Free Motion Stitching

Free Motion Stitching
Most sewing machines have the ability to allow the machine sewer an option to use free motion stitching. By lowering the sewing machine’s feed dogs – those ridged metal teeth that are visible protruding up from two slots in the machine’s throat plate and are intended to allow pressure contact with the underside of the sewing machine’s presser foot, allows fabrics (usually in layers of thin batting and underlining) being fed under the presser foot to move freely by the use of push and pull of hand movements.

With the feed dogs lowered and stitch length set to zero the sewer only has to contend with regulating the speed of the machine and manual push of the fabric on the machine bed to create the length and direction of the stitch. The stitch will be unencumbered by the feed dogs usual forward or backward movement. The sewer determines the direction and length of the stitch that will form on the fabric by pushing the fabric under the needle forward, backward, sideways or in any lateral direction. Hands apply pressure on the fabric as it lays draped on the machine bed and on either side of the needle. The sewer follows the rhythm of the threaded needle as it pierces the fabric and engages the bobbin thread to form the locked stitch.

Correct posture of the sewer at the machine reduces fatigue, correct placement of handholds on the fabric, hooping when needed and the smooth push/pull movement of the fabric by the sewer are key to working with the machine as it sews to create the desired stitching. A way to reduce potential hand fatigue in creating a large section of free motion stitching is to place a section of the fabric to be stitched in an embroidery hoop and sliding all under the machine needle. The hoop provides a helpful way to firmly grab hold of and keep any fabric layers secure as the stitching takes place. The hoop will help as well in smoothing out any wrinkles or puffiness of the layered fabric as the stitching is created.

Stitching with the machine action at a slow speed, smoothly moving the fabric and avoiding jerky motions, will produce a long stitch length. A slightly faster speed and a rhythmic fast push or pull of the fabric still using a smooth motion will create a shorter stitch length. Of course, it is best to practice this type of stitching to determine the best stitch length desired. Since free motion stitching really applies thread stitches in any direction, beautiful free form swirls, stippling, pebbling, single loops, drawings, flowers, spirals and many more designs can be created enhancing and embellishing fabric to create unique garments, quilts and home décor.

Although a presser foot designated for free motion or a darning foot are desirable in free motion stitching, they are an optional nice-to-have. Both these presser feet types use a ring-like circular shape for the machine needle to pass through and allow for the sewer an easy view as the stitch is being formed on the fabric. These presser feet are found either as an open toe (zig zag stitch ok to use) or closed toe (straight stitching only).

At times, using a tear-away or water-soluble light weight interfacing will help to stabilize fabrics for monograming (lightly draw out the lettering design on the fabric first), thread drawing or simple embroidery. Free motion stitching to attach fabric scraps together to form yardage benefits when being stitched over a light-weight muslin type backing.

Free motion stitching is an apt description for this technique since there is nothing to delay the movement or motion of fabric under the machine needle freeing all control of the fabric to the sewer as the stitch is being created – hence the label free motion stitching.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

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