David, Adam and Madonna

Gosh, so long since my last post once again!  I was determined that once I'd changed my blog to focus on free motion embroidery I would post more regularly.  I didn't imagine my day job would suddenly become even busier than it has been and that when I finished work for the day all I'd want to do was flop in front of the television. 

I've been working on bits and pieces here and there and now have a total of three free motion embroidered portrait kits for sale in my Etsy shop.  Currently you can choose from David Bowie:


and today I've added Adam Ant:

The kits contain pretty much everything you need to stitch the portrait from backing fabric, to templates, all the applique fabrics (which in most cases are Liberty tana lawn) and a hints and tips card as well as full instructions. 

They come packaged in a kraft card box and I have to say I got great feedback on them when I used them for a workshop at the Knitting and Stitching show. 

I plan on adding more portrait kits to the shop as time goes on, so let me know if there's anyone you'd love to stitch and I'll see what I can do!

I'm also planning on adding a small range of mini kits, which will be perfect if you've never tried free motion embroidery before and just want a little taster.

Fashionable Lady - 3D Free Motion Embroidery Tutorial

At long last I have a new tutorial for you!  This is a favourite design of mine, and was originally featured as part of a tutorial for a tote bag that was featured in Love Sewing magazine some time ago. 

Today I'm just going to show you how to create the stylish lady and her fabulous three dimensional frock, then you can decide if you would like to place her on a tote bag or maybe frame her. 

You will need:
  • Medium weight plain fabric for the embroidery base (approx. 10 x 12 inches).
  • Small piece of floral cotton fabric for dress (approx. 8 inches square). 
  • Small piece of hessian for hat (3 to 4 inches square). 
  • A few inches of narrow lace. 
  • Iron on interfacing (approx. 8 x 10 inches to back your embroidery, plus a small piece approx. 4 inches square). 
  • Small piece of Bondaweb (approx. 8 inches square).
  • Black thread. 
  • White tissue paper/thin tracing paper. 

Start by downloading the templates from this link.

Following the manufacturers instructions, apply the iron on interfacing to the back of the plain fabric you will be appliqueing and embroidering onto.  Put this to one side until you're ready to use it. 

Trace the bodice template onto the reverse of a piece of the printed fabric and the hat template onto the reverse of the piece of hessian. 

Trace the skirt template onto a piece of iron on interfacing and cut out.  Press the interfacing piece onto the wrong side of a piece of printed fabric.  Cut out, leaving a ½” border around the sides and bottom of the skirt piece.  Press the border to the wrong side, and sew a line of stitching along the “hem” of the skirt piece.  Set aside.  

Dress and hat pieces prepared with Bondaweb and interfacing.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, apply Bondaweb to the reverse of the bodice and hat pieces, peel off the backing paper and cut out.  Set aside. 

Trace the solid lines on the figure template onto a piece of tissue paper.  Make a light pencil mark where the top of the hat will come.  Pin your tracing onto the right side of one of the plain backing fabric, making sure the figure is positioned centrally.  

The traced template pinned in place for stitching. 

Thread your sewing machine with black thread, lower your feed dogs and put the darning foot on the machine.  Using free motion embroidery stitch over the tracing, going over the lines twice.  At the start and end of each line, stitch up and down on the spot a few times, snip the thread and pull the front thread through to the reverse to secure.  

This blog post might be helpful if you need a refresher on how to do free motion embroidery. 

Stitching complete, tissue paper still in place. 

Once all the lines have been stitched, carefully tear away the tissue paper.  You may find a pair of tweezers helpful in removing small pieces caught between stitches.  

Stitching complete, tissue paper carefully removed. 

Using the dotted lines on the figure template as a guide, position the bodice and hat pieces and press in place with an iron. Stitch around the edge of the hat and bodice piece.  

Hat and bodice pieces ironed on and stitched. 

Pin the sides of the skirt in place, then loosely pleat the excess at the waist and pin down.  

Skirt piece pinned in place. 

Stitch down each side of the skirt and across the waist.  Do not stitch the skirt hem. 

Glue or hand sew a small piece of ribbon or braid on the hat as a band, and around the waist of the skirt. 

You can use this lovely lady as an embellishment on a tote bag or she looks equally as special mounted in a box type frame. 

Giveaway Winner

Happy Easter everyone, I hope you are enjoying the weekend.  In the UK we have gorgeous weather at the moment, which is almost unheard of for an Easter weekend.  I'm very torn though, because part of me wants to stay inside and sew, and the other part of me thinks I should be sitting in the garden making the most of the weather!

I had some lovely comments on my last post to win a copy of The Little Book of Sewing, where I asked you to tell me what your favourite thing about sewing is.  So many mentioned the positive benefits on your mental health, which is certainly high on my list of my favourite things about this wonderful hobby / craft / way of life.

I used a random number generator to pick my winner.

The winner is Amber Elayne, who said:

I love a few things about sewing: well-fitted clothes with practical tweaks that are customized to suit my work and personal lives, as well as individualized gifts for friends and family.

Drop me an email with your address Amber Elayne and I'll get your prize in the post to you.

The Little Book of Sewing

If you're on Instagram then you may well have seen posts popping up in your feed this week about The Little Book of Sewing which was published yesterday. 

Written by the brilliant Karen from Did You Make That, it is - as it says in the title - a little book about sewing.  But as much about why you should sew as how to sew.  There are plenty of hints and tips throughout it's pages, but Karen also focusses on the fact that sewing is good for you with chapter titles such as Self-Love, Mental Health and Kindness.

What you may not know is that the cover was designed and stitched by me!  Karen herself only found out a few weeks ago when I emailed her to thank her for choosing my design.  She thought it would be fun to interview me about the cover design for her blog, and you can read the interview here

Pop over to Karen's blog if you'd like to find out how I designed and stitched the cover, and what my initial thoughts were when the publisher contacted me. 

If you'd like your own copy of The Little Book of Sewing, you are in luck because I have one to give away.  The publishers kindly sent me two copies and as I haven't done a giveaway for ages I thought I'd do just that.  Just comment below telling me what you love most about sewing to be in with a chance of winning.  The giveaway will be open until Sunday 14th April, and a winner will be chosen randomly shortly after that date.   

Meet the Maker

If you're on Instagram you've probably seen the #marchmeetthemaker that lots of creative people have been involved in this month.  I started doing it, posting a picture for each of the daily prompts... and lasted less than a week!

If I'm honest, I'm not that great with photo challenges and that type of thing and often fail to complete them but I really wanted to do this one.  Unfortunately my day job has been crazily busy recently - even more so than normal - and I've had little time to think of anything other than fire risk assessments.  I've even been dreaming about them!

So what I thought I'd do would be to do my own version of Meet the Maker with a bit of an "about me" blog post.  I've gained a few new followers over the past couple of months and I thought it might be good to tell you a bit about me. 

I'm Sam, as you probably will have gathered from my blog name if you didn't already know.  By day I work for a housing association as a fire risk surveyor, doing exciting stuff like inspecting fire escape routes and fire doors and writing reports. It's a job I never imagined myself doing to be honest and some days I'm not quite sure exactly how I came to be doing it.

Outside work I love all kinds of creative pursuits but sewing, and more often than not, free motion embroidery is my favourite.  I've been sewing for as long as I can remember and have made everything from soft toys to wedding dresses.

However my favourite thing to make is free motion embroidered portraits. I started doing them a couple of years ago with a series of David Bowie portraits and have a constantly growing list of other people to stitch.  My ultimate aim for a purely personal project is to stitch David Bowie in every one of his distinctive looks.  The next one I'm planning is the Goblin King from the film Labyrinth.

I love using quality fabrics in my work, with the exception of the black fabric used in the jumpsuit of the third portrait in the above line up, all the applique fabrics are either Liberty print cotton or small amounts of silk dupion.

I teach free motion embroidery at a couple of local sewing shops and recently taught a free motion embroidered portraits class at the Knitting and Stitching show, which went better than I could ever have hoped for.  You can read about that here.

Following that experience I'm currently working on some new portraits with a view to selling kits similar to those that we used during the workshop.  I'm working on images of Prince, Boy George and Adam Ant at the moment, with more to be added as time allows.

I still love making clothes when I have the time and my next dressmaking project will be a Spring coat using the Trend Patterns Drop Shoulder Coat pattern and some jade green cotton moleskin I bought recently.  I'm hoping to start working on that in the next few days and am trying to be good and make a toile before I jump in and cut my good fabric. 

I will also have some news about an exciting project I played a small part in soon, so watch this space!


Iconic Fun Portraits at the Knitting and Stitching Show

Yesterday I had the pleasure of teaching a workshop at the Knitting and Stitching show for the first time. I was contacted towards the end of last year by Wendy Gardiner who organises all the workshops to ask if I'd be interested in teaching free motion embroidered portraits and after a bit of emailing backwards and forwards we settled on this workshop, offering a choice of David Bowie or Madonna.

This was the sight that greeted me when I arrived at the workshop area at the show early yesterday morning, confirmation that my workshop had already sold out.  That was great, but it meant I'd have 12 people to teach, double my normal class size.   

Sold out! Eeek!!

My class wasn't until the afternoon, so me and the friend I'd dragged along to help me (thank you again Jo!) spent the morning shopping and chatting to exhibitors.  I spent my money on three patterns from Trend Patterns, some gorgeous hand dyed embroidery threads from Paintbox Threads and 3 metres of chocolate brown linen for a Spring/Summer dress.

I'd spent the last few weeks putting together kits for the workshop, which were transported there in a rather large suitcase.  I don't think my fellow commuters on the train were that impressed by the amount of room it took up!  I'd decided to make 12 kits in each design, just in case my class sold out (it did) and just in case everyone chose the same one (11 of them chose David Bowie).

Not a great photo, but kits piled up ready to be packed into the case.
I wanted to make the kits really nice (I've been on workshops at events like this before where the kits were awful and actually put me off wanting to do the workshop I'd already paid for), so I chose Liberty print fabrics for the applique and packaged them up as nicely as I could, including templates, instructions and of course all the fabrics.

Part of the kit, without fabric, as I don't think I'd cut it all when I took this photo.

I've been so busy with my real job recently that I hadn't really had much time to think about the workshop other than preparing everything I needed to take with me, but when it came time to get started yesterday I was really nervous.  The previous workshop in my teaching area had over-run slightly, so it was a bit frantic setting up and I also had to contend with a noisy upcycling challenge taking place in the open area behind me.

This was me right before the workshop started, begging my friend to take the photo quickly so I could get going!
Once I got going though I was fine.  As I mentioned above, 11 out of the 12 participants chose to stitch David Bowie, so I was very relieved I had taken the decision to make 12 kits of each design.

I had a great group to teach, everyone was really enthusiastic and kept telling me how much they loved what they were learning.  Some people got on quietly and others chatted to their neighbours as they worked.

And the kits went down a treat, everyone loved them and asked if I sold them elsewhere and if I did any other designs.  That's something I had been thinking about - I was certainly going to put the "leftovers" in my Etsy shop - so I'm now in the process of deciding who to add to my little collection.  Once I've decided I can start stitching, and photographing, and writing instructions, then finally listing them for sale.

If there's anyone famous you'd love to have a kit to stitch, please let me know in the comments below.  I can't promise to make everyone, but if there are a few names that come up a few times it's a distinct possibility I'll stitch them and turn them into a kit.

So free motion embroidery is great, but...

... what can I do with it?

OK, so you've tried your hand at free motion embroidery and you love it.  You want to do more, in fact you want to free motion embroider the hell out of everything you can lay your hands on.

Well that's how I felt after my first experience of free motion embroidery anyway, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel that way!

But what if you want to do more than just embroider pictures of teacups and saucers for friends and family, until they (and you) are sick of the sight of them?

Here are a few other ways I've used free motion embroidery in my projects.

Having always been rubbish at drawing people, I discovered a love of stitching them and now one of my favourite ways of using free motion embroidery is doing portraits.  I tend to do famous people, below is 80's heart throb John Taylor from Duran Duran, but you could do a family members portrait as a unique gift.

I've made several cushions using free motion embroidery - in fact I teach free motion embroidered cushion workshops.  This is one of my favourites:

Clothing and accessories can both be embellished with free motion embroidery as well.

You could practice your skills in miniature and make a badge or brooch.  I used a large self covered button for this Ziggy Stardust one.  (The pink haired lady with glasses is by Jennifer Jackson Dolls.

And a tiny touch of free motion embroidery is all that's required to make my Cheeky Face make up pouch that was featured in Love Sewing magazine a few months ago.

Going into a bit more detail again, here's a portrait of Debbie Harry (can you tell I like 80's pop stars?) on a denim tote bag.

And finally to round things off, a sweatshirt embellished with free motion embroidery.

The only thing to watch out for if you're putting free motion embroidery on items that will go through the washing machine is that the raw edges of the fabric will fray to a certain extent.  However I made this almost three years ago and it still looks good, the frayed edges actually give it a bit more individuality I think.

I hope this short run through some of my previous projects have given you a few ideas on how you can use free motion embroidery yourself. 

If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to know.

60's Lady Free Motion Embroidery Tutorial

As promised I have another tutorial for this week.  This one builds on the hot air balloon from a few weeks ago by showing you how I stitch areas of detail where there is no applique fabric to guide me.

You will need:
Backing fabric to embroider and applique onto
Medium weight iron on interfacing
Applique fabrics (I used scraps of Liberty print silk)
A small piece of Bondaweb
Greaseproof paper
Thin tracing paper or tissue paper
Good quality black sewing thread

Start by setting your sewing machine up for free motion embroidery by lowering the feed dogs and changing to a darning foot.  Thread the machine up with black thread and a matching bobbin.

I used this image to create my embroidery, which I found on Pinterest.

Start by tracing your chosen image onto a sheet of thin tracing paper or tissue paper.  It needs to be thin because you're going to stitch through it later.

Once the image is traced, cut the dress and clutch bag out from your original print out.  Keep the tracing intact.  Select the fabrics you want to use for the two pieces and apply Bondaweb to the back.  Remember to place some greaseproof paper between your iron and the Bondaweb and fabric to protect the iron from the excess glue!

Peel your fabrics off the Bondaweb backing, and draw around the templates you have cut out.  I always draw on the back of my fabric with the template face down.  This way you avoid pen marks on the right side of your fabric.

Use a couple of pins to secure your tissue paper tracing to your backing fabric and carefully position your cut out applique pieces on the backing fabric using your tracing as a guide.

Press with a hot iron to activate the glue and stick the applique pieces down.  Now you are ready to stitch.

Start by stitching the traced lines in the areas where there is no fabric - on this image, the head, arms and legs.  Go over each line twice for a more solid look and stitch up and down on the spot a few times at the start and end.   At this stage you don't need to stitch the areas where there is fabric to guide you.

Once you have completed these sections you can remove the tracing.  Do this by carefully pulling the paper away.  Tear slowly and hold the paper close to the stitches to prevent putting too much pressure on them.  Most areas should come away quite easily as your stitching will have perforated the paper.  Stubborn pieces of paper can be eased away with a stitch unpicker or a pair of needle nosed craft tweezers.

You can now stitch around the dress and bag and add extra detail into the hair, or fill the shoes in should you wish.

This technique can be used anywhere you need to add some detail that can't be guided by the edge of your fabric.  It works well for text as well as "drawn" areas and is particularly useful if you need something to be very precise.

Free Motion Embroidery Artists I Admire

There are many different styles of free motion embroidery.  The beauty of the skill is that once you've learned the basics you can do so many different things with it.  I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my favourite free motion embroidery / textile artists so you see some the different styles in a bit more detail.

Firstly has to be Katie Essam.  It was seeing Katie's work at a local craft fair a few years ago that brought free motion embroidery to my attention. As well as selling her gorgeous work she was advertising workshops and I immediately decided I wanted one as a birthday present.  You can read about my experience on the workshop in this blog post.

Katie describes herself as a mixed media textile artist, inspired by everyday beauty.  She combines freehand machine embroidery, appliqué, paint, crochet and more to create her original textile pieces.

Her pieces are bright, colourful and full of texture and detail. 

You can find Katie's website here. She has also written a brilliant book "Layered and Stitched Pictures", which I highly recommend.

Next I'd like to introduce you to Emma Giacalone, a textile artist I discovered through Instagram.  Emma's work is simply beautiful, incredibly detailed and often focuses on positivity and inspiring messages. 

Her food pictures take familiar, often iconic packaging and give it a quirky twist and "Finding Inspiration" maps do the same for the good old A-Z road atlas.

You can find Emma's website here, and her Instagram here.

Amanda Stinton is another Instagram find - it's where I get my creative fix from these days.  Amanda's lovely work is another take on free motion embroidery, which is almost collage like in the way she layers fabrics - sometimes overlapping tiny pieces - and thread to create colourful and highly textured pictures.  She uses coloured threads to great effect and creates shading as you would with different coloured paints.

You can find Amanda on Instagram here.

Finally for today is Ali from Hawkins and Hill, yet another Instagram find!  I think I found Ali through the gorgeous clutch bags she makes, which often feature some form of free motion embroidery.  The pieces of her work I've chosen to share feature a vintage sewing pattern envelope stitched from fabric, and an old school music cassette tape stitched from vinyl, proving once again that it's possible to use a wide variety of materials in your work. 

I love the way Ali has 'coloured in' the pattern envelope design with thread, rather than using fabric applique.

Ali's Instagram is here, and you can find her Etsy shop here

I hope you've enjoyed my little trip around the world of free motion embroidery today.  There are plenty more artists out there creating in lots of different styles, so hopefully I'll do another one of these posts later in the year. 

In the mean time, I'd love to know which one of the artists I've featured today is your favourite and why.

Next week I'll be back with a new tutorial for you.    

* all of the above images are shared with the artists permission.

Teaching at the Knitting and Stitching Show

Towards the end of last year an email popped into my inbox one day asking if I'd be interested in teaching a free motion embroidered portraits class at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Olympia this Spring.

I often teach free motion embroidery and I love doing so, it always thrills me to see initially nervous students suddenly 'get it' and watch their creativity blossom. But I've never taught more than 6 people at a time; this offer was for a class of 12!

Well, after a bit of emailing backwards and forwards to sort out the details - how long should the workshop be? would there be a choice of portraits, and if so, who? and so on - I accepted the invitation.  I'm excited and a little nervous to be able to tell you I'm teaching a free motion embroidered portraits class on the Friday afternoon, 1st March.

As you can see, the workshop is actually called Iconic Fun Portraits, and I hope it will be fun. 

I've made the samples and as the blurb says, you can choose to stitch either David Bowie or Madonna.  I've chosen to use Liberty of London cotton lawn throughout, as I wanted to make the pieces really special.

I'm currently putting together the kits for the workshop, which is a challenge to make sure I include everything!  Normally I teach in a fabric shop so if I've forgotten anything I can quickly grab it, but for this I need to provide everything.

As I'm teaching a workshop the lovely organisers have given me a discount code for entry tickets to share with my followers.  If you use code SWT40 on the website here you can get your entry ticket for just £12.00.  You can also quote the code if you prefer to book by phone on 0844 581 1319.

As I mentioned earlier in the post my workshop is on the Friday afternoon.  I'd love to see some of you there, whether you take my workshop or not.

Let me know in the comments below if you're going on the Friday and I'll try and say hello.

Materials for Free Motion Embroidery

In my last post I took you through a simple free motion embroidery project without really going into much detail about the materials and tools needed, so today I thought I'd talk about what you need.

Backing Fabric

I like to mainly use plain fabrics for my backing - that is the background I applique and stitch onto, although I do occasionally use tweeds and wools with a texture or pattern.

Medium to heavy weight fabrics work best; cotton canvas, furnishing weight linen and denim are all great options.  Harris Tweed or tartan is lovely but can be quite expensive if you require larger pieces.   
Interfacing / Stabiliser
Unless the fabric I'm using as a base is very heavy weight and stable I always back it with some medium weight iron on interfacing.  You don't need a specialist embroidery stabiliser, dressmakers interfacing works fine and is cheaper.  I find Vlieseline H250 to be the best weight in most cases.
 I use this heat activated fabric adhesive to bond my applique fabrics to the backing prior to beginning embroidery.  It holds everything in place far better than pins ever could.

A variety of fabrics all suitable for applique

Applique Fabrics

This is where your options are almost endless!  When I started doing free motion embroidery I used quilting cotton almost exclusively and it's still a good option.  You can buy it in small quantities, it comes in an incredible array of colours and prints and is easily obtainable.  It's also easy to work with.

These days if I'm using cotton fabric then Liberty Tana lawn is my fabric of choice. I look out for scrap packs wherever I go and have been known to scrounge scraps off fellow stitchers via Instagram!

But don't be limited by cotton; wool and silk are amazing for adding texture, as are leather and handmade felt.

This cushion I made recently features Liberty Tana lawn, silk dupion, metallic leather and handmade felt

A great source of fabric is the sample books you find in curtain and upholstery shops.  I have a couple of such outlets near me and have picked up some amazing and beautiful bargains from them. 


A good quality polyester thread works best, my preference is Gutermann Sew All.   Polyester works better than cotton as it is stronger and therefore less prone to breakage.  I tend to use black thread or another dark shade, but different effects can be achieved by using brighter or lighter colours.  You can choose to match your thread colour to your applique fabric, or contrast. 

Variagated, metallic and rayon machine embroidery threads can all be used to highlight areas and again give different effects.  Experiment to see what you like best.

Rayon machine embroidery threads


You will need some greaseproof paper to lay on top of your fabric and Bondaweb to protect the iron from the sticky glue residue.  Cleaning glue from the plate of the iron isn't fun!  Just buy the cheapest roll of greaseproof paper you can find in the supermarket, it doesn't need to be anything fancy. 

A selection of pens is always good to have on hand.  Frixion pens are great for drawing guidelines for stitching; just remember their ink disappears with heat, so don't spend ages drawing something out with one and then go over it with your iron before you've stitched!  Other than Frixion pens, I use either a standard ball point pen or a fine drawing pen to trace around my templates.


In terms of tools you don't really need a lot in addition to your regular sewing kit.  The only essential as far as I'm concerned is a darning foot for your sewing machine but if you're braver or less squeamish than I am you could even forego this.

Non essential - but "nice to have" tools for me would include some tiny sharp scissors or micro snips for cutting threads close to my work and maybe some craft tweezers for dealing with fiddly bits of fabric.  I do like to have scissors in a variety of sizes both for cutting the aforementioned fiddly bits of fabric as well as my initial templates.      

Tula Pink Hardware micro snips - a less fancy version would work just as well!