The type of fabric you are embroidering will steer you in the right direction when deciding between cutaway and tearaway. But, of course, you’ll need to identify the fabric or substrate on which you plan to embroider first. Knit fabrics are considered unstable and call for a sturdier cutaway. Woven fabric is usually stable enough to support a tearaway, where the pulling of the excess material will not put stress on the fabric or design. These products include tote bags, work shirts, sheets, and jackets. Examples of knit fabrics that require cutaway backing are sweatshirts, sweaters, golf shirts, and other piqué garments.
Remember, the weight of your stabilizer should never be heavier than the fabric you are embroidering. The temptation may be to go with a tear-away to save time and eliminate cutting errors. But, when tear-away is chosen unwisely, the desired results will not be achieved.
Beyond the fabric, the size of your embroidery design matters as well. In any manufacturer’s product book, note that stabilizers vary in weight from 1-3 oz., with many, many choices in between. Rather than getting caught up in the numbers, rely on your sense of feel and knowledge of fabric, knowing that your backing should not outweigh your fabric. Match a lightweight backing to a lightweight fabric on which you are embroidering a lightweight design. Conversely, on a heavy fabric that will support a high-stitch count design, you can safely choose a heavier stabilizer.