Educator Pick of the month – Let’s review sewing and embroidery stabilizers

My pick of the month is Stabilizers: I could not manage to sew successfully without them. They are products that we use  with many of our sewing, embroidery and other projects. I thought we’d do a review of some of the products that are available and when & where to use them.

  • We use stabilizer as a backing to prevent puckering when we do decorative stitching.
  • It is recommended to use stabilizer when sewing button holes for better results
  • Delicate Heirloom stitching is almost impossible without careful use of stabilizers.
  • Machine embroidery is another form of sewing which would be poor indeed without the use of stabilizer
  • And when sewing knit fabrics (usually with a serger) seams may pucker and also stretch out if not stabilized in some way. I use stay tape in almost all knit fabric garments that I sew.

There are various different types of stabilizers:

  1. Tearaway
  2. Water soluble
  3. Cut away
  4. Iron away


TEARAWAY STABILIZER is something you will want to have on hand for embroidery projects. This is probably our go-to stabilizer for most projects. While we probably use this type of stabilizer for most of our embroidery, it is not the best option for some embroidery projects.

Tearaway stabilizer is exactly as it says: it is torn away from behind the embroidery after the design has been stitched out. Why have it then if we are only just going to tear it out? The fabric does need to be stabilized and made firmer to receive the embroidery or the fabric will pucker and pull in. You will not be happy with the completed embroidery if this happens so stabilizing with the correct type of stabilizer with enough firmness is crucial.

The lovely cross stitch ladies again...this time on a pillow

2. WASH AWAY STABILIZER: There are definitely times when you are doing an embroidery or decorative stitched project, that tearaway stabilizer may not be the best choice for a project:

  • When using a sheer or thin fabric that might distort or get damaged if you tear away the stabilizer.
  • Or when the fabric is see-through and you don’t want to be able to see the bits of tear away stabilizer which often remain behind. Perhaps the fabric is a thin white t-shirt or organza? batiste? tulle? drapery sheer?

border guide lace 2

This (above pic with decorative stitching on tulle or netting) is when a water soluble stabilizer becomes very useful. It will wash out (usually requires a little soaking and multiple rinses to remove all the stabilizer) but you won’t be having to rip & tear, nor will you see any stabilizer through the fabric once it has been washed out.

Things to be aware of:

  • Wash away stabilizers come in many different brands, weights and types. Many are interchangeable in terms of functionality so you would be advised to search out the ones that work for you in terms of availability, price and doing the job well.
  • Some wash aways are a bit like saran wrap: they look and feel like plastic and come in different weights from fairly flimsy to much thicker & stiffer. The thicker ones do take some rinsing in water to remove. However, doing a stand alone lace embroidery with a dense, high stitch count on a soft, light weight stabilizer is not a good idea. The thicker, firmer ones are required for this. Soaking and rinsing is just part of the deal. Leave the embroidery to soak in water several times and exercise patience!





Cutaway stabilizers are probably not something we tend to use every day but we would not be tempted to exclude these useful stabilizers from our stash as there are times when a tearaway or wash away stabilizer may not be the best choice for a particular design and/or fabric:

  1. If the fabric is too delicate, sheer or stretchy to tear away the stabilizer, a cutaway may be indicated.
  2. If the digitizing is dense and the fabric needs a built-in support, which will remain after the embroidery is complete,  Cutaway is a good choice as excess stabilizer can be carefully cut away behind the embroidery but the bulk of it remains in place to support the fabric, design and stitches.
  3. Cutaway often looks like a soft mesh type non-woven and comes in different colours –  usually black & white are the most common. As the edges of this stabilizer will be seen at the back of the embroidery, it is a good idea to match the colour of stabilizer to the  fabric.  I remember rather ruining an unlined  knit fabric coat which did hang open when unbuttoned: I used white cutaway as I had no black at the time. The coat was black. Bad choice as I hardly ever wore the coat due to the white stabilizer showing!
  4. I have also sometimes used cutaway stabilizers on children’s clothing, linens and blankets/quilts when I knew the item would be washed and used/worn many times. Sometimes a little extra support for the embroidery allows for the item to look its best for a longer period!


Why would I want to use this type of stabilizer?

  1. If I have a garment that should not be washed (perhaps it is dry clean only?) or is a gift that I do not wish to wash before giving, this stabilizer might be an alternative?
  2. Perhaps the item with embroidery is very delicate (silk?) and a tearaway or cutaway would not be appropriate?
  3. The heat setting is an important consideration: check what the maximum heat is that may be used on the particular fabric and ensure the heat away stabilizer operates within this heat setting. You do NOT want to scorch or burn your fabric.
  4. These heat removable stabilizers also comes in a different type which is rather more like paper than plastic and tends to burn away rather like burning paper. The crispy bits are brushed away as well.
  5. Neither of these stabilizers will damage an embroidered item provided the manufacturer’s instructions are followed.

You might like to watch this video for more information. Courtesy of TLC Inspirations

  • There is also a very good introductory embroidery video on ( enroll for free  on to watch ) which includes a bunch of information on the correct use of stabilizers. Yvonne Menear who worked with Janome until recently,  is the teacher in this video.
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6 Responses to Educator Pick of the month – Let’s review sewing and embroidery stabilizers

  1. Liz: Have you ever tried Dissolve 4X from Superior Threads? It is the best washaway stabilizer I have tried. I haven’t tried all brands, but unlike Solvy and similar, the Dissolve 4X rinses out MUCH more easily with lukewarm water. They also have a lighter Dissolve, so don’t confuse the two. I’ve made stuff comparable to free-standing lace this way–hair for figures on a quilt, stamens for a lily. And please pass along my kudos to everyone at Janome Canada–I absolutely love getting your blogposts in my inbox. Hope that we, south of the border, can find a way to do something similar.


    • lizafrica says:

      Hi Sarah Ann

      Thank you for your kind words and the suggestion about the Dissolve stabilizer. No, I have not tried this stabilizer. When I am on my rounds & abouts, I will see if I spot it and perhaps buy some to try.



  2. GAYLE Z says:

    Great article for all of us especially for someone just starting to explore the wonderful world of sewing and/or machine embroidery. Would it be possible for this to be a downloadable PDF.
    Thanks again
    Gayle Z (Australia)


    • lizafrica says:

      Hi Gayle,

      Sorry, not at this time. We are currently transitioning to a new website + We are also full into our very busy Fall Sewing schedule so it is not possible to do this at this time.



  3. This is a fabulous overview of stabilizers and how important they are for successful stitching. True, this is the “unglamorous” part of sewing or embroidery but I think they are essential to a good end result. Thank you for being so thorough.


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