Learn How To Do Free Motion Embroidery (in 7 simple steps)

Free motion embroidery is one of those sewing techniques that, once you give it a go, will become a source of great inspiration (and just maybe a little bit addictive).  Master the basics and it can lead you to some amazing places!

1.Get an embroidery or darning foot for your sewing machine

You don’t need a specialist embroidery machine, but it is worth investing in an embroidery or darning foot for your particular sewing machine.  Check out this great post by Sewing Bee Fabrics to get the low-down on all the different types of embroidery or darning feet out there.  Follow your manufacturer’s manual to find out how to take off the standard presser foot and change to a different one.  It is possible to do free motion embroidery without a foot at all, but to be honest I’ve always found this more tricky than it needs to be so would always suggest getting a specialist foot.  Take away the hassle and the enjoyment can only increase.

2. Drop the feed dog

These are the metal teeth that usually work to feed the fabric through the sewing machine.  However, for free motion embroidery you don’t want this restriction, so they need to be lowered.  Check your sewing machine guide for instructions on how to do this; there’s normally a little switch hidden away somewhere that you simply need to flick to make them drop, or this will be done via your digital screen.

3. Shorten the stitch length to 0

Reducing your stitch length to as low as your machine will let you go will give you optimum freedom when stitching.  A stitch length of zero is preferable, but don’t worry if you can’t go that low, just take your stitch-length down to the lowest setting possible.

4. Use an embroidery hoop or stabiliser

Diving right in at this point will likely lead to some problems; without the usual set up of your sewing machine, your fabric will probably gather up and generally misbehave.  Therefore, you need to find some way of giving your fabric some stability.  Most often, this can be achieved by using an embroidery hoop.  You need to remember to put your fabric into the hoop the ‘wrong way’ from usual, so that it sits in the well (think big hoop first, fabric on top the right way up, little hoop last, secure).  This will help keep your fabric nice and taught and enable you to sew freely.  However, you can also use stabilisers such as stitch and tear, which can be removed after you have finished sewing, or a fusible interlining to give your fabric strength and make it easier to work with.  Try out an approach before committing to your masterpiece, just to see what works best for you.

5. Sew fast, move slow

It can seem counter-intuitive at first, but its actually really helpful to sew really quickly (ie. set your machine at a higher speed and/or press the foot pedal right down) BUT you need to move your fabric slowly.  It takes a bit of getting used to, but you’ll soon realise the speed of your machine doesn’t have to influence how quickly you are actually sewing, and you’ll learn that you can move your fabric steadily and with real control to get the desired result.

6. Practice, practice, practice

Allow yourself to try the technique out many times over on many types of fabric.  Set yourself playful exercises to get used to the process; try a wild and free ‘snail trail’ all over a piece, or moving in large zig zags.  Take away all pressure to create something ‘perfect’ off the bat, and instead enjoy the freedom of just giving it a go (you never know what wonders may occur instead).

7. Be inspired and have fun!

There are some amazing textile artists out there who create the most wonderful results with this basic technique.  Try and find some works that inspire you, to get an idea of just what is possible (or follow my ‘Inspirational Sewing’ Pinterest board).  Once your mind is open to the possibilities, you can begin to push the technique further, try for a particular finish or explore a slight variation on the approach.  There is so much potential, enjoy learning just what is possible.

And as you get a feel for free motion embroidery, there will be more for you to start to consider, such as quality and type of thread, needle type, tension settings and types of stitch.  But by following the above steps you should be able to get started on this new technique and see how it goes (warning, you might not want to stop!)

If you love to sew and are looking for new ideas, why not join my Creative Sewing Challenge?  It’s a monthly source of sewing inspiration that you can subscribe to for free, and you get lots of sewing advice, tips and tutorials along the way.  Sign up below, or find out more here.

And feel free to share my pin on Pinterest if you think any of your followers may be interested in this tutorial.