Craft foam is fabulous for adding loft to embroidered motifs, but it’s also a creative base for embroidery embellishment. Bring foam out in the open to create fashionably funky accessories and home décor.
The foam used for embroidery applications is a dense synthetic material with a bit of give and lots of flexibility. It’s water resistant and machine washable, but should not be dry-cleaned. It’s flammable, but controlled heat can be used to shape the foam as detailed in techniques below.
Foam is available in many colors in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4mm thicknesses. The 2- and 3mm sizes are most commonly used in embroidery. Foam manufactured specifically for embroidery perforates cleanly and creates fewer “crumbs” that may fall into the bobbin area. General-use craft foam can also be used in machine embroidery for a visible embroidery base, however, and it’s available in a wide range of colors and project-ready items such as bookmarks, door hangers and tags.
Craft foam is also available in sheets with one paper-backed adhesive surface. These pre-glued pieces can be used with some embroidery designs for easy project construction without messy glue.
Stabilizers for foam embroidery vary with individual techniques and projects. For traditional puffed embroidery on woven fabrics, tear-away stabilizer is a good choice. Adhesive tear-away stabilizer is appropriate for projects such as hats that cannot be hooped in the usual way.
For embroidery on foam, choose a stabilizer that will support the stitches both during and after embroidery to prevent total perforation and tearing. For filled motifs or embroidery that includes satin stitching, choose an adhesive tear-away or a cut-away. The stabilizer becomes a permanent part of the project to keep the foam intact after it’s been perforated repeatedly by the needle.
By contrast, water-soluble stabilizers work well for openwork or running stitch designs that do not create as many holes in the foam base. They can be completely removed, a plus for projects where the wrong side will be visible. Test first to be sure the design will not tear the foam.
Adhesive stabilizers, whether water-activated or paper-release, are useful in foam embroidery because the foam itself cannot be hooped without damage. Use caution to prevent too strong an adhesive bond if the stabilizer will be removed after embroidery. Use a minimal amount of water to activate the stabilizer, and consider lessening the tack of paper-release stabilizer by adhering and removing a fabric scrap before positioning the foam on the adhesive surface.
Use a small needle to minimize the size of needle holes in the foam. A size 75/11 needle is appropriate for embroidery-on-foam projects. When the foam is used to add dimension to a traditional design, choose the needle size that works best with the background fabric. Larger needles are acceptable, because in this technique the foam is intended to tear away along the lines of needle penetrations.
To mark embroidery placements on foam shapes, use chalk that wipes away easily or tape a full-size template to the foam both to visualize the finished appearance and guide the needle to the correct position. Remove the template before embroidering the design.
Embroidery on foam is similar to embroidery on paper. That means designs created for paper embroidery translate well to foam. These designs are generally outline-only motifs and alphabets. Paper appliqué motifs also work well on foam, with appliqués cut from thin foam, paper or fabric.
Embroideries digitized for fabric can be adapted for foam as well:
- Choose running stitch motifs such as Redwork and quilting designs or outline-only alphabets.
- Stitch only the outline of a filled design for Redwork-look embroidery.
- Enlarge a design without changing the stitch count to decrease its density. Stitch a test sample first, and balance the functionality of the lower density with the amount of coverage needed for attractive embroidery.
- Back the foam permanently with adhesive stabilizer to counteract the tearing associated with satin or fill-stitched motifs.
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