An Embroidery Stabilizer Selection Guide

Tips for apparel decorators to better understand the different types of embroidery backings and when and why to use them

By Talia LeBlanc, Contributing Writer

A washaway stabilizer, ideal for designs like these freestanding lace bees, is used when the fabric can support the design once the stabilizer is washed away. Design by Urban Threads. All photos provided by Madeira USA.

July 22, 2021

Stabilizers, also known as backings, always should be used during machine embroidery. We use embroidery stabilizers to secure the fabric in the hoop while embroidering, and they prevent puckering in garments and provide the foundation — quite literally — for the stitches.

Backings are categorized by how they are removed: cutaway, tearaway, washaway and heataway. Most backings are available in different styles, colors and weights (in ounces). The heavier the backing, the more stability it typically provides. This article will cover different types of backing and stabilizers, while providing a better understanding of when and why to use each type.

Cutaway Embroidery Stabilizer:

This basic embroidery stabilizer type is non-woven and soft. Ranging from lightweight (1.5 ounces) to heavyweight (3.0 ounces), a basic cutaway stabilizer stays with the design throughout the life of the garment. It is ideal for use with non-stable fabrics such as knits, sweaters and fleece, as well as lightweight wovens and other fabrics with stretch.

Cutaway stabilizers provide a softness that reduces irritation when worn next to the skin. The fabric type, as well as the design’s size and density, determine the cutaway weight needed. The excess stabilizer is trimmed away from the outside of the embroidery, leaving a stable foundation for the design.

Tearaway Embroidery Stabilizer:

This basic embroidery stabilizer is non-woven, easy to tear and ranges from lightweight (1.0 ounce) to heavyweight (1.8 ounces). They are ideal for use with stable woven fabrics, such as denim, canvas, woven jacket backs and other stable fabrics. They help with hooping and provide stability during the embroidery process.

Choose the appropriate weight based on the fabric type, as well as the design’s size and density. The larger and denser the design, the heavier the embroidery stabilizer should be. The excess stabilizer is torn away from the inside and outside of the embroidered design, leaving a clean look on the garment’s back side.

E-Zee Cut Washaway Stabilizer:

Also called Vilene, this non-woven stabilizer is removed by applying water. It washes away easily and is used when the fabric can support the design once the stabilizer is washed away. This stabilizer can be used alone for freestanding lace, cutwork and heirloom embroidery, or as a stabilizer to hold the fabric in place while embroidering.

Heat Seals and Film Laminates:

These materials stiffen, finish and permanently bond patches, emblems and appliqués to garments. Use a film laminate for finishing the backsides of emblems. Double-sided, heat-sealed adhesive can be used to permanently bond patches and emblems to caps and garments, as well as for appliqué.

Cap Tearaway Stabilizer:

Specifically cut to fit within cap frames and easy to tear, this heavyweight, basic tearaway non-woven backing ranges from 2.5-3.0 ounces and is ideal for structured caps that are hooped on round cap frames. It provides stability during the embroidery process. When torn away, little to no excess stabilizer remains.

Hooped properly, cap stabilizers provide a smooth embroidery surface, resulting in clean and crisp designs. Using two pieces can be beneficial for hard-to-hoop caps by adding extra stability. Steaming caps prior to hooping helps soften the center seam, making it easier to hoop flat and tight.

A sharp needle is best for woven caps. Needle breaks can be prevented by using a titanium or #80/12 standard-eye needle. Designs for caps should be digitized to stitch from the center and outward and from the bottom of the cap to the top. This will prevent “flagging,” or folding over of the fabric during the embroidery process.

Underlay may be necessary to tame the most difficult of fabrics. Always digitize designs by section for better alignment. The fabric type and design size will determine the stabilizer weight needed.

Performance Stabilizer:

New to the market, this stabilizer type offers a selection of low-profile, sturdy cutaway stabilizers. They are available in woven and non-woven versions to fit your embroidery needs and preferences. These thin stabilizers are the solution to quality embroidery on thin, slippery performancewear and other lightweight stretchy fabrics, as well as lightweight woven dress shirts.

Water-Soluble Topping:

This is a great option for use on top of fabrics when embroidering on fluffy materials to keep designs crisp and clear. It prevents the design’s intricate parts from sinking into the nap or pile and getting lost. A design’s crispness can be enhanced as well, especially when using a thinner 60- or 75-weight thread. Use on top of high-profile fabric, such as fleece and sweaters, as well as corduroy and other soft knits.

Choosing the proper embroidery backing and stabilizers is a major key to embroidery and is typically challenging. Proper stabilization is the first step to achieve high-quality embroidery. Choosing backings and stabilizers doesn’t have to be an obstacle. With the correct knowledge and skill, you can create high-quality designs your customers will love.

Talia LeBlanc is the product marketer at Madeira USA, specializing in embroidery thread and bobbins. Skilled in embroidery and communications, she manages the marketing of Madeira thread from the company headquarters in New Hampshire. For more information or to comment on this article, email Talia at tleblanc@madeirausa.com.

This article was updated Oct. 25, 2023

Embroidery Specialty Backings

If you’re looking to step out of your comfort zone, there are a plethora of specialty backings that are available for more challenging embroidery orders.

1. Waffle, also known as pop-away, is a lightweight, soft tearaway stabilizer. It is ultra-soft and has perforations that allow it to be torn away easily without adding stress to the design or fabric. It is ideal for lightweight, woven, knit and delicate fabrics and designs. This backing is made of polypropylene; use low to medium heat when ironing.

2. Stick-on stabilizers have a pressure-sensitive adhesive with a release paper. When hooped with the sticky side up, you can press on small items that typically are hard to hoop. This stabilizer works well on cuffs, collars, pet harnesses and more.

3. Flame-resistant Weblon mesh (1.6 ounces) is made of polyester fibers with a melting point of 450°F-460°F. This soft, mesh cutaway stabilizer is ideal for infant and childrenswear. It meets children’s sleepwear standards and is CFR 1615 and 1616 certified. It should be used with fire-resistant embroidery thread and flame-resistant bobbins for safety.

4. Cover-All backings are applied to the reverse side of embroidery as a finishing material with a soft touch.