When you’re first starting to embroider and trying to figure out what supplies you need and what will work best for the type of embroidery you’ll be doing, one of the mysteries you’ll need to unravel is backing weight. At first glance, backing weight seems pretty simple, after all most people have some concept of what 2.5 ounces means. Where it gets complicated is when you start to consider how the weight of the backing translates to the success or failure of your embroidery. Does backing weight really make all that much difference when it comes to embroidery? If you use a 2.5 ounce backing instead of a 1.5 ounce backing, is your job doomed to failure? What exactly, does backing weight mean, and how much does it matter?
First of all, you need to understand how backing weight is measured. The weight of a piece of backing is measured by the square yard. So, if you have several types of 3 ounce backing in front of you, each type should weigh 3 ounces if you were to weigh a square yard of it. Heavier backings, say a 3 ounce backing, will be stiffer and sturdier. Lighter weight backings, a 1.5 ounce backing for instance, will be more flexible and easier to see through.
The weight of a backing will have some bearing on how well the backing stabilizes the fabric into which you are sewing, but what’s really important is how the backing is constructed. Machine embroidery backing is typically made up of polyester fibers which are held together with wood pulp or viscose. Higher quality backings tend to have more polyester fibers and less filler, lower quality backings will have less. What determines the quality of a backing is the length of the polyester fibers and the amount of the polyester that is in the material.
If you want to determine the quality of a piece of backing, do a simple test, hold it up to a light source. A high quality backing will have an even density and the surface of the backing will be smooth. A lower quality backing will have high and low spots and uneven density. Since the fibers are not evenly distributed, a lower quality backing can contribute to a sew out that is uneven, or embroidery that is not uniform.
Another thing to take into account is the embossing of the backing. As an example, let’s compare the standard Poly Mesh Backing with the Super Poly Mesh Backing that EnMart carries. Both are designed for sheer fabrics. Both are light weight backings. If you hold both types up to the light, however, you’ll see that the Super Poly Mesh has an embossed pattern. Even though both backings are the same weight, the embossing on the Super Poly Mesh makes it six times stronger than the regular Poly Mesh.
Backing weight can have an impact on the success or failure of your embroidery, but it isn’t the only thing that matters. How your backing is made, the quality of the materials used to make it, and any techniques, like embossing, used to increase strength can also make a difference. The next time you’re choosing backing for a job, make sure you take all these items into account.