Using Stabilizers for machine embroidery and applique

Tell me more about stabilizers!
Stabilizing is one of the most important yet overlooked aspect of machine embroidery. Improper stabilizing will cause a perfect design to stitch badly. Without correct stabilizing methods your project can be ruined. This guide will walk you through the various types of stabilizers as well as tips on how to correctly apply these products.
Light Weight Stabilizers: Use when stitching on lightweight fabrics such as thin cotton, knits or lace.
Medium Weight (Standard) Stabilizers:  Most standard fabrics and projects will require this weight. It is good to assume you will need medium weight for your projects unless using a special fabric or embroidery technique.
Heavy Weight Stabilizers:  A good choice when using heavier weight fabrics such as denim, corduroy or tapestry fabrics.
Temporary vs. Permanent Stabilizers
Temporary stabilizers include tear away and soluble styles.
Standard tear away stabilizer is paper-like and will easily tear away from your project after the embroidery is complete and you have removed it from the hoop. A small amount will remain on your project under your embroidered stitches. The rest will easily tear away from around your finished design. Using tweezers carefully will help remove any in small, hard to reach areas.
Cut away stabilizers perform similarly to tear away except it wont tear away from your design. Instead, carefully trim approximately 1/4″ to 1/2″ around your design when done stitching. This leaves a little more stability in your project and lets the design lie flatter and last longer. It’s a perfect choice for stitching on t-shirts or other knit fabrics because these fabrics stretch. The cut away stabilizers will prevent your design from stretching out of shape when the fabric stretches.
Soluble stabilizer includes water soluble which dissolves under warm running water or with a few spritzes of water from a spray bottle. How quickly and easily it dissolves depends on the type and brand of water soluble stabilizer.
Heat soluble stabilizer is very similar to water soluble stabilizer except that it will dissolve with the touch of a warm iron.
Always follow manufacturer’s recommendations when using soluble stabilizer.
Soluble stabilizer is perfect for a couple types of projects.
When stitching out free standing lace, use a strong soluble stabilizer in the hoop only. If your stabilizer is thin try using a few sheets. Vilene is an excellent choice for stitching free standing lace because it is thicker and wont move very easily in the hoop. It resembles paper and holds its shape and strength better than most standard clear, plastic looking water soluble stabilizers.
Once your free standing lace project is stitched simply remove from the hoop, trim any leftover loose threads, trim around the design and carefully run under warm water until stabilizer is removed. Dry flat or gently press with a warm iron when finished.
Another very important use for soluble stabilizer is when stitching on knit fabrics such as t-shirts, towels, corduroy or fleece fabric. Embroidery stitches tend to sink into knit fabrics and get “lost”. Using a light weight clear sheet of soluble stabilizer on the top of your fabric before stitching helps to keep the stitches on top of the fabric where they should be. Simply “float” a loose piece of soluble stabilizer on top of your hoop before you begin stitching. The stitches will stay a bit separated from the actual fabric and remain on top of your project rather than getting pulled into the fibers.
Once your design is complete simply remove from the hoop and tear or cut away any excess soluble stabilizer from the top of your project. Run warm water over the design gently and allow to dry.
Adhesive Stabilizers
Otherwise known as “Sticky Stabilizers”, this choice adds more control when stitching items that need more stability while stitching or when hooping an item isn’t easily hooped.
A good example of when to use sticky stabilizers is when stitching on ribbon. If only hooping the ribbon the standard way the sides would be secure but the inside of the ribbon will move around in the hoop. Using sticky stabilizer will hold the entire piece of ribbon in its place while stitching.
It is also a good choice for stitching on any fabric that tends to move around while stitching, such as t-shirts or other knits.
Aqua sticky stabilizers look like paper except they have a water activated glue on one side. Simply hoop this stabilizer with the glue side up, lightly spray with a water bottle and gently remove any excess water. Wait a few moments for the surface to become sticky before applying your project. Be sure to remove any gaps or “bubbles” in your fabric before stitching, however it is extremely important not to stretch the fibers of the fabric out of alignment before stitching. This would result in puckers around your finished design, especially after washing.
There are also paper stabilizers that feature a peel away “sticker” surface on one side rather than the glue. To use this type you will need to hoop your stabilizer and gently score the front of the paper to remove the paper layer and reveal the sticky side. Be careful not to score through the main piece of your stabilizer. Using a seam ripper works well for this. Stitch your design with the same steps as aqua stabilizer.
Another option is to use adhesive spray. With this product you can use the stabilizer of your choice and spray a light layer of adhesive onto the stabilizer once it is already hooped. Please spray this product away from your machine, children, pets and yourself. It is not recommended to breathe it or get into the working parts of your machine. Use in a well ventilated area.
How do I hoop fabric and/or stabilizer?
Hooping your project requires proper techniques and practice. The main purpose of the embroidery hoop is to hold your fabric in place as perfectly as possible. Improper hooping will leave your embroidery design distorted, unaligned or with puckers around the finished project.
The most important thing to remember when hooping is to make the fabric as stationary as possible. This not only includes the entire piece of embroidered fabric but also the actual threads in the weave of the fabric. Although this may seem daunting, there are a few rules of thumb to follow that will assure you the best finished result possible.
1) Use the proper stabilizer for your particular fabric or project.
2) Before hooping your fabric and/or stabilizer loosen the screw(s) just enough to slide in your materials. Over loosening can cause distortion while hooping. Lay your hoop flat on a hard work surface while hooping. Once your fabric and/or stabilizer is in place between the hoop layers gently tighten the screw. Stopping to be sure the materials are still taught and without bubbles or distortion is a good idea before tightening the hoop the to it’s final torque.
Once your materials are tightened in the hoop examine the fibers of the fabric closely. Are the fibers in the weave perfectly straight and not distorted or wavy? Embroidering on straight fibers is extremely important because after the fabric is unhooped or washed the fibers will return to their natural state, which is straight across and up and down. If the embroidery design was not positioned correctly on straight fibers when it was stitched the fibers will pull around the design making puckers in your final project.
When you are satisfied your fabric’s fibers are straight and your hoop is properly tightened, gently but firmly push the inner hoop slightly down past the outer hoop. This will create a small “lip” so your fabric is closer to the machine while stitching. It is important not to lower the inner hoop more than 1/8″ lower than the outer hoop as not to cause problems with the machine.
3) Use a clean and well cared for hoop. Over time screws can loose their ability to hold tightly and may need to be replaced. Your embroidery machine dealer can usually order you a new screw replacement package at little cost.
If you use spray adhesive over your hoop you will no doubt get overspray onto your hoop unless you use a spray guard. The adhesive spray can build up on the hoop frame over time and weaken the plastic on the hoop. Removing it often can help prolong your hoops life. Warm soapy dish water and a light scrubber sponge can help. If your buildup is more severe you can use products such as “Goo-Gone” for more intense cleaning.
Try to keep your hoops (and all your embroidery machine supplies) away from excessive heat and cold.
4) How do you know how tightly to secure your project in the hoop before stitching? A good rule of thumb is to make sure the fabric and/or stabilizer is “drum tight”. It should not be excessively tight as to stretch the fabric or damage your hoop but tight enough to ensure the fabric and/or stabilizer does not move during stitching.
This is helpful to know especially when stitching very dense designs.
5) Store your hoops flat when not in use. This will help prevent damage over time. Hanging them on a hook is a very easy way to keep track of them, however they can dry out or get filled with dust which leads to corrosion as your hoops get older. Many machines include a case to keep them in, which is best. However, an easy way to store them is to purchase plastic freezer bags large enough to fit your various sized hoops.
How do I do an Applique?
Machine applique is so much fun!
Not only does it draw attention to the design itself, it also allows you to add a matching matching fabric to the design so it coordinates with your project.
Applique designs are so easy on the embroidery machine. A few simple rules of thumb are all you need to get started. Here, we will walk you through the basic steps.
1) When beginning an applique area on a design the machine will stitch a “placement stitch”. This outline stitch will show you where the piece of fabric should be placed… your “pattern”, if you will.
Cut a piece of fabric just large enough to cover that spot entirely.
Using a spray adhesive, lightly spray the back of the fabric piece. Never spray near your machine.
Gently place your piece of fabric over the placement stitch area. Be sure to place it firmly onto the hooped fabric, working out any bubbles.
2) The next stitch will tack down the piece of fabric to the patterned area. Once this stitch completes, carefully remove the hoop from the machine. Do not unhoop the fabric.
Using sharp embroidery scissors, gently trim away the excess fabric from around the outside of the patterned area. Trim as closely to the stitching without cutting the stitches.
Re-attach hoop to machine when this is completed.
3) The next stitch will create a zigzag around the applique.
4) To finish an applique area, the machine will now stitch a satin stitch around the raw edges of the fabric. This will seal in the edges so they don’t fray.
Applique designs may also include other design parts such as filled areas or other areas of applique. Follow the stitch chart or instructions with every design to be sure your design will be stitched in the correct order.

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