Back to Basics

Choose the correct backing for impressive embroidery results.

By Nancy Mini, Contributing Writer

May 17, 2016

When it comes to getting the biggest bang for your embroidery buck, the right backing or topping makes the difference between a ho-hum product and results that truly pop. Not everyone who embellishes apparel or home décor with embroidery realizes the fabric itself plays a major role in the decision regarding which backing should be used.

Backings, also called stabilizers, allow the hooped garment to glide smoothly on the needle plate of your embroidery machine. This smooth movement during the embroidery process keeps the registration of your design in place.

When embroidering on an unstable fabric, like a knit, you need more stability from a backing. A stable fabric, such as denim or canvas, will require less. Beyond the fabric, let your backing decision be influenced by the design, color and product.

Consider the Switch
Designs created with short stitch lengths, or with higher stitch densities, will benefit from a heavier backing. Large designs — for example, jacket backs — should make you think of using a heavier backing.

Also, remember that while most backings are white, if you are embroidering on a dark material, black backings are readily available. Finally, what is the purpose of the item you are embroidering? What is the probable visibility of the back side? In the event that its back side will be seen — as in blankets, towels or jackets — you’ll want as little backing left as possible.

Explore Other Options
Before you consider using specialty backings, there are two basic options from which to choose: cutaway and tearaway.

Cutaway backings literally need to be cut from around the back of the design once it is stitched. This is the best choice for unstable fabrics that comprise garments such as sweat shirts, piqué knit golf shirts or sheer dresses.

Softer than most tearaway backings, cutaway also is best choice for garments that will be worn against the skin to avoid a scratchy feeling. High-density and large designs also will look best when a cutaway backing is used.

Tearaway backing should be your go-to choice for heavier, more stable fabrics such as those used in work shirts, denim jackets and jeans or canvas tote bags. This backing needs no scissors or shears to remove excess, and can simply be torn away from the design. Both cutaway and tearaway backing options are available in light, medium and heavyweight configurations in rolls or precuts, and many come in both white and black.

Something Special
As jobs become more complex and demanding, the normal, everyday backings won’t necessarily be the best choice. Manufacturers have risen to the challenge with a host of alternatives — specialty backings — that were designed with particular applications in mind.

Specialty tearaway backings, for example, include cap backings that are ideal when embroidering caps and cap-style hats.

They come in white or black in a few different weights, but most importantly, are available in precut packs. Some measure 4″ x 7″ or 4″x 12″, allowing embroiderers to embellish the front and sides of a cap. These backings are designed to fit directly into cap frames to hold the cap still to ensure registration stays in place.

Other tearaway specialty backings include waffle, washaway and stick-on, each serving a unique purpose. Waffle, also known as “popaway” because of the popping noise it makes when removed, was designed for delicate fabrics and designs. When removed by hand, it causes minimal stress on the design. Washaway is used when the back side of a sturdy item, like a towel or linens, can be seen. Excess backing is removed by hand, and any remaining small pieces will disappear when the item is washed.

Stick-on backing is used for small, hard-to-hoop areas, such as pockets, socks, cuffs, belts and collars. It also can be used on fabrics such as velour and brushed corduroy to prevent hoop burns. It features pressure-sensitive adhesive covered with a release paper on one side. It also can prevent hoop burns on some stretchy performancewear fabrics.

Cutaway backings come in even more specialty configurations. Weblon No Show is a low-profile, soft, sheer cutaway that is popular for use on some performancewear. It prevents the “badge effect” that occurs when heavy backing is used and is obvious from the front of a garment. It is available in white, black and beige.

Also popular for performancewear is Performance Weblon, a woven cutaway that is lightweight, low-profile and provides low visibility.

Some washaway backings are used in the creation of standalone lace, or when stability is not needed after embroidery. There also is a washaway on the market that has a side that is pressure-sensitive adhesive with release paper; it is ideal for stretchy fabrics that contain Lycra. For times when safety is a concern, in industries such as aeronautics, firefighting, energy and motor sports, a flame-resistant Weblon Mesh is available.

A Polymesh cutaway made of 100% polyester prevents show-through on white or lightweight garments. It is recommended for designs with narrow columns or points, and often is used along with a light tearaway for added stability.  Appliqué Magic is a popular lightweight cutaway with pressure-sensitive adhesive on one side and a heat-activated adhesive on the other side.

Backing and thread manufacturers are good sources of information on how to get the best results when it comes to producing quality embroidered goods. Backings should not be overlooked, and the correct decision regarding which option to use for specific projects can make a huge difference between average and show-stopping embroidery.

Nancy Mini is senior marketing coordinator and backing specialist at Madeira USA and E-Zee Backing & Topping, a division of Madeira USA. She has logged more than a dozen years in the industry, learning how to operate singlehead and multihead embroidery machines along the way.