Free Motion Sewing

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.

A free motion guide gripper tool is useful to have to manipulate the fabric by hand as it freely moves under the machine needle while stitching. It is not quite a full circle hoop having an easy permanent opening to cradle around the machine's needle and designed specifically for free motion techniques. Rubber strips on the bottom of the open partial circle form grips the fabric securely and is easy to move and reposition without removing the fabric from under the needle. A clear open-toe presser foot is also helpful when doing free-motion machine stitching as the creation of the stitch is easy to see.

Place the fabric under the machine needle and lower the presser foot lever. Smooth the fabric on both sides of the machine needle so the fabric will lay flush against the machine bed right side of the fabric area facing up. Place the gripper tool on the fabric so the machine needle is in a centered position. Lower the presser foot. Insert the needle into the fabric and bring up the bobbin thread to the top; holding threads pulled straight to one side, take two or three small stitches to lock the threads in place. Holding the gripper tool with both hands, begin to sew slowly. If sewing curves, move the gripper tool 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 gripper tool 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 if desired 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 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 the fabric dragging 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 any fabric drag. It has a sticky undersize that is repositionable if necessary and a pre-cut hole for the machine needle to pass through.

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 for free form shapes, 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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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.