Embroidery Blog

5 Things You Never Knew Your Sewing Machine Could Do

Your sewing machine just sews, right? Wrong! It does so much more! There are some interesting and unusual embroidery techniques you must try out on your machine. Remember to test out on old fabrics! Trial and error is the best way to get to know your machine and how it works.

Bernina 1000 sewing machine Photos via leighlalovesyou

Here are 5 unusual sewing machine techniques you should try:

3 hearts embroidered using machine couching

1. Couching

Couching involves attaching a laid yarn or thread onto fabric with small stitches in a similar or contrasting thread and adds texture to a piece of work. It is a technique traditionally done by hand, but did you know you can also couch with your sewing machine? It's easy!

How to:

1. Wind a thicker thread or thin yarn onto the bobbin and place a standard thread on the spool.

2. Change the tension of your bobbin case by adjusting the small screw so it is loose to allow the thicker thread to pass through the machine without getting caught. Remember to tighten the screw again once you have finished your couching.

3. Couching with your machine means your design will be stitched upside down. Remember to draw your design on the back of your fabric as your couched threads will come up from underneath.

4. Stitch in a slow and controlled manner. You can either use a free motion technique with your darning foot, or stitch in lines with your standard foot.

5. Once complete, turn your fabric over to reveal your couching.

Machine settings

  • Foot - Either standard foot or darning foot (personal preference)
  • Tension - Standard for your machine bobbin, thicker thread, loosened screw (tension)
  • Stitch length - personal preference
  • Stitch width - 0
  • Feed dogs -  In action for standard foot or out of action for darning foot
Machine-smocked fabric

2. Smocking

Smocking (or shirring) gathers your fabric in order to give it stretch. Historically created with thread, it is most commonly used in clothing such as dresses and blouses. However, when using your machine you use elastic for a fast and easy result. This technique is set up in a very similar way to couching.

Lighter fabrics work best for smocking and adding some steam with your iron at the end will encourage the elastic to pull in tighter.

How to:

1. By hand, wind your elastic thread around the bobbin ensuring it is not too tight or too loose and place a standard thread on the spool.

2. Change the tension of your bobbin case by adjusting the small screw so it is loose to allow the elastic thread to pass through the machine without getting caught. Remember to tighten the screw again once you have finished your smocking.

3. Similar to couching, your elastic will be on the underneath of the fabric. However, the front of your fabric will remain as normal, on the top.

4. Choose your stitch length preference. The longer the stitch, the greater the stretch. With the standard foot on and the feed dogs in action, stitch a straight line, keeping the fabric taut.

5. Repeat Step 4, ensuring your fabric remains flat and taut, to create as many rows as you like.

Machine settings

  • Foot - Standard
  • Tension - Standard for your machine bobbin, holding elastic, loosened screw (tension)
  • Stitch length - Mid/Longest setting
  • Stitch width - 0
  • Feed dogs -  In action
Perforation on paper

3. Perforating

Probably the easiest technique of the list, perforation is great for paper crafts, such a scrapbooking or card making! For best results, work in reverse on thick paper or a thin card. This is also a great way to get kids stitching! By creating premade holes in different designs, they can learn to sew and embroiderer.

How to:

1. Set up the machine and remove all threads.

2. Place paper or a thin card under your machine needle and free-motion "stitch" your design.

3. Use a slow and controlled speed for even perforation.

Machine settings

  • Foot - Darning foot or no foot
  • Tension - N/A bobbin - empty
  • Stitch length - Personal preference
  • Stitch Width - 0
  • Feed Dogs -  Out of action
Machine zig-zag decorated string

4. Thread decorating

Design your own yarn and thread with this easy machine method. Use your new funky threads for couching by hand or zigzag onto fabric with your sewing machine!

How to:

1. Set up machine as stated below. Placing a contrasting thread in the bobbin will give your brighter and more varied results.

2. Place a length of string, twine or yarn under the machine foot. I find having my machine with the feed dogs down and the darning foot on easiest. However, you can also work with the feed dogs in action with the standard foot.

3. With the largest stitch width on, sew as normal, pulling your string through the machine. The needle should land on either side of the string, wrapping as you go.

4. Build up layers of different colors until satisfied. Adding metallic threads can also create interesting effects.

Machine settings

  • Foot - Either standard foot or darning foot
  • Tension - Standard for your machine bobbin, standard, but try a contrasting thread color
  • Stitch Length - Mid/longest setting
  • Stitch Width - Widest setting
  • Feed Dogs -  Personal preference

Felted yellow fabric with red and blue swirl

Photo via Betz White

5. Needle felting

Needle felting takes two dry fibers and mattes them together to create one fabric. If you have an old sewing machine lying around, then this is a great new craft to take up. You can buy kits online to permanently change your old sewing machine into a needle felting machine. These machines use multiple needles at once to felt together your fabrics. Although I have never tried it myself, it all looks very exciting!

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Which new technique are you going to try out first?

13 Comments

Sarah May

Neato!

Reply
Rose Hunt Chandler

I’m lovin all this info. I’ve always wanted to know how to gather with my serger. I can’t wait to try it on a dress for Qwen!

Reply
Rose Hunt Chandler

I’m lovin all this info. I’ve always wanted to know how to gather with my serger. I can’t wait to try it on a dress for Qwen!

Reply
Beth Capp

Love the concepts. BTW, under Smoking in #4, it should be taut, not taught.

Reply
Kelly

You didnt decribe couching in #1, you actually described “bobbin work”. Counching uses normal thread in the top and bobbin. Then you place the yarn or cording over the fabric but below the presser foot and using a zig zag or decorative stitch just sew over the cord.

Reply
Bunny

Yes.

Reply
Glenda

Love this product !!!

Reply
Bunny

Shirring and smocking are two entirely different techniques with equally different results. What you show here is shirring. I also agree with Kelly about the improper use of the couching . Thanks for the opportunity to share this.

Reply
Kathy

Don’t needle felt on a machine that you intend to use for sewing again. The amount of fuzz this technique creates is enough to stop a machine for good. Also, you need to know that you will need special needles (which should come with the “kit” you can buy for this technique). The needles feature multiple barbs on them, and are not the same as a normal sewing machine needle. Also, the couching” technique does not explain why there are 2 colors of thread on the end product and is, indeed, bobbin work. This article os not a good endorsement for buying an Etsy class.

Reply
Shirley wolf

My Janome buttonholer makes knots of thread under fabric. One set f buttonhole will be O.K., next one knots under fabric. what can I do to prevent it. The bobbin and threading is O.K. thanks appreciate a reply.

Reply
Bertha

This is interesting, can’t wait to try it!

Reply
Ngozi

Interesting to know these. I am just a beginner.

Reply
Tiffany Locke

Thanks for explaining how needle felting mattes two dry fibers together in order to create one fabric. Having the right machine, tools, and material would probably be important to do it correctly and get the best results. I’d imagine that if you’re first starting, it would probably be a good idea to either find someone who has the right type of machine, such as a friend or a worker at a sewing store, so you can see how it works in person and even start learning the proper techniques.

Reply

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