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Using a Free Motion Foot

Free motion foot

This tutorial for using a free motion foot was written by Linda from Sewing Bee Fabrics, an online store for fabrics, haberdashery and sewing machine accessories.  Find more tutorials on their site here.

The free motion foot on your sewing machine (sometimes referred to as a darning foot) looks different for each model but will look something like the images above.

It maybe an oval or a square either open toe – meaning the space the needle sits in is open to the front – or closed toe – meaning the shape goes right around the needle.  An open toe foot can make it easier to see your stiching, and to thread the needle.  But a closed toe foot is less likely to catch on something which has edges like multiple layers of applique or fringing.

You’ll also find that some free motion feet come with springs, and others don’t. The spring allows for more movement which will come in useful if for instance you have a thick layer of wadding under your fabric.

Another difference you may find between feet is the size of the foot area.  A larger foot area will give you more stability which is useful when stitching thick layers, but it does make it difficult to get close to the edge of the embroidery hoop.

How to use your Free Motion Foot

Attaching a free motion foot

First of all you need to lower the feed dogs on your machine (your manual should tell you how) or cover them.  Then get your screw driver and remove the foot on your machine.  Line the darning foot up so that the long bit of metal that sticks out at the top hooks over your needle bar (this is usually the bit you unscrew to release your needle to change it). Then the little claw like part hooks around the main bar and you can go right ahead and screw it in.

Set up a sewing machine for free motion

So now that your foot is attached what can you do with it? 

This foot allows you to sew freely in all diferent directions, through as many layers of fabric you can fit under the foot.   Most people use it for free motion embroidery and free motion quilting.

Free Motion Embroidery

Using your sewing machine to do free motion embroidery is like doodling with your machine, using needle and fabric instead of pen and paper.   It’s normally best to mark your design out on the fabric first so you make less mistakes.    If you put your fabric into an embroidery hoop it will keep it taut to prevent puckering, alternatively you could use a stabilizer or light weight interfacing to help keep the fabric stable.

Postition your needle at the starting point of your design, and turn the wheel on your machine to put the needle through the fabric and draw up your bobbin thread.   Pull the threads to the side and then start drawing with your sewing machine. Using your hands to move the fabric under the needle as you stitch around your design.

You do not need to re-start every time you want to change your position on the fabric. Simply raise your needle and presser foot to release the thread then reposition yourself before recommencing sewing. Trim off the joining threads after.

Free motion embroidery

Don’t forget to trim off your tail threads after you’ve done a few stitches so they don’t get caught up on your stitching.   You can cut the joining threads off at the end unless they are in the way.   You do not just have to use your machine for drawing, you can also use it for writing too.

Write with a sewing machine

Don’t forget that just like writing with different pens, using different thread can produce a different effect.  You could use 2 threads through one needle to give a thicker thread, or varigated effect.  You could do bobbin work embroidery with your free motion foot putting ribbons or thick threads in the bobbin.  The bobbin can take thicker threads than your needle can.

The only difference with this is that you need to have massively reduced bobbin tension and slightly reduced top tension. I would highly recommend getting an additional bobbin case to keep specifically for bobbin work as it can be so frustrating trying to get your bobbin back to the right tension to return to sewing. I would also recommend starting with a 2mm ribbon on near the loosest bobbin tension setting. Ribbon is much more forgiving than threads in getting the tension right, but I would suggest always having some scrap fabric to practice on first.  Just remember ribbon frays so you might want to use fray stop on the ends.

Stitching raw edge applique

You can also use your free motion foot to sew applique which would be difficult to sew with your regular presser foot.   You can also them add in detail to your applique, like the wings on the chicken and chick above.

TIP – It’s easier if you stick the pieces on with fabric glue first.

Make lacy fabric with free motion embroidery

You could also use dissolvable stabiliser to make your own lace using your free motion embroidery foot. Cut out the shape you want to fill from your fabric (like reverse applique) and put the stabiliser in the gap.  Start by zig zagging the edge of the shape, and then make sure the free motion shapes you do overlap each other.   Also remember the bobbin side of the stitching will be as visble as the front side of the stitching.  I soak the dissolveable stabiliser off in a bowl of water rather than the washing machine as the stitching is delicate.

Free motion quilting

Free Motion Quilting

This is different from free motion embroidery in that you are sewing through more layers, normally 2 layers of fabric and one layer of batting/wadding.  Unlike when quilting with your walking foot the free motion foot allows you to stitch in any direction and use wavy lines not just straight ones.  

There are a few different ways of quilting with the free motion foot.  You could do a design all over the fabric, regardless of the print on it.   Alternatively you can quilt the background of the design on the fabric, which often makes the feature parts of the print stand out giving a 3d effect as per the pictures below.

Create texture with quilting

Another option is to quilt around the outside of a design on the fabric, stitching the outline.   You can even use the foot to add writing to your quilt.

Outlining shapes with free motion quilting

Why not make this free motion binder cover to practice your free motion stitching?