About Stabilizers
by Susan Brittingham

Information also available on Fusible Web and Interfacing

Stabilizers are used to improve stitch quality. This is especially important with dense embroidery but also to prevent puckering and tunneling when satin stitching. Stabilizers are generally characterized by their means of removal, hence we have tear-away, wash-away, cut away and heat-away. Each type (except for heat-away) comes in several weights or thicknesses. Use thicker, heavier stabilizers for your densest stitching, lighter weights for lighter stitching. I use mainly tear away and wash away types of stabilizer for the kinds of work I do.

Tear Away is used as a general backing to improve stitch quality when doing applique or embroidery. Like all stabilizers, it helps prevent puckers from dense stitching and tunneling when using a wide zig-zag, satin stitch or other programed stitches. Place the tear away stabilizer on the wrong side of your background fabric and do ALL of your decorative stitching with the stabilizer in place. Tear-away can be removed after the stitching is completed. Tear-away is used to draw your pattern for the Upside-Down Applique method. Tear-away stabilizers often look like thin interfacing, and can be found in different weights for various uses. Uses: Pattern and backing for Upside-Down Applique, all-purpose embroidery stabilizer

Wash-away stabilizer dissolves completely in water. It is used for open work embroidery, needle lace and free-standing thread painted objects. It is the stabilizer of choice when every bit of the stabilizer must disappear. Completely dissolvable stabilizers are used to lay on top of piled fabrics like towels before embroidery. This allows the embroidery design sit on top of the surface instead of sinking into the surface.
Examples include: Solvy, Super Solvy, Fabric-Solvy, Aqua Solve, Romeo, Dissolve from Superior Threads, and many, many more.
Do NOT get water soluble stabilizers wet or work with them with wet hands. Avoid high humidity and store water soluble stabilizer in sealed plastic bags. Water soluble stabilizers often look like thin plastic, Romeo like thick cloudy plastic.
Uses: needle lace, scarves, embroidery topper, heirloom sewing, disappearing quilting guide

There are currently a number of products on the market that partially dissolve in water, leaving fibers behind in the stitching. They might be found labeled as Tear-away-Wash-away. These can be left in your quilt and do not need to be removed. Any un-stitched parts can be removed like tear away. The part that is left is held together with glue that dissolves in water. When rinsed, the glue dissolves leaving soft fibers behind. Use them as a substitute for Tear-away types of stabilizer. Because visible fibers remain, do not use these products for lace work or free-standing objects. They do not wash away completely.
Examples include: Paper Solvy and Ricky Timís Stable Stuff or one that is just called Tear Away-Wash Away. Many of these paper-like stabilizers are printable.

Cut-away type stabilizers are used for dense machine programmed stitching. The stabilizer remains under the stitching, but can be cut away from around the design. Cut-away types are usually heavy and are used to back applique or embroidery on garments.

Heat-soluble stabilizer is perhaps the least used stabilizer and should be saved for special purposes because it is expensive and has some associated problems*. It is used when fabrics or thread are water-sensitive but can tolerate heat. It will disintegrate completely when heated with a iron. This type of stabilizer is often called "Vanishing Muslin". In appearance it looks like a very loosely woven but stiff muslin or heavy, stiff cheesecloth.

*The known problem that exists for heat soluble stabilizer is chemical migration. Chemicals are used that make the base fabric turn brown and disintegrate with heat. If the vanishing muslin gets wet, these chemicals can migrate into surrounding fabrics. When the surrounding fabrics are later heated, they can also disintegrate.

Finally, there are stabilizers of each type that have adhesive properties and can be ironed onto your fabric. The bond is usually temporary.

There are a number of supplies often mistaken for stabilizer.

  1. Freezer paper is NOT a stabilizer. It is better not to leave freezer paper in your quilt because of the plastic backing. It is not a good tear-away "stabilizer" because is made to resist tearing. It is, however, great for making templates that will temporarily adhere to fabric.
  2. Interfacing is used in garment construction to stiffen collars plackets and cuffs, or as a base for tailoring. Interfacing varies from very lightweight to very stiff depending on its use. Timtex is (and similar products such as Fast to Fuse are) actually a form of interfacing that is used sometimes in quilting crafts to make very stiff objects like notebook covers, bowls, postcards and small quilts.
  3. Fusible Web is a mesh of fibers used to join two layers of fabric together. Follow the link for more about fusibles.

Some tips for use of stabilizers in my classes:

  • Use Tear-away as a backing to improve stitching
  • Draw patterns onto Tear-away for use with Upside-Down Applique
  • Attach tear-away to the wrong side of your background fabric
  • Use Wash-away for needle lace and off-surface embroidery or applique
  • Be sure that any stabilizer used for needle lace will dissolve completely
  • Do not remove tear away stabilizer until ALL your decorative stitching is done

Copyright 2010 Susan Brittingham
This information is for personal use only. It may not be copied or distributed without permission and attribution.

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Created on : 02/07/10
Last Updated : 08/24/11

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