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Machine Embroidery & Stabilizers?

There is no question that making dolls ITH (in-the-hoop) on a domestic or industrial embroidery machine is one of the fastest ways to scale your doll business production. However, there are so many other reasons why machine embroidery doll making is so wonderful. (Make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom of this lesson to download the FREE Embroidery Machine pattern so you can practicing testing out some of this new information!)

Here are just a few:

  1. Even stitch lengths

  2. Perfect shaped body parts and heads

  3. Safe and secure embroidery stitches

  4. Speed

  5. Beginner friendly

  6. Multi-tasking - while the machine is stitching out you can be stuffing a limb.

Therefore, with an increase in domestic machine embroidery users, the embroidery stabilizer industry has also grown. Let's take a DEEP DIVE into what stabilizers can really make a difference and when and where!

Embroidery stabilizers are materials that are used in machine embroidery in order to hold the fabric in place during stitching. This helps prevent puckering and stretching of your fabrics.

However, did you know that the quality of your embroidery depends heavily on the use of embroidery stabilizers and weight of your bobbin thread?

Using a stabilizer ensures that your stitches remain intact, secure and your machine runs smoothly. The right stabilizer also helps the longevity of your stitches and wear and tear they receive. Especially important if the doll you are creating is designed with the intent to be used and loved by a child.

Knowing how important the stabilizer is in machine embroidery, let's discuss how to choose the right one for your particular embroidery project.


How To Choose Embroidery Stabilizers?

Each stabilizer has it's own unique abilities, purposes, texture and weight. Therefore it is understandable that choosing the right one for your project can become overwhelming.

Let's talk about some factors you need to consider before filling your embroidery hoop with a stabilizer:

1 ) Fabric Selection

Different fabrics require different types of stabilizers. When choosing a stabilizer, you need to consider your fabric’s density, elasticity and how it is washed.

Often light fabrics are used with lightweight stabilizers while heavy fabrics are used with heavy stabilizers.

However, it is important to note that stretchy fabrics are used with heavy stabilizers. This is because these fabrics tend to move around a lot and therefore need a heavy material to hold them in place.

It is also important to choose a stabilizer that can withstand the amount of use, wear and tear and washing and drying that your finished doll will endure.

2 ) Stitching Density

The more the stitches and the more detailed your design is, the heavier and sturdier the stabilizer you need. For example, I often use (2) stabilizers on my doll's faces. On is a general tear away so my doll can have the softness of a rag doll after and the inner most piece in a heavier cut away so the face stitches hold true without stretch or distortion.

Areas such a limbs or ears etc that have much less detail and light stitching details can handle a light-weight stabilizer (which is almost always more economical as well).

3 ) Ease Of Hooping

For projects that are not easy to hoop, it is advisable to spray on some adhesive stabilizer. This is the easiest way to keep the fabric stable.

4 ) End Use and Longevity of The Project

When choosing a stabilizer, it is important to choose one that will not negatively affect the end use and longevity of the project.


Types Of Embroidery Stabilizers

There are four types of embroidery stabilizers.

  1. Cut-away

  2. Wash-away

  3. Tear-away

  4. Heat-away

They are named according to the method by which they are removed.

Please note: these types of stabilizers come in different forms and weights which include

fusible, non-fusible and adhesive backed.

1 ) Cut-away stabilizers

These stabilizers are permanent and resist stretching. They are the most stable type of stabilizers.

They are usually made of meshed fabric and their tightly packed mesh nature makes them strong in all directions.

After embroidery is finished, the excess stabilizer is cut off.

However, the stabilizer material under the design stitches remains with the embroidery for its lifetime. This offers permanent support that prevents pulled and sagging stitches.

This prevents puckering, gapping and shifting. Cut-away stabilizers can be used with all types of fabrics.

However, when dealing with stretchy fabrics, cut-away stabilizers are the only option.

This type of stabilizer is perfect for knits, loosely woven fabrics, and densely stitched embroidery designs.

These stabilizers come in different colors and weight categories. These weight categories are listed below:

  • Heavyweight: these are the heaviest and therefore provide the strongest support. They are the best suited for densely stitched designs. They are also good for heavy-duty projects.

  • Medium weight: these are neither light nor heavy. They are used for most embroidery projects. This is because they are not as stiff as their heavyweight counterparts but offer more support than the light ones. They are perfect for medium weight fabrics.

  • Lightweight: these are light and soft. These gentle-to-feel cut-away stabilizers are best used with lightweight fabrics and lightweight stretchy fabrics.

It is important to note that all three weight categories of cut-away stabilizers come in fusible and non-fusible forms.

The non-fusible forms attach to the fabric upon ironing. This eliminates the need for any other type of adhesive.

2 ) Tear-away stabilizers

As their name suggests, these stabilizers are torn away from the fabric after embroidery is complete.

These temporary stabilizers are mostly used when you want to remove most of the excess stabilizer from the back of your embroidery.

They can be used with most fabrics but are unsuitable for stretchy and sheer fabrics.

As much as they give a neater, more finished look, they don’t offer as much support as cut-away stabilizers.

Additionally, they easily experience wear and tear over time due to laundering of the fabric.

They also come in different weight categories. These categories are heavy weight, medium weight and light-weight. All these weight categories of tear-away stabilizers are soft and pliable.

The different forms of tear-away stabilizers

Tear-away stabilizers come in fusible, non-fusible and adhesive backed forms.

The fusible form is attached to the fabric by ironing it at low temperatures. These iron-on stabilizers should not be used when dealing with a tightly packed row of stitches. In this case, they will be difficult to remove.

There also exist tear-away stabilizers that disintegrate in water, therefore simplifying the separation process. On the other hand, there are water activated ones that stick to the fabric upon wetting.

There are also flame-retardant tear-away stabilizers. These are made from propylene and are perfect for embroidering children’s pajamas or toys just a dolls!!!

Additionally, colored vinyl tear-away stabilizer is a unique type of tear-away stabilizer that prevents the color of the base fabric from being seen through the embroidery.

This type of embroidery is in the form of a plastic-like film and is permanent. Needless to say, there are many options when it comes to tear-away stabilizers.

3 ) Wash-away stabilizers

These temporary stabilizers are water soluble and are therefore removed from fabrics by dissolving them in water.

They are used in the instances where you will need to remove all traces of stabilizer from the fabric.

They are mainly used for specialty fabrics, unique embroidery designs, and delicate mesh-like fabrics.

These stabilizers do not allow for designs with a lot of stitches. They also should not be used with fabric that isn’t washable.

The different kinds of wash-away stabilizers

They come in different forms such as soluble paper sheets, brush-on, and sprayable liquid. The brush-on and spray-on stabilizers are applied on top of the fabric to form a translucent film.

These wash-away stabilizers get dry and brittle when exposed to air and begin to dissolve when exposed to humid conditions.

How to remove liquid stabilizers from fabrics

To remove these stabilizers from your fabric, you can either soak the fabric in water, use a spray bottle to mist the stabilizer or wash the fabric under warm running water.

Rinsing should be done until there is no trace of stabilizer left.

If some stabilizer is left in the fabric, it will become stiff. This is easy to notice especially when dealing with lace. The more you rinse the fabric, the softer it becomes.

This stiffness associated with wash-away stabilizers is the main reason you should not apply a lot of it on the fabric you are embroidering.

4 ) Heat-away stabilizers

These are stabilizers that are removed from a fabric by use of heat. They are mainly used for fabrics that can’t be washed such as velvet, satin and some forms of corduroy.

Special techniques such as making lace on an edge also require the use of heat-away stabilizers.

They come in woven and plastic-like film forms. The woven ones crumble when heated using an iron. You should, however, make sure you never use a steam iron when dealing with these woven stabilizers. This is because the chemical used to make these stabilizers is water soluble. Once this chemical dissolves in water, it can seep into the fabric and the ironing surface. This leads to crumbling of the fabric upon heating.

Plastic-like film heat-away stabilizers are applied as toppings. This means they are placed on top of the fabric instead of below it. They are mainly used in cases where stitches tend to get lost in a dense nap or pile.

The stabilizer just beneath the stitches remains intact permanently, offering support during washings. The stabilizer on the other areas is however removed from the fabric by heating with an iron.


How To Store Stabilizers?

Wash-away and heat-away stabilizers should be stored in air tight containers because they become stiff when exposed to air.

All stabilizers should ideally be stored in the packaging they came in because they are labeled.

If you don’t have this packaging anymore, you should store your stabilizers in transparent containers. These containers should be labeled.


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