Embroidery is a beautiful art form that requires precision, patience, and the right tools. One such tool, often overlooked but absolutely essential, is the embroidery backing fabric. This crucial component of any embroidery project provides the necessary support and stability to your stitching.

Embroidery backing fabric is the unassuming hero of the embroidery world that, much like the reliable, sturdy foundation of a house, often stays hidden but holds the whole show together. Backing fabric is like the secret sidekick to your superhero embroidery thread. It’s the Robin to your Batman, the Watson to your Sherlock, the fries to your burger… you get the idea.

But what is embroidery backing exactly, and why is it so important? Well, let’s demystify the world of embroidery backing fabric, exploring its purpose, different types, and how to choose the right one for your project.

The Basics of Embroidery Backing Fabric

embroidery backing

What is Embroidery Backing Fabric?

Embroidery backing fabric is an essential component of the embroidery process. Think of it as a trusted friend that supports your main fabric during embroidery. In more official terms, backing fabric is a piece of material that you place behind your main fabric when doing embroidery. Its mission? To provide extra support and stability, ensuring that your stitches hold firm and don’t warp or pucker. It’s a crucial element in maintaining the integrity of your project.

Why is Backing Fabric Important?

Embroidery is a balance of thread, fabric, and tension. And backing fabric plays a significant role in maintaining this balance.

Consider it this way: in the concert of embroidery, your thread and main fabric are the stars of the show, but your backing fabric? It’s the stage crew that makes sure everything runs smoothly.

Without backing fabric, your stitches could pull the fabric, causing unwanted puckering or distortion. And we all want our embroidery projects to look their best, right?

What material is used for embroidery backing?

Embroidery backing fabric is typically made of non-woven material such as polyester, rayon, or a blend of both. This material gives the backing its strength and stability.

For certain projects, natural fibers like cotton or bamboo can also be used. These are usually softer and gentler on the skin, making them ideal for clothing or items that will be worn.

In some cases, specialty backings are used. These can include water-soluble backings for lace or other freestanding embroidery projects, or heat-away backings for delicate fabrics that cannot be wet.

As always, the material of the backing you choose depends on the specifics of your project, including the type of fabric you’re embroidering and the complexity of the design.

Different Types of Backing Fabrics

Every embroidery project is unique, just like the artists behind them (that’s you!). To meet these varying needs, backing fabric comes in several types, each with its own strengths. So, let’s meet these backstage superheroes, shall we?

Cutaway Backing

The strong and sturdy type, cutaway backing is a bit like the big brother of backing fabrics. It provides excellent stability and remains with your project even after multiple washes. It’s typically made from polyester and rayon, and it’s ideal for knitwear or any fabric that stretches. Once you’re done stitching, you just cut away the excess, but a small piece stays permanently behind, forever holding your stitches in place.

cutaway backing

Tearaway Backing

Tearaway backing is the free spirit of the backing world. It’s easy to work with and, as the name suggests, you can simply tear away the excess once you’re done embroidering. Made from fibers that are lightly bonded together, it’s great for sturdy fabrics that don’t stretch, and designs that aren’t too dense. It’s like that fun, uncomplicated friend we all need in our lives.

Water-Soluble Backing

Water-soluble backing is basically the magician of the group. It’s perfect for freestanding lace or when you need the backing to completely disappear (abracadabra style). After you finish your stitching, you just rinse it in warm water and – poof! – the backing dissolves away. Now that’s some real embroidery magic!

Iron-on Backing

Iron-on backing, also known as fusible backing, is a special type of embroidery stabilizer that has a heat-activated adhesive on one side. This type of backing is particularly useful for projects where hooping the fabric might be difficult or for materials that could be damaged or distorted by hooping. Stick your fabric to it, and you’re ready to go. It’s the helping hand you didn’t know you needed!

iron on backing

Melt Away Backing

Melt-away, or heat-away backing is the daredevil of backing fabrics. When you need a backing that completely disappears but can’t get the item wet, heat-away is your go-to. You just apply heat, and it melts and forms hard little balls of plastic that can be brushed away. It’s perfect for delicate fabrics that aren’t heat-sensitive.

heat away backing

Poly-Mesh Backing

Poly-mesh backing, also called the no show backing, is like the hidden champion. It’s soft, translucent, and strong, making it ideal for light-colored or thin fabrics where other backings might show through. It’s a cutaway type, but it’s less bulky, making it the secret hero of delicate embroidery projects.

Choosing the Right Backing for Your Project

Factoring in the Weight of Your Fabric

The weight of your fabric plays a crucial role in the choice of backing. Lightweight fabrics usually call for lightweight backing, while heavier fabrics can handle—and often require—a heavier backing. The key is balance. Here’s a handy table that provides an overview of different types of embroidery or items for embroidery, along with the best backing fabric for each, and the reasoning behind it.

Type of Embroidery/Item Best Backing Fabric Why?
Delicate Fabrics (e.g., Silk, Satin) Lightweight Cutaway It provides necessary support without adding bulk, preserving the fabric’s delicate appearance.
Dense Designs Heavyweight Cutaway It gives the required stability for designs with high stitch counts and prevents distortion.
Sturdy Fabrics (e.g., Denim, Canvas) Medium to Heavyweight Cutaway or Tearaway These fabrics can handle the weight of denser backing, which provides strong support for the embroidery.
Knitwear Cutaway (Weight depending on the fabric’s weight) It prevents the design from stretching or distorting along with the fabric.
Caps/Hats Tearaway or Specialty Cap Backing These backings are designed to hold up to the curved shape and heavy stitching often used on caps.
Quilts Tearaway or Water-Soluble They provide stability during stitching but can be removed afterwards to preserve the quilt’s softness.
Freestanding Lace Water-Soluble It provides the necessary structure during stitching but can be completely washed away afterwards.
Fleece or Terry Cloth Water-Soluble (on top) and Cutaway (on bottom) The water-soluble stabilizer prevents stitches from sinking into the high pile of the fabric, while the cutaway provides overall stability.

Remember, this table is a general guide and results may vary depending on the specifics of your project. Always do a test stitch-out when trying new fabric and backing combinations.

The Big Question: Roll or Sheet?

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to go for rolls or pre-cut sheets of backing fabric. The choice largely depends on the scale of your projects.

  • Rolls are perfect for larger projects or if you’re doing a lot of embroidery. They’re cost-effective and give you the freedom to cut the exact size you need. Plus, they come in various widths, perfect for accommodating different hoop sizes.
  • Pre-cut sheets are super handy for smaller, one-off projects or if you’re just starting out. They’re conveniently cut and ready to use, reducing waste and saving you the trouble of cutting each piece.
embroidery backing fabric

Understanding Backing Weight

Backing weight is often measured in ounces per square yard. It essentially tells you how dense or thick the backing is. The weight you need will depend on your fabric and design.

  • Lightweight backing (1.5 – 2.0 oz): Ideal for delicate fabrics and simple, light-stitch designs.
  • Medium weight backing (2.5 – 3.0 oz): A good all-rounder, perfect for most standard fabrics and embroidery designs.
  • Heavyweight backing (3.5 oz and above): This one’s for dense, heavy-stitch designs and sturdy fabrics. It provides the most stability, but it can be a bit overkill for light fabrics or designs.

Decoding the Color Code

While white and black are the go-to colors for backing fabric, sometimes you might want to match the backing with your fabric or thread, especially for semi-transparent or light fabrics.

To Test or Not to Test

Never underestimate the power of a test run. Embroidery is as much art as it is science. So, do a trial run on a scrap piece of fabric before jumping into the real deal. It can save you time, material, and a few grey hairs!

Don’t Forget the Stabilizer

While we’re talking about backings, it’s worth mentioning stabilizers too. These are used on top of your fabric to prevent stitches from sinking into the material. They’re especially useful for fabrics with a high nap, like towels or fleece.

And there you have it, a deep dive into the world of embroidery backing. Choosing the right backing can feel overwhelming, but remember, it’s all about matching the needs of your project. With a little knowledge and a dash of patience, you’ll be a backing pro in no time! For this topics and all things embroidery related, I recommend you check out the Ricoma YouTube channel, the guys are doing a wonderful job covering all things machine embroidery. Here is a video about backings and stabilizers:

Popular Brands of Embroidery Backing Fabric

Embroidery is a well-loved craft, and this love is reflected in the number of brands offering backing fabrics. Some brands are as familiar as an old quilt, while others are the new kids on the block. But fear not, my stitch-savvy friends, I’m here to help you navigate this bustling bazaar!


First up is Sulky. They’re a bit of a heavy hitter in the world of embroidery, offering an array of high-quality backing fabrics. From cutaway to tearaway, and even the magical wash-away, Sulky has you covered. Their products are reliable, consistent, and come in different weights to suit all your projects.


Madeira is another well-known name, and for a good reason. They offer a broad range of backing types, each designed to give your embroidery that professional touch. Their products are robust and resilient, making them a popular choice for those delicate or intricate projects.


Gunold, a name that’s been around since the early 20th century, certainly knows a thing or two about embroidery. They offer an extensive range of backing fabrics. Their products are known for their quality and durability, making them a solid choice for any embroidery enthusiast.

Tear Away

Don’t let the name fool you, Tear Away isn’t just about tearaway backing. They offer a variety of types and weights, all designed with the aim of making your embroidery journey as smooth as possible.


Pellon is a brand that’s been around for decades, offering a range of quality backing fabrics. Their products are versatile, durable, and user-friendly, making them a trusted choice for beginners and seasoned embroiderers alike.


Last but not least, Exquisite offers a range of premium quality backing fabrics. Known for their superior stability and softness, their products ensure your stitches stay exactly where you want them.

Caring for Your Embroidery and Backing Fabric

Handle with Care

Just like a beloved pet or your favorite pair of jeans, your embroidery projects need care and attention. Here are a few tips to keep them looking fresh and fabulous:

  1. Washing: Always use a gentle cycle and cold water to prevent colors from running and the fabric from shrinking. And avoid bleach – it’s not a fan of embroidery.
  2. Drying: Tumble dry on low, or better yet, air dry your embroidery. It’s a bit gentler on the stitches.
  3. Ironing: Iron on the reverse side to avoid flattening your stitches. Use a low setting and place a towel between your embroidery and the iron for extra protection.

Backing Fabric Care: Treat It Right

Your backing fabric also deserves some TLC. Here’s how to keep it in tip-top shape:

  1. Storage: Store your backing fabric in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. This will help prevent any degradation or discoloration.
  2. Handling: Handle with clean hands to prevent oils and dirt from transferring onto the fabric.
  3. Pre-Washing: Some backing fabrics, especially natural ones, may shrink a little. Pre-washing before use can help prevent this. Remember, cold water and a gentle cycle are your friends.
  4. Cutting: Use sharp scissors or a rotary cutter to cut your backing fabric. Blunt tools can fray the edges, making it harder to work with.

In the world of embroidery, backing fabric is a silent hero. It may not always be visible, but its presence is crucial in providing stability and support to your work. Understanding the different types of backing, their purposes, and how to select the right one can make all the difference in the outcome of your embroidery projects.

Embroidery is a beautiful craft, and with the right knowledge and tools, you can create stunning pieces that reflect your creativity and skill. Now equipped with an understanding of embroidery backing fabric, you’re well on your way to mastering this intricate art form. Remember, each embroidery project is unique and may require a different approach. Don’t be afraid to experiment, learn, and grow. And of course, feel free to reach out if you have any questions regarding this, or anything else that has to do with embroidery, sewing and quilting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I reuse my embroidery backing fabric?

A: In most cases, no. Once the backing fabric has been cut or torn away, it’s usually not in a condition to be reused. However, if you’re using a larger piece of backing than necessary, you could potentially save and use the excess for smaller projects.

Q: Is there a difference between backing fabric and stabilizer?

A: Yes, there is. While both provide support and stability to your embroidery, they serve different purposes. Backing fabric is used underneath the fabric you’re embroidering, while a stabilizer is used on top to prevent stitches from sinking into the fabric.

Q: Can I embroider without a backing fabric?

A: While it’s possible to embroider without backing fabric, it’s not recommended, especially for beginners. Backing fabric provides the necessary support and stability to your stitches, helping to prevent puckering and distortion.

Q: How do I know which weight of backing fabric to use?

A: The weight of the backing fabric you need will depend on your fabric and design. Lightweight backing is suitable for delicate fabrics and simple designs, medium weight for most standard fabrics and designs, and heavyweight for dense, heavy-stitch designs and sturdy fabrics.

Q: Can I wash my backing fabric before using it?

A: Yes, you can, and in some cases, it’s recommended. Some backing fabrics, especially natural ones, may shrink a bit. Pre-washing before use can help prevent this.