Let’s Talk Embroidery Stabilizers

Several of my friends have recently purchased embroidery machines and have asked “what stabilizer do I need to get started”. Those of us who have done embroidery a while know the answer to this is “it depends.” I thought I would break it down into some none-brand guidelines to help them get started.

Let’s start with why you need stabilizer when doing machine embroidery. Stabilize helps support the fabric to keep it from puckering or stretching when you add all those stitches to an area. The more dense the design, the more sturdy the stabilizer needs to be.

Types of Stabilizer

  • Cutaway
    • the most stable
    • usually for knits or stretchy fabrics
    • best for high stitch count designs
    • stays in the garment
  • Tearaway
    • great for stable fabrics
    • usually less expensive than cutaway
    • good stability
    • excess is removed from around the design after stitching
  • Washaway
    • washes away after design is stitched
    • used for sheer fabrics and stand-alone lace or cutwork


Cutaway stabilizer is available in heavy weight or medium weight. It is also available as a fusible or a non-fusible product. When you fuse the stabilizer to the fabric, you are providing an additonal level of stability to your fabric. Excess fusible stabilizer can be gently pulled away from the fabric and cut away so you do not wind up with a big square of stabilizer behind your design.

Polymesh or nylon stabilizer is also a cutawa product. This is lighter weight and does not show thru your garment. It is good for sheer or thin fabrics and is soft next to the skin. It is available in fusible and non-fusible and is a favorite for those embroidering on knits or t-shirts.


Tearaway stabilizer is also available in a variety of weights. Heavy weight is good for designs with higher stitch counts. Medium weight is the most commonly used stabilizer and is good for a variety of fabrics and designs with medium to high stitch counts. Light weight tearaway is great for designs with low stitch count or lots of run stitches. No matter which tearaway you use, you should tear the excess stabilizer away from the design gently. I usually pull at an angle to the stitches and hold close to the stitches so they are not distorted as I remove the stabilizer. I like to use my weeding pick to get into those hard to reach areas.


Washaway mesh stabilizer is the most stable of the washaway products. It is used for designs with very high stitch count, like stand-alone lace. Clear washaway is also used for stand-alone lace. It is also used with fine fabrics or open weave fabrics, like netting. Cut away the excess stabilizer before washing away the stabilizer. Often two layers of washaway are used when sewing dense designs or stand-alone lace. If I am sewing stand-alone lace (like ornaments or bookmarks), I usually wash away all the visible stabilizer but do not soak it completely away … this adds a little stability to the finished lace.


Topper are usually sold in the stabilizer section of your favorite sewing store but they are NOT stabilizers! They are used on top of the fabric to help control fabrics with a nap or raised surfaces like terrycloth loops, velvets, corduroy or fake fur. They provide a level surface for the stitches so they do not sink into the fabric and disappear.

Washaway topper is clear and looks like plastic wrap from the kitchen. It is good for napped fabrics and for sheer fabrics. Once the design is stitched it can be gently torn away from the design. To remove stubborn pieces or pieces in small areas, wet a cotton swab and dab at the area. When the garment is washed, all residual topper will be washed away.

Heataway topper is also clear. It frequently has a smooth side and a bumpy side and goes on the garment with the bumpy side down. Once the design is stitched, it can be gently torn away from the design. Stubborn areas are removed by using a your iron on medium heat. Gently touch the tip of the iron to the stubborn area and the topper will disappear. The topper under the stitches will remain in the garment as long as direct heat is not applied.

“Sticky” Stabilizers

Tearaway and washaway stabilizers can be adhesive backed and non-adhesive backed. Those that are adhesive backed are great for those “hard to hoop” items like towels or other thick items. They are also used with items that are too small to be hooped — socks, ribbon, webbing for keychains, caps, or the edges of napkins. If your machine has a “baste in the hoop” feature, I recommend that you use it to help secure the garment to the stabilizer.

Pressure-activated stabilizers have a slick paper side that is placed face up in the hoop. This paper is then scored and removed, exposing the sticky part of the stabilizer. Use firm but gentle pressure to apply the garment to the stabilizer.

Water-activated stabilizers are hooped with the glue side up. Activate the glue with water …. I used a dampened cloth to activate the glue without drenching it.

Final Tips

All this information is designed to help you get started. You will find the products and brands you like best. Every stabilizer line has a variety of products and some have specialty products like a washaway-tearaway combination. Be sure to read the instructions provided with each stabilizer to get the best result.

Bottom line, stabilizers are designed to make your embroidery look great. You can use them in combination with each other and you can mix cutaway and tearaway products to get the best result.

  • If the design is dense you can use more than one piece of stabilizer.
  • If using two pieces of stabilizer, place them at 90 degree angles to each other for added stability.
  • Use a floater. This is a piece of tearaway stabilizer that you slide under the hoop on the bed of the machine for additional stability.

I hope this helps those of you new to embroidery and maybe acts as a refresher for those of you who have been doing embroidery for a while.

Be sure to join my FB group, Libby’s Craft and Sewing Group, and post pictures of your creations!

Until next time,

Happy crafting!!