Stabiliser is the unsung hero of machine embroidery. It hides on the back of our fabric, and sometimes we take great pains to minimize its appearance in finished projects — but without it, the chances that our embroidery would turn out looking great are pretty slim indeed. The fabrics hanging in your closet and wrapped around bolts at the fabric store weren’t designed with supporting embroidery in mind; it’s up to the stabiliser to provide a bit of help. Hey, we could all use some support every now and then!
The main types of stabiliser available are cutaway, tearaway, and water-soluble (and water-soluble’s cousin heat-away). Many different brands and weights of each type are available. The suitability of the match between embroidery designs, fabric, and stabiliser can make or break a project. Below we’ll take a look at each type and when you might want to use it.
But first, a couple notes:
The recommendations you see here might differ from what you’ve seen elsewhere — opinions seem to vary on matters of stabiliser. This is what I have found creates the best results. If you’re doing something different and you like the results you’re getting, rock on! But if you’re running into trouble, give them a try — perhaps they’ll help.
These are very general tips; they don’t specifically address every fabric/design/stabiliser in existence. Think of them as guidelines to help you make good matches between designs, fabric, and stabiliser. There are always going to be judgment calls involved. As always, embroidery is both art and science.
Relatedly: experiment, experiment, experiment! If you’re working with a fabric/design/stabiliser combo you’re unsure about, give it a test run before using it on your actual project.