Free-motion embroidery is a fun technique that transforms your sewing machine into a drawing and writing machine. Nearly all Ariane Mariane — Textile Art / Paris creations are a combination of hand-crafted felt and embroidery.
Free-motion embroidery is an integral part of my art. Throughout the years I have refined my style and developed my own techniques. Embroidery adds an unparalleled elegance. It lets me underline details, enhance the material and add radiant accents.
Free-motion embroidery with a sewing machine is a fun and highly artistic technique. I teach it on a regular base with great pleasure in many of my textile art courses in the western suburbs of Paris. For those who would like to give this technique a try on their own, let me anticipate some of your questions so you can begin more easily:
- What type of machine is needed for free-motion embroidery?
For free-motion embroidery, we can use ordinary sewing machines. They can be mechanical or electric, complex or straightforward. You just need to be able to lower the sewing machine’s feed under the throat plate of the machine, so that they will not grip onto the material as it passes under the needle. Most contemporary sewing machines have a switch that lowers the feed dogs. Some older machines have a plate that is used to cover them. Some quilters even use plastic to cover feed dogs that cannot be lowered.
The feed dogs are the metal teeth-like ridges which help to gently push the fabric forward in normal sewing. Unfortunately, they cannot be lowered on all machines. To know if your machine has this option, look in the Owner’s Manuel. Sometimes you will see a section entitled “Dropping the Feed Dog”, sometimes you will see a section with the function “darning.”
If your machine is adjustable, you will often see a button or a lever which lowers the feed. In the older Singer models, you must add a sewing plate that covers the teeth.
Once the feed dog is lowered, you can guide the material through with great liberty in both direction and speed. Think of the threaded needle as a pen pointing from on high. The needle will mark the drawing on which you are the master. Simple or complex forms, shapes, calligraphy… you are as unlimited as your imagination.
- How can I adjust a sewing machine for free-motion embroidery?
You don’t need to adjust the length of the stitches. You determine the length by regulating the speed you use to push the fabric through.
You don’t need to have complex shapes, either! Straight lines and zigzags are enough to create beautiful free-motion embroidery. That being said, you can experiment with zigzag width and even vary it while you embroider.
You can also play with the thread tension. This will add variation to the graphic quality of your stitches. If you want a smooth line, you generally lower the tension to what you usually use in regular sewing. When you raise the tension, the stitches will form little knots, and when you go quickly, you will create streaks.
- What foot should I use for Free-motion embroidery?
You can use a regular foot to embroidery with a machine, but it will add a bit of pressure to the fabric.
If you want to make the fabric glide more easily under the needle, lift the foot completely. Careful, though, because you then run the risk of jabbing the needle through your finger (I have had the painful experience… several times!).
The best choice is to use a special embroidery foot. An embroidery foot (darning foot, free-motion foot) helps you to avoid sticking yourself, and you can still see the design you are following.
The best embroidery feet is a free-motion spring foot. You can more easily work with thicker material or with textured surfaces. There are all sorts of embroidery feet in all sizes: oval, round, transparent, plastic, metal..
Just be sure that the foot is compatible with your machine!
Personally, I really like the ones that are open in front. I feel like I can see what I’m doing more easily.
- What kind of fabric can I embroider?
Personally, I do free-motion embroidery almost exclusively on my own hand-crafted felt. They are rather thick and so difficult to set up in an embroidery hoop. If you work with a thin fabric, the hoop is indispensable. You have to be able to pull it taut so that it doesn’t get push into the machine. Once a piece of fabric has a constant, tight tension pulling it taut, it can be embroidered.
For delicate or thin fabric it might be useful to work with a water soluble stabilizer such as Sulky Paper Solvy (you can create a template using your computer and a printer which will then dissolve completely in cold water). You can also go online and look up advice from other people who sew with delicate fabric.
Any professional advice?
My most useful advice: don’t be afraid! Have fun! Experiment! Free-motion embroidery is pure pleasure when you can just let go!
If you want to have more guidance so you can approach free-motion embroidery more serenely, and have more in-depth instruction, you can sign up for one of these workshops:
- Textile experimentation
- Felted critter
- one to one workshops “à la carte”
It is always a great pleasure to welcome you to my workshop in the Paris suburbs!
Icing on the cake: here is a video that shows how I embroidered the tableau “VOGELGEFLÜSTER”