Free Motion Embroidery - Stitching Detail

I'm back after another extremely long break with a free motion embroidery tutorial for you.   It's actually something I've been meaning to photograph and write for some time, but a question from a participant of a recent workshop I taught prompted me to get on and do it.

Kim emailed me after the class and asked:

In the pieces you showed as illustrations there were several where there was no applique and I was wondering how you approach this - it’s more a true freestyle?  For example on your illustration with the woman in the red dress with the large window behind, how did you embroider the window - is this completely freestyle or do you draw on the fabric & sew over it?  How do you get the perfect layout?  Any pointers on this aspect would be greatly appreciated!

 The picture she was talking about is this one, that I created some time ago.

Sadly I didn't have time to recreate something similar, so I've done a tutorial using a slightly simpler design.  

I started by cutting the main pieces of the image out of the fabric I wanted to use, and adhering it to my backing fabric with Bondaweb.

I used a copy of my original image to trace the details I wanted to add with thread onto a piece of dressmakers tissue paper.

I then pinned this in place over my backing fabric and main applique pieces and used the outline to place additional smaller pieces (in this case, the headlights and hubcaps).

I then start stitching as normal, with my embroidery foot on my machine and the feed dogs lowered. 

At this stage I only stitch the areas where I need the traced outline as a guide - I don't stitch "edges" or areas that can be sewn without the tissue paper in place.  The reason for this is that the more stitching you have over the tissue paper the more fiddly it becomes to remove it.

Once I've stitched everything I need to I carefully tear the tissue paper away.  Normally it comes away quite easily, the stitches have already perforated it, which means it comes fairly cleanly away from the sewn lines.

However a stitch unpicker is useful for getting under pieces of paper that are fully enclosed by stitching, and a pair of needle nosed craft tweezers can help pull away tiny pieces of paper that get stuck under individual stitches.

Once all the tissue is removed, I continue stitching the remaining areas as normal. 

I noticed on this piece that I'd forgotten to sew the offside front wheel when the tissue was in place (because I'd actually forgotten to trace it!) so I carefully drew it in with a pencil.  You could use an air or water erasable pen - but if you decide to use one of these please test them on a scrap piece of fabric first to make sure they really do disappear!

And finally, the completed piece.

You can use this technique to stitch large areas without fabric underneath or a completely fabric free piece.  It's also useful for just adding very small amounts of detail on a fabric-heavy piece, and it's great if you want to add text or lettering that needs to be particularly neat.

I hope you've found this tutorial useful.  If you would like more information on basic free motion embroidery techniques, I have a tutorial here.