Drawing With Your Sewing Machine: How to Free-Motion Embroider

Free-motion machine embroidery is a very useful skill for quilters. But it’s not just for quilters! Drawing with your sewing machine is a fun way to create embroidered works of art and embellishments. Ready to learn how to free-motion embroider using your sewing machine? We’re here to show you!

Here’s how to create embroidered works of art on your own home sewing machine!

free motion embroidered portrait of twins in knitted jumpers

Photos via leighlalovesyou

First: Gather the right equipment.

Like any task, before you begin you must ensure you have all the rights tools for the job! Other than the usual (fabric, thread, a seam ripper and a nice sharp machine needle) the free-motion embroidery essentials are:

  • A darning foot: This foot, usually rounded, allows you to stitch safely and effectively without your fabric flagging (flagging is when the material gets pulling up with the needle when stitching). The style varies dependent on the sewing machine, but you can usually find out from the model brand website which foot will fit your machine.
  • An embroidery hoop: You don’t need any fancy, model-specific hoops for free-motion. Just remember to use it “back to front” in comparison to hand embroidery — the fabric should lay flat against the throat plate. Size-wise, anything goes! However, generally speaking, the smaller the hoop the greater control you will have, allowing you to follow your lines with greater ease. Personally, I opt for a 6 – 8″ hoop, finding this is the perfect size for intricate designs.
  • Embroidery scissors: Sharp embroidery scissors will make life much easier when tackling loose and connecting threads. A seam ripper will also come in handy to undo any mistakes.
embroidery scissors
  • Trick marker or pencil: Use these to draw out your design, of course. Trick markers can be found in your local haberdashery or online and will vanish when washed or left over time. This means you don’t have to worry about getting your designs right on the lines. Or, you can use a good old fashioned pencil! For more information on converting design to fabric, why not check out our previous blog post on converting pictures to stitches

Second: Set up your machine.

Now that you have your equipment, it’s time to set up your sewing machine.

  • Install your darning foot: If you aren’t sure how, instructions for swapping the foot on your machine will be available in the owner’s manual or on the manufacturers website.
  • Tackling tension: This will allow your fabric and thread to work in harmony and run smoothly. The standard tension setting will be around 4 or 5, so you will need to reduce your top tension to around 1 or 2.
  • Lower the feed dogs: This part is the most important to remember because the feed dogs allow your fabric to be pulled across the machine when doing standard stitching. These must be lowered to allow you to move your fabric yourself in any direction. As with the machine feet, instructions on lowering the feed dogs will be found in your machine manual or online. Not all sewing machines have the ability to drop the feed, so check before venturing into free-motion that your machine is compatible.
  • Stitch length: Set your stitch length to zero for greater control and accurate sewing.

Third: Stitching

free hand machine embroidery of purple and green flowers Photo via Craftsy instructor Terry White in the class Free-Motion Machine Embroidery

Now that you’re all set up, you’re ready to start stitching! Simply press your foot control and push your hoop in any direction.

  • Ensure your fabric is tight in the hoop to prevent any puckering, but don’t worry if areas of heavy stitching become warped. This is normal. Over time you will learn to control it.
  • Always begin with some tester scraps of fabric before stitching onto more expensive cloths. This will ensure all of the settings are correct and help you harmonize with your machine.
  • Start with open, free lines then (after some time) work your into completing more intricate, detailed work. Try different movements: open curves, zigzags and spirals!
  • Practice makes perfect! The more you experiment with fabrics, layering, stitch pattern, and line work, the more comfortable and creative you will be. Don’t put pressure on yourself to follow design lines perfectly the first time — just take the time to get to know your machine and materials.
  • Don’t restrict yourself to the size of your hoop. You can work on a larger scale and use a smaller hoop for detailed areas.

How are you going to use your new free-motion embroidery skills?

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