Stabilizers: not just for embroidery

Firming things up

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If you own an embroidery machine, chances are you have a drawer full of different types of stabilizers needed for your embellishment. However, if you don't have an embroidery machine, you may not think you need stabilizer, but think again!

What is the stabilizer?

Simple answer: something to temporarily put behind or on top of the fabric to stabilize it while sewing. Since machine embroidery uses dense stitches and lots of thread, stabilizers help eliminate puckering.

Stabilizers are available in a variety of constructions: from woven to non-woven to mesh, film and liquid. They have a variety of application methods, from sew-on to iron-on to self-adhesive. And they have a variety of removal methods, from cutting and tearing to heat shrinkage and water soluble. Check your store's offerings for a multitude of construction, application and removal methods to combine.

Note that most stabilizers are designed to be temporary, while similar products called interfaces are meant to be permanent. Stabilizers can also become permanent additions to your project.

So even if you're not doing embroidery…you need stabilizer too! Here's why:

Decorative stitching Some fabrics can pucker and warp, and if the stitches are particularly large, they can cause “tunneling,” meaning the edges of the stitches move closer together. Using a stabilizer underneath can help eliminate these problems. Another option is to use a liquid stabilizer to stiffen the fabric before sewing, then wash it after sewing.

Appliedeespecially on lightweight fabrics or knits, can also cause puckering. So place a stabilizer under the area you are working on to prevent the appliqué and base fabric from wrinkling.

Beads and sequins can cause distortion due to the extra weight, so adding a stabilizer under the area will help with support. This is an area where a stabilizer can be left on permanently.

Add a stabilizer to support the weight of the beads

Offset seams can wreak havoc with your sewing machine, as well as the edge of the fabric, so if you're trying to sew a scalloped or picot border, lay a piece of washable stabilizer under the edge and extending about ½”. Once finished sewing, remove the stabilizer leaving only your delicately sewn edge.

Picot Edge (image courtesy of Bernina)

Overlock rolled hems Sometimes let pesky fabric threads pass through the serger threads, but if you wrap the edge in a narrow strip of water-soluble stabilizer before sewing, those pesky threads will be contained. If you are serging a regular sewn edge, a liquid stabilizer along the edge of the fabric will help keep it flat.

Buttonholes Sometimes stretch, despite our best interfacing efforts, but adding a strip of stabilizer to the top and bottom of the fabric can help minimize distortion. A transparent stabilizer film is ideal for this purpose. This technique also works well for buttonholes and seams on textured fabric, such as a looped or loosely woven suit, where the threads or picots of the fabric can snag on the toes of the presser foot. The stabilizer helps achieve smooth seam lines by compressing the surface texture.

Stabilize a buttonhole

Sewing transparent fabrics can be a wrestling match at times, as they tend to slip, slide, and stretch during construction. But with the addition of liquid stabilizer, seam lines can be made stable for sewing and edges firmed for hemming. Stabilizing the fabric itself can also allow for easier and more precise cutting. This assumes your sheer fabric is washable to remove the stabilizer after construction.

SleepingAdding threads, ribbons and trims with controlled or free-motion stitching can also cause distortion of the base fabric, but adding a stabilizer firms up the surface for easier attachment.

Create your own freeform fabric or scarves using just yarn is easy: just sandwich the fibers between layers of washable clear stabilizer. Sew in place, then rinse.

Hem Using a winged needle can sometimes damage fabric because the needle's “wings” can catch on fabric threads and pull them into the needle hole. Liquid stabilizer can eliminate this and create well-defined holes for your design.

Wing Needle (image courtesy of Bernina)

Cutting is a great place to use a stabilizer for cleaner edges on lightweight cottons. Some stabilizers are available in pre-cut sheets specifically for this purpose.

Paper cutting is a great place to use an inkjet printable stabilizer. Simply print several of your quilt blocks and you're ready to stitch on clearly printed lines.

So even if you're not a machine embroiderer, you'll need a drawer with various stabilizers, trust me!

~Linda Griepentrog is the owner of G Wiz Creative Services and she writes, edits, and designs for businesses in the sewing, crafting, and quilting industries. Additionally, she accompanies fabric shopping tours in Hong Kong. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Keith and three dogs, Yohnuh, Abby and Lizzie. Contact her at .

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