Enlightened Embroidery: Stabilizers

What goes through your mind when you think about a new embroidery project? Do you struggle with what stabilizer to use? Do you worry that the embroidered design will pucker when completed? Have you almost completed stitching, only to see the last outline stitches aren’t next to the design? Do you just want to throw up your hands and never machine embroider again? Never fear! We have answers to your questions, and a step-by-step approach to keep you sewing smoothly and frustration free.

Choosing that gorgeous embroidery design is fun, but only one part of the embroidery process.  The fabric you are embroidering is the most important thing to consider. The fabric characteristics will determine the stabilizer and the type of embroidery design you’ll need to create your project.

Stabilizers do just what their name implies: stabilizing and supporting the fabric during the embroidery process.   The weight and amount of the stabilizer needed depends on the size and stitch count of the design.

Embroidery designs can be dense, with a 5”x5” design containing 30,000 stitches, while a large, light, and airy design might contain 7000 stitches. Understanding how fabric, design, and stabilizer work together will make your embroidery project a success.

There are so many types of fabric available, it can be overwhelming. Don’t worry–most fabrics will fall into these general categories:

Knit/Stretch Fabrics: Knits can be frustrating due to their instability.  They stretch, and generally stretch more in one direction than the other.  They have a tendency to shift while embroidering, which can cause them to pucker.

  • Stabilizer: Because of their instability, stretching, and tendency to move, you need to use a fusible cut-away stabilizer.  Depending on the knit, you may need two layers to stabilize the embroidered design and reduce puckering.
    • We recommend hooping the stabilizer first. Then, using a temporary adhesive such as OESD’s 505 spray, place your knit item on the hoop, aligning it with the aid of the hoop’s template.
    • Use a water-soluble (wash-away) topper and OESD’s Top Cover to help stabilize the top of the fabric during stitching. This stabilizer does not need to be hooped, but does need to be secured.
    • Many times you’ll hear us say “Use a tear-away floater.” This piece of stabilizer is placed under your hoop (not in) and provides a little bit more stability during stitching.  It is recommended you use this floater if the design is larger than 4” x 6” and over 10,000 stitches.
  • Design: When deciding on a design for knits, it is important to check if the design includes an underlay.  This underlay provides a first layer of stitching under the design to help stabilize the knit fabric, and helps prevent shifting during embroidering.  If the design has been properly digitized with the underlay, less “top” stitches are required, thus eliminating some or all of the puckering.


Woven Fabrics:  Woven fabrics are typically much easier to embroider than knits.  Woven fabrics fall into a large range – from denim all the way to organza.  Because they are more stable, our decision making is a little easier.  Note about denim: Remember how you used to lie on the bed to zip up your jeans, but a few hours later they’d be loose? That’s why denim is treated like a stretch fabric for embroidery purposes and requires the use of a cut-away stabilizer.

  • Stabilizer: Tear-away stabilizer is preferred for wovens. This stabilizer comes in many different weights; light, medium, and heavy, as well as white and black.
    • You may still want to use a wash-away topper to help stabilize the design during stitching. The topper helps prevent the design from puckering.
    •  As with knit fabrics, we recommend floating an extra piece of tear-away if the design is larger than 4” x 6” and more than 8,000 stitches.
  • Design: The design should still have an underlay, but may it be lighter than that required for knit fabrics.  If the underlay is too heavy, the embroidered design may be stiff.


Non Fabric Materials: Leather, suede, and vinyl fall into this category.  You may think they are stable, but not so! They do require the use of stabilizers.  They might seem intimidating, but you never know when might get a wild idea to experiment with them!

  • Stabilizer: Leather and vinyl stretch quite a bit.  You will need to use a medium to heavy weight cut-away stabilizer
    • We recommend hooping the stabilizer first. Then, using a temporary adhesive such as OESD 505 spray, place your material on the hoop, aligning it with the aid of the hoop’s template.
  • Design: Make sure your design is not very dense, and that the underlay stitches are at a minimum.  This will help eliminate perforations in the material.

Sheer Fabrics: Sheer fabrics require a little bit of special attention to the stabilizer and design.

  • Stabilizer: A wash-away stabilizer is a must for sheer fabrics.  We recommend OESD Aquamesh.  This stabilizer remains inside the embroidery design once stitched, and the excess stabilizer is dissolved in water.  All that remains is the beautiful embroidery.
    • If the design is large, float another layer of wash-away.
  • Design: The design should be low in density and have very little underlay.  If the design is too dense the embroidery will pucker.

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We hope this gives you an idea of the steps to take to choose the right stabilizer for your project.  As always, if you still have questions, please feel free to contact us ,and we’ll be happy to help.  May the Embroidery forces be with you!


Happy Stitching!

Sharon and Becky



If you are interesting in reading more about stabilizers check out an excellent article, “All About Stabilizers” at