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.

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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