The adage that you can stitch on anything often falls apart when you are using a very fine fabric or a fabric with a very loose weave.
Using a hoop or frame can help you, but often this is still not enough, and that’s where fabric stabilisers come in.
Stabilisers are very commonly used in machine embroidery, and the most common is Vilene – also called woven or fabric interfacing.
Vilene is a product brand, but the name is also commonly used to mean interfacing. In sewing, it is often used under arms and around necklines to help them sit correctly.
Woven interfacing comes in two sorts – iron on and sew in, and various different weights.
For embroidery purposes, iron on works best and in the lightest weight - after all you want a little extra stability, not rigidity.
The most common time you will need fabric stabilisation is when doing heirloom embroidery on very fine fabrics – muslin, silk, etc. In this case, you will have pre-washed and ironed your fabric. You only need to put the stabiliser on the back of the fabric, and it only needs to cover the area you intend to stitch.
For this reason, iron on stabiliser is ideal as you will not need to baste the stabiliser on and then have to remove the basting and carefully cut away any extra stabiliser.
If the piece you are stitching is to be lined, don’t fall into the temptation to use the lining to give extra body to the fabric. You will find that the lining will not smoothly sit over the area to be stitched. In addition, the lining can be used afterwards to cover the back of the stitching, protecting it from rubbing against bare skin or against rougher fabrics.
I often use Vilene to cover the back of stitching on clothing or furnishings for the same reason.
You can also purchase water soluble stabilisers and spray on stabilisers that will vanish in washing. These are excellent if you only need the additional body whilst you stitch and where an interfacing would be obvious on the finished product. For example, handkerchiefs, table napkins, etc.
Tear away stabilisers are available, but these can be very messy and difficult to keep tidy on your work.
Having said all that, there are times when you should use a stabiliser on the front of your fabric – and it should be a wash away stabiliser.
When stitching on any fabric that has loops (terry cloth, velvet, etc) or knits stabilising fabric should be used on the front of the fabric to prevent the loops catching on your stitching.
Using a wash away stabiliser on the front of your stitching can also be useful if you are stitching on a dark fabric. You draw the design on the stabiliser, attach it to the fabric, and stitch through it then wash it away.
You must always remember, however, that the layer of stabiliser will add another layer between your stitching and the front of the fabric so when it is washed away, the stitching will not be as taut as it may otherwise have been. For this reason, it is absolutely essential that you use some sort of hoop or frame to stitch. This will keep your fabric very taut and at an even tension, allowing you to stitch tightly.
Water soluble stabiliser should be removed by hand washing. If you must put it in a washing machine, then put the fabric in a lingerie bag and use a gentle wash. Hand washing, however, will give a much better result.
I never machine embroider without using stabiliser on the back of the fabric I’m stitching – just like I never stitch without using a hoop or frame.
A good result in embroidery is the result of good preparation – and using a fabric stabiliser when necessary is all part of good preparation for stitching.
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© 2010 Megan McConnell