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Introduction to Free Motion Machine Embroidery

Strating out with free machine embroidery

This guide to free motion machine embroidery is written by Linda Robinson from Creative Thread Workshops.

The joys of free hand machine embroidery, or free motion embroidery, or free machine embroidery or whatever you call machine stitching  with your feed dogs down and an embroidery/darning foot on means exactly that FREE to be as creative as you dare.

I first began experimenting with free motion machine embroidery several years ago. I was excited by the lack of restraints, having total control over the stitch direction, the rhythm between the needle speed and fabric motion; and yes I could stitch curves, flowing lines, wiggles, squiggles and more.

I never confine it to just fabric, experimenting is exciting I often find myself stitching into paper, card and fabric. Printmaking is in my blood so I love to print my stitching, silver foil card is perfect for this.

Drawing with stitch takes practice and maybe even a little courage for first timers. Start with a blank piece of paper and doodle; continuous lines, swirls, circles, curves, zig zags, this will loosen you up, then move onto a large piece of medium weight fabric. 

You can choose whether you want to use an embroidery hoop for your free machine embroidery. There are advantages to both; a hoop will hold your fabric taught to prevent puckering, however the hoop itself can be a hindrance if you are working quite large and have to stop to keep repositioning it. To stop puckering on finer fabrics you could use a stabiliser, tear away, heat away, cut away and wash away, all have a purpose so check out before you buy to see if it suits your fabric. You can also add felt to the back of your fabric to help to stabilize the fabric.

My perfect analogy of free motion machine embroidery is simply patting your head and rubbing your tummy, once you have found the rhythm between your needle speed and your fabric movement your half way there. Can I hear the patter of fingers exiting this post…. stoppppp it really isn’t that difficult, honest. 


Beginners free machine embroidery

These are my tips to help you on your way:

Check your machine’s instruction manual for the free motion machine embroidery settings before starting.

Use pieces of fabric you aren’t too precious about to practice/experiment on.

Always make sure you have the pressure foot down, this is an easy over sight for beginners as the darning foot floats above the needle plate slightly even when lowered. Set your stitch length to zero.

If your machine has a needle down position this is the ideal setting, when you pause the needle will stop your fabric from moving around.

Try to get into the habit of always drawing up the bottom thread through the fabric to the top, tuck this out of the way until you have made a few stitches, then cut them off. This will save your threads knotting underneath.

Seek inspiration from artists who are renowned for their free motion machine embroidery techniques.  Freely appliqueing snippets of fabric down is Poppy Treffry’s USP, her work is fun, charming and instantly recognisable. Linda Miller creates rich, colourful, naive and humorous embroideries; her free machine stitching fills every space on her canvas with silky shimmering threads.  One of the most exciting free machine artists, of today, is Louise Gardiner, artist and illustrator, originally from Cheshire, Louise creates figurative, floral and zesty pieces of artwork using a combination of rhythmic drawing, intense and intricate free machine stitches, paints, appliqué and inks, to create often large scale jewel like paintings.

Take a little time out to find out more about these fabulous textile artists.

Embroidery techniques

Ok, so you have my tips, you’ve checked out some clever textile artists and you’re set to go; get comfy, relax, shoulders down and breathe.  All I can say is have a go, you won’t know how much fun it is until you try. If you need more guidance or support try a workshop.

Here at Creative Thread Workshops in Garstang, Lancashire we run courses for free machine embroidery, in fact we run a variety of workshops from beginners ‘Machine Sewing for The Terrified’ the perfect starting point, to experimental textile workshops for those with more experience. Talented textile artists are also booked to teach workshops on a variety of textile techniques from Rag Rug making to creative embroidery.

Find out what we do, email;, or on and on twitter @fab_workshops

Good luck and happy FHME, Linda Robinson


Once you’ve mastered the basics of free motion embroidery why not try this beginner’s free motion embroidery cushion project

Strating out with free machine embroidery

All designs and images (c) Linda Robinson Creative Thread Workshops.