Free motion Sewing Machine Embroidery – All you need to get started

how to do embroidery with a regular sewing machine

Free motion Machine Embroidery

A computerized machine with special attachments that lets you create digitized designs – that is a dream for me but I do not see that dream coming true for a long long time – like never. But that is ok – I can do beautiful embroidery designs with my hand as well as with my trusty old sewing machine.

A saying in my place translates – where you fall that is your heaven – yes I try to make do with what I have happily. You only need a straight stitching sewing machine for this wonderful ‘drawing with thread’ freehand machine embroidery – with a feed dog cover or drop feed capacity.

The advantages of this embroidery are many. I loved to paint earlier (till I ran out of surfaces to paint and turned to fabric to satisfy my creativity. By the way, check out the post on How to paint on fabric) and feels that this embroidery is almost like a painting.

In this embroidery, you remove the presser foot and use both your hands to guide the fabric as you stitch the embroidery designs while using the foot pedal to operate the machine. The fabric is kept taut inside a frame at all times.

Free motion embroidery can be done by all with some practice, unlike painting for which a minimum skill is needed for a perfect look. Your creativity can be exercised to the maximum; machine embroidery fills a big design in no time unlike hand embroidery – no need to spend countless hours and days for the design to complete.

With Free motion embroidery, you feel like a child in a playground doing exactly as you want. That is what the name of the embroidery all about – Free – you move around freely the way you want to. 

free hand sewing machine embroidery

How to do Free Machine embroidery with your regular sewing machine ?

Steps to free motion embroidery 

Step 1.

Find a medium heavy fabric for embroidery. You need a piece of fabric which is bigger than your hoop 

Step 2.

Draw the design on the fabric. You can free hand draw or use any of the methods of transferring embroidery designs outlined here. I use a water dissolving fabric drawing pen to free hand my small designs. 

Step 3.

Interface the fabric which I do always. A tearaway interfacing would work well as do water soluble ones. The water soluble ones are better I think.

Step 4

Wind bobbin with a machine embroidery thread. Use regular thread if you do not have it. But machine embroidery thread has a sheen and lustre which will look wonderful when the work is done. Thread the sewing machine with the thread.

Step 5

free motion embroidery

Keep the fabric on the embroidery hoop.

You have to keep the fabric on the hoop inversely to what we do when we do hand embroidery. Checkout this post on hoops and other methods to stretch fabric for embroidery for more details.  For machine embroidery we keep the fabric on top of outer ring and then insert the inner ring.

Ensure that the fabric is nicely stretched and tight across the hoop. The hoop should be  2″ bigger on all sides than the design ideally.

Step 6

Remove the pressure foot and remove the snap on pressure foot adapter above the pressure foot . Just loosen the screw and it will come off.

Keep the hooped fabric under the needle  (if the snap-on adapter of the pressure foot is on the machine you will not be able to keep the hooped fabric under the needle)

Reattach the snap on adapter and Attach the darning foot if you have it. You can do this embroidery perfectly alright without darning foot. But you feel more in control with the darning feet on.

sewing pressure foot sewing pressure foot

Some experts use a special needle to do this embroidery – a needle with a spring. This needle is used without the darning foot.  

Step 7

feed dog cover

Lower the feed dog in your machine or cover it. You would have got a small piece of plastic when you bought the machine. That is for covering the feed dog ( The feed dog moves the fabric forward and here we do not want that.)

Step 8

Lower the pressure feet

Step 9

Keep the straight stitch setting on the machine. You can use other stitches as well, but for a start use a straight stitch. If you are using a zig zag stitch, you can set the setting to a wide ( 4) – this will cover large designs pretty fast. 

Step 10

Hold the work by the rings of the hoop (your hands should ideally not leave the rims of the rings throughout the embroidery for your ( fingers’) safety).

Step 11

Make some anchoring stitches in place when you start with stitch length and stitch width set at 0. 

Step 12

Start stitching moving the hoop in short jerky movements so that you fill the whole design with small straight stitches. The movement of the hoop will determine the type of stitches you will get.

You fill area by moving the hoop from side to side while the machine runs zigzag stitches.

The work is moved continuously along with the machine stitching ; you can move vertically, horizontally and to the sides. You can also move in a circular motion but when you are starting stick to straight stitches. Usually, the aim is to make 20 to 30 points per inch. 

You can control the stitch length by moving the machine in different speeds as well. If you run the machine with speed (press the foot pedal) and move the hoop slowly you will be getting small stitches. If you run the machine slowly (less  pressure on the foot pedal) and move the hoop quickly you will be getting longer stitches. 

Move the hoop in any direction you want – as I said plenty of creative freedom in this embroidery.

In between the stitching, if you have to move the stitching to another part you do not have to cut thread and start; Just take the needle to the new part and start stitching. You can cut the loose threads later.

Note : If at any point your bobbin thread is showing through to the upper surface, reduce the upper tension until it doesn’t.Learn more about adjusting sewing machine tension here

Checkout the video for details


Step 13

Review your work. If you see any areas not fully filled in or not evenly done, stitch there again. Simple.

Practice your free motion embroidery skills.

Draw several straight lines, a curved shape and circle on a fabric. Look at the effect of your stitching by varying the stitch effects. Ensure that you are always moving the hoop so that you do not make lumps of thread in one place.

Once you have mastered the basics you can experiment with different types of stitches and different speed and textures. Make your custom fabric patches for clothes and accessories, or embellish your clothes and accessories with beautiful motifs. There are endless possibilities to what you could do with free motion embroidery.

clothing fabric sew on patches


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