What stabilizers do I need to get?

The Economical Embroiderer Series: Stabilizer

I have had fun doing the research to become an Economical Embroiderer! 

This week we are talking about stabilizers, and how to be economical with stabilizers.  Some people will go to extreme lengths to save a few pennies on stabilizers, and I am not going to suggest any of these solutions – I will briefly talk about them and why I don’t suggest following those suggestions, but that is going to be it on that subject.  I don’t really want to ruffle those darn feathers today!

START OFF WITH THE BASICS:  When you are starting off building your stabilizer stash, it can be quite overwhelming because there are so many options out there.  Where do you start, let alone how do you save money?   In this situation, my advice would be to start with the basics so you can get doing some embroidery.  The basic stabilizers are cutaway, tear away and WSS (water-soluble stabilizer).  That’s it!  3 rolls and you can get started on any embroidery.  Now there are different weights, sizes, cuts and so many other options for each kind of stabilizer.  I say go for the middleweight and get the fabric type WSS stabilizer, that will get you going.

THE BIGGER THE BETTER:  The only way to really be economical with stabilizer is to purchase the stabilizer in bulk – the bigger the roll the more money you will save.  Again, stick with the basics on cutaway and tear away.  You can really save a lot of money if you purchase larger rolls of stabilizer – for production purposes, we purchase huge rolls of 500 yards of tear-away stabilizer – it’s a massive roll – I only wished it lasted longer!

USE COMMON SENSE AND KNOW YOUR PRICES!  you always have to be careful when making ANY purchases – use common sense and of course, know your prices. If you are purchasing large rolls, make sure the price per yard is less than the smaller rolls.  Also, use your common sense – make sure that what you are purchasing is actually used for embroidery – that is super important – and make sure you will use that particular stabilizer.  Some people have purchased large rolls of stabilizer only to find out that they hate how it hoops or the end results in their hoop.  For that reason, spend the extra money and don’t worry so much about being economical, and purchase a SMALL ROLL of that stabilizer before you purchase the large roll.  Test out the type of stabilizer and make sure it is useful for you – and once you decide that it is, THEN purchase the large roll.  Having a large roll of stabilizer that saved you money and you hate using really is not saving you money in the end, is it?  Know your prices and make sure you are getting a good deal – some stores will just make it look like you are saving money – know your prices and make sure it is a great price.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ROOM FOR LARGER ROLLS:  Yeah, that may seem like a stupid thing to say, but some of the economical rolls can be very large – larger and heavier than you think!  You must be able to use the large rolls, and you must be able to store them somewhere.   In our workroom, we have a large strong table that can support the weight of the roll, and a cutting board underneath it so that we can cut the sizes that we need.  If you don’t have a set up like this,  you may not be able to use a large roll effectively.  Make sure you have room in your workspace and make sure you can get at the stabilizer easily when you need to!

REMEMBER YOU PAY FOR CONVENIENCE: If you purchase pre-cut stabilizer of any sort – even perforated stabilizer of a certain size, remember that you are paying for that convenience.  Sometimes it can be a lot more money per square if it is pre-cut!  Now I am not saying that pre-cut stabilizer is not economical – it certainly can be under some circumstances.  Production would be a good example of when the pre-cut cutaway stabilizer is economical.    If you need to stitch say 40 shirts on your 4×4 hoop, it will save you tons of time to just grab a perfectly sized square of stabilizer and then hoop and go.  In that example, the extra cost of the pre-cut stabilizer is saved in time.  Time is money, and if pre-cut stabilizer will save you time, it will save you money too.  I have a bunch of pre-cut stabilizers left over from our t-shirt production days, and I seriously rarely use it!  It does look great sitting on my shelf though – almost inviting me to do some 4×4 designs once in a while just to use it up!

NOT RECOMMENDED:  Here is where some feathers may get slightly ruffled – but remember this is just the writer’s opinion here.  I don’t think anyone should bother stitching scraps of stabilizer together to be economical, for any reason.  The stabilizer in your embroidery is the foundation of all embroidery – the foundation of your hooping and material.   If that foundation is weakened for any reason (such as running stitches holding it together), then your embroidery is going to be “weaker” as well.  If I have larger pieces leftover from other jobs, I will cut them into 6 x6 squares and save them for the 4×4 hoop, but the rest of the scraps won’t fit into any other hoop,  and those small or medium pieces need to be thrown away.  Remember that your foundation is everything.    Being an economical embroiderer is great, but I don’t think you can take shortcuts with your stabilizer foundation.

KITCHEN PRODUCTS ARE NOT STABILIZERS AND ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR EMBROIDERY ON YOUR EXPENSIVE FINE-TUNED EMBROIDERY MACHINE.  Enough said, right?  Foundations, foundations, foundations.   Coffee filters are for coffee, and you don’t make coffee on your embroidery machine….or do you?

Great embroidery starts with great products that will ensure that your embroidery looks great for a long time!

Until next time,



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!