Fraying and unraveling can plague crafters’ embroidery on more than one level and over time or while working on a project. Before the frustration causes you to abandon the work, or damage after use or washing becomes a nightmare, let’s consider some easy ways to stop fraying in its tracks.
Fraying and unraveling can be an issue with either the embroidery thread or the fabric. Losing fabric may lessen the allowances needed to mount and display your artistry. Fraying threads could damage the piece as they come loose and work their way to the front of the fabric.
Stabilizing Fabric Edges
Many fabrics made specifically for embroidery are loosely woven, so unraveling quickly becomes an issue. While stabilizing with a sewn zigzag stitch may work well for more tightly woven material, it may not hold up well for some cross-stitch fabrics or other loose weaves. Here are some non-sewn alternatives for cloth edges.
Masking tape is one of the easiest and most economical ways to secure fabric edges while embroidering. The smaller the project, the narrower your tape should be. Fold the tape around so that the fabric edge is in the middle. Masking tape comes off easily, and any residue can be removed with a damp, soapy cloth. If you’re using an actual frame to display your work, you can leave the tape on so long as there’s enough material that it won’t show.
Even if you don’t sew, pinking shears are a tool worth having in your arsenal when working with fabric. Any but the largest weaves can benefit from being trimmed with pinking shears to prevent raveling. Pinking shears are available at prices from $10-$50, so almost anyone can find a pair to fit their budget.
Place your fabric on a paper plate or other protective surface and coat the edges with any of the following:
- Fray check
- Fabric glue–Be sure to read the instructions for use and drying times.
- Any clear glue if the fabric will not be frequently used or washed
Q-snap frame with a grime guard
Q-snap embroidery frames are assembled from PVC plastic tubing with snap-on holders on each of the square frame’s sides. The Q-snap frame is more expensive than a traditional hoop. They are recommended as working well with a grime guard. However, grime guards can be purchased in sizes that will also fit any sized hoop.
Grime guards are a stretchy cloth cover for the edge of your embroidery hoop. Because they cover all the fabric edges, they lessen the chances of fraying from frequent handling. If you are a sewer, try making your own grime guards from any lightweight fabric scraps.
Reasons for Embroidery Thread Fraying or Unraveling
Fraying fabric may be a nuisance, but fraying thread is a definite threat to the integrity of any embroidery work. Some possible reasons why embroidery thread may fray or unravel are:
- Your needle is too small
- You’re using too long a thread length
- Poor quality thread
- Thread type ravels naturally
How to Stabilize Fraying Floss and Thread
Some solutions for fraying thread are the same as for unraveling fabric. So you might find a one-fix-fits-all for convenience’s sake. But other fraying problems require adjustments to how you measure and use your needle and thread. Your choice of medium will determine the best solution.
Choosing the right needle
If your embroidery needle’s eye is too small or is damaged, the thread may catch as it’s pulled through. This can result in a damaged, frayed look on your finished stitches. So make sure you change to the appropriately sized needle when you switch to a heavier thread.
Shorten your thread length
Using a shorter thread length (under 20-inches at a time) means the thread is pulled through the fabric less often. This is important for fine or specialty-type threads, such as metallic varieties. Pulling the thread through too often may cause fraying or breaking, affecting the finished project’s look and quality.
Adjust for poor quality thread
Some quick projects for one-time use may not seem worthy of a high-quality thread. Just be aware that cheaper thread is more easily damaged or may be more challenging to work with because of unraveling or fraying. Observing the two suggestions already given should help alleviate some of the headache of working with inexpensive thread.
I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of this idea, but I’ve read that treating thread with hair conditioner will help calm unruly fibers. The conditioner supposedly does not leave a residue or damage cloth or floss. Just dampen your thread and let it dry before use.
Separate floss threads for heavier work
Some embroidery patterns, such as roses, may call for more strands of your standard 6-thread floss to be used simultaneously. When using three or more strands, first separate them from their twisted state and smooth them flat, using your fingernails or an iron. Then combine them back together and insert them through the needle. Make sure your needle can easily accommodate all the strands.
Separating the threads will help them create more uniform stitches while preventing excessive unraveling as you work. Another alternative is to purchase a heavier single strand product for the portions of your project requiring multiple floss threads.
Diagonal-cut thread ends
Instead of cutting embroidery thread ends straight across, cut them on a diagonal. A diagonal cut will help prevent or slow the progress of unraveling by staggering the twisted fiber ends. The effectiveness of this solution depends on the type of fiber being used. It’s a simple fix that’s worth a try.
Glue or melt thread ends together
Here’s where Fray Check, fabric glue, or clear glue come in handy. You can also use clear nail polish, or any nail polish so long as it doesn’t show through. Remember to read glue instructions and let the thread end dry completely before making contact with the fabric. If your stitching is heavy enough, glue the thread ends to threads on the backside to make them invisible as well as ravel-proof.
Some fibers are easily sealed together with heat. A match or lighter will do the trick, but if you’re melting a lot of threads, a thread zapper (or thread burner) will increase your accuracy while protecting both material and fingers from being singed. This is a handy little tool that’s another good investment for the embroidery enthusiast. Just be careful not to allow large blobs of melted material to accumulate, as this may affect the finished project with unwanted lumps and bumps
Remember too, that if your project is one that will required frequent washings, such as a pillow case or clothing, clear glue may not be the best choice as it may disintegrate more quickly than fabric glue.
Working with metallic thread
Metallic threads can add pop to many designs or help recreate a specific look, such as a car bumper or a law enforcement badge. But this type of thread can have its own issues.
There are two basic types of metallic thread, supported and unsupported. Unsupported means the metallic material stands alone. This material may be slippery to work with and break more easily or fray as it’s pulled through the fabric. So use the right-sized needle and short lengths for the highest quality results.
Supported metallic thread is a combination of metallic and nonmetallic fibers. The nonmetallic fibers help stabilize the metallic fibers so that they don’t overstretch and break so easily. However, these threads still tend to ravel and need to be glued or melted and pressed back on the stitching to secure in place.
Add a protective backing
Use fusible interfacing as a protective barrier for more heavily used pieces, especially clothing. A medium-weight backing will stand up to most everyday use. It will also prevent fraying or raveling of thread ends. Your work will also look more professional from both sides, which may be significant if you’re selling your creations or giving them as gifts.
Cut the interfacing big enough to be well attached around the outer edges of the embroidery work. If you have used thread or fabric that is sensitive to heat, it may not be possible to add a fusible backing.
If you’re embellishing a ready-made garment, check the tags to verify the material you’re working with, and try ironing in an inconspicuous area to ensure the fabric can hold up to adding fusible backing.
Sometimes, it is possible to make a fabric covering for embroidery work from a light material. This is notably easy to do if you’re the one making the garment. Try to use a close color match for any fabric backing you decide to use.