Are there any good substitutes for stabilizer?
I’ve seen this question so many times I mostly make a resigned, sad face when I see or hear it now, but it still bothers me. The question usually starts with the words “Can I...” and then goes on to ask whether it’s acceptable to use freezer paper, printer paper, or plastic grocery bags as a stabilizer for embroidery. I get the idea behind the inquiry—stabilizer can be expensive, and things like printer paper or plastic grocery bags are usually on hand. These are understandable reasons why people might play with the idea, but there are also several reasons why it's not a great option.
Before I go into the reasons why those items are not the ideal option, I do want to address the one exception—using freezer paper for appliqué. When cutting patterns for appliqué, freezer paper is an option for stabilizing the fabric while you cut out the shapes. It’s also a viable option for fusing to the back of a piece of fabric you plan to draw or paint on, as raw fabric tends to wrinkle. Keep in mind, both these projects are embroidery adjacent, not actual embroidery, so I still stand by the statement that freezer paper is not generally a great option when it comes to stabilizing embroidery. Now, let’s discuss the reasons why that is so.
Reason 1: Many stabilizers are explicitly designed for machine embroidery. I’m sure there are stabilizers out there that started their life as pocket lining, but there are also several classes of stabilizers that are explicitly intended for use with machine embroidery. This category includes poly mesh, fusible, and adhesive backing. Something that is designed specifically for the requirements of the job at hand will most likely work better than something used randomly.
Reason 2: An embroidery stabilizer can help improve the look of embroidery. Stabilizers are sometimes designed with a specific weight or type of fabric in mind. The proper marriage of backing or topping, fabric, thread, and digitized designs will create a professional look and the best outcome.
Reason 3: An embroidery stabilizer can speed up production. Designs tend to sew out better when they’re appropriately stabilized. There’s less puckering, fewer thread breaks and definitely a cleaner and more professional looking finished product. Removing stabilizer more quickly with a tearaway option or presenting a tidier and more professional finished look with a washaway option are also benefits to using a stabilizer designed for embroidery.
Reason 4: The right tool for the right job. Freezer paper is intended to protect food from freezer burn. Plastic grocery bags are designed for carrying your produce home from the store. Embroidery stabilizer is designed to lend stability to embroidered designs, to improve stitch-outs, and to help provide a professional finished appearance. Using products as they were designed will generally bring the most successful outcome.