Sewn Images Tutorial - part 1

Over the weekend I made another of my machine embroidered/appliquéd pictures for a friend’s birthday present.  As I had a bit of time, I decided to document the process and put together a little tutorial for anyone who might be interested.

So here goes – warning, there are lots of photos!

You will need:
  • Background fabric – this is what your picture will be stitched onto, so you need to choose something relatively thick and stable.  In this example I used Lenda 100% cotton fabric from Ikea, but you could use any firm fabric.  I’ve also used linen, and denim would be good.
  • Small pieces of coloured/patterned fabric to make your picture.  You could use pretty much anything, offcuts of quilting cotton, dress fabric, even textured fabrics.  Here I’ve used small scraps of Liberty Tana lawn, which I bought from Very Berry Fabrics on Folksy.
  • Iron on embroidery backing or iron on interfacing.  You will need this on the back of your background fabric to provide stability to your sewn image.  Janome Iron On Stabilizer was recommended to me,  but it's really hard to find.  A decent medium weight iron on interfacing works just as well.
  • Bondaweb.
  • Tissue paper.
  • A darning or embroidery foot for your sewing machine.
First, choose an image that you would like to recreate in fabric.  It can be anything you like!  Sometimes I’ve traced things from books or photographs, but this time I’m using a hand drawn image of a cupcake.
Keep things fairly simple initially until you get the hang of the technique, then you can let your imagination run riot.
Cut a piece of your background fabric at least 2 inches bigger than you want the finished picture to be (to allow for framing etc).
Then cut a piece of iron on embroidery backing or interfacing a little bigger than your chosen image and iron it onto the back of your background fabric. 
Cut the drawing/tracing of your image up into sections – each section will use a different fabric.   Once you’ve chosen the fabrics you want to use for the image, turn them face down, lay the section of your picture you want to copy face down on top and draw round them.  Drawing round a face down image on the back of your fabric ensures that it's the right way round when you turn the fabric over.  

Do this will all your pieces, then cut them out.  If you’ve got quite a few pieces you might want to number them in some way, so you can remember which piece goes where!

The next step is to iron your cut pieces onto the Bondaweb.  Lay them out and cover them with a piece of tissue paper before you iron them, to avoid getting the glue from the Bondaweb on your iron (ask me how I know this is important!)
After ironing, remove the tissue paper and it should look like this.

Carefully peel the pieces off the Bondaweb – be careful with any areas that could tear or break - and position them onto your background fabric. It's worth spending a bit of time on this stage, to make sure everything is positioned exactly as you want, while there's still time to change your mind!
Don’t worry about the tufts of glue around the edges, they will disappear when you iron the pieces onto the background.  Lay another piece of tissue paper over this image and press again.
Carefully peel back the tissue after pressing, and you should be left with something like this.  The tufts of glue have disappeared.
Now it’s time to start sewing. 
Attach the darning/embroidery foot to your sewing machine and lower the feed dogs.  This step is important to allow you to move the fabric in any direction you like under the needle.
Position your image under the needle.  I find it easiest to start in one “corner” and I always lower the needle into the fabric by hand before I start sewing.
Carefully stitch round each piece of your image separately.  I like to go round twice, to form a more solid outline, but you can experiment to see what works for you.

You can see that it’s virtually impossible to get your two lines of stitching exactly on top of each other, but I think the uneven nature adds to the charm!  Once you’ve gone round the edges you can really start to have fun, adding as much or as little detail as you like.

I added swirls to the icing, and lines for the folds in the cupcake case, as well as a bit more detail on the flower.
I still thought it was a bit plain though, so I added some squiggles around the base.  These are really fun to do, just move the fabric any way you like under the needle!  It’s a strange sensation at first, but once you get used to it, it’s great fun.

And here’s the finished picture in its frame.  I gave it to my friend last night and she loved it!
A few tips:
  • Practice on some scrap fabric first and try doodling with your sewing machine.  It takes a little while to get used to the feeling of not having to sew in straight lines.
  • The more slowly you move the fabric under the needle the smaller the stitches will be. 
  • Use whatever colour thread you like.  I tend to use black, but a colour that coordinates with your fabric can look nice, although will be less noticeable.  It just depends on the look you’re going for.
  • You can add any kind of embellishment you like.  Beads, sequins, hand embroidery, even paint!  I often paint highlights and shadows onto my pictures to give them more dimension.
  • If you have lots of pieces in your image you might want to use a tracing of the picture as a guide when assembling the image.  I’ll do a separate tutorial on this, as you can then use the tracing as a sewing guide as well. 
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial, and found it helpful.  Please don’t hesitate to ask if there’s anything else you’d like to know!


  1. Gorgeous! I especially love the swirls in the icing, and the flower. Actually, love everything about it!

  2. What a fun idea... with endless permutations!

    1. Thank you. Yes, definitely endless permutations!

  3. Oh, how exciting - I'll add that foot to my wish list. Now I just need to figure out how to lower my feed dogs! Loving the cup cake :)

    1. If you do get a darning foot, get one without a gap at the front if you can. The girl that taught me said if they have a gap they can sometimes get caught on threads.

      I had to find out how to lower my feed dogs too. If it's any help, I have a slide switch at the back of the machine below the feed dogs. You have to take the extension table off to get to them.

  4. Another thing to add to my must try list!

  5. Great tutorial Sam, lovely!! I keep meaning to pick mine up again, having got all the thread and gizmos....this could be a good place to start. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Winnie. I'm pleased it's spurred you on to have a go again yourself!

  6. I love your work especially the embroidery and your profile image is so cute,count me as your fan from now on.

  7. Just discovered your blog as looking for free motion tutorials, thanks so much for sharing! I love your work :-)


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