Embroidery Blog

Drawing With Your Sewing Machine: How to Free-Motion Embroider

Free-motion machine embroidery is a very useful skill for quilters. But it’s not just for quilters! Drawing with your sewing machine is a fun way to create embroidered works of art and embellishments. Ready to learn how to free-motion embroider using your sewing machine? We’re here to show you!

Here’s how to create embroidered works of art on your own home sewing machine!

free motion embroidered portrait of twins in knitted jumpers

Photos via leighlalovesyou

First: Gather the right equipment.

Like any task, before you begin you must ensure you have all the rights tools for the job! Other than the usual (fabric, thread, a seam ripper and a nice sharp machine needle) the free-motion embroidery essentials are:

  • A darning foot: This foot, usually rounded, allows you to stitch safely and effectively without your fabric flagging (flagging is when the material gets pulling up with the needle when stitching). The style varies dependent on the sewing machine, but you can usually find out from the model brand website which foot will fit your machine.
  • An embroidery hoop: You don’t need any fancy, model specific hoops for free-motion. Just remember to use it “back to front” in comparison to hand embroidery — the fabric should lay flat against the throat plate. Size wise, anything goes! However, generally speaking, the smaller the hoop the greater control you will have, allowing you to follow your lines with greater ease. Personally, I opt for a 6 – 8″ hoop, finding this is the perfect size for intricate designs.
  • Embroidery scissors: Sharp embroidery scissors will make life much easier when tackling loose and connecting threads. A seam ripper will also come in handy to undo any mistakes.
  • Trick marker or pencil: Use these to draw out your design, of course. Trick markers can be found in your local haberdashery or online and will vanish when washed or left over time. This means you don’t have to worry about getting your designs right on the lines. Or, you can use a good old fashioned pencil! For more information on converting design to fabric, why not check out our previous blog post on converting pictures to stitches?

embroidery scissors

Second: Set up your machine.

Now that you have your equipment, it’s time to set up your sewing machine.

  • Install your darning foot: If you aren’t sure how, instructions for swapping the foot on your machine will be available in the owner’s manual or on the manufacturers website.
  • Tackling tension: This will allow your fabric and thread to work in harmony and run smoothly. The standard tension setting will be around 4 or 5, so you will need to reduce your top tension to around 1 or 2.
  • Lower the feed dogs: This part is the most important to remember because the feed dogs allow your fabric to be pulled across the machine when doing standard stitching. These must be lowered to allow you to move your fabric yourself in any direction. As with the machine feet, instructions on lowering the feed dogs will be found in your machine manual or online. Not all sewing machines have the ability to drop the feed, so check before venturing into free-motion that your machine is compatible.
  • Stitch length: Set your stitch length to zero for greater control and accurate sewing.
Still struggling a bit with switching out your machine feet? Then check out this FREE Craftsy sewing class, Sewing Machine Feet from A to Z, and start swapping your feet with confidence!

free hand machine embroidery of purple and green flowersPhoto via Craftsy instructor TerryWhite in the class Free-Motion Machine Embroidery


Now that your all set up, you’re ready to start stitching! Simply press your foot control and push your hoop in any direction.

  • Ensure your fabric is tight in hoop to prevent any puckering, but don’t worry if areas of heavy stitching become warped. This is normal. Over time you will learn to control it.
  • Always begin with some tester scraps of fabric before stitching onto more expensive cloths. This will ensure all of the settings are correct and help you harmonize with your machine.
  • Start with open, free lines then (after some time) work your into completing more intricate, detailed work. Try different movements: open curves, zigzags and spirals!
  • Practice makes perfect! The more you experiment with fabrics, layering, stitch pattern and line work, the more comfortable and creative you will be. Don’t put pressure on yourself to follow design lines perfectly first time — just take the time to get to know your machine and materials.
  • Don’t restrict yourself to the size of your hoop. You can work on a larger scale and use a smaller hoop for detailed areas.

close up detail for free motion embroidery in a hoop

Feeling inspired to be free with your sewing machine? Why not sign up to the Craftsy class Free-Motion Machine Embroidery with Terry White and learn everything you need to know about free-motion machine embroidery!


How are you going to use your new free-motion embroidery skills?



I’m in the process of studying, to Make a garment in which I’d like to incorporate some embroidery on, and I’m looking at a Singer Heavy Duty 4423 machine. would this machine do the work using some of your fonts like the BX. of course also buying additional items to help with the work as posted earlier?

Dare Kolawole

Can any embroidery machine do this?


Dare, you do can do it with your regular sewing machine.


As a artist I would like to know what kind of sewing machine would be the best to use my own design…do I need to have a computer as a I-pad? … What is the price range???
Thank you so much



Heru Notodirjo

Hi.. my name is Heru and live in Jogja. I like to make emnroidery pictures with free style. You can visit to my blog at http://lukisbordir.blogspot.co.id, Thank you and best regards. ^_^

sharon dotson

i was interested in viewing your pictures just would love t learn


Nice tute

Jennifer McBrien

I’ve been doing this for a while. Come check out my bird drawings!
www. jennyjen42.com

Nia Lorre

Even sewing machines that have feed dogs that cannot be lowered have the capacity to do free motion work. They usually come with a little cover you place over the feed dogs, set the stitch length to zero and you are good to go.

jo MArtin

Great Advice, I have been doing free hand machine embroidery but I was wondering what the thickest thread I could use on my machine would be? And where I could buy it? Really want some lines to be thicker than others and dont want to go over it twice. TIA


You can use size 5 and 8 Perle cotton in the bobbin, and work upside down, but mostly you can’t get thicker than the 30 wt cotton or rayon from Sulky or related through a needle – the back-and-forth through the needle wears it to a frazzle. The thread path from the bobbin is more direct, although you might have to adjust the bobbin tension to let the heavier thread run smoothly.


What type of stitch and thread are you using?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply