Monday, March 18, 2013

How to be totally stable, Part 1: Water Soluble Stabilizers...


The question of stabilizers crops up in every class I teach.  It doesn't matter whether it is a machine hands on class or an embroidery software class, all of my students have questions on the many stabilizers available on the market.

The information presented is based on my own personal experience. It provides an overview and I certainly can't stress enough how important it is to read up on your specific type and brand.  

This week the topic is water soluble stabilizer removal. 

There are different ways to remove water soluble stabilizers from your finished embroidery projects.  There are also reasons for  leaving some of the water soluble stabilizer in a particular design depending on the end use.

Water soluble stabilizer products have specific guidelines for removing them so read the packaging. You can also check the manufacturing websites for additional information. Some water soluble stabilizers use hot water, others use room temperature and several can be removed with steam. It is important to read the removal instructions. 

There are different levels of how much stabilizer you may wish to remove depending on your final use of the design itself. Water soluble is starch based. The more you leave in, the stiffer the embroidery design will be.  It may feel soft when you are done, but once it is exposed to humidity or water, any remaining stabilizer will stiffen the design.

An example of leaving a degree of stiffness would be lace embroidered ornaments.  You might opt to use two pieces of water soluble when hooping your design and simply remove the excess stabilizer that is visible when you are done stitching. Results in a stiff embroidered ornament.



Great ways for a lighter removal:

  • Spray water bottle for removing excess stabilizer around the design and making active the stiffness in the stabilizer layer of the design 
  • Sponge envelope bottle found at office supply stores 
  • Sponge paint brush found at art and supply stores
  • A light rinse
  • Q-tips for clean edge removal, trimming stabilizer with applique scissors

An example of removing all stabilizer would be lace collars, and many washable garments.

For complete removal, read the manufacturer directions for best practice:

  • One method: Soak the embroidered area, rinse, repeat to ensure all water soluble stabilizer is removed to avoid any stiffness. You might need to do this overnight. Note recommended water temperature or you could end up with wood-like debris in the design. Ask me how I know!
  • Alternative method: Spray with water and Steam - note if you are using fabric that has not been preshrunk this could be a disaster creating distortion. Again, read the manufacturer’s directions as they know their product best. Products may look alike but may react differently. 
You may use more than one layer of  this water soluble stabilizer depending on the weight of it.  The weight should be listed on the packaging.  ORGANIZING TIP: I keep mine in plastic bags to preserve freshness, because they can dry out. Dried out stabilizer is useable but not with the same ease of use.  I learned that first hand, too!  Mark the bag clearly with the contents.  I like dots and I use blue ones for water soluble. I dot the bag plus the roll itself where I can see it.  But that may be over kill so whatever works for you.

Save remnants of stabilizers by brand in bags and you can use them as starch by adding water.  I purposely wrote save by brand to avoid wood debris!  Different water temperatures yield different results among some brands.  Same goes for water soluble toppings. 

A water soluble topping is typically clear and used when embroidery is on towels, fleece and other projects where stitches could be buried.  I use it when embroidering different brands of socks. If a sock is nubby, or shows the slightest possibility of the stitches sinking, I take no chances and use a layer of topping placed over the design area. Water soluble topping is just that, and it is not a stabilizer.  If you are tempted to use it as a stabilizer, use several layers.  That method becomes more costly. So in a pinch, maybe that will work, but quickly get more water soluble stabilizer.

Are you reading all my mistakes by now?  It's quite the visual with a collection of projects gone awry!


I have learned to read the recommended manufacturers directions the hard way.  Perhaps my personal experience will save you from ruining your projects.

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