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!

Simple Free Motion Embroidery - Hot Air Balloon


Today I'm going to show you how to create a simple free motion embroidered picture like the one above.

In addition to your normal sewing kit you will need the following:

  • A darning foot for your sewing machine
  • An image to copy (I found mine on Google Images)
  • A piece of plain medium weight fabric for the backing
  • Various coloured/patterned fabrics for applique.  Mine are scraps of quilting cotton.
  • Dark coloured thread and matching bobbin.
  • A piece of medium weight iron on interfacing about the same size as your backing fabric.
  • Some Bondaweb.
  • Greaseproof paper.
  • A Frixion pen or air erasable fabric pen.
First prepare your backing fabric by giving it a good press and applying the iron on interfacing to the wrong side.

Choose the image you want to recreate (or use as a basis, you don't have to copy it exactly), print or trace a copy and cut it into the parts you want to use.

Basic image cut into sections for a template

I have chosen to simplify this hot air balloon by cutting the centre striped section as one piece, but you could cut the stripes out separately if you chose.

Choose your applique fabrics and cut a piece of each one slightly larger than you need.

Applique fabrics chosen and cut to size

Take a piece of Bondaweb and lay it on your ironing board glue side up.  Check the manufacturers instructions on how to use Bondaweb if you are new to it.  Place your applique fabrics right side up on top of the Bondaweb.  This will ensure the glue adheres to the wrong side of the fabrics.

Applique fabrics ready to have Bondaweb applied

Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper to stop the exposed glue ending up on the baseplate of your iron and press firmly.  It will take 10 - 15 seconds for the glue to activate.  Keep the iron moving slowly and smoothly over the whole piece.

Ironing onto the Bondaweb.  Remember to cover with greaseproof paper!

Remove the greaseproof paper and carefully peel the fabric from the Bondaweb backing.  You should be able to feel the glue on the back of the fabric; it won't be sticky, but will feel slightly rubbery.

Place your fabric pieces right side down and with your template also right side down, draw round the template on the wrong side of your fabric.  I use the wrong side to draw on so I don't end up with pen marks on the right side of the fabric.  You can use any type of pen, I sometimes use a simple ballpoint pen, or a fine fibre tipped one. 

Draw round your templates wrong side down on the back of your fabric

Cut your applique pieces out using some small sharp scissors and assemble them on the backing fabric.  Once you are happy with their positioning, cover them with another piece of greaseproof paper and press again.  The glue will activate again and stick the two layers of fabric together.

Fabrics attached to backing and ready to stitch

Now it's time to start stitching.  Using your sewing machine instruction booklet for guidance, drop the machine's feed dogs and put on your darning foot.

Set your machine to a regular straight stitch.  You don't need to worry about stitch length, you will be controlling this yourself depending on how quickly you sew, and how quickly you move the fabric under the needle.  When you start off you might think it's best to go really slowly but actually I find it's easier to go at a medium speed.  This helps to give a nice, smooth flow to the lines you are stitching, too slow and your lines can end up jagged and rough. 

You can move the fabric as slowly or quickly as you like - quite independently of how quickly your needle is going up and down - and you can either turn the fabric as you go, or you can keep it facing one direction and stitch forwards, backwards and sideways.  There's no right or wrong way; experiment to see what feels most comfortable for you.

Aim to sew just inside the edge of the applique fabric

I always try to sew just inside the edges of my applique fabrics, and I normally go round each piece at least twice.  This helps even out any "wobbles" on your first line of stitching.  Start somewhere that looks easiest - I try to find a straightish edge to start on if I can. 

Start stitching on a corner or somewhere relatively straight

If your machine has the capacity to come to a stop with the needle down into the fabric instead of at it's highest point use this feature.  The way the darning foot works means that the foot isn't in contact with the fabric the whole time, and the needle down in the fabric helps to stop it jumping to one side when you stop.

Main pieces are stitched in place using two lines of stitching

Once you have gone round each piece once you can use a Frixion pen to add extra details, like the ropes attaching the basket to the balloon.  Frixion pen ink disappears when you press it with a hot iron, so they are ideal for this type of work.

Additional details drawn with Frixion pen

Once you have stitched the ropes, give your picture a quick press to remove any ink you haven't covered with stitching and your picture is finished!

The finished piece!

If you wanted to, you could continue to build your picture up by adding bunting to the balloon or ropes, or even to the basket.

Try creating the same image using different fabrics and different coloured thread to see what a difference it can make.  You could also try fussy cutting to include certain parts of a fabric design.

Please let me know if you try this.  You can tag me on Instagram with my user name @stitchedupsam or using the hashtag #stitchedupsam

What is free motion embroidery?

Put simply, free motion embroidery  - or free machine embroidery if you prefer - is the art of drawing with a sewing machine.

Google the term or look on Pinterest and you will find numerous different styles of what is a very accessible form of textile art.

Screenshot from Pinterest

Some textile artists creating free motion embroidery pieces choose purely to use a variety of coloured threads on a plain backing fabric to create their designs. Others combine thread and fabric to create a form of applique - this is the technique I favour most often - and others introduce paints or inks along with the textiles to create more of a mixed media piece.  Once you have picked up the basic technique the only limit is your imagination.

The good news is that you don't need any fancy equipment to give free motion embroidery a try.  All you need is the ability to be able to lower (or cover) your sewing machine's feed dogs and attach a darning foot to the machine and you're good to go.  And some free motion embroidery artists don't even use a darning foot, they stitch without a foot on the machine at all.  I haven't tried this technique and to be honest I don't think I'm likely to.  My fingers get pretty close to the needle even with a foot in place, the potential of stitching my finger by accident seems to great to risk!

A darning foot need not be an expensive purchase, you can buy generic unbranded ones that fit many machines online for less than £5.00, and branded ones start at under £20.00 depending on what type of machine you have.

That's all you really need to get started! 

In my next post I'll take you through creating a simple free motion embroidered piece, but for now I'll leave you with some images of pieces I've made.

New Year, New Direction

Happy New Year and welcome to 2019 in my sorely neglected corner of the internet.  I hope you had a relaxing and enjoyable festive season filled with all the things you love. I had a quiet Christmas in Cornwall with my husband and it was perfect - apart from Christmas lunch itself!

When I started this blog in 2012 (I can't believe it's been that long!) I posted fairly regularly and continued to do so until last year when I struggled to keep things going on a regular basis.  There were various reasons for this, ranging from my day job suddenly becoming far busier than it ever has been, to struggling to take decent photographs of the garments I made and wanted to share.  I was finding it hard to find interesting things to say about the clothes I was making and feel that there are plenty of other bloggers out there that write far better pattern review posts or tutorials for example than I do!

Aside from that, free motion embroidery is what really makes me happy sewing wise - far more than dressmaking these days - so I've decided I'm going to focus on that here.

I've got a variety of posts planned, right from sharing the basics of free motion embroidery and how I got started, as well as introducing you to some other free motion embroidery artists whose work I admire, and possibly even interviewing some of them.

I've also got a new blog header that I stitched myself and am very happy with.

I hope you'll continue to pop in here to follow me as I experiment with some new ideas and share some of my favourite pieces as I do love to know what you think about what I'm creating. 

If there's anything in particular you'd like me to feature, please let me know!