Embroidery Stabilizer Basics

What is Embroidery Stabilizer?

Embroidery Stabilizer, also known as embroidery backing, does just exactly what the name says it does; it stabilizes the fabric. Generally, stabilizer is placed underneath the fabric to be embroidered and hooped together with the fabric. The stabilizer keeps the fabric from moving, puckering, or stretching during the embroidery process. It also helps keep the embroidery looking good after embroidery by adding stability to the fabric. After washing or wearing the item, the stabilizer will help keep the stitches in place.

Without stabilizer, embroidery designs will have puckers, holes in the fabric, and alignment problems, like gapping between the fills and the outlines of the designs.

Stabilizers are made from a mix of materials, and the mix will vary depending on the type of stabilizer. In general, stabilizers are made from polyester fibers, cellulose and other binders. How these are combined and in what ratios is part of what gives us different types and feels of stabilizer.

All OESD’s stabilizers are made with a non-directional process, which means they are equally strong in all directions. Most stabilizers are non-woven material, made in a process where the fibers are smoothed into a single consistent layer. Because of this, it is does not matter which direction you cut or hoop your stabilizer, as there is no grain to the material. For tear-away stabilizers, this non-directional feature also means that the stabilizer will tear evenly in all directions.

When selecting embroidery stabilizer, it is important to look for consistency in the fibers. If you hold the stabilizer up to the light and you can see obvious inconsistencies, those lighter areas will provide less support than the thicker areas, which can result in alignment issues with your design.

What makes OESD stabilizers different?

OESD stabilizers are developed by our team of embroidery experts with many years’ experience in both commercial and home embroidery. Each stabilizer is thoroughly tested for quality and ease of use before it is given the OESD name. OESD stabilizers do not stretch in any direction, ensuring good quality embroidery, even on knits. You will notice the high quality and consistency of OESD stabilizers, as well as their versatility for a variety of projects. OESD stabilizers are designed to be the foundation on which you can build quality embroidery!

Why are there so many kinds of stabilizer?

Different stabilizers are made to work with different applications, and choosing the right stabilizer is a dependent on many different factors. Some of these factors include:

  • Fabric choice: the weight and type of the fabric
  • Design density: how many stitches the design has over a given area
  • How the Project will be embroidered: whether the stabilizer can be hooped
  • The desired finished result: whether the back of the fabric shows, fabric is sheer, etc.

What are the types of stabilizer?

There are three major categories of stabilizer. Stabilizers are generally categorized first by how they are removed: cut away, tear away, or wash away. In addition to these three major categories, some items fall into a specialty category, as they either stay in the project or are tools to help with the embroidery process.

In addition to how they are removed, stabilizers are also categorized by other factors. The first is stabilizer weight, such as light, medium, or heavy weight stabilizer. Stabilizers are also identified by their texture – some stabilizers have been specially manufactured to have a smooth or soft finish. In some cases, stabilizers are also identified by their application, such as a pressure sensitive or water-activated adhesive.

How do I select the stabilizer weight?

There are some basic guidelines to selecting stabilizer weight. The heavier the fabric, the heavier the stabilizer that should be used. The heavier or denser the design, the heavier the stabilizer is needed. In many cases, two layers of a lighter stabilizer are better than a single layer of a heavier stabilizer, especially when stitching a heavy design on a lighter weight fabric.

How do I select the stabilizer type?

Selecting a stabilizer type is in part based on personal preference, but each type has features that make it suited for particular types of projects.

Cut Away stabilizer is used anytime the fabric stretches. Because the fabric stretches, unless it is supported by a cut away stabilizer, the embroidery will also stretch. Cut away will keep the stitches in place and prevent them from breaking or distorting after embroidery. Using a cut away will give the stitches a permanent home so they can always stay in place during washing and wear.

For the same reason, loosely woven fabrics, such as afghan fabric, should also be stitched using a cut away. The loose weave of the fabric will cause the embroidery to distort without a cut away stabilizer.

For beginning embroiderers, using a cut away stabilizer will give the best results in terms of stitch quality. While it is primarily used for knit fabrics, it can be used on almost any type of fabric and provides the most support, giving the best quality stitch-out with clean alignment. Cut away stabilizers hold the most stitches of all the types of stabilizer. For example, a medium weight cut away could support as many stitches as a heavy weight tear away. For designs with a high stitch count or very detailed outlines, cut away may be the best choice.

Use cut away stabilizer on jersey knit, t-shirts, sweatshirts, knit kids’ clothing, and denim or twill weave. Also, consider using cut away stabilizer on other wearables. Many modern wearables, even wovens, are made with stretch, and even no-stretch garments can use the extra stability of cut away as they will be washed and worn.

When removing cut away, cut the stabilizer about ¼” from the edge of the embroidery, being careful not to cut the fabric while trimming the stabilizer. It is best not to cut the stabilizer closer than ¼”, as it is easy to nick the stitches, and trimming the stabilizer this close can cause a ridge around the embroidery.


Tear away stabilizers are used in projects where most of the stabilizer needs to be removed, such as towels and linens. Tear away stabilizer can support more stitches than wash away, but not as many as a cut away.

Tear away stabilizer is often preferred because it is easy to remove and gives a cleaner look to the back of the embroidery. Tear away stabilizers are ideal for woven fabrics without stretch. This includes chambray, poplin, quilt cottons, and most satins.

Tear away is a common choice for appliqué designs because of its clean finish. The appliqué fabric in an appliqué design provides some stability to the project, so a lighter stabilizer can often be used.

Tear away stabilizers can also be used in other types of applications, such as decorative stitching on a sewing machine, or for stabilizing buttonholes.

When removing tear away, support the stitches with one hand as you tear away the stabilizer with the other. The tear away stabilizer should be removed from the outside of the design, but can be left in the open areas on the inside of a design.


Wash away stabilizers are made from a chemical starch that dissolves completely in water. When rinsed fully, the stabilizer is completely removed from the fabric.

If a fabric is sturdy and the design is light enough, a wash away can be used as the primary stabilizer. For sheer fabrics, such as organza or batiste, wash away stabilizer is the best choice, as even a tear away stabilizer will show on these projects.

Wash away toppings create a smooth surface for embroidery with fabrics containing a pile or nap; By laying a piece of wash-away stabilizer over the top of the fabric to be embroidered, the stitches can form over the top of the fabric and look smooth and even without sinking in to the fabric.

Wash away is removed by rinsing it under warm running water. Rinse the project completely before allowing it to dry, as the starch in the stabilizer can stiffen the fabric if it is not rinsed out.

Wash away is also used on in the hoop projects like freestanding lace or appliqué.


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