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Cutaway Stabilizer Tips & Tricks

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If you've read a few of the Fabrics 101 articles, you've noticed that cutaway stabilizer is recommended for nearly every type of fabric.

When manufacturers make fabric, they don't consider that anything will be added to it. Embroidery designs add weight and tension to the fabric, so stabilizer serves as a base, a foundation, and a support system for the fabric.

Stabilizer serves as a foundation or support system while you're embroidering the design, and after you've finished embroidering, too. Stabilizer supports the fabric during wear, use, and laundering. If you're using tear-away or water-soluble stabilizers, those will dissipate or disappear during laundering, leaving little behind to support the fabric. We've found that cutaway stabilizer is nearly always the best choice, and results in the best quality during embroidery, and years after.

But some embroiderers feel that cutaway looks unsightly and messy on the back of a project. And, they're concerned that cutaway stabilizer feels itchy and scratchy and uncomfortable. Yes, I understand. We spend so much time working on a project, we want it to look great from every angle. It is indeed a bit of a dilemma: cutaway stabilizer needs to be used to make the front of the garment or item look good. But what about the back?

I admit that having stabilizer on the back of a towel doesn't bother me at all. When I have guests over to my home, I expect them not to peek in my medicine cabinet, and I hope they aren't looking at the back of my towels. But I did dream up a couple of techniques that minimize the look and feel of cutaway stabilizer.

Deb asked me to whip up a set of sushi towels for her college-bound nephew. I used cutaway stabilizer on the back.

Here's the back of the towel, and you can see the square of cutaway stabilizer that remains.

If it was tear-away or water-soluble, the towel would pucker and dimple after laundering a few times. But the cutaway stabilizer keeps the fabric nice and even.

The life of the towel will be longer, because of cutaway stabilizer. In other words, Deb's nephew will be using these towels all through college, and all the years that he's making student loan payments, too.

I trimmed the stabilizer down even further. I cut around the shape of the design. I'm not cutting the empty areas in-between the sections of the design, because that will cause the fabric to twist and skew, resulting in dimpling and puckering and a misshapen mess.

After a few launderings, you'll see the stabilizer soften and form to the fabric. But what if you absolutely, positively, without a doubt, cannot have cutaway stabilizer showing on the back of a project? Here are a couple of techniques and ideas:

Technique #1: Applique

Embroider the design onto fabric and stabilizer, then applique that embroidered fabric onto the towel. This is similar to the technique shown in the  Cozy Bath Coordinates project, but I'll show you a simpler method below.

Embroider your design onto fabric and cutaway stabilizer

Decide how big you want the applique piece to be.

I measured out 1" from each of the outer edges of the design, drew lines connecting the marks, and then cut out the shape. I left the stabilizer on the entire back side of the fabric embroidery to give the applique fabric support.

I pinned the fabric piece to the towel, positioned where I wanted it to be.

Then I used a zigzag stitch to stitch around the outer edge of the fabric. I matched the top and bobbin thread to the color of the towel.

The applique fabric adds a jolt of extra color. The cutaway stabilizer supports the stitches in the embroidery design...

...and the back is nice and neat, with no cutaway stabilizer.

Technique #2: Organza (with Solid-shaped Designs)

Another alternative is to embroider the design onto organza, and then stitch it onto the towel. With this technique, you will want to choose designs that have a more solid shape, without a lot of pieces branching out. Choosing a more solid-shaped design will make it easier to cut the design out later.

Cut a piece of organza a bit larger than your hoop (I used 100% polyester organza). Match the organza to the color of your towel -- this will help the edges of the design to blend into the towel.

Then hoop the organza with one piece of water soluble stabilizer (I prefer Vilene), attach the hoop to the machine, and embroider the design.

When the design is finished, trim away the excess stabilizer on the backside and soak the fabric in water for about 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the fabric to dry and then press with an iron on a low setting, with a pressing cloth on top of the fabric.

Cut the fabric around the outer edges of the design, leaving about 1/4" excess behind.

Next, lay the design on top of the towel and pin in place. You can use a bit of temporary spray adhesive on the backside of the design to help hold it in place.

Using a straight stitch, sew around the entire edge of the design to tack it in place, matching the top thread and bobbin thread to the color of the towel.

And the towel is complete!

Here is the backside of the towel. Since we used a single straight stitch, it is almost impossible to see the stitches on the back of the towel! And there is no stabilizer to be seen.

Technique #3: Organza (with Open-shaped Designs)

For more "free flowing" designs with less solid fill (such as the Floral Filigree 2 design in the photo), this technique is the way to go

First, cut a piece of organza a bit larger than your hoop. Hoop the organza with water soluble stabilizer and embroider the design. Soak the fabric, allow it to dry, and press with an iron (as discussed in Technique #2).

Cut out the shape. I traced a round plastic lid around the design and cut out the shape, leaving at least 1/2" of excess fabric around the design.

Place the fabric on the towel, pin in place, and sew a 1/4" seam around the outer edges of the shape. Then, zigzag stitch around the entire shape to tack the fabric in place.

If you like, for extra interest you can add embellishments such as decorative trim. Simply stitch the trim in place around the outer edges of the fabric, just over the edges.

And you have a beautifully decorated towel!

The above techniques show examples with towels, but T-shirts are a concern as well. T-shirts tend to be made out of stretchy cotton (Jersey knit) so using tear-away or water-soluble stabilizer will probably result in shifting and gapping and misalignment. Cutaway stabilizer will make sure that all the design sections land in the right spot, and also prevent any puckering or dimpling after wear and wash.

I've found that a good-quality cutaway stabilizer softens after a few washings, and starts to mold itself to the fabric. It shouldn't be stiff or itchy, and if it is, you'll likely want to try a lower weight or a different brand. I use 2 - 2.5 ounce stabilizer on T-shirts, like Brother's Soft-n-Stable, or Floriani's No-Show Mesh.