NO More puckering!

A quick lesson on stabilizers for no more PUCKERING embroidery designs!

I see this problem again and again on Facebook in just about every embroidery group.  My design is puckering, what should I do?  There are a few things to do, but first I am going to get naggy and boring…but listen and pay attention, because if you do things correctly, you should never have puckering or sloppy embroidery.  Remember, every design that you stitch or create and sell or give as presents should be your very BEST work, each and every time.   OK, now bring on the nagging.  Ready?


I have said this before and I am going to say it one more time:  Embroidery is a skill.  (see?  this is the naggy part) Once you start thinking of embroidery as a skill, you will be much farther ahead than most people.   It is a skill.  You have to learn a skill.  Even if you can quickly figure out how to use your embroidery machine, you still have to have skills to stitch excellent embroidery.  There are many, many skills to learn with embroidery (let alone digitizing) but we are going to start with the basics.


Stabilizers are one of the most important tools for any embroiderer:  if you don’t use the correct stabilizer to stabilize your embroidery stitches, you are simply wasting your time.  The stitches will not hold up – sure it may look good right out of the hoop, but once you wash or use the items, you will see that the stitches are no longer stabilized.   If you are going to take the time to embroider something, you want it to last, right?  Right.  If you use the correct stabilizer, it will last through many washes and uses.  Seriously, it really will.  I don’t iron any of my work – my embroidered clothing comes out of the washer and dryer looking as good as it did right off the hoop because all of my stitches are stabilized – they have stability and are strong – so that the stitches won’t move or stretch or look terrible.



Ok, we have had this chat before, but if you are not hooping things properly, meaning BOTH THE STABILIZER AND THE FABRIC ARE HOOPED, you are not going to be as successful.  I know, I know, everyone is going to scream at me for this one, but it is true.  If you are floating, pinning or anything else other than HOOPING, then your embroidery will not look as good as mine.  Now, I am not making this up, or just saying it for fun.  It is TRUE AND IT IS A FACT.  Take a look at Google or facebook and find some big embroidery companies.  THEY HOOP EVERYTHING.  Do you see pins?  do you see WSS on everything?  Do you see any floating?  No.  You do not.  That is because hooping is the proper way to stitch embroidery.  Why are you wasting time with pins not to mention putting your expensive machine at risk?  I would never, ever EVER use pins on any of my machines, even the single needle machine.    If you are sewing, do you just pin everything and then sew over them?  No, you don’t…pinning in embroidery does the same thing, plus have you ever noticed that when you pin for sewing, by the time you get everything pinned and to the machine, there is slight movement and everything is not lined up perfectly when you add more pins?  Yeah.  Same thing for embroidery.  So why are you doing it?  Quite a few people get angry at me and say “hooping is too hard”  and “pinning works just fine”  and “pinning is easier”.  Embroidery is a skill.  A skill takes learning.  If you take shortcuts, are you learning a skill?  No, you are not.

Bring on the nasty comments and general upset because people disagree with me.  I’m ready.  I would like to point out that people have been doing embroidery for years and years with no mention of floating, pinning or anything else other than hooping.  Ten years ago, floating and pins were never mentioned.  Why not take the time to learn your skill, and then once you have an understanding of how everything works, then improvise.  Hooping is not that hard, you just have to practice.

Let me ask you this – just because you cook, does that make you a chef?  Just because you can run a machine, doesn’t make you an embroiderer.  Becoming a chef takes skills and an education, so does embroidery.  Watch all the videos you can, learn all the skills and become that embroiderer.



Some days on Facebook I just want to SCREAM.  Yes, you have to have a stabilizer to do embroidery, and yes, the stabilizer will show on the back of the embroidery work.  You have to have a stabilizer,  and when you are done the embroidery and are trimming, you need to leave around 1 inch around the design.  Yes, you do!  For example, cut away stabilizer on a shirt.  The stabilizer is going to provide a stable base for the stitches, no matter what you do.  The stabilizer and the fabric are the only things that are going to hold your stitches in place and keep them looking neat and clean.  So, start accepting the fact that the back of the embroidery is not supposed to look pretty.  Who is looking at it anyway?  No one is going to look at the inside of your shirt and say “tsk, tsk.  You didn’t trim the stabilizer properly”  or  “take off your shirt so that I can look at the stabilizer on the inside”.

“Oh, the front of the shirt is so pretty, but wow the inside of the shirt is ugly”, said no one ever.


It really isn’t a stabilizer – it does not provide any stabilization for your stitches at all.  Why?  BECAUSE YOU WASH IT AWAY.  Once it is washed away and gone, how much stabilization do you think it is providing for your stitches?  I just said it is gone…you simply can’t provide stabilization when there is nothing there.  It’s logical and makes perfect sense.  So, what is WSS used for?  If you don’t do a knockdown stitch on a towel for example, or anything with a high nap, then WSS will help you to keep the stitches above the nap – so they sit on top, rather than being pulled down.  WSS is also used for freestanding lace designs – you have to stitch on something, and WSS is perfect for this – the design is based on the stitches, not the stabilizer – and the design is digitized in a certain way so that the stitches support each other, and are not supported by the stabilizer.  It is a special technique to get FSL digitized correctly.  What else is WSS used for?  If you wanted a finished edge on something and do not need much support (an example would be applique – there are less stitches and more fabric for support) then that will work.  Other than that, WSS is NOT used.  You do NOT need to put WSS over fabric on everything.  You are wasting money!  Most people do not charge nearly enough for their embroidery work, and the overuse of WSS is just increasing your costs, leaving less profit.


I have heard quite a few people answer puckering questions with “just iron it, it will look perfect”.  Ironing is just a band-aid for puckering, if it even works at all.  If you are giving your embroidered item as a gift, do you think that people are going to iron towels after they use them?  Probably not!  Ironing does not solve the issue, it just temporarily hides the issue, and is not a reasonable remedy.

OK.  now for the fun part.  Thanks for hanging in there so far.


I did an experiment to show you the points I made above.  I took one design, which is an applique and some lettering and did it on different backings, using some different techniques and here are the results to show you that PUCKERING CAN BE ELIMINATED AND YOUR EMBROIDERY WORK WILL BE BEAUTIFUL AND FLAT AND LOOK PROFESSIONAL.   You will also not have any registration problems.  What is registration?  When you are stitching something and you notice that the inside fill falls short of the outline, and you have an unsightly gap.  That is because the fabric has shifted either in the hoop or because of the incorrect stabilizer.  Both puckering and registration make embroidery look terrible.   Doing the above-listed skills will solve all of your problems!

To be clear, I did do some hooping and stabilizing experiments, but I will NOT report on pinning.  I will never use pins on any of my machines.

I started off using a tear away.  Remember this design has a few appliques to make up the background and is mostly lettering and satin stitches.


Tear away backing does not provide the correct support for the design

I tried to zoom in as close as possible, so you can see the puckering around the letters AND the registration error in the brown and blue applique pieces.  Even though I perfectly cut the fabric to match the cut line, the satin stitches do not cover up the fabric because the fabric does not have enough stabilization.

Next is everyone’s favorite for some reason:  WSS on the back AND on the front – I have seen this suggested many times, so I thought I would try it out and see what the big deal was.  Well, this was even worse than the tear away!!!  The WSS on top was a pain in the butt, even when I put it on after the two appliques.  The WSS gets in the way, gets bunched up and makes a terrible mess – not to mention that you have to pull out little pieces and wet your work to get rid of it all – that took a lot of time in this case.  Look at the lettering – puckers upon puckers.  The registration is so far out, I can see the placement stitches for the applique!!!  Epic embroidery fail, I would say.  Aside from the frustration of using WSS and the time taken to clean everything up, the end results are terrible and do not reflect my embroidery skills.

OK, so tear away does not have enough stabilization for this design and WSS is even worse, and completely frustrating and time consuming to use.   Let’s move on to the correct stabilizer, cut away.  But let’s float everything because that seems like a good idea according to everyone.

Floating anything just doesn’t look good! the fabric moves around and puckers.

Well, floating seems to be just as bad as anything else I have tried.  There are puckers, the applique itself is out of registration, and again, I can see the placement stitches for the applique – that is how far the fabric moved.  Yucch.  Aside from being a pain to do, worrying about things lining up and taking MORE time, the results for floating are bad.  As I always say, FLOAT A BOAT, NOT EMBROIDERY.  Stop floating, you are not doing yourself any favors!

AND TAH-DAH!  Now for the work done properly.  Both the cutaway stabilizer and the first applique covering the whole hoop, are hooped properly.   I added the second appliques after, and then continued my embroidery.   Can you spot the difference?

PERFECT EMBROIDERY. No puckers, no registration issues. Sharp lettering.

Look at the lettering – nice and sharp and clear.  The applique is perfectly lined up and the satin stitch covers everything.  Doesn’t that look great?  I tried to zoom in as close as possible, but my lighting is off in my workroom – it may look like there is a pucker or a bump under the letter, but there is not – it is perfectly flat.  I just couldn’t get a better picture.

Let me know what you think of my experiments, and in fact, try some of your own!  You will find that the “Old School” way of embroidery really works, and has worked for a long long time.  Why change something if it is tried and true for years and years?

Make this year’s presents the best you can do, make every design, shirt, the towel that you embroider be a direct reflection of your embroidery skills.  Show off your best work, show off your skills!

Until next time,

Sue Brown

Happy Stitching

One response to “NO More puckering!”

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