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8 Proven Techniques for Embroidery on a Free-Motion Machine

If you want to learn something new, finding knowledge has never been easier. Most people’s “go-to” sites are search engines and YouTube.

There are many video lessons and frequently downloaded instructions available to teach, enlighten, and/or overwhelm you.

It’s so simple to jump from one website to the next, which may quickly turn into a maze of information overload, making you apprehensive even before you start.

I try to debunk the mystique around the incredibly creative and addicting craft of free-motion machine embroidery in this post.

It’s not difficult; all you have to do is relax and be ready to play.

1. The Sewing Machine

I’m frequently asked, “Which machine is best for machine embroidery?” Anything that sews a straight stitch is generally my solution because that’s all you need.

Forget about the elaborate pre-made ornamental stitches; a simple straight stitch would be enough.

I’ve stitched on old sturdy machines that functioned just as well as some of the gleaming new, all-singing, all-dancing machines.

2. The Dog Teeth or Feed

You have the dog teeth up with regular sewing. They will transfer the fabric from the front to the rear for you.

You don’t want them to do this with free-motion machining. Therefore you’ll need to release the teeth.

This may be accomplished in two ways—dropping the teeth- there may be a switch in your bobbin case region, sometimes at the rear, front, or beneath, that you may flick to lower the teeth.

(It might be a darning sign-on antique machine.)

If your machine lacks this feature, it may come with a darning plate that clips over the teeth and allows unrestricted movement.

(Which will almost certainly be more difficult than dropping the teeth.)

You must be able to move the cloth freely in any way, round and round in a circle, from side to side, front to rear, or back to front, while using a free motion machine embroidery.

In any case, you must freely manipulate the cloth and “draw” with the thread.

You won’t conduct free-motion stitching if you don’t have the switch or the darning plate.

3. The Sewing Machine Foot

If you don’t have the correct foot, you won’t be able to do machine embroidery. It has to be spring-loaded so that it may bounce.

A darning foot, a free motion quilting foot, or a machine embroidery foot are all names for the same thing.

If I’m stitching across multiple thicknesses, such as crazy patchwork, I use a closed darning foot; otherwise, I use an open toe darning foot.

It allows me to see precisely what I’m doing while stitching. Some skilled stitchers will utilize free-motion stitching without a foot, but the cloth will be firmly hooped, and you will need to stitch rapidly.

This is a terrifying situation for the novice, and I would not recommend that you begin in this manner.

4. The Thread

I have a set of rules that I adhere to. If you draw a length of thread and examine it attentively, you should see that it is extremely even all the way along; if it is uneven or bobbly, you may have difficulties.

When trying to tug on the thread in opposing directions, it must be strong. If it snaps readily, you may expect it to snap frequently when machining.

Remember that even high-quality threads can become brittle if exposed to direct sunlight for an extended length of time, so do a strength test first.

The thread should not be too thick. Therefore a 40 or 50 weight is typically recommended; anything thicker (lower in number) will be difficult to stitch with.

As a general rule, I use a high-quality top thread but usually use a lower-cost option in the bobbin.

Some people recommend that the top and bottom threads match; however, this is totally dependent on your machine; my Janome is quite forgiving.

Cotton is preferred. However, rayon threads are occasionally used. Metallic threads are a whole different story—a different blog, a different time!

Brown or grey is my favorite stitching color, with black being a rare exception due to its harsh appearance.

5. Needle

A topstitch needle may be useful if you’re using a thicker thread. I would use a leather needle with a chiseled tip if sewing a lot of paper.

It’s a good idea to change your needle now and again. When things go wrong, it’s easy to point the finger at everyone else, yet it might simply be a little curved or dull needle.

6. Fabric

The wooden hoop is often the first thing that turns people off from machine stitching.

When you’re just starting, attempting to get the hoop beneath your foot may be quite irritating.

I now teach machine embroidery without the use of a hoop, using a strong cotton canvas.

Everyone may only focus on sketching with the thread and sewing creatively.

It’s simple to use a hoop after they’ve cracked it. When working with a thinner cloth, I’ll sometimes use a stabilizer like a tearaway or iron-on interfacing.

7. Tension

I usually use a straight stitch with the stitch length set to 0 or as low as your machine allows (some only go down to 0.5 or 1 on some machines).

There should be no loops in your stitches on both the front and back. If the bobbin thread is visible on the top, decrease the top tension.

Re-stitch, reducing the stitch count by one at a time until the stitching is smooth.

Mine is set at 4 or 5, and I don’t need to reduce the tension on my machine, but your stitching will tell you otherwise.

Once you’re in the zone and stitching quickly, you can see a bird’s nest below your machine.

This might be due to one of two things: either you left the presser foot up or the thread slid out of the bobbin case’s hook, requiring you to re-thread the bobbin.

8. Speed

If you’ve stitched before, your brain is probably used to seeing the cloth move faster the harder you push the foot pedal.

You have to forget about that relationship while using a free-motion machine embroidery machine. Fast feet, slow hands are my mantra.

It may appear weird at first, but after a while, you’ll notice that you don’t need to move the cloth quickly—though keeping the revs up helps.

You want a stitching line that is smooth and drawn.

The threads will be overly long if you move the cloth too fast, and the stitches will stack up to produce a raised glob of stitches if you leave the fabric in the same location and continue to stitch.

The pace at which you move the cloth and the speed you push your foot down must be synchronized for your stitching to be successful.

It will take some practice, but stick with it. You are in charge, so don’t feel like it’s running away with you.

It’s like riding a bike: once you’ve “clicked,” you’ll always take up that speed the following time you set up the machine.