How to Use Water-Soluble Stabilizer to Mark Your Pattern

Water-Soluble Material

The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

Tracing is a transfer method for embroidery patterns that is basic and doesn't require fancy materials. While a regular pencil works for tracing, it doesn't work on all patterns. An iron-on transfer pencil or pen will work, but you may have mixed luck in using them. Instead, try a water-soluble stabilizer material to make embroidering on certain fabrics so much easier.

There are two types of water-soluble stabilizers: 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. Stabilizers come by the yard, on a roll, and as sheets. The kind with peel-off backing 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. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Scissors
  • Embroidery needle


  • Embroidery pattern
  • Water-soluble stabilizer
  • Embroidery thread


  1. Tracing on Water-Soluble Materials

    On the left is the stabilizer without a backing, and on the right is the stick-on type. 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.


    If you're using a sticky-backed stabilizer, trim it down around the design. For the plain stabilizer, leave some space.

    Tracing on Water-Soluble Material
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  2. Attach the Stabilizer Before Embroidering

    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.

    Attach the Material to the Fabric
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  3. Embroider Through Water-Soluble Stabilizers

    Stitch through the fabric and stabilizer, just as you normally would embroider. When your embroidery is finished, cut away any excess material and remove the basting stitches if you used them.


    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.

    Embroider Through the Material
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  4. Soak Away the Stabilizer

    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. 

    Soak Away the Stabilizer
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson