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Are you stable enough for machine embroidery?

Are you stable enough for machine embroidery?

Are you stable enough for machine embroidery? That’s the question my hubby put to me recently and while we weren’t necessarily talking about machine embroidery or even fabric art, in general, before I could think of a good comeback he quipped, “Don’t be too hasty in answering, ’cause you may be mistaken.”

We dined separately that night. He supped in utter solitude, choking down a three-cheese & mushroom omelet, atop a bed of fresh spinach leaves, with slices of avocado and tomato topped with hollandaise sauce, and a nice glass of Merlot, while I heartily enjoyed a PBJ, of my own creation, and a glass of milk, which I ended up “sharing” with my cat, when I turned my back for one lousy second. Anyway, that’ll teach him!

Still, his impertinent question stuck in my head like that peanut butter did the roof of my mouth, for after conversing with some of you out there I gotta ask, “Are you stable enough for machine embroidery?” I know. I get it. It shows through the front side. It’s too bulky. It’s too scratchy. It’s too stiff. It’s too much for my tu-tu. I’ve heard it all. I’ve said it all at one time or another. You may have even quoted me…or I you… when it comes to stabilizers. You’re welcome…and thank you.

But here’s the ugly truth: It’s almost impossible to be too stable for machine embroidery. Still, can you do it and still be stylish. I’d bet my hubby’s pink, plaid polyester short-sleeve shirt on it…unless you’d like to just take it off my hands, ’cause for thirty years I’ve not been able to get rid of it. It always finds its way home. Anyway, you’ve just gotta know a few tricks…to remain stable, that is.

If any of you have started out to sew my stuff – be it one of my free embroidery designs or something you purchased – with the motto, “I don’t need no stinkin’ stabilizer!”, then you, my friend, may have been mistaken…maybe…just possibly. Yes, I know who you are. I’ve read your emails and comments, which is why I’m writing you now to let you know that you too can be stable enough for machine embroidery, with no one being the wiser.

He is risen! Easter Banner
My Easter Banner project has all 3 stabilizers. It’s smooth like it should be.

There’s a lot of stabilizers out there, with each serving it’s own unique purpose. I wish I could tell you to go buy a bolt of such-n-such, perch it upon your stash for ready access, and you and your embroidery would be rock-solid stable. Sadly, that’s just not how it works, ’cause it seems for every which way there is, someone’s invented a stabilizer for sewing. Go figure. Now, it may be possible to have a competition to see who dies with the most stabilizer, but I don’t think it would be a particularly interesting race or nearly as much fun as one involving fabric. As such, I’ll throw out a few for you.

Too Lazy Pile of of Shame
Too Lazy Pile of of Shame – No ShirTailor. UGH!

If there’s stabilizer that’s saved my bacon more times than I can remember – and made me look good in the process – it’s ShirTailor. It won’t solve all your stability issues – sewing or otherwise – but it’s a good stabilizer to keep on hand for machine embroidery projects.

I first encountered ShirTailor years ago when I finally relented to my hubby’s request for some hand-tailored dress shirts. The stuff does a beautiful job of keeping the shape of cuffs and collars. I found the more stable ShirTailor makes a better project. Sadly, he reneged on his promise to part with his beloved pink, plaid polyester short-sleeve shirt and I vowed not to stitch another cuff or collar while that thing lived. At least he keeps it hidden from sight in the dark recesses of his closet, like the little troll that it is. He keeps threatening that it will be in style again, one day. Yeah, right.

Our Whole Life Banner Series - Grandchildren
Our Whole Life Banner Series – Grandchildren

I’m partial to the fusible ShirTailor, because once I’ve ironed it to the back of my fabric I can be half asleep at the embroidery machine and I’m pretty much golden, so long as I start with a new needle and a bit more as you’ll read below. I’ve tried going ShirTailor-less on occasion only to discover I’d sacrificed my precious fabric, threads and time to another article on the “too lazy pile of shame”. See that picture up there?

While it’s possible to steam and iron out most of the puckering from my lapse of judgment, I know from that point on the project will always be one of my “unruly children” in need of perpetual supervision, lest it embarrass me publicly, for which it may one day rue the day. It’s simply true what they say, You’ve got to get ’em ironed out and stable early on if you ever want to take ’em out in public. Regrettably, it’s a lesson I learned too late with my hubby. Fortunately for him, I have bad taste in men – no wait, that’s not true!

Sadly, you can’t get all this kind of wonderful without a little more help. You know what I mean? In the case of these banner projects two additional “stabilizers” were the extra oomph I needed to get the their winner’s circle finish.

After the ShirTailor got fused to the back of the fabric, I followed up with a layer of Quilter’s Dream 80/20 Fusible batting. Techinically, QD is not a stabilizer and actually contributes to the push & pull of the fabric within the hoop. However, because QD adds loft to those parts of the fabric that aren’t otherwise stitched down, it gives the finished project a taunt, smooth look, just like that face lift you promised yourself on your fiftieth.

Of course, if your thing is embroidering clothes, unless you’re embellishing a lined jacket or hat, quilt batting isn’t going to be part of your project. On the other hand, if you’re embellishing pillows, shams, quilts and wall hanging, you want to consider adding Quilter’s Dream Fusible batting to your arsenal.

Finally, because three seems to be a magical number, the third stabilizer I typically use is a layer of soft tear-away on the bottom under the Quilter’s Dream or, if you’re making a wearable project, then under the ShirTailor. Once the project is secured in the hoop, the tear-away stabilizer minimizes the push & pull of the fabric and any batting you might use. Of course, once your project is sewn, you removed the tear-away from around the design and all you’re left with is ShirTailor and batting or just ShirTailor. It’s not necessary to remove all the tiny areas of tear away because it is not going to show through the front anyway.

Our Whole Life Banner Series – All 3 stabilizers and it’s perfectly smooth

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that you don’t get to this level of beautiful without adding a few extra layers to the base. Sorry ladies but we all know it’s true. Same goes for machine embroidery.

I think perhaps I’ve said enough. At least for today, as we’ve all got more important things to do. Cooking? Heavens no! That’s what TV dinners are for. Still, I’ll leave you with one thought. Before you embark on that next great project or you simply want to road test some of those free embroidery designs you’ve been adding to your stash, do yourself a favor and test your stabilizers. If not my approach, then experiment with your own. Don’t just go blithefully into the night singing, “I don’t need no stinkin’ stabilizer.” We all need a little stablizer(-ing) now and then.

Everyone can use a bit of stabilizer(-ing) now and then.
Everyone can use a bit of stabilizer(-ing) now and then.

P.S. Check back soon for my next new embroidery design release.

Written by Albert W. Waterfield (because my writing skills are not nearly as creative as his)
Edited by Laura M. Waterfield

8 thoughts on “Are you stable enough for machine embroidery?

  1. LOL……………Albert should write a book if he hasn’t already. Enjoyed the read! Info is so true as well. The extra stabilizing on the back of the fabric makes all the difference in the world. Took me many mistakes to realize this. I generally use the companion to fusi-kinit (not sure if it is the same as shirTailor,) but, it works very well and doesn’t change the hand of the fabric. I wish I had discovered this before I stitched your “Two Hearts” design for a wedding gift. I stitched it twice and still had a little puckering. Had I done this at the time, I am sure it would have been pucker free.

    1. LOL! He loves to write and tends to be long winded. I usually have to weed it out.
      I use fusi-knit too but have only used it on knit fabrics. I have not thought about using it on wovens. I will have to try it.
      I’ll let Al know you enjoyed it.

  2. Cute read! Thank you, Albert. Stabilizer is always one of the most important considerations when getting ready to machine embroidery.

    1. Thank you.

  3. I have spent the morning really looking at your website. What a joy ! Somewhere along the line I found the cows. Loved them from the first minute. But I had never spent any time really looking at your website until today. Wow! What have I been missing? I guess I had too many places to go and people to see. Now they have all gone to play in the after life and left me here to do my own thing. It has been a joyful morning and I can’t was to tr y the wing needle and do some other of your designs. Thanks a whole bunch and live my regards to Al.


    1. Aww! That’s so sweet Ann. Thank you.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the site.
      Hopefully we will have a new theme in place in a week or so. Then our shop will be a lot easier to navigate. This beautiful theme has broken our shop categories and there is apparently no fix to it. But we all do what we have to do.

  4. all those errors are shaming me. sorry about that. too busy in my life to learn how to really type.


  5. Great post! I use ShirtTailor on all my embroidery/quilting projects. I tend to use Pellon’s Thermolam Plus for my table runners and placemats and Warm & Natural or Hobbs for everything else.
    Stabilizing is very important!

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