What is it?
Water-soluble stabilizer is a fine polyvinyl fabric feels like very thin plastic. It needs to be doubled in an embroidery hoop to be stitched on, but is ideal for creating lacy patterns. When immersed in hot water, the background polyvinyl disappears leaving just the lacy embroidery.
With water-soluble stabilizers you can:
- Create thread motifs such as three dimensional flowers or leaves
- Make new fabrics from scratch with threads and scraps
- Make three-dimensional objects such as thread bowls and vessels
Also, as most water-soluble stabilizers look like clear plastic or are opaque, you can trace, stamp, paint, transfer, or sketch a motif on the stabilizer to use as a guide for stitching.
Learn more with the free tutorial "Invisible Strength" by Patricia Bolton in the free interfacing & fabric stabilizers guide.
How do water-soluble stabilizers work?
Essentially they are transparent sheets of glue that dissolve when water is applied.
After free-motion stitching a motif (such as strands of hair), the glue keeps the thread design intact and the rest of the sheet dissolves resulting in a lacy piece of "fabric."
Here's an example.
Accomplished art quilter Christine Fries has used water-soluble stabilizers to create the effect of wind-swept hair.
In "Miranda: The Tempest," (shown at right) Christine created the long red hair by making a sandwich with two layers of tulle net between two pieces of water-soluble stabilizer. She then mounted the sandwich in an embroidery hoop and free-motion stitched using many shades of thread colors.
When done, she took the sandwich out of the hoop, dissolved the stabilizer in running water, dried the hair between two towels, and ironed it while still damp. She then appliquéd it onto Miranda’s head form. The resulting image of a forlorn Miranda on the windy, rocky shores is incredibly life-like.
Sound like fun? Check out the article "Terrific Texture with Water-Soluble Stabilizers" by Wendy Butler Berns in Quilting Arts Magazine Fall 2004.