Free motion embroidery with machine embroidery designs

We've got two brilliant free motion embroidery tutorials to help you create gorgeous designs inspired by the natural world

free motion machine embroidery applique main

You don’t always need a fancy embroidery machine to embellish your projects – though if you are lucky enough to have an embroidery machine and are looking for digital files to use it in, check out our free machine embroidery patterns article! But you can create beautiful free motion embroidery designs at home using just a regular domestic sewing machine.

We have two special free motion machine embroidery projects for you in this article. Combine free motion embroidery techniques with machine embroidery appliqué to create a gorgeous zipped pouch, designed by Sophie Tarrant. It’s perfect for taking your sewing supplies with you wherever you may be! Or perfect your free motion embroidery with a beautiful and uplifting sentiment banner from Emma Giacalone which combines a template with free motion machine embroidery to produce beautiful floral shapes

Free motion machine embroidery applique pouch

free motion embroidery main

You will need

  • 1m white canvas fabric
  • 1m lining fabric – we used Wispy Clouds Dream from the Meriwether collection by AGF Studio
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • 1m tropical print cotton fabric
  • 1m fusible webbing
  • iron and ironing board
  • sewing machine
  • light green thread
  • medium green thread
  • pins
  • one 8” zip
  • free motion embroidery templates
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You Will Need

  • Canvas fabric
  • Lining fabric
  • tropical print cotton fabric
  • fusible webbing
  • Zip

Step 1

free motion embroidery step 1

Begin by cutting out the fabric pieces needed to construct the main body of the pouch. Measure and cut two 8” squares from white canvas fabric – these are the outer bag pieces – and two 8” squares from patterned green fabric, which will be used to construct the lining. Set the lining pieces aside for now.

Step 2

free motion embroidery step 2

Take the tropical print fabric, and roughly cut around the edge of several of the leaf designs, leaving a slight border around each one. Next, you need to back each leaf cut-out with fusible webbing. To do this, place the wrong side of the fabric against the textured side of the webbing, then turn the work over so that the right side of the fabric is facing down and the paper side of the webbing is facing up. Use an iron set to a medium heat to press and fix the layers together. Once cooled, peel away the paper backing from the webbing, then use scissors to closely trim around each leaf print. Position the leaves onto the white outer fabric squares and once again press using a medium heat, to fix the layers together.

Step 3

free motion embroidery step 3

With the leaf cut-outs firmly adhered to the outer squares, use free motion embroidery to work over the design. This will not only add an additional layer of security to keep the machine embroidery appliqué leaves in position, but will decorate them, too. Start by lowering the feed dogs of your sewing machine, to ensure the fabric can be moved around easily. Slowly and carefully begin to sew inside the edge of each machine embroidery appliqué leaf, following the contours of the shapes intuitively as you go. The beauty of free motion embroidery is that there’s no set way to do it – simply stitch where you want to, until every leaf has been embellished and worked over with a variety of lines and designs. We used two different shades of green for our stitching, too.

Step 4

free motion embroidery step 4

With both the outer squares now embellished, it’s time to add the zip. Lay one of the lining fabric squares with right side facing up, then place an 8” zip along one edge, once again positioning it with right side facing up. Lay one of the embellished outer squares on top, with right side facing down. Pin or clip the layers together, then work a straight machine stitch along the zip, working through all three layers. Repeat on the opposite side of the zip, so that all four squares are attached. Open all the layers so that right sides are facing out, then press gently along both sides of the zip to neaten the seams. With the outer fabric squares facing upwards, work a line of machine top stitch along both seams, 3mm in from the edge.

Step 5

free motion embroidery step 5

At this point it’s essential that you open the zip at least half way – in fact, if you leave it closed, you won’t be able to finish the construction of the pouch (see tip). With that done, bring the two outer fabric pieces together with right sides facing and pin. Repeat to pin the two lining pieces together on the opposite side, once again with right sides facing. Due to the top stitching worked in step four, the bulk of the zip should naturally ease towards the lining. Use different coloured pins or clips to mark out a 10cm section along the bottom edge of the lining – this will be left unstitched, so that the pouch can be turned through the gap. With that marked out, work a straight machine stitch around the edge of the work, leaving a 1.5cm seam allowance and the marked section unstitched.

Step 6

free motion embroidery step 6

With the outer seam finished, clip the corners of the work to prevent excess bulk. Turn the pouch out through the gap left in the bottom of the lining, and use a knitting needle or a chopstick to fully push out the corners. Pull the lining out of the outer pouch and lay it flat, then turn the raw edge of the gap left in the seam to the wrong side by 1.5cm. Press the work one final time, paying close attention to the folded bottom seam. Pin along this edge, then work a straight machine top stitch across it, working 5mm in from the folded edge of the fabric. This will close the gap in the seam. Push the lining back into the outer pouch to finish your design.

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free motion embroidery square

Free motion machine embroidery banner

free motion machine embroidery square

Free motion machine embroidery is a technique that positively embraces imperfections – it’s part of its charm! Celebrate this technique with a beautiful and uplifting banner. First attach a freemotion embroidery, or darning, foot then drop the feed dogs (refer to your manual, if needed), and adjust the stitch length to the lowest setting. Practise your free motion machine embroidery on spare fabric mounted into a hoop before you start stitching the design. With the pressure foot lowered and the needle placed in the fabric, press the foot pedal to a medium speed and start to guide the material through your machine. Imagine you are drawing with a pencil onto paper, albeit by moving the paper rather than the pencil. Make squiggly lines, circles and squares to get the feel of your machine to see what works for you. The speed at which you guide fabric through the machine will determine the stitch length, so practise both working slowly and more quickly. 

Materials

  • Cotton fabric: 30x40cm 
  • Heavyweight iron-on interfacing: 30x20cm
  • Machine sewing thread: black, greens and a range of floral colours
  • Dowel rod: 15cm
  • Ribbon or string to hang
  • Basic embroidery kit
  • Free motion machine embroidery banner template

How to make the free motion machine embroidery banner

Step 1

free motion machine embroidery appliqué step1

Cut the fabric in two pieces measuring 30x20cm each, one for the embroidered banner front and one for the banner back. Press the interfacing on the WS of the banner front fabric, then transfer the design from the free motion machine embroidery template onto the centre of the RS of the fabric using your preferred method. We used a heat-erasable pen. Trace the design as well as the outer edge cutting lines. 

Step 2

free motion machine embroidery step2

Start by stitching the lettering. Slowly guide the machine along the lines of each letter. Sew around each letter at least twice, to make sure it’s really bold and clear once the traced guidelines are removed. We’ve stitched the words ‘find’ and ‘the’ twice and ‘joy’ four times so they stand out. 

Step 3

free motion machine embroidery appliqué step 3

For the plants and flowers, start by tracing the leaves first. You can use more than one shade of green for contrast if you prefer, though this is not essential. Sewing organic shapes like plants can be done in one continuous line. Starting at the bottom of the stem, stitch up to the top, sew around the top leaf and then work your way down to the bottom. Repeat this for each stem; they will extend a little into the seam allowance as drawn on the template so that they’re stitched into the seam when making up. Add circles and semi-circles of coloured thread among the leaves to create the flowers. Use a mixture of colours by referring to the photograph or choosing your own. 

Step 4

free motion machine embroidery appliqué step 4

Once the embroidery is complete, cut the banner front out along the outer edge cutting lines. There is extra allowance included on the top edge to form the casing. Place the cut-out banner front RS facing on top of the banner back fabric, then cut around it. Pin the banner front and banner back fabrics RS facing, then stitch together all around using a 1cm seam allowance, but leaving the top unsewn. Snip the points off the banner to reduce bulk in the seams. 

Step 5

free motion machine embroidery appliqué step 5

Turn RS out and press on the banner back; this will also remove the pen marks if you’ve used a heat-erasable pen, but won’t flatten the stitching. Topstitch carefully around the outside edges of the banner to neaten and decorate.

Step 6

free motion machine embroidery appliqué step6

Fold the top edge of the banner over by 1cm to the back and press, then turn it over again by 2cm and press. Stitch the turned-over edge into place across the bottom to create a casing channel. Thread the dowel through the casing, then tie string or ribbon to each end for hanging.

Free motion embroidery tips

Freemotion embroidery can be worked on any domestic sewing machine, and involves lowering the feed dogs of your machine and using standard stitches, guided solely by your hands (rather than the machine) to embellish and decorate your fabric projects. There are no rules to this technique, so you can be as creative as you want.

To create this project, you’ll need to lower the feed dogs of your machine – these are the teeth that poke out from your needle plate and guide fabric through the machine to ensure it stays in place. Freemotion embroidery requires the opposite; in fact, you don’t want the machine to guide it at all – so it’s important that they are taken out of the equation. Most machines will have a lever or catch that raises and lowers the feed dogs; consult your machine manufacturer for details about your specific model.

This project uses fusible webbing to back a selection of appliqué motifs. This serves two purposes – firstly, it reinforces the fabric pieces and stops them from fraying when they are trimmed. Secondly, it fuses them to the backing fabric, holding them firmly in place ready for embellishment.

When experimenting with free motion embroidery, working slowly and carefully is a good way to start. You’ll be guiding the fabric through the machine yourself and it can take a little time to get used to controlling the speed, length and direction of your stitches without the normal assistance of your machine. Practise on scraps of fabric first to really master this creative technique.

To keep the fabric flat and give an even tension, stretch it taut in an embroidery hoop which will fit under your machine. Practise first on a piece of spare fabric. Mount your fabric into the hoop the other way round to normal. Undo the screw just a little on the outer hoop, then place your base fabric centrally on top of it, right side up. Place the inner hoop on top and push it down so it fits snugly inside. Adjust the screw, then pull the fabric outside the hoop all the way round so your fabric is drum-like.

Lift the machine presser foot and ease the hoop underneath it, lower the needle and start stitching. To begin with you’ll feel like the machine is running away with you as the feed dogs aren’t keeping it in one place. Hold the edges of the hoop and move it around to practise working straight lines, curved lines and swirls. You may need to adjust your tension and settings until your stitches are just right and neither too tight nor too loose. 

More machine embroidery

If machine embroidery is you think, check out these other handy articles on Gathered! If you already have an embroidery machine and are looking for digital files to load into it, you’ll find a brilliant selection of different file options in our free machine embroidery designs and free machine embroidery patterns articles! If you are starting out with machine embroidery and are considering investing in a machine, take a look at our Best embroidery machines article.