By Lee Fletcher, Sulky Freelance National Educator
Embroidery, whether it is Free Motion or Digitized Embroidery, is a great way to make the ordinary outfit, quilt or fashion accessory extraordinary. Like cooking in the kitchen, there are basic recipes with all sorts of variations. We are going to pass along a few hints for you to use as basics as you expand your cookbook of possibilities.
Let us look at the basic ingredients for your embroidery project:
♦ Threads of various densities. 40 wt. & 30 wt. polyester and rayon are common for embroidery, however, 12wt & 30wt. Cotton Blendables® and Solid Colors are beautiful options along with Sulky’s brand new 60wt. PolyLite™ thread for fine embroidery and lettering and in the bobbin.
♦ A garment, quilt, accessory or whatever you want embroidery onto with a unique thread count.
♦ An embroidery design with varying stitch density.
Think about the fact that your fabric has a thread count, your embroidery has a density of stitches and the thread has its own thickness. You are going to add more thread to a fabric that already has thread in it. The thread going into the fabric needs to have a foundation to keep the fabric from puckering. Your stabilizer is meant to do just that, stabilize the fabric and absorb all of the extra stress of adding the embroidery thread to it.
Now, stabilizers seem to be very confusing to many people. Let’s break them down to their basic ingredients. There are only 4 categories for stabilizers:
- 1. Cut Away (Purple Labeled) stabilizers are designed to be trimmed away after the stitching is done. They protect the outer stitches and are permanent. They are meant for unstable fabrics like knits or soft woven fabrics. Within this category there are several choices to make from very soft to very stiff.
a. Soft ’n Sheer™ is a soft and light stabilizer. It is now available in an iron-on called Soft ’n Sheer Extra.
b. Cut Away Plus™ is a bit sturdier for projects with high density embroidery. It can be used for templates and the insides of handbags and wall hangings.
c. Fuse ’n Stitch™ is a very stiff iron-on that can handle the densest of embroidery. It can also be used inside of purses, purse straps and wall hangings that need to be sturdy.
d. Tender Touch™ is an iron-on, tricot-like fabric and is predominantly used for covering a finished embroidery on the inside of a garment. It is a wonderful interfacing for delicate fabrics like silk, satin, and lightweight cottons and knits. It does not change the hand of the fabric and stretches with the garment.
- 2. Tear Away (Green Labeled) stabilizers do just what the name implies. The stitches perforate the stabilizer and can be torn away when the embroidery is complete. This is not a permanent stabilizer. It is for use with sturdier fabrics like heavier cottons and as an add-on underneath cut-away stabilizers. Following are the Tear Away choices:
a. Tear Easy™ is a soft, lightweight temporary stabilizer. It is easy to tear away when the embroidery is complete. The beauty of Tear Easy is that it is so versatile. It can be combined with other stabilizers and you can use as many layers as needed. Tear each layer away one at a time when the embroidery is complete.
b. Stiffy™ is a crisp and firm medium–weight temporary stabilizer that is used for denser embroideries.
c. Sticky+™ is a non-woven, self-adhesive temporary stabilizer for items that cannot be hooped. Hoop the Sticky+. Score the release sheet and removed and the item is then adhered to the Sticky+ can be used as a backing when painting T-Shirts as it will keep the paint from bleeding through the layers and keeps the knit grain stable while painting.
d. Totally Stable™ is an iron-on that tears away easily. It is also great for making re-useable templates that are repositionable for appliqué and quilt pieces.
- 3. Water Soluble Stabilizers are very versatile. They can be used on the “top” of the embroidery fabric to keep the stitches from sinking down into the fabric. Some people use them just for napped fabrics or knits. I use them 100% of the time. They make the embroidery crisper. Water Soluble stabilizers are temporary and wash away easily. They can also be used for free-motion work or freestanding lace projects. Trace the design onto the stabilizer with a permanent marker, complete your work and the markings wash away with the stabilizer.
a. Solvy® (Blue Labeled) is a light weight soluble which can be used in layers if necessary to achieve the desired results.
b. Super Solvy™ is twice as thick as Solvy for heavier needs. It is great for making thread scarves and bowls. Solvy and Super Solvy can be fused together by layering them and applying a warm iron or misting one layer with water and smoothing another layer over it.
c. Ultra Solvy™ is four times thicker than Solvy.
d. Fabri-Solvy™ is unique in that it has the feel of a soft fabric and is great for cut-work, lace making and appliqué. It washes away very easily (don’t sneeze on it!).
e. PRINTABLE Sticky Fabri-Solvy™ is a self-adhesive with a release sheet that makes it printable. Copy your design onto the PRINTABLE Sticky Fabri-Solvy, stick it onto fabric that will be hand embroidered or sewn with free-motion or other techniques. PRINTABLE Sticky Fabri-Solvy can also be hooped with the release sheet up. Score the release sheet and then stick your fabric or towel to the stabilizer.
f. Paper Solvy™ can be used in an ink jet or bubble jet printer. It is great for copying paper pieced designs onto and stitching them out. By using a short stitch, the “paper is perforated” and tears away easily.
- 4. Heat Away™ (Red Labeled) is a fabulous new stabilizer that just goes away when ironed. There is little or no residue and there is no need to use a pressing sheet to protect the iron. I love it as a topper on towels and fabrics that I don’t want to wet down.
Stabilizers should be stored in air tight containers to keep them fresh, especially the Water Soluble category. Sulky’s clam shell packaging keeps everything sealed and fresh with the directions handy. Sulky labels their Cut Away stabilizers in Purple; Tear Away in Green; Wash Away in Blue and Heat Away in red.
Now you have the ingredients for your embroidery whether it is digitized, free motion or appliqué. These same ingredients are used over and over again. You only need to know the basic guidelines for creating your recipe.
1. Analyze your design.
a. High Density design? Almost always use a Cut Away. The thickness or layers depend on the thread count of the fabric and the density of the stitches. Test the design first on the actual fabric or one with the same fiber content and feel. You can increase or decrease the layers of stabilizer as needed to prevent puckering.
b. Lower Density design? If the fabric is stable and of a high thread count, a Tear Away may be used. Test it first. If the fabric is a knit or unstable woven, it will almost always need a Cut Away. If it needs more than one layer of stabilizer, it may be okay to use a Tear away, but most often there needs to be a Cut Away next to the fabric.
2. Analyze your fabric.
a. Knits almost always require a Cut Away. In addition, it helps to iron on a layer of Tender Touch to the knit and then use the Cut Away. The thickness of the Cut Away will depend upon the density of the design. Test the design first on a like fabric or if you have scraps, use them.
b. Stable woven fabrics may be able to use a Tear Away if the design is not too dense. Test the embroidery first on a like fabric or if you have scraps, use them.
c. Towels are happy with a Tear Away on the wrong side and a water soluble or heat away topper on the top. Some towels do not hoop well. Use Sulky KK 2000™ Temporary Spray Adhesive to adhere it to the hooped stabilizer. Take care to position the towel so that the design is where you want it. Many machines have the ability to adjust the position of the design inside of the hoop, so know your machine. For a perfect, reversible towel, use the same colors in the bobbin as on top and use Sulky Fabri-Solvy as the stabilizer on the bottom. The stabilizer disappears and no stabilizer is showing.
d. Normally hooping fabrics Velvet or Corduroy will leave a mark (hoop burn) that can be difficult to remove. Use Sulky KK2000 to adhere the fabric the chosen stabilizer. Water Soluble stabilizer can be also be used for the stabilizer, but, again, test first.
e. For small objects, Sulky Sticky+™ is great. Never use Sticky on fleece or the right side of napped fabrics.
f. For a name on fleece, a Tear Away is fine. Some stabilizer might remain on the wrong side so for a perfectly clean back side, use Sulky PRINTABLE Sticky Fabri-Solvy. Solvy on the top of the work will keep the stitches from shrinking into the nap of the fleece. Test first.
For design placement, print the design from your computer and position it where it looks best on your garment. If you are working on a collar make sure to consider the fold. If working on a towel, print out the design on paper, fold it like it will be on the towel rack and find the right placement. Mark the fabric where the design will be placed with a disappearing marker or chalk lines.
The consistent ingredient to all of the above is to test first. It saves time and tears, especially if you are working on a purchased garment. If you are testing the design for color and density, it can be stitched out on Sulky Soft ‘n Sheer. When done, trim away the excess stabilizer. From the wrong side, burn the excess stabilizer away using a wood-burning tool or heat-stencil-cutter to eliminate the excess stabilizer. The test design can then be used as an appliqué by sewing it on with Sulky Invisible Thread or fusing with double sided fusible web. It is best, however, to do the test stitch-out on the actual or similar fabric.
Most of all; have fun. What you have here are guidelines. Everyone has their own experience and own opinions about what works best. Testing is the key. Keep a notebook with the ingredients you used in your stitch-outs. In no time, you will have a good idea of the exact mixture of ingredients for success every time. The Sulky books offer more information on embroidery and are full of great instructions for specific projects and fabrics.
Sulky Books for more embroidery information:
Sew, Craft, Quilt and Embroider Confidently™ 900B-19
An Updated Supplement to Sulky’s® Secrets to Successful Stabilizing™ 900B-17
Sulky® Secrets to Successful Embroidery™900-B15