Your Essential Guide to Machine Embroidery Stabilizers

A Polymesh Embroidery Stabilizer
Kris Daub
Published by Kris Daub | Senior Editor
Last updated: January 25, 2024
Review Process and Standards
In our reviews and guides, we perform detailed, hands-on evaluations of every product featured. This involves anonymously purchasing products and working with an independent group of evaluators. This approach allows us to collect firsthand insights and provide advice grounded in factual data.

Article Summary

  • Sturdy stabilizers are crucial for machine embroidery to prevent issues such as fabric shifting, distortion, and uncertain stitch placement.
  • Consider fabric flexibility, design density, visibility needs, and end-use when choosing stabilizers.
  • Testing stabilization approaches on scraps before working on actual materials is recommended.

Beautiful machine embroidery relies on a sturdy base for precision stitch placement. Like any art form involving tension across a flexible surface, quality foundations make all the difference. Proper stabilizers reinforce the fabric to prevent distortion and improve finished results from embroidery endeavors. This guide tackles why stabilizers matter, the major categories available, plus working with backings efficiently.

Why Bother With Embroidery Stabilizer?

Machine embroidery involves placing hundreds of tiny stitches with great accuracy across the surface of the fabric. Each plunge of the needle creates a small hole and alters the base material slightly. The cumulative effect of so many penetrations adds up without precautions:

  • Shifting of fabric as tension tugs in varying directions with each stitch laid down
  • Progressive stretching and distortion of textile dimensions/textures
  • Development of sizable holes and thinning as threads strain fibers till they rupture
  • Unsure stitch placement as landing destinations flex and move during the embroidery process, throwing off careful alignments

Sturdy stabilizers bolster fabrics to prevent destructive machine embroidery pitfalls…

Sturdy stabilizers bolster fabrics to prevent these destructive machine embroidery pitfalls. They keep the material taut and resistant to change across the thousands of needle penetrations inherent to stitchwork. With less flexibility comes better obedience to intended design orientations. Quality backings also ensure spacing stays uniform without bunching up of threads.

Appropriate stabilizers further support completed embroideries across lifetimes:

  • Withstand repeated wearing without fraying, cracking, or coming apart through abrasion
  • Prevent cracking/peeling of embroidery patterns after many laundry cycles
  • Preserve crisp detail in finished pieces without becoming fuzzy, distorted messes over time
  • Can allow delicate details like free-standing lace floral elements to retain intricate beauty despite handling

In short, using proper stabilizers for machine embroidery makes or breaks results. Without suitable support, you risk ruined fabric and wasted effort from lack of insurance. Protect your vision – reinforce embroideries appropriately!

Major Embroidery Stabilizer Categories

Various specialty niche stabilizer options exist, but three categories constitute the bulk used for most embroidery endeavors:


As the name suggests, cutaway stabilizers get cut off flush with finished stitchwork rather than removed completely. The strong fiber bonding keeps the backing permanently adhered to projects for ongoing design support across years of wearing and washing.

Cutaways prove essential for fabric prone to stretching and rubber-banding – think knits, jerseys, and anything flexibly textured where tension could warp unattended embroidery over time. They effectively lock in stitch orientations and prevent distortion by stabilizing dimensions despite the original material’s behavior. Consider cutaways the hardcore reinforcement for wildcards.

For items making direct skin contact, soft cutaway stabilizers utilize brushed, low-irritation fibers that avoid prickliness or itchiness. Great for stabilizing the inside of clothing, bedding, and other embroidered textiles worn on the body. The brushed fibers keep the necessary structure without discomfort.


As inferred by the name, washaway stabilizers completely dissolve in water! No need to cut, tear, or scrape away backing remnants – simply rinse finished embroidery under warm running water until the stabilizer disappears altogether. Traces wash away without any annoying residue or stiffness left behind to crunch up the gorgeous drape of the fabric.

This stabilizer category excels for projects involving transparent, super lightweight, or delicately textured material where other stabilizers would negatively impact hand feel or visibility under the surface. Think organza overlays, fine laces, floats, and meshes that demand subtle reinforcements. The temporary supportive nature also enables intricate dimensional embroidery like free-standing floral sprigs or vines by providing structure without shadows.

Some washaway stabilizers come as iron-on products for ease of adhesion. Simply iron them onto fabric as needed rather than struggling with spray adhesives or liquid glues and their messiness/positioning challenges. The heat bonding allows adjustment/repositioning before being set unlike permanent liquid glues. Convenient!

Embroidery Embellished Skirt Course
Embroidery Embellished Skirt


As plainly described in the name, tearaway stabilizers…tear away! Fibers cling together enough to temporarily support embroidery with decent rigidity but aren’t bonded. That allows you to tear away excess backing easily after stitchwork finishes without risking damage to surrounding fabric or threads.

Tearaways generally serve non-stretchy stable woven textiles like your cottons, poplins, and linens admirably as go-to stabilizer choices. These classics benefit from the extra structural reinforcement during stitching and then cleanly lose the support afterward, thanks to purposeful perforation built into tearaway. Consider the tearaway the versatile workhorse suitable for most stable/low-flex embroidery projects.

Various specialty tearaways exist, like water-activated and heat-activated versions, for alternative adhesion methods beyond liquid glues or spray adhesives when positioning. And non-directional perforation patterning allows both vertical and horizontal tearing without bias.

How To Select Embroidery Backing

Your stabilizer selection plays a significant role in determining the success or failure of machine embroidery projects. Consider these key factors when deciding which foundation best fits needs:

  • Fabric Flexibility/Stretch – Stretch-prone knits demand cutaway, stable wovens suit tearaways generally
  • Design Density – Higher stitch counts necessitate more rigid support to prevent tunneling of fibers; go heavier
  • Visibility – Does backing need to remain unseen through lighter-weight translucent fabrics?
  • End Use – Will the project undergo extensive abrasion and laundering, requiring permanent stabilization?

Quick tips on pairing common fabric types with appropriate stabilizer choices:

  • Non-stretchy stable wovens – Use tearaway as primary support
  • High stretch knits/flexible apparel – Go with a cutaway to lock in designs
  • Sheer fabrics like organzaWashaway prevents shadowing through the material
  • Textured/napped fabrics – Apply the wash-away topping to float over stitch zones


To get creative and control your materials, combine tearaway and cutaway together for the same embroidery project requiring both permanent and temporary stabilization.

Working With Stabilizers

Once you select project-appropriate stabilizers, proper technique goes a long way:

  • Fuse cutaway/tearaway options to fabrics via adhesive or iron-on versions when possible for stability and to prevent distortion
  • Always hoop fabric layer and stabilizer together as a sandwich for embroidery rather than just stabilizer alone
  • For challenging fabrics, float multiple sheer stabilizer layers underneath as needed for supplemental support
  • Carefully trim away excess cutaway/tearaway flush with stitching perimeter after embroidery finishes
  • Fully rinse away any lingering water-soluble wash-away stabilizer
  • Take the time to test stabilization approaches on scraps before stitching irreplaceable materials!

With quality stabilizer and purposeful precision, machine embroidery unlocks new creative potential for all skill levels. Reinforce your fabric foundations and watch visions take embellished dimensions.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully, this breakdown demystifies stabilizer selection for machine embroidery and provides insights on properly leveraging this crucial supporting ingredient for success. Proper backing makes the difference between ruined fabric and durable works of embroidered art.

What future masterpieces will you stitch up next with this improved grasp on stabilizer wisdom? Any specialty techniques you look forward to exploring further? Share your grand visions in the comments!

Frequently Asked Questions

What stabilizer to use for machine embroidery?

When choosing a stabilizer for machine embroidery, it’s essential to consider the fabric and design complexity. For lightweight fabrics like cotton, a tear-away stabilizer works well. Medium-weight fabrics benefit from a cut-away stabilizer, providing long-lasting support. Water-soluble stabilizers are ideal for delicate fabrics like organza. Experiment and match stabilizers to your specific project needs for optimal results.

What are stabilizers in embroidery?

Stabilizers in embroidery are materials that provide support and structure to the fabric during the stitching process. They prevent distortion, puckering, and stretching, ensuring that the embroidered design remains crisp and professional. Stabilizers come in various types, including tear-away, cut-away, and water-soluble, each serving a specific purpose based on the fabric and embroidery design.

What is the best stabilizer for machine embroidery on felt?

When embroidering on felt, a cut-away stabilizer is highly recommended. Felt is a dense fabric, and a cut-away stabilizer provides the necessary stability without the risk of the design pulling or distorting the fabric. Choose a cut-away stabilizer suitable for the weight of your felt and ensure it covers the entire design area for optimal support.

What can I use instead of an embroidery stabilizer?

If you find yourself without an embroidery stabilizer, alternatives include using lightweight muslin fabric or even tulle netting. These materials offer some support during the stitching process. However, keep in mind that they may not provide as much stability as dedicated stabilizers. Experiment with small samples to determine the best substitute for your specific project.

What is the best type of stabilizer?

The best type of stabilizer depends on the fabric and the intricacy of the embroidery design. Tear-away stabilizers are suitable for lightweight fabrics, cut-away stabilizers work well with medium to heavyweight fabrics, and water-soluble stabilizers are ideal for delicate fabrics. Experiment with different types to find the best match for your specific embroidery project.

Image Reference

  • Featured Image – Ricoma TV (2021). Using the WRONG stabilizer can RUIN your embroidery [Video]. YouTube.