Experimenting With Stabilizer

When I first began embroidering, I tried different ways of getting my image onto fabric. I traced directly onto fabric with a pencil, but that only works with very light-colored fabric; pretty much only muslin. Sometimes I draw directly onto the fabric, but that’s typically too tricky for anything at all complex, so when I embroidered poetry onto my jeans, I used paper stabilizer. I didn’t enjoy picking out all the little pieces from under my stitches, though. Since then I’ve mainly been using an iron-on transfer pen, and I really love that method. I take my own drawings, reverse them, trace over them with the pen, and I can iron them onto the working fabric. However, again, that doesn’t work with darker fabrics.

The thing about stabilizers, though, is that I don’t like anything between me and the fabric I’m embroidering. And while partly that’s a “feel” thing, it’s also a sight thing. While I often have an idea of what colors I want to use when I begin, I like to see how the colors are working together on the piece, and I need to see how they’re working with the fabric, too. Stitching onto anything that replaces the fabric background with white prevents me from checking out the interplay as I go. It’s like stitching blind, as far as I’m concerned.

So, over the past few days, I experimented with using Sulky Solvy, which is clear, so I can see through it, and dissolves away in water, so I don’t have to use tweezers to pick out itty bitty pieces when I’m done stitching. (Knitters, you think weaving in ends is a sure way to kill the joy of knitting? Picking out pieces of paper with tweezers is worse.) I still need to get the pattern onto the stabilizer, and although it said I could iron it on if I didn’t use steam, that really didn’t work–the stabilizer began to bubble almost immediately. So I simply traced my pattern with a red permanent marker (because, remember, it’ll be getting wet later). I used red because I was stitching on denim.

This is what one of my pieces looked like in the hoop:

My tracing came out a bit wiggly and freehand, so I simply stitched it the way it ought to be. Since the red isn’t actually on the fabric, I don’t have to worry about covering it all up, like I do with the iron-on transfer pen. You can barely tell the stabilizer is over the denim, visually. Here’s a close-up:

I need to see my background material, especially with the darker colors, to make sure the colors I’m using look the way I want them to.

Here’s a finished stitched piece after I rinsed the stabilizer away:

I’m pleased with this. The stitches don’t seem to be any worse for the wear for having had stabilizer between them and the fabric, and while I was concerned that the marker might somehow still transfer to the stitches, I see no evidence of that. The only challenge I see is making sure I use a color that will show up against darker fabric.

So, fellow stitchers…how do you solve the problem of transferring patterns to darker fabrics?

4 thoughts on “Experimenting With Stabilizer

  1. amanda

    i’ve been wanting to embroider on darker fabrics but had that issue with the picking up miniscule pieces of paper from my stitches – made me insane. i’ll have to give your new method a try – i have some overalls for the wee lass i’d like to jazz up!

    1. amy Post author

      There is also something called Fabri-Solv (or similar) also made by Sulky, which doesn’t have the plasticky consistency–so I’ve heard, I’ve never tried it–and also washes away. ALSO, it sticks to the fabric. But it’s not clear. But if transparency isn’t an issue for you, it might be even better!

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