little fish
'How To' Tutorials,  Inspiration

Why use a Stabiliser Fabric?


What is a Stabiliser Fabric?

Put simply, this is just a second layer of material that is behind the main fabric and acts as a ‘stabiliser’ – which essentially means it just makes it a bit more sturdy to support your stitching.

I am asked about this a lot, especially by those who purchase my pre printed fabric designs as I always provide a piece of calico for this precise reason and I get a lot of emails asking what the second piece is for!

How to use a Stabiliser Fabric…

All you have to do is cut the stabiliser fabric to the same size as your main fabric like so…

Place the Stabiliser fabric behind the main fabric and then pop the 2 fabrics together in your hoop or frame as if they were one…

If you are a complete beginner and need a bit of help with how to get your fabric tight in the hoop – please see this post.

Adjust the 2 pieces of fabric in the hoop or frame as if they are one piece so they are both really tight and smooth with no wrinkles. Then you are all ready to stitch – you just stitch through the 2 layers to complete your design.

So, is a stabiliser really necessary?

This really comes down to personal preference but having stitched with and without, I can say without doubt I never stitch a design without it. I’ll show you why in a bit.

Will any Fabric do?

I would have to say no! The stabiliser needs to provide enough support without being bulky and not too flimsy that it doesn’t really give any benefit.

There are lots of materials designed specifically as ‘stabilisers’ – they can be used in different ways such as iron on or stick on, some are natural fibres and some synthetic and you could even just use a piece of thin fabric.

My Favourite Stabiliser Fabric: Soft Calico

Calico is a really basic cotton that is unbleached and not fully processed so it has a bit of a speckled appearance due to the cotton seeds being woven in. It is a really cheap fabric and all natural so the perfect stabiliser fabric.

Choose the right Calico for hand embroidery…

Calico comes in different weights and can be quite coarse. The last thing you want in a stabiliser is a thick, harsh material. The stabiliser should work with your main fabric and feel as though you are stitching through one fabric. It should be a pleasure to stitch with, not a hinderence!

I wish I had known this before wasting a lot of time and frustration on marketed brands as well as coarse fabrics – all of which made me wonder what the point was using a stabiliser as it seemed to not only be a worrse stitching experience but also it didn’t really improve the finished result!

That was until I came across super soft pre shrunk calico – this material is a delight to stitch with and you would hardly know it was there PLUS, I can definately say it makes a huge difference to the quality of the finished piece. I never use anything else behind my stitching! Here’s why…

  • It’s incredibly soft
  • It’s Pre Shrunk so no pfaffing around washing it beforehand
  • It’s easily available
  • It’s completely natural
  • It feels lovely to stitch with
  • It’s the right weight so it makes stitching actually nicer with it rather than stitching without.
  • As an added bonus to all of the above it is also cheap!

It’s all in the stitching…

Here’s a small piece of stitching I did to try and show you the difference rather than just tell you about it. It is difficult to really appreciate the difference through a photo – when you try stitching with soft calico and then without the difference becomes really apparent.

As you can hopefully make out from the above photo’s the main benefit to using the calico is…

  • The stitching is given more support and therfore it creates less puckering of the ground fabric. This is especially useful in heavily stitched designs.
  • You can be a bit more lazy on the back with cross over threads! They are considerably less visible!
  • You can finish off the thread at the back into the calico with a few repeat stitches without it showing through.
  • The overall look and feel of the finished piece has a much better Quality to it and if this were the only benefit then it would be worth it for this alone.

Try using a Stabiliser fabric and see what you think…

The only way you will know for sure if this is something that improves or adds to your stitching is by trying it.

All of my Pre printed Fabric Panels come with a piece of Calico included or you can purchase the Super Soft Calico that I use for all my stitching in handy sized pieces in the Stitchdoodles shop.

Let me know your thoughts about using a stabiliser or if there is another type that you use and love post your comments on this post.

Happy Stitching!

Did you like those Fishies!!!

I am currently working on a wonderful tropical underwater design and could not resist taking these little fishies from it to help with this post.

If you would like to stitch up some of these little fishies yourself then you can.

Want to download the Free Template for the Little Fishies!


  • Boo Jangles

    The soft calico she is referring to is sold at Joanns; we call it “muslin”. I’ve not seen a preshrunk version but there are different textures. I have a ton of soft on hand for making tests or muslins for garment sewing. It’s normally $2.25/yard.

  • Missey Iverson

    Hi, can u also buy it in stores, Johannes,?? Can u also, double the stabilizer on certain areas that yr hand embroidery. To give it more of a boop.??
    B c what I do it buy panels w. A design on it n embroidery around certain things. ( I know cheating) lol

  • vicki Meade

    I am happy to see this explanation! Calico to me isn’t a soft white fabric. It is colorful fabric of different shades of one color in squares ! I used interfacing on first stitch I did of yours. On next one I will try this! Thanks for the tip!

  • Christina ingleson

    Hi Nicola I do agree with you I used the soft calico you provided with the autumn stitch along
    And have found it much better. I have not done much embroidery before but could really tell the difference. Will definitely always use in the future
    Thank you

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