A water-soluble stabilizer is one of the best inventions for machine and hand embroidery. Also known as a wash-away stabilizer, this product can serve as a backing or topper for your embroidery projects.
Not only does it help provide clean stitching on difficult fabrics, but it also leaves no marks on the back once removed.
If you’re interested, let’s discuss the types of wash-away stabilizers, how to use water-soluble stabilizers for embroidery, and finally, how to remove water-soluble stabilizers!
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What Is Water Soluble Stabilizer Topping?
If you have some embroidery experience, you know how important it is to include a stabilizer when stitching your embroidery design. Different stabilizers have different uses. You’ve probably heard of water-soluble toppings, also known by their trade name “Solvay.” If you don’t know what water-soluble toppings are, you might want to add this to your embroidery stash!
Water-soluble embroidery stabilizer topping (or WST for short) is applied to anything with a high nap (thick fabric), including terry cloth, golf shirts, fleece, and other textured materials. Click here to learn about the main fabrics used in machine embroidery.
These fabrics have different hills and valleys in their texture, which affects the way the embroidery is stitched. Without using WST, it may be difficult for your embroidery thread to penetrate the fabric properly and resulting in damaged embroidery. When you use WST on your project, it allows the stitches to stay on top of the fabric fibers. This brings density to the grooves, giving your embroidery a fuller look while also keeping clean lines in your satin stitches.
Using Water-Soluble Stabilizer as a Topping
A lightweight film-like water-soluble stabilizer (eg Silky Solvay) is excellent as an embroidery topper.
If your fabric has any kind of fluff, pile, nap, or even squishiness, you’ll benefit from using a layer of water-soluble topping.
This topping supports the stitches and prevents them from sinking into the fabric. Even when embroidering soft and squishy t-shirts, I get better results using a water-soluble topping.
Alternatively, if your project can’t be exposed to water but you still need a topper, consider heat away film, which brushes off when ironed on later.
There are two main ways to use water-soluble toppings. You can attach it to your fabric or you can float it on top.
When floating, use a light layer of temporary spray adhesive, pins, or even tape to secure it well. Or, you can lightly wet the sides of the stabilizer (outside the embroidered area) and glue it that way.
Using Wash-Away Stabilizer as a Backing
Wash-A backing types include fibrous fabric types and heavy film water-soluble stabilizers.
To use it as a stabilizer, first, select the weight of the stabilizer and also the number of layers required based on the characteristics of your fabric and the density of your embroidery design. (Read more in the Embroidery Stabilizer Guide.)
A wash-away stabilizer can be applied to the back of the fabric to be machine embroidered. Or, the fabric can simply be floated over the hooped wash-off. (There are also sticky wash stabilizers, which are great!)
And, in some cases, you can just hoop the wash or stabilizer and then embroider over it. This happens when doing free lace embroidery or making some patches.
Wash-away stabilizer is a great alternative to a tear-away stabilizer, providing a little extra stability and preventing you from picking small pieces from the back of intricate embroidery designs later. Basically, use it any time you don’t need a residual stabilizer and it doesn’t depend on the stability of the cutoff stabilizer.
For very dense designs or very long fabric, though, a water-soluble stabilizer may not be the only option. In this case, you may want to switch to a cut-off or no-show mesh stabilizer for added stability.
How to Remove Water-Soluble Stabilizer
If you have used a wash-away stabilizer as the backing for your embroidery, the best removal method is to trim the stabilizer close to the back of the design using your favorite embroidery scissors. (My duckbills are applique scissors!)
Then, run the embroidered item through the washer, soak it in water, or even run it under the tap until the stabilizer dissolves.
You need to wash all the paper-type wash-away stabilizers out of the project the first time. Otherwise, the stiffness it provides may be permanent after drying. While this may be better when embroidering freestanding lace, your in-the-hoop project may need a softer feel.
If you used a water-soluble topper, first clip any jump stitches and then tear off as much stabilizer as you can with your fingers. Next, you have a few options for removing the remaining water-soluble stabilizer.
1. Tap Water
Dip the blank in water, run it under the tap, or put it through the washer. Comfortable, but this vacuum takes a while to dry.
You can even use a damp cotton swab or wet paper towel if you want to dry faster. I’ve seen some people use baby wipes, but the brand I use for my youngest daughter leaves a lot of lint behind.
2. Use a Seam-Fix Remover
I saw a recipe on Craftsy for using Seven Fix to remove water-soluble toppings, and I was excited to try it! It was honestly kind of lacking. It worked great for some clothes, and then some, like the towel above, not so much.
However, if you despise revealing your fabric to water to remove the topper, you might enjoy experimenting with this option!
3. Damp Paper Towel + Iron
Silky recommends placing a damp, textured paper towel over your finished design and then pressing it with an iron on medium heat without steam.
All the topping will stick to the paper towel when you remove it. (I like to use my mini iron for better control of the pressed area.)
It’s not my go-to, despite how well it works.
First, you must be very careful that you only hold the iron for a second. And, if you’re using metallic threads or certain types of fabric, ironing the embroidery from the front is a terrible idea. I just don’t chance it for my delicate projects.
4. A Tennis Ball
I just recently noticed that you can use a tennis ball to help remove water-soluble toppings. Here is a link to a John Deere video on this method. I’ve never attempted it, but it sounds interesting!
Reusing Water-Soluble Stabilizer as Liquid Stabilizer
If you’re thrifty or a recycling lover like me, you’ll be excited to learn that you can reuse small scraps of water-soluble stabilizers to make liquid spray stabilizers.
This is a great way to stabilize thin fabrics before embroidering (you still need a real stabilizer on the back).
It’s also great for keeping knit fabric from curling at the edges and works well in place of starch or Terrell Magic for many projects. When you wash your item for the first time, it is washed.
Hopefully, this tutorial has helped you better understand water-soluble stabilizer toppings and when to use them. We’ve shown how to use it most effectively (and did we mention budget-friendly) to remove any small and hard-to-get-behind pieces. Be sure to pick up an inexpensive tennis ball the next time you’re out and about because you never know when you’ll need it for your next embroidery project.
If you want to learn more about other types, Stabilizer for Machine Embroidery!
It’s easy to use and will work with any hooped project. Simply place Dissolve over your project, complete your sewing/quilting/embroidery, and soak in water or run it through the wash cycle and it will disappear.
Add a small amount of mild soap or dishwashing liquid. Put your entire piece of embroidery in the bowl and let it soak for a while. Be generous with the time – let it soak in well. Rinse it gently, so that the soap penetrates the fabric.
Water-soluble fabric consists of webs of hot water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol fibers and a water-soluble resin adheres to the fibers to form the fabric.
Water-soluble toppings are also known as Sol-U-Film and Solvay. They are used to prevent seams from plunging in high-profile fabrics such as wool and terry fabrics as shown to the right. Apply the topping to the top of the fabric and remove it with steam or a fine water spray.
Print-Stitch-Dissolve Water Soluble Paper Stabilizer is perfect for projects involving paper piecing, applique, quilting, and embroidery. Get creative with printed designs, or draw directly on the Print-Stitch-Dissolve using a pencil or permanent marker!