Foam Stabilisers comparison


Hi lovelies,

There are a lot of new products on the market now to help with your bag making, most noticeably foam stabilisers.

Foam stabilisers are great because they give your handmade bags body, stability and an overall professional finish. (I use stabilisers for my Saddlebag, Nappy bag and Bookbag Backpack patterns, for example). But what's the difference and which should you choose?

I've made a comparison of the top three to try and help you. I'll be comparing By Annie's Soft & Stable, Headliner Scrim and Bosal In-R-Form.

I have not received any compensation or reward for these, however I did receive the fabric from Sara Lawson's new Fantasia Fabric line for Art Gallery Fabrics and chose to use them for this.

First up, what are they?

Soft & Stable is a craft foam specially developed for using in bags and craft projects. Headliner is the fabric used on the interior ceilings of cars and Bosal In-R-Form is a fusible foam; I've chosen the single sided fusible one, although it is available in double sided.

The cost
I've worked out the price based on product and shipping & handling. I've attached links to my suppliers on each.
Soft & Stable - £17.20 for 18" x 58"
Headliner - £7.98 for 39" x 55" (so nearly double the size)
Bosal - £11.75 for 18" x 58"

Packaging & Instructions
Soft & Stable comes folded in a plastic bag with a thick paper insert, there are no instructions for use.

Headliner fabric comes per meter and as such is just folded or rolled with no packaging and no instructions for use.

Bosal comes in a plastic bag with a cover sheet and the following instructions.

What does it look like?
Soft & Stable is a 4mm foam with knitted covering on both sides. There's no visible grainline as the knitted fabric seems to be distorted.
 Headliner comes either as grey interior fabric backed with 3mm foam, or as pictured below (and cheaper!) the interior fabric is backed with 2mm foam and then a soft fleecy feeling backing.
 Bosal Single sided In-R-Form is a 4mm foam with the soft fleecy fabric on one side, and the glue side on the other. It is not sticky until heated.
It is worth noting that you should not press directly on the Bosal, wheras the Soft & Stable and Headliner could take a bit of swift ironing if using a medium/cool iron, although you probably shouldn't iron them either.

The Bosal foam smelt, there's no two ways about it. It smelt of a horrible chemical burnt plastic smell which got worse as I pressed it. I tried to avoid smelling the steam from pressing. Headliner had a faint 'new car' plastic-y smell, and Soft & Stable had a slight plastic smell to it.
There was no scent to the finished baskets.

How easy are they to apply?
The Bosal was incredibly easy to apply. I cut it 1/2" smaller than the outer fabric (that was the seam allowance for the pattern) and then fused from the right side of the fabric with the Bosal underneath.

The Soft & Stable and headliner both required basting so I cut them to the pattern size, basted with a 1/2" seam allowance then trimmed the excess from the seam allowance. I then removed the basting stitches before I did the final topstitching. It was a potch.

How stable are they then?

The sharpest shape to the basket was produced by Bosal In-R-Form. It had nice sharp corners and the sides stood up straight.
The next sharpest was the headliner fabric surprisingly! It too had nice sharp corners and the sides stood up, but lesser than the Bosal.
Finally the Soft & Stable had much less sharp corners and the sides sagged outwards slightly.
Soft & Stable in pink, Bosal in cream mushrooms, Headliner in soft green flowers at the front
How do they look?

I took photos before and after a final press because they were really quite different and I was disappointed. I used Art Gallery cottons which are notoriously soft and luxuriant feeling, but it meant they really needed the extra stability to make this basket.

First up is the Bosal. It creased incredibly badly when turning the top under and then pulling it through the machine. It seemed as though whenever it was pressed, the glue melted again and the fabric could shift.

Before a final press
Even after a final press some creases remained.

After pressing
Next up is the Headliner. This didn't crease as badly when turning through and unlike the others, didn't fold along the quilted stitch lines.
Before a final press
 It had a good finish to it and I was generally pleased with it.
After pressing
 Finally the Soft & Stable. It didn't crease too badly, but of course a final press did help.

I did the squish test too. I pushed down the side of one basket until it held in place and waited to see which would spring back into shape. All three were spring-y and didn't want to stay squished, but the Bosal sprung back far more quickly wheras the Headliner and Soft & Stable were quite happy to stay squished.

Top left - Bosal, Top right - Soft & Stable, Front - Headliner

The main cons for Soft & Stable were that it's not fusible and it's jolly pricey.

For the headliner, the only down side I could find was that it's not fusible, I was generally very happy with it, (Especially the price!).

Finally for the Bosal I was pleased it was fusible, it was much easier to work with because of that, but the creases just didn't produce a great result and I am disappointed that such pretty fabric should be graced with such creases!

Left to right - Bosal single sided In-R-Form, Headliner scrim, By Annie's Soft & Stable
I chose to use these beautiful fabrics sent to me by my good friend Sara from Sew Sweetness. They're from her newest fabric line Fantasia. I couldn't decide between them so I mixed and matched and chose the unicorns for the interior dividers.

I used the divided basket pattern from Noodlehead which I purchased a couple of months ago, but used upholstery webbing for the handles with ribbons sewn to the middles.

I can't tell you which stabiliser to go for, but hopefully my observations will help you to decide. If in doubt, apply a swatch to your outer fabric to see if you like the handle of it first.

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  1. Thank you Samantha for the wonderful comparision! I was alawys curious about S&S but due to the ridiculous price i have avoided trying it ...looks like I will be sticking to using my headliner ( which i am also pleased with) but the interesting thing is, here in Germany I can get headliner in 3 or 5 mm thickness. ( i use the 3 mm in small pouches & the 5 mm in bags)

    1. That's good to know too Liz - thanks.

  2. Thanks for this. It's really helpful.

  3. I really appreciate your comparative testing - what a big help! I'm in the U.S. so S&S is a bit cheaper and there are occasionally sales..... but it is a pricy item, for sure! Thanks so much!

  4. I use S&S and many local shops in the US carry it by the yard, about $22 USD, so price wise it is comparable to the headliner, which appeared very thin when I saw it at a chain store. I had never heard of Bosal, but will look into it. Thanks for this informative post!

  5. Oh, that's interesting, I didn't have a problem with my Bosal, but then I used heavier fabric with it than quilting cotton, so there weren't really any creases to see. I have more for further experiments though :o) It does confirm what I thought about the rigidity of them though, and the cost of the S&S comparably.

  6. You are so knowledgeable and so generous with that knowledge and experience!

  7. This is so very interesting! I have used Soft and Stable, but not the others. Thanks for the comparison data!

  8. Great information. Just wanted to add for those on the US that I recently read that they came out with a new product called Flex Foam which I think is comparable to S and S. Still don't know how's the price, availability or haven't seen it. Here's a link:

  9. u-handbag ( sells the bosal for £6.95 per 1/2 metre I've used the double-sided for making bags and haven't had the problems with creasing that you did, but my fabric was sewn onto the foam in strips, then pressed, so maybe that made a difference.

    This was a really useful review. I've seen the headliner mentioned before, but didn't know much about it. I think I'll be trying it out in the near future :)

  10. Thanks heaps for this comparison Samantha; it is exactly what was needed.
    I bought some of the S&S but have not been happy with it. I don't enjoy using it and have been wondering how other products perform. Because it was soooo expensive and had to be imported, I bought quite a lot to save on shipping etc. I am too frugal to get rid of it so will use it up.The thing I hate the most is the battle to get it under the foot on my machine and have to keep squishing it in order to work with it. It makes the latter stages of making a bag a battle and takes the fun out of it. How did the three products compare on the battle-to-get-it-under-the-foot-and-turn-it factor?
    In the meanwhile I will try to get some Headliner and see how it goes.
    I have also heard good things about an Aussie product called Matilda's Own. They have excellent quilt batting which I have used and apparently there is also a product suitable for bags... must try to track it down too.

    1. Dee, Voodoo Rabit in Annerley has Matilda's Own product available, but there is also a similar product available through Monica Poole. Haven't been able to get any of it but it is thinner than S&S and available in packaged yardage for about $15.

    2. Dee, Voodoo Rabit in Annerley has Matilda's Own product available, but there is also a similar product available through Monica Poole. Haven't been able to get any of it but it is thinner than S&S and available in packaged yardage for about $15.

  11. Samantha, Thanks for this fine comparison. I shall be buying headliner to try in the near future, because I am spending a fortune on soft and stable. I would guess 2 layers of headliner could be used when a heavier thickness is needed. Love your baskets! They are so feminine looking.

  12. Samantha, Thanks for this fine comparison. I shall be buying headliner to try in the near future, because I am spending a fortune on soft and stable. I would guess 2 layers of headliner could be used when a heavier thickness is needed. Love your baskets! They are so feminine looking.

  13. Thanks for this, I've had some headliner for ages unused and Mr PD is eyeing it up for lining his van with.... I'll send him packing ;)

  14. One tip: The more you sew through Soft and Stable, the more it compresses. So, if you are having difficulties with too much bulk when you are completing a project, I recommend that you just sew an extra line or two of stitching in the seam allowance. That really helps to compress the layers.

    The beauty of Soft and Stable is that it is a sew-in product rather than fusible. I have ruined too many project with fusible batting, getting exactly the results that you did with the Bosal product. I have seen many bags over the years that looked OK when they were made, but over time the glues started to separate, leaving a purse that looked like my thighs -- with the bubbly, wrinkly cellulite look. Nasty! That is why I designed Soft and Stable as a sew-in product rather than a fusible product. Plus it saves a lot of time to not have to do all the fusing. One purse maker who makes bags to sell told me that she saves 1.5 hours PER PROJECT because she doesn't have to do "all that mindless fusing."

    I am actually surprised to hear that the Soft and Stable didn't quickly pop up when you squeezed it down. That has certainly not been my experience with the product in the many, many projects that I have made. I have found that it always pops right back up and holds its shape magnificently.

    I can share that I used headliner for many years and liked it OK. However, there were a number of problems which I addressed when I designed Soft and Stable. In particular, I found it to be especially floppy in comparison to Soft and Stable. I designed Soft and Stable to fix the things that I did not like about headliner:

    1. It has fabric on only one side. If you get the foam against your feed dogs, it won't move. If you put the fabric against the foam, it slides all over the place.

    2. The headliner is very stretchy, so if you are quilting larger pieces, it is hard to have a flat piece when you are done. You'll end up with a boat as the layers stretch as you stitch. That stretchiness also compromises the stability of the project.

    3. I picked a much more dense, high quality foam for the Soft and Stable which not only makes it easier to work with but also makes it hold up to wear and tear and continued use. The Soft and Stable may be machine washed and dried and it looks good as new after repeated use.

    I have not actually seen the Flex-Foam but do know that it is only 20" wide & cost is $9.99/yard here in the USA. Soft and Stable is 58/60" wide, so the comparable price would be about $29.97 for the Flex Foam vs $18.95 for the Soft and Stable. You can see that even with a 40% off coupon from JoAnns, you are paying almost the same price -- and you are going to have a lot more waste because of the narrow width of the Flex Foam.

    I stand by Soft and Stable as the best product on the market. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, but the quality of the foam is the best. I feel that if I am putting hours into a project, I want it to last and want to use the best materials possible.

    1. Amen! Even when Bosal is half the price I stick with S&S too. I use them for purses and the softness is better. Too stiff bags aren't very good.
      What I always miss in this comparisons is how the foam is after washing and drying. S&S is still old "spongy" while Bosal looses its form, making the bag crooked. I learned from that. I use Bosal only on very small purses who hardly (maybe never) will be washed.

  15. Samantha: Thank you for your in-depth comparison of the various stabilizer products. I am the creator of ByAnnie's Soft and Stable and would love to add a little extra info to the conversation.

    First, you mentioned that there were no directions for use in your package of Soft and Stable. Did you look on the back of the insert that is in the package? It gives some basic instructions for using Soft and Stable, including all of this information:

    If necessary, steam press the Soft and Stable to remove any wrinkles or folds before beginning your project. It is 100% polyester, so please use a medium setting on your iron. You may treat Soft and Stable just like quilt batting, making a quilt sandwich and quilting through all the layers. OR, if you prefer a more tailored look, you can just sew around the outer edges of the piece. There is no need to quilt every 2" to 4" as with batting.

    You will find a lot more information at my website: Just click on the TUTORIALS tab and you'll find a number of video tutorials that show lots of ways to use the product.

  16. I haven't ever used the headliner foam, but I've used both S&S and also the Bosal. I've never used the fusible kind though. When I've sewn with the S&S, using my Bernina, I have experienced an occasional skipped stitch or two. When I have sewn using the Bosal with the same machine, I was experiencing a lot more skipped stitches - to the point where maybe the thread wasn't catching for nearly an inch. I just bought a used Juki, though, so I am curious to try out both of the stabilizers with that machine and see if there is a difference.

    I really don't think that you would go wrong with any of them, just choose which one suits your budget and the product you are making. I feel like I prefer the S&S, though - but might choose the others on occasion, too :)

  17. What's a potch??
    Thanks for the comparison, I've been avoiding Soft and Stable because of the massive price tag - I think Annie above is forgetting we don't all live in the USA and don't all have Joanns or 40% off coupons. I think I'll give headliner a go. thanks for the links to your suppliers too.

  18. Thank you so much for this excellent comparison! I've used Soft and Stable a lot and absolutely love it! At first, I got all hung up about trimming it out of seam allowances but eventually realized it wasn't actually necessary in most cases. Sometimes a little pressing compresses it enough, and I think Annie's suggestion above to add a line or two of stitching in the seam allowance was a great one.

    Missouri Star has two videos on YouTube on making a QAYG tote bag using In-R-Form that look intriguing, so I bought some to give it a go.

    Think I'll give headliner a try now, too. It might provide enough perkiness for small pouches, which is what I often sew, and the price is definitely better.

    Thanks again! See you on Instagram!

  19. Thanks for saving me the trouble of experimenting myself, Samantha. Just wondering if you could give us an update on how well they stand up to wear. I'm still on the lookout for a good place to score some headliner around here.


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