Using Water-Soluble Stabilizer to Mark Your Pattern

Water-Soluble Stabilizer for Marking Embroidery Patterns

Water-Soluble Material
What's that stuff on your fabric?. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

When I’m working on a new piece of embroidery, I’m regularly asked this question: “What’s that stuff on your fabric?”

The answer is that it’s the solution I found for my own question: “How can I easily transfer patterns onto linen?” 

Typically, my favorite transfer method is tracing because it’s pretty basic, and doesn’t require lots of fancy materials. A regular pencil will even work! But my favorite linen fabric makes tracing nearly impossible. An iron-on transfer pencil or pen will work on this fabric, but I’ve had mixed luck with using them. 

I went looking for an alternative, and a friend directed me to “that stuff” that you see on my fabric. What you see is a water-soluble stabilizer material that has made embroidering on certain fabrics so much easier. 

Several companies make this product, and there are a few varieties. The two main differences are one comes just as the stabilizer, and one comes as the stabilizer with a peel off-backing so you can adhere it to your fabric. Some comes by the yard or on a roll, and others come as sheets.

My favorite kind comes as sheets with peel-off backing. They can be run through a printer, which makes transferring a complex pattern a breeze! Of course, you can also trace your designs on the material by hand. 

Tracing on Water-Soluble Materials

Tracing on Water-Soluble Material
Tracing on Water-Soluble Material. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

On the left is the stabilizer without a backing, and on the right is the stick-on type. For this example, I’m tracing a little design by hand.

A ballpoint pen, fine tip permanent marker or soft-lead pencil will work for tracing. If you use a pen or marker, try to use a color that is close to the color of thread you’ll be working with, because the ink can bleed some when you remove the material.

For the sticky-backed kind, I recommend trimming it down around the design. For the plain stabilizer, leave some space. 

How to Attach Stabilizer Before Embroidering

Attach the Material to the Fabric
Attach the Material to the Fabric. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

To hold the non-sticky material in place as you stitch, baste it to the hooped fabric with a few large stitches. 

To hold the peel-off material in place, remove the backing and stick it on to the fabric. Press it down to help it hold.

Embroidering Through Water-Soluble Stabilizers

Embroider Through the Material
Embroider Through the Material. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

Stitch through the fabric and stabilizer, just as you normally would embroider.

One quick note about the sticky type of water-soluble stabilizer: Depending on the humidity and other conditions, you may find that it makes your needle feel gummed up. Some people find it helpful to rub a bit of Thread Heaven on their needle. I just keep a bit of felt or fabric handy to wipe it off every so often. Even with this issue, I still LOVE using the sticky stuff!

When your embroidery is finished, cut away any excess material and remove the basting stitches if you used them.

Soak Away the Stabilizer

Soak Away the Stabilizer
Soak Away the Stabilizer. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

Soak the finished embroidery in lukewarm water. You should start to see the stabilizer dissolving right away. If it’s not coming off, rub it a bit with your fingers or try warmer water. You can also give it a final rinse under running water.

Pat the embroidery with a towel to remove excess water, then hang it to dry. 

Try this transfer method with linen, dark fabrics, felt or any other fabrics that are difficult to trace onto. You just may find your new favorite method, and people will start asking you about “that stuff” on your fabric!