after few times you wash it.

Cut Away stabilizer has bigger thickness than tearaway one. Usually, it is nonwoven canvas with polyester or viscose base. The way, how fibers are located inside the backings is very important.

If fibers have only one direction, you only can stretch or tear stabilizers along this direction. That’s why, to strongly support fabric, we need to use two coats of backings. They have to be used with 90 degrees towards each other. Such backings could have different thickness.

Backing will have non-smooth, spotted structure if fibers are located randomly (you can feel thickening or hardening on backing).  It can affect the quality of support and stabilization of fabric. However, you still can use such backing for embroidery. It relevantly cheap to buy. This type of backings also made with different thickness.

Some manufacturers also make the high quality nonwoven smooth backing. It’s absolutely inextensible and the same time so soft, as cutaway backing. During production, they use wet-laying process and the mix of polyester, viscose, and cellulose to achieve high quality. This stabilizer could have different thickness. And could be used only as one coat. This option considered to be the best. It doesn’t take extra space. And can’t be seen through the fabric.

Recommendations: you can add extra strength and stabilization to above backing if you apply a little glue on it with temporary fixation.

Separately, we would like to say about Cut Away Backing, which made with “Spun bond” method. It’s soft cloth-like material with wafer structure. Stabilizers made in the US have name Poly Mesh or No Show Mesh. This type of backing is never stretching. It supports fabric all time, and, can’t be seen through the fabric. Also, it can have different thickness and colors. The best, to be used for embroidery on knitwear.

Adhesive Embroidery Backing

These backings could be glued to the fabric. So, the fabric becomes more stable. There are few types:

  1. Regular stabilizer with glue on one side. Fabric could be glued to the backing by ironing.
  2. Glue paper with glue on one side, which is covered with protecting film. Glue paper can be used for embroidery of complex materials, i.e. velvet, cashmere, leather, and such articles with small details, as a collar, cuffs, etc.

Glue paper is hooped indirectly in the hoop with glue upside. Remove protecting film. Fabric lies right on glue. Tear fabric off a paper.

Soluble Embroidery Backing

It’s a water-soluble cloth-like nonwoven and water-soluble film with variable density. They can be used, when we need to remove backing permanently afterward. For example, for organza, transparent fabric, lace (FSL) or cutwork.

Fusible Embroidery Backing

These stabilizers are used when fabric can’t be soaked in water. And at the same time, backing can’t be left on the back side. We can use fusible backings to embroider lace (FSL). It easily can be removed by ironing (at least 120 degrees Celsius), or, with the press through regular paper. NEVER USE STEAM WITH FUSIBLE STABILIZER.

Embroidery Toppings

Toppings are its special materials on top of the fabric.

We use them to prevent stitch sinking in fleece, loops, fur, other fleece materials, soft fabrics, and knitwear. Toppings, which used the most, are made of gelatine. They can be easy dissolved in water. That’s why we call them water-soluble films (Wash-away toppings, Water Soluble Toppings).

There are two types of water-soluble films: thin and thick. Thin films are used in the majority of embroidery. Thick ones are only used in case of very high fleece.

Another type of toppings – Heat-away toppings, Fusible toppings, Heat soluble toppings. They can be used in the case when fabric can’t be soaked in water, and, at the same time, the water-soluble film can’t be used. These toppings can easily be removed by hot ironing (at least 120 degrees Celsius) or by the press through regular paper. NEVER USE STEAM WITH FUSIBLE STABILIZER.


General rules for stabilizer use:

  1. As thicker fabric you have, as heavier backing, you have to have. And verse versa. As thinner fabric you use, less density should be at backing.
  2. The more stitches design has, the thicker backing should be.
  3. If you use metalized yarns, avoid synthetic backing. Try to use natural (cotton or viscose) backing, such as E-ZEE Cotton Soft (Madeira). It’s necessary, as natural stabilizers softer. They create less friction between thread and needle. As a result, the needle doesn’t heat up and don’t cut the thread as much.

What stabilizer should you use? To answer this question, ask yourself the following:

How stable the fabric?

What is design density?

What are the lengths of stitches?

What is design size?

What is embroidery speed?

What thread do I use?

All these parameters (answers to above questions) will affect the final choice for the stabilizer.