Although it’s often put in the same aisle with the interfacings, stabilizers aren’t quite the same beast. Interfacings always become a permanent part of your garment, but portions of stabilizers are removed after serving their purpose.
Stabilizer – it’s exactly what it sounds like – it’s something you use to strengthen fabric while you’re sewing it.
Stabilizers are almost always used when you’re embroidering a piece of fabric – all those jaunty little monograms on polo shirts – because the fabric would be simply shredded by all those small, closely-spaced stitches otherwise. If you’re planning a costume with a fancy embroidered trim – and heaven knows, even lower-end machines can do a lot of embellishments automatically these days – you’re going to want to use this stuff to ensure that your fabric doesn’t get similarly shredded.
Tear-away is a popular variety of stabilizer – the other option being a wash-away stabilizer. Tear-away stabilizers can, literally, be torn away from the reinforced area, or they can be trimmed with scissors.
As a rule, you place the stabilizer UNDER your fabric – just take a look at your embroidered crew shirt from the last company picnic you attended to see what I mean.
That said, in addition to regular stabilizer, you can get stabilizers that can adhere to your fabric – either by ironing them on or they have their own self-stick adhesive – which is pretty much a lifesaver if you want to hand or machine embroider a custom pattern on to your fabric. You don’t have to worry about it moving around. Of course, be sure to test on a scrap first, to make sure that everything plays well together.
Solvy is a specific brand of water soluble stabilizer which is very popular among sewers. Nice thing about that is that it is, literally, water soluble so you don’t have to put any stress on your stitches to get it away from your fabric. It’s a great resource when you want to embellish a sheer fabric. Other brands in the US are Pellon and Sulky.
Stabilizer can be handy when sewing difficult fabrics. Use it to enclose a seam of some slick vinyl that’s otherwise going to stick in under your presser foot, or to help keep things stable when sewing slippery satin or charmeuse.
So, just like interfacings, there are several varieties of stabilizer out there, each suited for a different purpose – but, like interfacing, as long as you know what that purpose is, it’s pretty easy to match your needs to the right material.