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Free Motion Sewing

By slowly maneuvering and manipulating fabric under the machine's needle as each stitch pierces the fabric, a meandering stitched pattern of swirls and spirals, angles and peaks can nearly reproduce laborious hand crafted techniques of the past.

Modern geometric and angular patterns can also be produced by adjusting the even spacing of stitches although the flow of the machine stitching may be challenging as the angles require regular stopping, starting, and some adjusting of the fabric under the machine needle.

An embroidery hoop with an adjustable screw is useful to manipulate the fabric as it moves under the machine stitching. A hoop designed especially for machine embroidery is a plus however a regular hand-held embroidery hoop of wood or plastic can also be used. Usually a 6-inch (15-cm) or 8-inch (20-cm) hoop is used most often. A clear open-toe presser foot is helpful when doing free-motion machine stitching as the creation of the stitch as it enters the fabric is easy to see.

Separate the hoop's two rings by loosening the adjustment screw, place the fabric between the two rings, and then re-tighten the adjustment screw while pulling the excess fabric around the edges until it is smooth and taut in the hoop. Place the hooped fabric, under the machine needle and lower the presser foot lever. The fabric will be flush against the machine bed with the right side fabric area facing up in the hoop. Insert the needle into the fabric and bring up the bobbin thread to the top; holding threads pulled straight to one side, take three or four small stitches to lock the threads in place. Holding the hoop with both hands, begin to sew slowly. If sewing curves, move the hoop very slowly left to right or forward or back without twisting the hoop around in a circle and keep the machine speed even so as not to break the threads or machine needle.

If no embroidery hoop is available, the free-motion stitching can still be created by placing both hands on either side of the fabric, close to the machine needle, and moving the fabric slowly as each stitch is produced.

A fabric stabilizer under the fabric will give some stiffening and support to the fabric. There are many kinds to choose from. Tear-away, water-soluble and heat-away kinds usually are used. Practice is best when using free motion stitching to achieve consistent stitch length.

The sewing machine should be in good running order, correct thread tension, usually looser tension for the bobbin, remove the presser foot or use a clear open-toe presser foot for your machine and lower the machine’s feed dogs so they do not grab and move the fabric. Setting the machine’s stitch length to zero will often work as well if the feed dogs cannot be lowered or covered.

Try out different stitch lengths and widths or even the machine’s programmed decorative stitches to audition the most pleasing effects. At times a stitch length and width of zero allows the most freedom of movement as the stitches enter the fabric.

To minimize the feeling of drag as you sew, practice keeping the slow speed of the machine in time with the free movement of the fabric for best results. A purchased Teflon-like sheet may be used as well to minimize drag.

Patience and practice helps to achieve the desired look. Sketching on paper a desired pattern ahead of time is also helpful. For inspiration in finding designs and shapes, look to children’s coloring books, whimsical prints in fabric, pictures, or look to nature for designs suggestive of flowers, trees, ferns and grasses, or use any free-form expression to create appealing shapes.

Sew happy, sew inspired.


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Content copyright © 2013 by Cheryl Ellex. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.



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