Embroidery Stabiliser - how and when to use it

When do I use which embroidery stabiliser?

Today we want to give you an introduction to the different types of stabiliser and explain which to use when. As a beginner you can be daunted by the specialist terminology. We didn’t feel any different when we started out with machine embroidery.

The most important question: Do I need stabiliser for each and every project?

The answer to this question is a clear and simple YES. You ALWAYS need stabiliser, no matter what you are embroidering onto because the stabiliser does exactly that – it stabilises whatever you are embroidering onto and thus ensures a good result. So right here at the beginning, we would like to make an important point - please use embroidery stabiliser and not, as you sometimes read in various groups, kitchen roll or garden (weed) fleece from the hardware store just because it is (said to be) cheaper. Embroidery machines are high quality and sensitive machines which are not exactly cheap to buy – it doesn’t make sense to go cheap on the attachments and supplementary equipment. Kitchen roll and garden fleece are not suitable for machine embroidery and will damage your machine. So, please, always use embroidery stabiliser.

What types of stabiliser are there?

You can get tear-away, cut-away, some of which are iron-on, water-soluble (WSS) in fabric form (non-woven) or film, and adhesive stabiliser.

What to look out for when buying stabiliser

There are so many offers on the market, lots that sound good because the price is low, for example. However, there are also large differences in the quality, which can be seen particularly well with cut-away stabiliser. A stabiliser should have good, uniform quality. When you hold it up to the light there should be no holes or lighter areas. The lighter areas are often to be found in the cheaper stabilisers, see photo.

Then there are stabilisers in differing lengths and widths. There are rolls which are 90cm wide, andalso 38cm or 22cm wide. You can usually choose the length of the roll when ordering. There are also pre-cuts available and starter sets for beginners. The starter sets usually include one sheet of each type of stabiliser and a description of when and how to use them. This introduces you to the individual stabilisers and you can touch and feel them. We bought sets like this when we started out so that we could get a feeling for the different stabilisers and their structures.

When do I use which stabiliser?

I will describe the stabilisers which we use:


The usual weight is 50g and is used mainly as a temporary stabiliser for medium to heavy-weight, non-stretch fabrics such as woven fabrics or synthetic leather. It will not stretch or distort stitches.Most ITH projects call for tear-away, but check the instructions as they will usually include a recommendation on which stabiliser to use. Tear-away is also available weighing 80g, which we use when an embroidery project includessatinstitch, for example. It es even more effective in avoiding slipping, sliding, puckering and stretching of fabrics. Iron-on versions have a coating with weak adhesive effect, allowing removal without residue.All tear-aways are easy to remove once you have completed your stitching the embroidery - you carefully tear it away either horizontally or vertically.


Cut-away stabilisers are permanent stabilisers andare also available in different weights, 40g, 65g and 80g. They are used to stabilise particularly garments during and after embroidery. A rule which you can keep in mind is: If you wear it, don’t tear it. Cut-aways are perfect for designs and fabrics that stretch or distort, such as knits and synthetics. The heavier weighted cut-aways are well suited for dense stitching, when different colours are stitched on top of each other (logos, for example), and when you want to be sure that the fabric doesn’t pucker, or that the fabric, and thus the design, doesn’t shift.You carefully trim the excess stabiliser away to the stitching line but don’t totally remove it.

Non-woven water-soluble (WSS)

This stabiliser looks like fabric, like the afore-mentioned types, but can be washed out. It is designed to stabilise delicate, washable fabric. But another example of its use is towels and also clothing, such as fleece jackets, and quilt blocks (for table runners). Use it on projects that require the complete removal of the stabiliser.As with all stabilisers, this also needs to be tightened in your hoop until it sounds like a drum when you flick it. The stabiliser disappears completely, leaving no residue, when you wash it so the fabric is not hard either.

WSS is also used for FSL (free-standing lace). FSL designs are designed specifically for this purpose and are embroidered directly onto the stabiliser and not onto fabric. Once the stitching is complete, you bathe the item for 5-10 minutes in lukewarm water and are left with just the embroidery thread as lace, see photo.

WSS film (eg Avalon)

You use this water-soluble film to achieve “clean“ embroidery on fabrics with high pile, such as terry towelling, fleece or velvet. This is why you use it as a topper - you place it on top of the fabric. It’s best to be generous about this and, if necessary, to tape it down. Once finished, you can easily tear it off. Any remnants can be washed out. WSS film avoids the embroidery design sinking into the pile or nap and the embroidery foot getting caught.So a WSS film is a must when embroidering towels.It’s also useful for high-pile appliqués, such as fur or long beards.

Note from personal experience: Most wash-away films are made of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). I react to this with itchy skin and respiratory problems. Should you experience similar problems, check the market for alternatives.

Adhesive stabiliser

Use adhesive stabiliser when you can’t hoop the fabric or item, when you want to avoid hoop burn on delicate or sensitive fabrics (suede, velvet, silk,…). You can also try it with jersey, for example, or smallobjects like felt labels so that they don’t shift. Odd-shapes which can’t be hooped can be floated without shifting.It is important to use the correct needle together with adhesive stabiliser. It should be coated so that the needle doesn’t get sticky. There are anti-glue needles available.

The adhesive stabiliser is hooped with the protective masking paper side up and then you score the masking paper with a needle, without damaging the stabiliser fleece, and peel the masking paper back to expose the adhesive. The hoop still holds the stabiliser and masking paper at the edge. Finger press the fabric onto the adhesive.

An alternative to adhesive stabiliser is to use temporary glue, usually as a spray. You spray the temporary glue onto the stabiliser in the hoop. Make sure that you spray far enough away from your embroidery machine so as not to harm the machine in any way.