Stabilizer Secrets: Choosing a Stabilizer

One thing that many embroiderers overlook,  or may not be aware of,  is the fact that using the correct stabilizer can have a huge impact on the success of failure of a stitch-out.   Yes,  there will always be that one embroiderer who uses one type of backing for everything and does well  but,  for the most part,  a good marriage of stabilizer and fabric and design is required for embroidery to appear at its best.    The correct choice of stabilizer can make your sew-out smoother,  faster and provide a finished piece that is of a higher quality.   Because this is such an important decision,  we wanted to offer some things to consider before you choose.

First,  as we already know from this post backing/stabilizer comes in different types.  If you take it down to the most basic level,  you’re dealing with either cutaway or tearaway stabilizer.  Even the specialty backings will most likely be one of these two types,  so knowing when and why you might want to use a particular type is crucial.  Tearaway stabilizer is easier to remove as it tears away,  so it might be a good option for jobs where there are time constraints.  Cutaway stabilizer generally has less stretch to it,  so it may be a better option for performance wear or other stretchy fabrics.   When choosing which stabilizer to use make sure to take into account all the qualities of the fabric,  requirements of the design,  and things like time and effort expended when making your decision.   The right stabilizer choice will improve both your sew-out and your production time.

Second,  stabilizer weight matters too.   Nothing is less attractive than a stitch-out that is weighted down with a wad of backing.   Or a design that is so dense that it’s like a lump of wood attached to the fabric of the garment.   As a general rule,  light weight fabrics should be stabilized by a light weight backing,  and heavier fabrics with a heavier backing.   The goal is to find a backing that will stabilize the stitch-out without weighing down or distorting the fabric.

Third,  don’t forget backing does have a color palette.   Granted,  it’s not much of one,  generally being confined to black,  white and beige,  but there are color choices available.   If the item to be embroidered is thin or if there’s a chance at all the stabilizer might be seen,  it’s best to try to use a stabilizer that is close in color to the item being embroidered.

Finally,  don’t forget that specialty backing can have a huge impact on how well the finished design works.   Poly mesh is a great option for polos and lightweight fabrics. R2000 (a polypropylene stabilizer) is an ideal option for performance wear.   Adhesive backing comes in very handy when there are items like socks of blank patches to be embroidered.  Water soluble topping helps monograms and other embroidery stand out on fleece or towels.    It is entirely possible that you could go your whole embroidery career using only a standard cutaway or tearaway,  but why would you do that?  The specialty stabilizers can offer a variety of qualities that will help make your jobs easier and the execution of the design much smoother.   While specialty backings may,  in some cases,  be a slightly pricier option,  they will pay for themselves in speedier production time and quality finished products.

Remember,  stabilizer is the foundation on which everything else is built.  Just as you wouldn’t build your house on a sinkhole,  don’t build your embroidery on a stabilizer that can’t do the job required of it.   Choosing your stabilizer with care and after thinking about the requirements of the fabric and the stitch-out will ensure that you make a choice which will stand up to the needs of your embroidery and help create a finished product that will delight your customers.

Stabilizer Secrets: Weight and Why it Matters

One of the more mysterious things about stabilizer,  for some people anyway,  is weight and what that means when it comes to selecting and using stabilizer for a particular job.   On the surface,  backing weight seems pretty simple,  ounces are a familiar weight measurement,  so saying a type of backing is 2.5 ounces seems fairly easy to understand.  What complicates things is when you start factoring backing weight into the success or failure of an embroidered project.   Will using a 2.0 oz. backing rather than a 2.5 oz. backing mean the doom of your design?  Does the weight you choose to use really have that much impact on the success or failure of your project?  Manufacturers go through the bother of weighing stabilizer so the weight much have some impact on the function.

The first thing to understand about stabilizer weight is how manufacturers determine what that weight should be.  The weight of a piece of backing is measured by the square yard.  This means that,  should you have 1.5 oz. backing of the same type but from different manufacturers,  each square yard you weigh should weigh 1.5 oz.   Heavier weight backings,  a 3.0 cutaway for instance,  will be thicker and less flexible.   A lighter weight backing,  say a 1.8 oz. tearaway,  will be thinner and have more flexibility.

Obviously,  the weight of the backing will impact the functionality of the backing as well.  If,  for instance,  you’re sewing a sweatshirt, and the design is dense,  a heavier weight backing will pair with the fabric better and be more suited to holding a dense design.   Suppose,  however,  that you’re sewing on a lightweight polo shirt,  with a bit of a drape.  Then you’ll want a lighter weight stabilizer that is able to move with the drape of the fabric and not interfere with the lines of the garment.  Weight impacts drape and flexibility and the ability to hold a certain number of stitches or a dense design.   All these elements can impact the success or failure of your finished design.

The construction of the backing also has a little bit to do with the weight of the backing,  and a lot to do with the quality.  Machine embroidery stabilizer is typically made up of polyester fibers which are held together with viscose or wood pulp.  High quality backing will have more poly fibers and less viscose,  in lower quality backing the ratios will be the reverse.  What determines the quality of the stabilizer is the length of the poly fibers and the amount of polyester versus filler that is in the material.

A quick and easy test to determine quality is the light test.  Take the piece of stabilizer you want to examine and hold it up to a strong light source.   If the piece you’re examining is high quality,  the stabilizer will have even density and feel smooth when you run your hand over it. A lower quality backing will have thin spots and dense spots making for a more uneven sheet.   This uneven density can impact the quality of your sew-out significantly.

Keep in mind that the sheerness and weight of a backing does not always determine the number of stitches that can be stabilized. Take,  for instance,  the poly mesh backing that EnMart sells.  This backing is embossed,  which means if you hold it to a light source,  you’ll see a textured pattern in the material.   The texture allows the poly mesh to hold substantially more stitches than an unembossed piece of the same weight would be able to hold.

In the end,  weight is just one factor that impacts how a stabilizer will perform for a particular job.   The make-up of the fibers and the construction of the backing can also be critical.   And whether or not the stabilizer has any added features like embossing or texture can also make a difference in the density of the designs that can be used.  When deciding what stabilizer to use for your job,  make sure you take all these factors into account.

Stabilizer Secrets: Types of Stabilizer

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.

There’s No Substitute for Stabilizer

I’ve seen the question so many times I just mostly make a resigned sad face when I see it now,  but it still bothers me.   The question usually starts with the words “Can I..” and then goes on to ask whether it’s acceptable to use freezer paper or printer paper or plastic grocery bags as stabilizer for embroidery.  I get the idea behind the inquiry – stabilizer can be expensive,  or at least more expensive than a roll of freezer paper.  Things like printer paper or plastic grocery bags are also usually at hand and don’t need to be purchased specially.  I also suppose,  to some people,  using a common household item might be less intimidating.  There are understandable reasons why people might pursue the option of using something other than the item specifically designed for the purpose,  but there are also several reasons why that’s not usually a good idea.

Before I go into the reasons why we think using things like freezer paper is not the ideal option,  I do want to address the one exception,  using freezer paper for applique.   When cutting patterns for applique,  freezer paper is an option for stabilizing the fabric while you cut out the shapes.   It’s also a viable option for fusing to the back of a fabric you are intending to draw or paint on,  as raw fabric tends to wrinkle.  Keep in mind,  both these activities are embroidery adjacent,  not actually embroidery,  so I still stand by that statement that freezer paper is not generally a great option when it comes to stabilizing embroidery.  Now let’s discuss the reasons why we think this is so.

Reason 1:  Many stabilizers are designed specifically for machine embroidery – I’m sure there are stabilizers out there that started life as pocket lining or something,  but there are also several classes of stabilizers that are intended specifically to be used with machine embroidery.   This category includes poly meshfusible,  and adhesive backing.  Something that is designed specifically for the requirements of the job at hand will most likely work better than something used randomly.

Reason 2:  An embroidery stabilizer can help improve the look of embroidery – Stabilizers are sometimes designed with a specific weight or type of fabric in mind.  The proper marriage of backing or topping,  fabric,  thread and digitized design will create the most professional look and the best outcome.  Using a stabilizer designed for the fabric you want to embroider and the type of look you want to create will give you a much better chance of a successful finished product.

Reason 3:  An embroidery stabilizer can speed up production –  Designs tend to sew out better when they’re stabilized properly.  There’s less puckering,  fewer thread breaks and definitely a cleaner and more professional looking finished product.  Removing stabilizer more quickly with a tearaway option or presenting a tidier and more professional finished look with a washaway option are also benefits to using a stabilizer designed for embroidery.

Reason 4: The right tool for the right job – Freezer paper is designed to protect food from freezer burn.   Plastic grocery bags are designed for carrying your produce and pasta home from the store.   Embroidery stabilizer is designed to lend stability to embroidered designs,  to improve stitch-outs and to help provide a professional finished appearance.  Using products as they were designed will generally bring about the most successful outcome.

In a nutshell,  those are the reasons we think embroidery should be stabilized with machine embroidery backings and toppings,  but we’d love to get your take on this topic.   Have you ever stabilized your embroidery with something other than standard stabilizer?   What was the result?  We’d love to know what you think.

Essential Stock for an Embroidery Shop

Every year,  when we do trade shows,  we always meet some newbies,  people who are just starting out and looking for advice. Often,  they’re swimming in a sea of possible equipment and supplies and mystified about what they need and what could be useful. For those starting out,  or for those who are looking to get their shop equipped with the basics,  we present this embroidery starter kit list.   This list details the items we think a well stocked shop should have.   For the purposes of this list,  I will provide the name of the product and a brief description of the reason we believe it’s an essential item.  The aim of the list is to help those who are stocking their shops get the basic items they need to do almost any embroidery job.

The List

Thread – We sell Iris UltraBrite Polyester Machine Embroidery Thread  and recommend stocking at least your core colors in large cones.   Your core colors are the colors you use regularly,  the ones you replace most often.  For most shops that’s generally between ten to twenty colors.

Stabilizer – Yes,  a shop can get by with just one type of backing,  a lot of shops do that successfully.   We recommend,  however,  taking advantage of the specialty backing options that are available.  Here’s what, in our opinion,  a well stocked shop should have when it comes to stabilizer.

  • Cutaway – A medium weight cutaway will get you through almost any situation when cutaway backing is required.   Medium weight,  when it comes to stabilizer is generally considered to be 2.5 ounces.
  • Tearaway – Two types of tearaway will generally appear in a well stocked shop.  One would be a light weight tearaway suitable for use with shirts.  The other would be heavy weight tearaway that can be used with hats.
  • Poly Mesh – Yes,  this is a lightweight cutaway,  but it’s designed to be used with lighter weight fabrics and to hold a lot of stitches.   It can greatly improve the appearance of embroidery on flimsier fabrics.
  • Adhesive Backing – A must for the times when you want to embroider items that are hard to hoop.  Can also be useful to hold stretchy or slippery fabrics in place.  Adhesive on one side topped with release paper.
  • Water Soluble – This is a topping,  but a must have if you’re embroidering anything with a pile like towels or fleece blankets.   Used to stop stitches from sinking into the fabric.

Bobbins – For commercial embroidery machines bobbins generally come in L or M sizes.  Paper sided and MagnaGlide magnetic bobbins are two popular types.  Some people prefer magnetic bobbins because they say they hold tension better.  When purchasing bobbins,  don’t forget you’ll also need bobbin cases.  Plain works with magnetic bobbins,  a no backlash spring bobbin case is often great with paper sided bobbins.

NeedlesNeedles come in sizes from 65/9 (smallest) to 90/14 (largest).  Many people use a medium size needle,  a 75/11, for most jobs.  Keep in mind that needles also come in sharp and ballpoint options.   Sharps are for thicker fabrics.  Ballpoints are great for fabrics which are more delicate and which have fibers that could tear easily.

Accessories – There are a ton of accessories out there that can be purchased,  but these are the ones that we think every shop should have.

  • Thread Clips – For clipping jump stitches and making things look nice
  • Seam Ripper – Yes,  at some point you will need one. For ripping out stitches gone wrong.
  • Cleaning/Lint Brush – You’re doing your daily machine maintenance, right?
  • Machine oil – Really,  you’re keeping the machine cleaned and lubricated, right?

The main thing to remember,  when stocking your shop,  is that there are a lot of options out there.  Trial and error might be required to find out what options work best for you.   Don’t be afraid to ask for samples or advice.  We’re always happy to help.

We’ve Got Your Back(ing)

Figuring out what stabilizer to use seems pretty simple.   If you don’t want to cut,  you use tearaway.   If you don’t mind cutting,  you use cutaway.  Rolls are more economical,  in most cases,  but pre-cut sheets can be faster and easier.  White can work on everything,  but black or beige may sometimes be the better option,  if those colors are available.  Choosing a backing seems simple,  but it may not be as simple as you think.   The more you know,  the better you understand how backing construction,  type and even color can play a role in the success or failure of your finished embroidery.  That’s where we come in.

Part of what we do here at EnMart is teach.   Our job,  besides finding and selling top quality embroidery and sublimation supplies,  is to teach you how to best use what we sell.   It’s kind of a circle of life thing,  we offer a backing for sale,  we educate you about why that backing is a good buy and necessary to your project’s success,  you buy it,  your projects turn out fabulous,  you come back and buy more backing.  The cycle, hopefully, repeats,  over and over again.

With that in mind,  I wanted to take a moment today to share some photos of backing we took with a new tool we recently purchased,  a microscope.  Now you may be wondering what a microscope can tell you about backing,  and the answer is quite a lot.  Here’s some of what we learned.

2.5 oz. cutaway

This is our 2.5 ounce cutaway backing. The first thing you notice when you look at this picture is the long unbroken strands.   That’s the sign of a cutaway,  long strands of fiber which can’t be torn.   The second thing you notice is how many strands there are.   Quality backing will always have a good ratio of fibers to filler.  Less fibers and more filler generally means a more uneven, less strong stabilizer.

1.8 ounce tearaway

Next is our 1.8 ounce tearaway stabilizer.  In this picture,  you can see the fibers are shorter and thinner,  which makes them easier to tear.   Again,  the ratio of filler to fiber is weighted on the side of the fibers,  indicating that this is a quality backing.  This is a backing which,  if you did the light test,  where you hold a piece up to a light source to see if it has uneven spots,  would pass the test.

Poly Mesh

Our third picture is of the poly mesh backing.    It almost looks like a diamond,  which is fitting, as poly mesh is a unique stabilizer.  It is designed to hold a lot of stitches and has been textured to allow it to do so. Much like the name implies,  you can see the fibers do form a kind of mesh and that,  although the backing is thin,  the fibers that make it up are thicker,  allowing it to hold more stitches despite its thinness.

Waffle weave tearaway

Finally,  we have our waffle-weave tearaway,  which is designed to be extremely easy to tear.   You can see that reflected in the fibers that are used to make up the backing.   They’re extremely thin and very multi-directional. The fibers are also much shorter,  which makes them easier to tear.  This is a backing that could be torn apart quite easily.

Understanding how backing is made,  and how that method of creation impacts the finished product can help you make the best choices when choosing backing for your project.  Now,  we know that most of you will never put your backing under a microscope,  but we never expected you would.  That’s what we’re here for.  We’ve got you back and your backing and we’re happy to help you make the best choices possible when it comes to purchasing supplies.

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Supply Spotlight: Specialty Stabilizer

We just came back from the DAX Show in Minneapolis.   While we were at the show,  as usual,  we fielded quite a few questions about stabilizer.  It seems that stabilizer is one of the things about embroidery that can be confusing for those who are just starting out,  or for those who haven’t had much exposure to the variety of specialized stabilizers that are available.  Since everyone who reads this blog wasn’t able to be at the show and hear our explanations there,  I figured I’d share the information here as well.

First,  let’s define what a specialty stabilizer is.   In general,  a specialty stabilizer is one that is developed for a particular type of embroidery,  to perform a particular function or to work with a particular type of fabric or embroiderable good.  A specialty stabilizer is often used because it will increase the quality of the finished embroidery in some way.

There are a variety of specialty stabilizers available,  and covering each one in depth would result in a blog post that was miles long,  so I’m just going to try and give you an overview of the common options and the reasons why they are used.

Poly Mesh  Poly mesh stabilizer is a light weight, textured stabilizer that is great for t-shirts and light weight fabrics.  The texture allows for the support of a large number of stitches,  but the light weight ensures that the garment or the embroidered design won’t be distorted by a large wad of backing.

Fusible Poly MeshFusible poly mesh is the same material as regular poly mesh,  with the same light weight feel and the same texture.   The difference is that fusible,  as the name implies,  can be fused,  with heat,  to the back of a garment.  Fusible is useful for infant or children’s clothing, covering embroidery that might otherwise scratch delicate skin.   It can also be used with performance wear,  to stabilize and help eliminate the stretch in these types of fabrics.

AdhesiveAdhesive backing is coated with an adhesive which is covered with a release paper.  This type of backing can be hooped,  after which the release paper is scored,  exposing the adhesive,  and allowing for the securing of small items which couldn’t otherwise be hooped,  like patches or socks.  Adhesive backing can also be another option for performance wear,  functioning as a barrier against the stretchiness of the material being embroidered.

Water SolubleWater soluble stabilizer can be a backing or a topping.  As a topping,  water soluble is used on top of fabrics that have a pile.  It is commonly used on fleece or towels and works to keep the stitches from sinking into the pile and disappearing.   Another type of water soluble,  called Badgemaster, is thicker and used for making free standing lace.

Cutaway/Washaway – Another option for free standing lace is a cutaway/washaway backing.  This type of stabilizer can be used to create free standing lace ornaments,  as it can be embroidered and then the excess can be dissolved away.   Cutaway/washaway can also be a good option for when the back of an embroidered item, like a monogrammed towel, for instance,  might be seen.  The excess stabilizer will wash away over time,  leaving the back of the embroidery tidy.

Cap Backing – Hats are a popular item with many embroiderers,  and cap backing makes embroidering a hat easier.  This type of backing is usually 2.5 to 3.0 ounces,  and is often offered in smaller sizes like 4 x 7.  Cap backing is a stiff, paperlike tearaway,  which tears cleanly, and is stiff enough to support stitch heavy logos.

Some embroiderers will tell you that specialty stabilizers aren’t necessary,  that a simple cutaway or tearaway will get the job done in almost any situation,  and they wouldn’t be wrong.  What specialty stabilizers offer is the ability not just to get the job done,  but to get it done in a way that works with the fabric and creates a finished design that is really a work of art.

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