Free-Motion Stitching - Let It Go!

Let it go…

Free-motion stitching takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s very freeing not to depend on the machine’s feed dogs and presser foot to keep the fabric moving. With free-motion work, you’re in charge of the direction (any) and the speed at which the fabric moves (any).

Akin to drawing with a pen or pencil, you’re drawing with thread and needle….a doodling adventure of sorts.

Follow these tips for free-motion fun:

  • Lower the machine feed dogs (or cover them). If you’re in doubt as to how to do this, consult your owner’s manual.
  • Set the machine for either straight stitch or a zigzag; length doesn’t matter as you control it.
  • Be sure that you have a flat surface. If your machine is in a cabinet, be sure it’s flush with the cabinet top; if it’s not a cabinet model, consider an extension table for more surface area.
  • Work on a surface that’s slick. Cover the machine base with something like the Supreme Slider, a pressure-sensitive Teflon surface. This allows the fabric to move around freely while you stitch.

    Supreme Slider (courtesy of Nancy’s Notions)
  • Put in a new needle, and set it for “needle down” so that each time you stop, the needle will be in the fabric and keep it from moving.
  • If you’re skeptical of doing free-motion stitching without a presser foot, install a darning or open-toe free-motion foot to give your fingers some protection. If you go for the no-foot-at-all option, use a spring needle—the wire surround protects fingers from the needle.

    Spring Needle (courtesy of Schmetz)
  • The speed at which you run the machine is totally up to you. Some sewers prefer to move rapidly, others take it slow. Practice will tell you the best strategy.
  • On lightweight fabrics, use a stabilizer behind the fabric to prevent puckering.
  • Use variegated threads for added interest.
  • If you’re more comfortable with lines to follow, draw them on the fabric with a removable marker.
  • Always move the fabric as smoothly and evenly as possible and avoid erratic movement while stitching.

Free-motion fun

Use free-motion stitching to write things on your work—whether it’s your name or a notable saying, just pretend the needle is your pen. Practicing your name first helps gain control.

Follow the lines in a print fabric and accent the motifs with threads. The print lines will provide a guide for stitching accents. Use batting or not, depending on the desired look.

Outline a design

Stipple a quilt using free-motion work. It’s fast and it’s random, so there’s no striving for perfection.

Use free-motion stippling for quilting

Use free-motion work to secure an appliqué to a base fabric. Leave the edges raw or finish them before stitching.

Sketching and doodling is just plain fun—whether you do it on jeans, a T-shirt or on a bag.