Embroidery on stretchy fabrics takes a little more patience and work to get good results, whether done by hand or machine. Such materials stretch in every direction, which can make embroidering them a challenging process. The main problem with doing embroidery on stretchy fabrics is that if the fabric stretches, the design can get distorted, or the stitches can pull too taut and cause puckers. So, a vital question for most embroiderers is, can you embroider on stretchy fabric?
Yes, you can. Embroidering in stretchy fabrics may be a tad more challenging, but it is not impossible. The process is made possible and efficient by providing extra support and structure to the stretchy fabric to keep it from moving through stabilizers.
While this embroidery is doable and produces excellent results, the success of your project depends on your skill and the quality of the tools and materials you use. Below, we have a comprehensive guide on how you can embroider conveniently and effectively on stretchy fabrics.
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What Is the Best Stabilizer for Stretchy Fabric?
When embroidering stretchy fabrics, cut-away stabilizers will provide the best results. However, the exact type of cut-away stabilizer you use will depend on other embroidery design variables.
But what exactly is a stabilizer? A stabilizer, also known as backing in the industrial space, is essential in supporting your fabric and keeping it stable when embroidering. It is the often unsung hero in embroidery. Without it, the material you are working on will likely move, pucker, or stretch as you sew.
But sometimes, even worse than not using a stabilizer can be using the wrong stabilizer for your project. Using a stabilizer that does not match your fabric and scheme can ruin even the best designs.
Several types of stabilizers are classified by the method through which the excess is removed from the fabric after you finish embroidering. The three primary types of stabilizers are:
1. Cut-away stabilizers.
They are the most stable stabilizers of the three. While you can use them with any fabric type, you must use them when embroidering on stretchy fabrics. You will cut away any extra stabilizer on the fabric after you are done stitching, but the stabilizer directly behind the stitches will stay there permanently.
In stretch fabrics, they are especially essential in keeping the stitches from popping as the material is stretched.
2. Tear-away stabilizers
These stabilizers are ideal when you plan to remove most of the extra stabilizers from the back of your fabric after you finish embroidering. While tear-away stabilizers work well for other materials, you cannot use them with stretchy fabrics.
3. Water-soluble stabilizers
Wash away stabilizers are an excellent choice to use when you don’t want any trace of the stabilizer left on the back of the fabric, which is often the case in sheer fabrics. You can also use them if you are embroidering a project whose backside will be seen and the front side. If your fabric is not washable, you cannot use this stabilizer.
Apart from these three primary types of stabilizers, other specialty stabilizers include fusible stabilizers, water-activates stabilizers, and paper-backed, pressure-sensitive adhesive stabilizers.
What Should You Consider Before Choosing a Fabric Stabilizer?
You should consider several factors that will help you select the stabilizer that will work well for your fabric. Below is a comprehensive analysis of some of these factors.
1. The type of fabric
The fabric type is perhaps the most crucial factor you need to consider before you choose your stabilizer. You cannot use some types of stabilizers with some fabrics while using some for all materials. An excellent example of this is the tear-away stabilizer that cannot work for stretchy fabrics, although it works well enough for other fabrics.
The weave of the fabric is also a crucial factor to consider. If the material is stretchy or has a loose weave, you will need to use a heavier backing. For stable and tightly woven fabrics, however, you can use a light or medium backing.
2. The embroidery design
Some of the main factors that you should consider when choosing a stabilizer based on the embroidery design are the stitch count and the design density. In addition, there are some recommended stabilizer types to use with designs of certain stitch counts, which you can use to guide you.
It is, however, essential to note that such recommendations are only guidelines, and there are many other factors you will need to consider.
The design density on your project is the relationship between the size of the design and the stitch count. When considering the design density, for example, a smaller design with a certain number of stitches will need a heavier stabilizer than a larger design with the same number of stitches.
3. The back appearance
You should also consider the appearance of the back of your fabric before you choose a stabilizer. If you don’t mind much of the stabilizers on the back, you can use a cut-away stabilizer. If you are ok with some stabilizer remaining in the back of the fabric, a tear-away stabilizer is a good option.
However, if you don’t want any stabilizer to show, especially if the back view of the project is as important as the front view, you can use a wash-away stabilizer.
While the back appearance is an essential factor to consider, the stabilizer you choose should also be compatible with the material type you plan to work on.
4. The feel of the fabric
While this fabric is not often at the top of the list you should consider, it is still vital. The type of stabilizer you use and its weight will affect how the fabric drapes. A stabilizer with greater weights will add weight to the material you are working on. On the contrary, if the stabilizer is lighter, the fabric will have a greater drape. Wash away stabilizers, as they are entirely removed, add no weight to the embroidered fabric.
5. The test
Before you attach a stabilizer to the embroidering fabric, it is crucial to test it on a smaller scrap of fabric first if you are not sure about it. Prior testing is vital since all these factors to consider are just guidelines.
Various variables come into play that could affect how the fabric reacts with the stabilizer. The test will let you see if the fabric and the stabilizer are genuinely compatible and allow you to choose the one that works best.
What Can I Use Instead of Fabric Stabilizer?
As much as fabric stabilizers are crucial, especially when embroidering, some factors will preclude you from using them. One reason you may need to use a stabilizer substitute is the cost.
Fabric stabilizers may increase the cost of your project beyond your budget. Another reason is skin sensitivity. Some skins react badly to some stabilizers and may make it impossible to use fabrics with these commercial stabilizers.
Here are some of the substitutes several sewers recommend using instead of fabric stabilizers. However, it is essential to note that fabric stabilizers produce the best, professional-looking results while these substitutes may work. If you plan to do machine embroidery, it is also essential to use materials that go well with your machine.
While most fabric stabilizers were designed with machine embroidery in hand, substitutes were not. Be careful not to ruin your machine. If the stabilizer I not working out, stop using it.
Here are some substitutes you can consider substituting tear-away stabilizers with.
- Coffee filters- coffee filters are flimsy and light. These features make them easy to attach to the fabric and easy to tear away. To connect them, all you need to do is to iron and flatten them out, then pin them to the material. After you finish your sewing, tearing them away is even simpler. Another advantage to coffee filters is that they should not destroy your needle. Their light nature makes it easy for a needle to penetrate.
- Baking paper- Baking paper used as fabric backing should be the one that does not have wax on it. Like coffee filters, it is also easy to attach and tear away when you are done.
- Wax paper can also be a good substitute for a tear-away stabilizer.
When using a fabric stabilizer substitute, it is also essential to consider the weight of the fabric. Just as a lightweight stabilizer is used on lighter materials and designs, you will need a lightweight substitute for a lightweight stabilizer, which is true for thicker stabilizers.
How Do You embroider Stretchy Fabric Without Puckering?
One of the largest issues when working with stretchy fabrics is that the embroidered designs can get distorted if the fabric stretches or if the stitches are too taut. These issues can lead to puckering, which causes an unsightly appearance. Below are some tips that will help you get the best possible embroidery designs on a t-shirt.
1. Use a stabilizer
A fabric stabilizer is the best way to keep your fabric from puckering. Most fabric stabilizers are designed to go on the back of the material. Thus, the first step should be to turn the fabric on its back or inside out in garments. Then attach the stabilizer to the area you intend to embroider.
Next, you can use basting stitches to secure it to the garment. Alternatively, you can use press and stick backing, which has adhesives attached to the fabric surface.
2. Hoop the fabric
Although stabilizer is undoubtedly valuable for maintaining fabric structure, on its own, it will likely be inadequate, which is where a hoop comes in. A hoop works to stretch the fabric and keep it taut, which is necessary for embroidery. When hooping stretchy materials, you should ensure you start with a looser outer hoop.
Put the inner hoop beneath the stabilizer and the outer hoop over the material, avoiding stretching as much as possible. Do not overtighten the hoop. An easy way of telling whether the fabric has been overstretched is to compare the hooped area to the rest of the fabric. If you notice that it is too taut, rehoop the material again.
It is also important to note that the size of the stabilizer you use should be larger than the size of the hoop.
3. Tools and materials
The materials and tools you use will also impact the final product. For example, when embroidering stretch fabrics, we recommend using a ballpoint needle. The rounded tip on this needle pushes the fabric fibers aside instead of piercing the fabric.
When using this needle in machine embroidery, slow down your machine to reduce friction. A cut-away stabilizer is also the best type to use on stretchy fabrics. Use a stabilizer whose weight is compatible with that of the material.
4. The embroidery design.
When embroidering on stretchy fabrics, select a design that is airy and open. The design you choose should also allow the material to have a nice drape after you finish stitching. If you stitch dense designs, the finished design may look puckered and bumpy.
The design may also come out distorted. Also, avoid embroidering on large and continuous areas as they will be immobilized and stretch no longer.
5. The finishing
After stitching is done, remove the stabilizer using the correct method. If you used basting stitches, snip them away and carefully tear off tear-away stabilizers without disrupting the stitches. You can then iron the fabric gently to remove any residual hoop markings and to remove any wrinkles.
Here’s how to embroider stretchy fabric:
Can I Embroider on Cotton?
Yes, you can. Cotton is an excellent fabric for embroidery. It features a tight weave which makes it easy to work with for both beginners and experts. Some of the other characteristics that make cotton an excellent fabric for embroidery include its softness, smooth texture, and resistance to forming wrinkles.
Another helpful feature is the weave, making it easier for the needle and thread to go through. Cotton garments are also a good idea for people who live in hotter areas as it has excellent circulation.
Apart from cotton, there are several other fabrics that you can choose to embroider on. You can select the material to use based on various factors, including the type of embroidery, the stitch type you plan to use, and the characteristics of the fabrics.
How Do You Embroider Stretchy Cotton?
While cotton may stretch a bit, it does not stretch enough to recover what is lost due to its natural shrinking abilities. Cotton lacks the natural stretchability of fabrics such as spandex, but if you wet its fabric fibers and pull gently, the material will stretch a little in that direction. There are steps you can take when embroidering on stretchy cotton to get the best results.
1. Prepare the fabric.
Before you start embroidering on your stretchy cotton, you will first need to prepare it. The steps involved in fabric preparation include:
- Measuring and cutting the fabric – measure out the fabric size you need according to the size of the design you need to stitch. Leave some extra allowance to hem the edges and to account for shrinking. Then, cut the fabric along one continuous thread.
- Neaten the fabric edges- sew some stitches along the fabric edges to keep them from fraying. You can also use fray check or tape to seal the edges.
- Prewash and shrink the fabric – This step is necessary to remove any unnecessary sizing from the material. It is vital for fabrics that you plan on washing regularly. Soak the cloth in hot and cold water alternatively as the fabric grows stiffer and then dry and iron.
2. Apply stabilizer and hoop the fabric
As mentioned above, add your stabilizer of choice to your dry fabric to provide extra support and keep the material from forming wrinkles and distorted images. Finally, to keep the fabric taut enough for embroidery, hoop the fabric, although not too tight, that the fabric is overstretched.
After the fabric is prepared, you can then embroider the design you want to. Again, remember to keep the design airy and open.
After you finish embroidering the design, you can then remove the stabilizer the right way, depending on the type you used.
How Do You Stabilize Knit Fabric for Embroidery?
Knit fabrics generally have a significant amount of stretch. With the large amounts of stretch, you cannot embroider without a stabilizer. For knit fabrics, two types of stabilizers are generally used—cut-away stabilizers for the back of the fabric and wash-away for the top.
When choosing a cut-away stabilizer for your knit fabric, there are some factors you should keep in mind. First, the lighter the knit, the more lightweight the stabilizer, and the thicker the knit, the thicker the stabilizer. Second, a significantly stretchy knit, i.e., greater than 30%, will need a thinner stabilizer.
It is better when stabilizing knit fabrics to use even two layers of lighter backing than a too thick layer. Third, use a soft stabilizer that does not stretch in any direction to prevent distortion and puckering.
This stabilizer provides the top of the fabric with a flat and smooth surface. It easily tears away after you finish stitching, and what remains will wash out in the first fabric wash.
With adequate preparation and following the right processes, your embroidery on stretch fabrics will turn out a success. While the above guidelines help handle stretchy fabrics, it is essential that you carefully consider the specifics of your project to make the best choices. The main question remains,
Can you embroider on stretchy fabric?
Yes, you can. As long as you provide sufficient support to the fabric using the right kind of stabilizer, you will have removed the main issues of puckering and design distortion.
Thank you for reading this article to the end, and we hope it has been informative and answered your questions. Our comment section below is open to any inquiries, suggestions, and comments.