So many stabilizers, so little time!
When you are first starting out with embroidery, you need to get a machine plus a ton of other things before you even turn on your machine. Having the correct thread is really important, but so is the correct stabilizer. Beleive it or not, using the right stabilizer and hooped properly can make or break any embroidery design. There are so many different kinds of stabilizers, which one should you get first? Wading through the stabilizer list can be confusing, and expensive.

I suggest you start with the basics and then move on from there. When you are new to embroidery, it is better to learn the foundations of embroidery including hooping skills and proper stabilizer for your embroidery. Once you get good at that, then you can start going through all of the “fancy” (and sometimes helpful) assortment of specialty stabilizers. So again, where do you start? Let’s go through the 3 basic types of the embroidery stabilizer, which are the must-have stabilizers to get you started, and you will probably always have a stash of each of these in your embroidery studio.

I keep large rolls of my most used stabilizers handy at my machine.

CUTAWAY STABILIZER: Just as the name states, you have to cut away the stabilizer when you are done doing your embroidery. Cutaway stabilizer is generally thicker than most other stabilizers and will provide a nice solid base for any embroidery. Because the stabilizer is thicker, it will keep supporting the stitches through many piles of washing without giving up and letting your stitches down. You should use some type of cutaway stabilizer for shirts, knits and any stretchy fabric. If you are using stretchy fabric of any kind, make sure you work on your hooping skills so you don’t stretch the fabric while you are hooping. The cutaway will keep the stretch away from the embroidery. If you stretch the fabric while hooping, the stabilizer will also hold this in place, and you will have somewhat curved embroidery that has stretched the fabric out of proportion. If this happens, keep practicing your hooping skills and learn to hoop without stretching. The cutaway stabilizer of some type should be a staple in your embroidery stash.

People ask all the time what “level” or “size” of cutaway do you need? That depends on what you are stitching really. You can go middle of the road and the stabilizer will not be too thick, or you can go the thinnest available and you may have to double up your stabilizer once in a while, depending on what you purchase. If you are doing anything with the embroidery after stitching (for example stitching quilting blocks together) you don’t want to have the thickest cutaway stabilizer – it will make everything too thick and make it more difficult to sew. I find that experimentation with the types of stabilizers is very helpful – get some samples and check it out, and you will decide what looks, feels and works best for you. Once I find a stabilizer that works for many different styles and types of embroidery, I buy it in bulk to save a ton of money. I always have a big roll of cutaway at my machine!

TEARAWAY STABILIZER: Again, just as the name states, this stabilizer tears away from the embroidery when it is finished stitching. Tearaway stabilizer is more like fibrous paper, and can sometimes be a little more difficult to hoop, but keep trying you will get the hang of it. Tearaway stabilizer is used when less stabilization is required for the design and/or the type of fabric that you are using. For example, thick toweling and a light-ish design will need tearaway to stabilize it properly. The tear-away will remain under the stitches, and you carefully remove the rest. If you are not careful when removing the excess stabilizer, you may end up pulling on some of your stitches, so I always recommend using two hands to tear away the excess: use one or two fingers to press down on the embroidery – at the edge of a circle, for example, and use the other hand to tear away and keep your stitches safe.

WSS or WATER SOLUBLE STABILIZER: I always have WSS on hand on my machine. Remember that WSS is not really a stabilizer because it doesn’t provide any stabilization to your stitches unless you are doing some free standing lace designs. WSS was designed specifically for FSL and using on top of a fabric that has a high nap (think towels) to smooth down the high nap fabric before stitching. It does not hold your stitches up or do any stabilization because you literally wash the stabilizer away. Sometimes you can use WSS for making free standing applique designs or designs that need a satin stitch edge free, but other than that, you should not be using WSS. If you are using WSS for the back of a towel, for example, that is not what the stabilizer is meant for, and remember it is not providing stability for your stitches, so it is really not doing any good in that regard. You do NOT NEED TO USE WSS AS A TOPPER FOR EVERYTHING, ONLY ON HIGH NAP MATERIALS. You are wasting time and money if you are using WSS as a “topper” on denim, leather and other thick fabrics. Why waste money if it doesn’t make any difference?
PRO TIP: I don’t actually use WSS as a topper for anything, ever. There is a special stitch that you can create in any software that will hold the fabric down before you stitch any embroidery, and it is called the Hatch Smash Technique. It is brilliant and will make your embroidery design (especially lettering) stand out and look way better than using WSS. Plus, it is a big time saver because you do not have to wash anything away when you are done or wait for anything to dry. Using the Hatch Smash technique will save you time and money, and your design will be finished when you are done stitching, even on thick fur or the fluffiest of towels.  I have created 3 different Hatch Smash videos, so be sure to check them all out.  Keep in mind, my embroiderer friend that you can use the Hatch smash technique with ANY EMBROIDERY SOFTWARE.  It is basically a fill stitch with less density…so you can do that in any software.

Need more proof? I found some really thick towels, and I did the same lettering on one piece of the fabric. On the bottom one I used the Hatch Smash technique, and on the other, I used WSS as a topper and made a big mess. The WSS was nearly impossible to remove. The results speak for themselves! Look how sharp the lettering is on the Hatch Smash lettering. That is what you want!!

knockdown stitches
Hatch Smash works perfectly for towels and fluffy fabrics!!

To get started, those are the basic stabilizers that you need: some type of sturdy cutaway, tearaway, and some WSS if you want to try your hand at free standing lace. FSL is one of my favorite things to do, so if you have not tried it yet, go grab some WSS and give it a go – especially great for Christmas decorations!
Until next time,
Happy Stitching!


  1. Marcia in Texas Avatar
    Marcia in Texas

    Could you please give the url for the hatch smash technique? I couldn’t find it. Thank you.

  2. Janet Avatar

    Thank you for the lesson it was 👍 great I will try that idea!

  3. Jeanene Jacobs Avatar
    Jeanene Jacobs

    I am interested in your videos on the Hatch Smash Technique, however I don’t see them advertised. could you please advise where I can locate them?
    Thanks for your help.

    1. OML Embroidery Avatar

      YES! They are now up on my youtube channel OMLEmbroidery! Sorry for the delay, I am still getting things up to date!

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