Once upon a time, some years ago and on another blog, we offered a series of posts about stabilizer. The goal was to enumerate the types of stabilizer, discuss why specialty stabilizer existed and why it was used, and generally explain stabilizer to help our customers who purchased it use what they purchased more effectively.
Fast forward to 2019, and we’ve added some new stabilizers to the mix, and definitely a number of new customers, so it seemed worthwhile to revisit this series with updates as required. As Mary Poppins (the original, not the Emily Blunt version) advised, the best place to start is the very beginning, so we’ll start with a brief overview of broad categories of stabilizer. Subsequent posts will deal with specialty stabilizers, why stabilizer weight matters, how the materials used to create your stabilizer make a difference in the finished product and how stabilizer and fabric work together for successful embroidery. The goal, by the end of the series, is to leave you with an understanding of the importance of stabilizer, and the ability to choose which stabilizer you need for which project.
At the most basic, stabilizers can be separated into two categories, cutaway and tearaway. As the names imply, one type (tearaway) can be torn, while the other type (cutaway) requires cutting with scissors to be removed. Every type of stabilizer falls into one of these two categories, with the exception of water soluble, which requires water to be removed. Water solubles also tend to be toppings, used to keep stitches from sinking into pile fabrics, or used for standalone projects like freestanding lace.
A lot of embroiderers like tearaway backing because removal can happen fairly quickly, since the excess stabilizer can simply be torn away. A lot of the efficiency and quality of a tearaway can be shown by how quickly and cleanly it tears. A tearaway stabilizer that doesn’t tear cleanly will leave fuzzy edges that can fray or just make the embroidery look messy. You also want a tearaway that stabilizes and holds stitches but which requires only a minimum amount of force to tear. If you have to yank hard to tear away the excess, you risk pulling out stitches or distorting the finished product.
Tearaway stabilizers are generally offered in light-weight, medium-weight and heavy-weight options. The medium and heavy weight options may also often be called “hat” or “cap” backing. These are the weights that will most often be used when adding embroidery to a hat. The cap backings are generally heavier, stiffer and more paper-like, so they tear cleanly and easily.
Unlike tearaway stabilizers cutaway stabilizers require a little more work to remove. Cutting away the excess stabilizer is the most common method of removal, and cuts can be as close to the stitches or as far away as desired. Some embroiderers will cut their stabilizer to slightly larger than their design before they embroider, which lessens the need for cutting after the stitch-out is finished.
Cutaway stabilizer is often used with lighter or stretchy fabrics as it is sturdy and provides the fabric with increased stability. This type of stabilizer is also a popular choice for heavy weight fabrics like sweatshirts. A 2.5 oz. weight is considered to be a universal or multipurpose cutaway and, for some embroiderers, is the only stabilizer they use.
While it is tempting to continue this discussion with an in depth look at the types of specialty stabilizers available, each of which fall into one of these two main categories, I think we’ll leave that for another post. Stay tuned for the next entry in this series, which will discuss specialty backings, why they’re used, and how they help you create better embroidery.