Free Motion Machine Embroidery

We were having a discussion on the forum recently about using free motion machine embroidery on felt. I thought it would be interesting to show a variety of techniques that I have done recently (and not so recently) using my sewing machine and the darning foot. I love to stitch on felt as it gives such a nice texture with the tight machine stitching and the “puffiness” of the felt.

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When I first started stitching on felt, I used a method where the design is drawn out first on soluble fabric and then stitched on to the felt. It is an easy way to start as you can get your design figured out and then just follow the lines on the soluble fabric. I did a tutorial on how to do this demonstrating the mountain goat stitched on felt. I use a clear darning foot when I’m doing free motion embroidery because it is easier to see where you’re going. I also did a tutorial on how to stitch a red felt scrap bowl. Free motion stitching does take a little practice but if you start with a simple pattern such as little circles to make a background pattern, it is fairly simple to try. Just put your feed dogs down on the sewing machine, attach a darning foot and set your stitch length to zero. I find it easiest to try a sample on heavy interfacing to start and then you won’t feel like you’re wasting “good felt”. Start stitching with a moderate speed and move your interfacing slowly under the needle. Think of your needle as the pencil and just doodle around on your interfacing. Try writing your name or drawing a leaf shape. The more you practice, the easier it is.

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I have also done a lot of free motion stitching on other projects besides felt. One year, I was in a book page swap and used a lot of free motion stitching on the book pages that I traded with other people. You can use water-soluble fabric to stitch on and then make “thread lace” or three-dimensional effects with thread. I have used a variety of techniques, some in which the entire piece is thread, some the fabric is painted first and some the fabric painted or dyed afterwards. Have you done any free motion embroidery on your sewing machine? We’d love to see what you’ve done. Come join us on the forum and show us your work.

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31 Responses to Free Motion Machine Embroidery

  1. This is really topical for me! Your comment about using the needle as a ‘pencil’ to doodle strikes a chord. I’ve recently gotten hooked on Zentangle and have been thinking about incorporating zentangle with free motion machine embroidery on felt. I’m sure I’m not the first to have thought of it. I have registered for Fiona Duthie’s upcoming surface design class online, and hope to explore the idea there.
    Love your slideshows – some beautiful examples!

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks! Zentangles are great fun. I have done a few with free motion machine embroidery but not on felt. I hope you’ll show us your results. Fiona’s class looks like great fun – I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Lyn says:

    Beautiful slideshows – beautiful work!

    I love stitching into felt better than stitching into any other fabric.

  3. craftywoman says:

    I love what you have achieved using free hand machine work, I’ve dabbled in it but nothing too serious, I’m off to check out your tutorials – more inspiration πŸ™‚

  4. lovely work, especially liked the 3d stitched flower. i love machine embroidery too but never done anything 3d

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks! The 3-D poppy petals were done on soluble fabric and then hand stitched to the background flower – takes a lot of thread but really fun.

  5. Your skill with free motion is impressive. I do a lot of this myself and know that it takes some practice to get to your level. But free motion adds so much to the detail of your work. It is worth the effort.

  6. I wonder if I could ask for some advice? I have been free machine stitching onto felt today but the bobbin thread is showing through as really loose loops on the top. I have tried changing the tension but nothing seems to help. Any tips you could offer?

    • ruthlane says:

      Hi Judith, it definitely sounds like a tension issue. Is your top thread much heavier than your bobbin thread? If so, try using the same thread in the bobbin and in the top. Have you changed the tension on the bobbin case or just on the top? There is usually a little screw to tighten the bobbin tension on the case. Turn to the right to tighten. You should tighten it only a quarter turn at a time. Try stitching on a sample after each time you tighten it. If that doesn’t take care of it, the top tension should be loosened as it is pulling it up too much. Again, just loosen it a little at a time and test between times until you get the tension just right. Your testing should be on the same thickness of felt that you are attempting to stitch as the thickness of the fabric makes a difference with tension issues. I hope that helps. I’d love to have you show us what you’re up to on the forum. You can sign up by clicking the forum button on the sidebar.

  7. Teri Berry says:

    Stunning work Ruth, really inspiring! How did you make the series of 8 leaves? Are they cut from prefelts?

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Teri! The 8 leaves are coasters that I wet felted first (no prefelt) and then I used either stamps or stencils and thickened dark green dye to print the leaves on the felt. Then I stitched around the leaves. I used acid dyes and then steamed the coasters to set the dyes.

  8. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    I thought I had posted this morning, but apparently, I didn’t hit post. Well, I love the 3d pieces the best especially the one with the circle background. You can really get some intricate details.

    • ruthlane says:

      “I thought I had posted this morning, but apparently, I didn’t hit post.” Don’t you hate that? I do that occasionally too.

      Thanks Marilyn – the one I think you are talking about is made with dyed silk carrier rods that were hand stitched on to the machine stitched felt. I sent that to Karen as a donation for an auction to raise money for one of the Australian wild fires that caused so much damage.

  9. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    I hope someone gave a big donation! All the pieces are lovely. I really have to try it.

  10. Very inspiring Ruth. I really like the evergreen tree. i had a go at the farmshow today. the quilters where there . she din nice swooping lines and I did jagged loops. he had a nice table attached to her machine and said she had something that goes on top to help everything slide better but she didn’t have it with her.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Ann – It just takes practice. They have lots of different things that “make it slide better” but those are generally for quilting big projects. I don’t use anything extra. Felt usually slides easily under the machine unless it is too thick.

  11. Leonor says:

    I’ve never done free embroidery, although it’s something I play with in my head (another thing to add to my To Do list…) You’ve done a beautiful job! My favourites are the green leaves – did you end up using them anywhere specific?

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Leonor. Yes, all our to do lists are quite long. I guess you just prioritize what is most important to you. You can’t learn and be an expert at everything. The green leaves were a coaster set and given as a gift.

    • Leonor says:

      Oh, coasters? They seemed smaller to me for some reason πŸ™‚
      As for prioritising, it’s a hard task, one I still need to master (or maybe have less things I’d like to do?)

  12. luvswool says:

    Ruth, your work is just beautiful, and the details you capture are incredible! As I mentioned in another post, I do not find free motion machine embroidery relaxing. I started a felt circle, inspired by Lyn’s bowl with cheesecloth, but abandoned the machine in favor of hand embroidery.
    Of course, my “bowl” does not compare with Lyn’s, but I enjoyed the process.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks – hand embroidery is great on felt too. I like both. The machine embroidery just takes getting used to. Many people are uncomfortable with it when they first start. You just have to persevere. πŸ™‚

  13. zedster66 says:

    It all looks gorgeous Ruth πŸ™‚
    I only have my old manual Singer, I can only do straight or wavy lines, but even that looks good on felt. When my electric one worked, I had more stitches/lengths etc, but could only go straight with that too 😦
    I’d love to have a go at free motion.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Zed – I have seen a copy of an old manual from Singer from early 1900’s. It shows how to do free motion with your manual machine. I think it’s on archive.org. Sorry your electric machine isn’t working anymore. I know you’d enjoy free motion stitching. You need to come visit me and you can play on my machine πŸ™‚

    • zedster66 says:

      All back to your after the World of Wool trip? πŸ˜‰
      I’ll see if I can find that, I have looked there at embroidery books, thanks πŸ™‚

    • ruthlane says:

      Oh good plan Zed – I’ll just whisk you back here after I’ve bought out World of Wool πŸ™‚

    • zedster66 says:

      πŸ™‚

  14. Juliane says:

    Really stunning work! Have been noticing lots of embroidery since I subscribed to textileartist. org, but didn’t know how it was created. Thank you.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Juliane – I hope the tutorials will explain it a bit for you. Everyone has their own preferred method but the basics are the same. You move the fabric underneath your needle using the needle like a pencil to “draw” on the fabric.

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