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How to Choose the Right Embroidery Backing

How to Choose the Right Embroidery Backing - Threadsy

Anne Dorfman |

Whether you’re doing hand or machine embroidery, choosing the right stabilizer backing can make or break your stitched design. That backing is essential to turning out a long-lasting embroidery that doesn’t warp, roll, pucker, or get misshapen during washing and drying. 

We’ll give you an overview of key stabilizer types for various fabrics, empowering you to elevate your embroidery game and achieve professional results. Remember, a well-matched stabilizer not only enhances the look of your stitched design, but also ensures it withstands the test of time and maintains a crisp appearance through countless washes and wears.

The Four Types of Stabilizers 

Your stabilizer creates a structural barrier between your machine and your garment, preventing problems like design registration issues, distortion or stretching. You place your stabilizer under the fabric you’re embroidering so that the stitches hold their shape and provide a stable foundation for complex or dense designs.

Here are the four most common types of stabilizer backing:

  • Cutaway stabilizers: This backing provides the most “stabilizing,” since part of it stays under the embroidery design on the garment permanently. When you’re finished embroidering your design, you “cut away” the excess stabilizer around the design. Cutaway backing works for non-stable poly performance shirts, stretchier knits and light wovens, since they keep designs intact through lots of washes and wears.
  • Tearaway backing: This backing provides temporary stabilizing while you’re stitching your design. Once you’ve finished stitching your design, you tear away this backing before you remove your garment from the hoop. This stabilizer is more suited to less stretchy items made of denim, canvas, heavy twill or duck cloth, or home decor items like towels, where you don’t want visible backing. 
  • Water-soluble stabilizers: Like tearaway, these stabilizers offer temporary structure during the embroidery process. Once you’re finished stitching, you remove the backing with warm water or place the item in the wash, so there’s no visible residue. Many stitchers use this type for free-standing lacework or cutwork embroidery. You can also use water-soluble backing for stretchy or slippery fabrics like spandex, or items like stoles or flags.
  • Heat-away backings or films: These stabilizers are best for stand-alone patches or emblems. These backings simplify the process — embroider directly onto the film, perforate and remove excess material with ease using a heat gun or press. They’re particularly handy for delicate fabrics where water-soluble options might not be the best option.

You might also have heard of an embroidery topping, a material you place on top of the fabric to prevent stitches from sinking into textured or high-pile fabric like fleece, velour or terry cloth. These toppings are usually water-soluble films or sheets, and are designed to keep the stitches from “getting lost” in the fabric pile or nap. Using a topping along with a backing for certain jobs ensures your embroidery design looks crisp and clean.

We Match 10 Fabrics to the Right Stabilizers

From versatile cotton to stretchy polyester performance wear and luxurious velour, discover the optimal stabilizing techniques for each fabric, ensuring your embroidered designs stand out.

  1. Cotton: Natural fiber garments are ideal for machine embroidery due to their ease of use and durability, making them a popular choice. Cotton, in particular, maintains the integrity of embroidered designs, due to its minimal stretching compared to other fabrics, and works well with a similar weight cutaway backing. Additionally, heavier-weight cotton fabrics are great for holding embroidery. Cotton-poly blends with a smooth, lightly woven texture are also good for embroidery, so try a thin no-show cutaway backing with smaller designs.
  1. Polyester Performance Wear: This knit is stretchy, slick and unstable material  and can be hard to hoop. Generally, smaller, less-dense designs work better on these fabrics, with a lightweight tearaway backing made for athletic wear.

Linen: You’ll see casual and upstyled shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, blazers and jackets made from linen. Linen has a similar weight and feel to cotton, and takes embroidery well supported by a medium-weight cutaway stabilizer.
  1.  Fleece: With the explosion in popularity for fleece wear – in hats, hoodies, vests, jackets, bottoms and blankets – definitely put this knit fabric with a fuzzy or napped side at the top of your to-embroider list!  Try using lightweight no-show backing and a water-soluble topping.

  2. Velour: This soft knit material has one brushed side that you’ll often see pajamas and tracksuits made of – so try using a water-soluble or heat-away topping for a clear design.
  1. Terrycloth: Another popular “thick” woven fabric for lounge wear, resort clothing and towels that looks great with an embroidered logo or monogram. Try using a soft tearaway and a water-soluble topping.
  1. Waffle weave or honeycomb fabric: Try a soft tearaway backing on towels, bathrobes and blankets.
  1. Canvas/Denim: Great heavy woven materials for stitching, canvas and jean material go the distance with durability and stability – whether it’s a hat, shirt, jacket, pants, shorts, a skirt, a bag, shoe or tablecloth. For bigger designs, use a heavier tearaway and a lightweight backing for smaller designs.
  1. Nylon: You’ll see this lightweight woven material in jackets and flags. Try using a lightweight cutaway backing to minimize puckering. 
  2. Vinyl/Faux Leather: Use tearaway backings on these human-made, non-woven fabric, most often jackets, bags or upholstery.

Top Stabilizer Tips

Here are four smart tips to keep in mind when you’re hooping your stabilizer with your chosen fabric and then removing it.

  1. Achieving the correct stabilization: When hooping your backing, choose a flat surface like a table or counter. Ensure that the embroidery stabilizer is slightly bigger than the hoop size. Take care to eliminate any wrinkles during the hooping process.
  1. Smart stabilizer insertion: To prevent slipping during embroidery and undesirable “dragging marks” on the freearm, press the inner embroidery hoop 2-3 mm lower than the outer hoop, while inserting your stabilizer into the hoop. You’ll get greater stability for a better-looking embroidery design.

    Pro tip: For better results, experts recommend adhering the stabilizer to your fabric using a temporary adhesive spray on the backing. Use a piece of kraft paper as a base layer. After you’ve finished your embroidery, the adhesive should have evaporated. 
  1. Removing cutaway backing: To prevent unintentional damage to the fabric while removing excess material, secure the stabilizer firmly during the trimming process, but allow the garment to hang naturally. Position it in a way that allows you to see the design’s edge and fabric while cutting a margin of ¼” to ½” around the design for the best results.
  1. Removing tearaway backing: Start by removing extra backing from design elements where you’ve got defined features, like corners or slender columns. Tear from the outer perimeter toward the design’s center to minimize pressure and reduce any design distortion.

Pro tip: If you’re embroidering a fabric that’s not machine washable, don’t use a water-soluble backing or topping. Spray adhesives are also a no-no, since they might damage your item.

Don’t Forget to Test

Before stocking up on stabilizers, grab test packs from various suppliers to find the best fit. Use old garments in different fabrics for design trials, ensuring you choose brands and types that yield optimal results. You can generally assess a stabilizer by holding it up to the light to look for irregularities; if you see an uneven texture, then it’ll affect the quality of your final embroidered design.

When working with lighter-weight designs on soft fabric, opt for a lightweight stabilizer, but for heavier designs, a sturdier stabilizer is key. Begin with a medium-weight stabilizer if you’re unsure, adjusting as needed. While layering stabilizer sheets is an option for dense designs on delicate fabric, selecting the right type and weight initially often eliminates the need for extra pieces. This testing time is a great way to master your stabilizer game for flawless embroidery every time.


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