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The Stabilizer Basics – Cut Away and Tear Away Stabilizers

Note: This is the second in a series about stabilizers. You can read the first installment here.

When I started doing research for this series, the more I uncovered, and the more I realized there was to learn! One of my first questions was “How many stabilizers are there?!?!” It can feel like there are 4 million different kinds and they all seemed to have a very specific use.

There are basically four different types of stabilizer: Cut-Away, Tear-Away, Wash-Away and Heat-Away. All of our stabilizers are color-coded, too. In this post, I will give you the basics and primary (most common) uses for Cut-Away (purple packaging) and Tear-Away (green packaging) stabilizers. This is not a list of embroidery rules. This is a list of the most common uses of these stabilizers. You may find that for your specific project you need a completely different stabilizer. This list is not the boss of you, it’s just a guide to help you get started if you are as lost as I was when you first start out in this new world of machine embroidery.

Cut-Away Stabilizers

Cut-away stabilizers are permanent stabilizers which range from rather heavy, like Sulky Cut-Away Plus™ to very light like Soft ‘n Sheer™. They are perfect when you need a design to be stretch resistant and you need continued stabilization through many laundering and wearings. Cut-Away Plus is what you see on the back of most of your sweatshirts and golf shirts that have embroidered designs on them. Most t-shirts will use the lighter Soft ‘n Sheer which stabilizes and is stretch resistant so your design tends not to distort over time, but doesn’t have the bulk of Cut-Away Plus.  (You know how some embroidered designs tend to “wad up” after washing?  Using a permanent, cut-away helps to prevent this.)

Cut Away Plus is used to stabilize this monogram on a purse
Cut Away Plus is used to stabilize this monogram on a purse
I used Soft ‘n Sheer to stabilize this applique for this shirt.

Sulky Fuse ‘n Stitch™ is a permanent stabilizer and one of my favorites! I love it because it is a permanent iron-on stabilizer that provides extra support to your project. This is the perfect stabilizer if you are making a purse or tote bag and you want that extra stiffness. I also use Fuse ‘n Stitch when I am making coasters and mug rugs. I did a tutorial for a 45 minute mug rug that uses it here.  Anytime you want the fabric to have extra body.  Also great for framed embroideries.

I used Fuse ‘n Stitch to give these bag tags the stiffness they needed.

The last stabilizer in this category is Sulky Tender Touch™. Tender Touch is a soft, fusible stabilizer that is usually put on a completed embroidery design to cover the stitches on the wrong side. You most often see this on baby clothes. (You get the best adhesion for these often-washed, and often-stretchy items by using pinking shears or wavy-blade rotary cutter to cut the piece you need.) I also like to use Tender Touch as a fusible interfacing for clothing projects. Check out this blog post from Mimi G Style. She used Tender Touch to line a dress and loved it. It is also a great way to stabilize t-shirts for a t-shirt quilt.  Helps minimize stretch, but still keeps it soft and cuddly.

Tear-Away Stabilizers

Tear-away stabilizers are temporary stabilizers that are easily removed once you have stitched out an embroidery design. This is most likely what you will use when embroidering on towels, scarves and regular woven fabrics. They prevent an embroidery design from tunneling, distorting and puckering while the design is being stitched out but since they are torn away once the design is sewn on, they do not give the on-going support like cut-away stabilizers do. Tear-away stabilizers like Sulky Tear-Easy™ are great because although you sometimes only need one layer, you can use several layers (and you can even float one or two layers under the hoop “just in case”) and then tear them away individually so you don’t have to worry about your design getting messed up while pulling off a heavier stabilizer.

This is tunneling. I used a tear-away when I should have used a cut-away because of the open weave of the fabric
This is tunneling. I used a tear-away when I should have used a cut-away because of the open weave of the fabric


Embroidery with the wrong stabilizers
Embroidery with the right stabilizers

Sulky Totally Stable™ is an iron-on, tear-away stabilizer that feels and looks a lot like freezer paper, only thinner and not made of paper, so therefore it won’t hurt your really expensive embroidery machine and doesn’t dull your needle! This is good when you need a lighter amount of stabilization for a design, like when stitching out a line drawing or a less dense design, but the fabric can be ironed. I have talked to many machine embroiderers that love Sulky Totally Stable simply for the fact that it does iron onto the fabric and yet, it is not permanent. “It allows me to get my stabilizer in the exact place I want it and I don’t have to worry about anything shifting around when I hoop it,” one embroiderer said. “In my sewing room, Totally Stable is totally a staple!” Totally Stable is also great for design placement by tracing the design onto the stabilizer and then ironing it onto the front of the fabric, and it’s re-positionable and can be reused many times.  (It would be for placement only, though.  Normally you won’t use a tear-away on the right side of the project to stitch through, just for placement or to stitch around.)

A simple monogram like this is perfect for Totally Stable stabilizer!
A simple monogram like this is perfect for Totally Stable stabilizer!

Sulky Sticky+™ is a wonderful stabilizer that is not only a strong tear-away stabilizer, but it has a backing sheet with a grid on it that is torn or peeled away to reveal a sticky back. Discovering this stabilizer allowed me to stop cussing at my machine. Well, more specifically the hoops. If you have been embroidering for any amount of time at all, then I guarantee that you have had run-ins with the hooping process. With Sulky Sticky+, you can simply hoop the stabilizer, score the release sheet with a large X using a pin, then peel away the backing sheet to reveal the sticky stabilizer, and then stick whatever it is that you are embroidering to it! I have done nylon tote bags, baseball caps, towels, grosgrain ribbon, linen napkins and scarves all with this stabilizer – all unhooped! You just have to love a stabilizer that allows you to take out the worst part of embroidery. HINT: It’s best to remove Sticky+ within an hour or so after use, for easier removal.  AND DID YOU KNOW…. All stabilizers with a release sheet tend to get stickier with heat and less sticky with cold!  

Using Sticky+ to embroider on the ribbon

Is your brain swimming yet? I hope not! I hope this helps you understand the basic uses of these two stabilizers. Next week we will talk about wash-away stabilizers and heat-away stabilizer. I will go over the basics of those two groups but I will also add in some amazing other things you can do with them as well.

Did anything confuse you or spark an additional question? Let me know in the comments. I am keeping a list of all the questions and will be addressing every single one of them at some point in the series.

Until then…Happy Sewing!

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  • beth daniels

    I used a sticky once and it was too hard to get off. I tried to get it off right away after embroidering?

    • Kelly Nagel

      Thank you for the question! I have encountered the same problem with Sticky +. In my case I was using it with a fabric that was far too delicate for such a strong stabilizer. I should have used Sulky Tear Easy with KK2000 instead. I am going to address this further in the Answering Your Questions on Stabilizers post that I am working on as we speak!

  • robin

    is there a tear away or water soluble stabelizer you recommend for towel designs? I am just learning, and having a bit of trouble figuring things out. Thanks.

    • Kelly Nagel

      For towels, I prefer to use 2 layers of Tear Easy on the bottom and a layer of Solvy as a topper. That is usually plenty of stability for the designs I usually do, which is mostly monograms.

      • Misty

        I have had issues with my tear away ripping while monograming and causes my design to snag on backing. Which pulls my whole design off. I am new and trying to learn but I’m not sure what i am doing wrong?

    • Kelly Nagel

      If you do get residue on your needle, an alcohol pad will get it right off. You can also use a little Sewer’s Aid on your needle when using sticky backed stabilizer to keep the residue from ever sticking to the needle in the first place.

  • Brenda Gensic

    I used sticky wash away on a quilt block but when I washed it away my block distorted. I think I am going to have to quilt the whole thing before I wash it out. If I switch stabilizers now will that distort the whole quilt?

    • Kelly Nagel

      Brenda, I am sorry you are having trouble! Let me get more info from you. What kind of fabric are you using and what method did you use to wash the Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy away? Do you prewash your fabric before you start a quilt? If you are not a prewasher (I am not) then washing the some of the fabric before the entire quilt is finished can cause distortion. The stabilizer shouldn’t matter so if you choose to switch it shouldn’t effect anything negatively. I also recommend washing any Solvy out with cold to room temperature water and letting it air dry if you are worried about shrinkage or distortion. I hope this helps!

  • Hannah

    Hi! I am brand new to machine embroidery. I have a quick question, for baby onesies, would you recommend the cutaway or the tear away stabilizer? I have been using the sticky+ stabilizer for the ease of not hooping the onesie. Just trying to figure out what would be the best long term. Thanks!!

    • Kelly Nagel

      I like to use Sticky + for baby onesies too and most of the time, that works just fine. Some designs do need a permanent stabilizer, but as a ‘rule of thumb,’ you are usually okay with just the Sticky +. I would suggest using Sulky Tender Touch to cover the stitching on the back after you have done the embroidery so the back side is soft on the baby’s skin.

  • Judi Lovato

    Question: With tear-away regular or iron-on — if I don’t remove it all, will it wash away? Thank you!

  • Julie Sanders

    Can I leave tear away stabilizer on the back of a decorative patch? just wondering if it will wash OK. (I like that it blocks the colours of the fabric underneath. Clearly I didn’t think this through when I started. It’s a name patch for a baby quilt

    • Ellen March

      Does the patch have a backing or is it sewn to a finished quilt? If there is a backing (and betting layer), you can leave Tear-Easy intact behind the patch design. There is likely a lot of fill stitching that will hold the stabilizer there over time. If you need a more detailed response, reach out at with images so we can be sure to give you the correct advice.