I’m not sure where this catchy sounding phrase came from but the bigger question is, “Is it true?”
First of All, What Does it Mean?
According to popular “wisdom,” it means if your embroidery project will be worn, then you should use a cutaway.
I’m not sure if it means if it isn’t a wearable, then you use tearaway.
Anyway, there’s more you need to know about choosing a stabilizer beyond if you are going to wear it or not. And since this little saying has been bugging me for a while, I finally decided to tackle it in a blog post.
Is It True? Maybe…
If you’re stitching on non-stable, stretchy fabric, then most likely yes. Cutaway is the best choice for stretchy fabrics.
If not, know this: cutaway can contribute to puckering when used with some stable woven fabrics—even if it is fused to the fabric!
Additionally, industry experts warn that cutaways can and do shrink when laundered.
A Better Test
Stabilizer choices should be based on the fabric and the design, not on whether you wear it.
A better test for what stabilizer to use is to ask yourself, “How stable is the fabric?” Followed by, “How much support does this design need?”
Stable fabrics can generally use a tearaway. What weight, what kind of tearaway, and how much depend on how much the design will distort.
Large, dense designs with shading or details on top of other stitches will cause more distortion. Lightweight designs require less.
Another question to ask yourself is, “What happens after I launder it?” If your fabric shrinks, neither tearaway nor cutaway can prevent that.
The Old Standard Rule
Back in the “olden days” of embroidery in the last century—meaning before we had a seemingly infinite array of stabilizer choices—the golden rule was cutaway for knits and tearaway for wovens. This is still a good foundation.
Another concept I learned was to factor in how much distortion the design will create. There is a point at which there’s simply too much stitching for the fabric. It might be because the fabric is too wimpy or it could be the opposite.
By “opposite,” I mean the fabric is so tightly woven there just isn’t enough breathing room between the weave to allow extra thread to fit comfortably without having to push the weave apart. When that happens you will get rippling and puckering.
There’s really more to think about picking the right stabilizer for your project and it has less to do with whether or not you wear it and more to do how stable the fabric is and how much the design will distort it.
I will tell you that every time I see this snappy little phrase in response to a Facebook post by someone asking “what stabilizer do I use for this fabric,” it makes me want to scream. So now I’ll just post the link to this post!
To learn more about how to manage your embroidery ingredients and get the best results, check out my ebook, The Embroidery Recipe: How Your Ingredients Affect Your Results.
Also, there are many related blog posts on this site that deal with puckering and good embroidery practices.
Start with Shortcuts to Success, which provides a handy curated list of such posts categorized by topic.