Playing with Wash-Away Stabilizer

Wash-away (also called water soluble) stabilizer is a lot of fun to play around with. Although it may most often be used to add stability to fabric during stitching, it can be used all by itself to create fabric out of thread, ribbon, yarn or any number of things. It can also be used to create lace, or simple grids.

Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of the stitching while in progress, so I’ll just have to describe the procedure to stitch a thread grid. I used a single layer of Sulky Super Solvy heavy water soluble stabilizer, cut into a square a little larger than my embroidery hoop. I used the hoop to secure the stabilizer, and set my sewing machine to free-motion stitch (although this technique could also be done using regular stitching with the feed dogs up), using a variegated heavy-weight cotton quilting thread in the top needle, and a solid cotton thread in the bobbin.

To begin a grid, stitch in straight lines in a grid using a straight stitch. Go over each line a few times, and be sure to connect the outline and the cross lines at the ends (once the stabilizer has been washed away, you want the threads to hold together). Next, switch the stitch to a narrow zigzag and sew over the grid lines again, building up the thread density to the desired thickness. Be sure that the zigzag is going over the lines of straight stitching.

When the grid has been stitched to the desired density, remove from the hoop, carefully cut away excess stabilizer, and then follow the manufacturer’s directions to hand-wash the stabilizer from the thread. If you wash the grid thoroughly, it will be soft when it dries. If you leave some of the stabilizer residue in the threads, it will be stiff when it dries. It’s a personal preference whether to end up with the grid soft or stiff. Lay the grid out to dry on a smooth surface (parchment paper works well, terry towel might stick to any remaining stabilizer residue).

Here is my first, simple grid, together with the thread I used to stitch it with.


Thread grids can be mounted onto a quilt to add an extra dimension to the piece. I mounted this one onto a simple background that I quilted with a pattern of leaves and flowers.


That was fun to make, so I followed it up by making one a little more complex in design. The next one I stitched in a spider web shape, which I then mounted on a background of trees. I used some metallic threads in this one, to add a bit of sparkle.



Here’s a close-up of the web (which still needs a spider!):


As you might imagine, you can do many fun things using this technique. The only important thing to remember is to make sure that your lines of stitching are well anchored to each other so that they hold together when the stabilizer has been washed out.

Here’s another example of what you can do with this technique, using decorative machine stitches.


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