Association of Machine Embroidery

Free Motion Sewing Machine Embroidery

Free motion sewing machine embroidery was started in the late 1800's using the Treadle sewing machine! In the early 1900's Singer published a workbook. Singer published a workbook, "Singer Instruction for Art Embroidery and Lace Work". It was by the Singer Educational Dept. Author Singer Reference Library. This book is available on-line. Everything was sewn with only a straight stitch moving the hoop for the desired effect. Then someone attached a motor and work went a little faster. But the early 1900's brought even faster straight stitching.

Then the Zig Zag sewing machine was invented and a whole new world of sewing evolved. Now with this innovation, more freedom of movement with the movement of the needle side to side stitching capability and more techniques were developed. Many hand embroidered needlework was able to be duplicated with the sewing machine. That is the EXCITING world of free motion machine embroidery.

To start your adventure in free motion, be sure your sewing machine has been recently oiled and serviced. You will need special machine embroidery supplies and they can be found in most sewing machine stores, catalogs and on line.


  • 8" wooden ME hoop, they narrow to fit under the needle
  • 10" squares of fabric, use 1 layer, 2 thin layers together
  • 8 to 10 cotton ME threads (your choice)
  • ME embroidery bobbins (pre wound, black & white)
  • Extra bobbin case just for ME, it will need to be adjusted for various threads, yarn and ribbon. The regular bobbin remains adjusted for normal sewing
  • Embroidery needles, Schmetz 75, Universal 80
  • Small thread scissors
  • Small screwdriver to adjust screw on bobbin case and wooden hoop
  • Snag -Nab-It, used to push loose threads to wrong side
  • Pair of pointed tweezers Stabilizers B Tear away and Water Soluble
  • Stabilizer for now 505 Spray and Fix (fabric spray safe adhesive)
  • Sharpie fine line marking pen
  • 6" ruler
  • 1 package of BIAS tape.
  • Water soluble and Air marking pens
  • L#2 pencil, Sparingly, tiny dots only
  • Never Ball Point Pens or other marking devices

The first step is to wrap the INNER hoop with bias tape. Press the bias tape flat. Wind in over the INNER ring of the hoop. This helps the fabric get a firmer grip. Finish winding the whole inner hoop and cut the bias tape a 2 A longer. Fold the tape under and hand stitch the end to the INSIDE of the inner hoop. The inside of both the rings that hold the fabric must be without any bumps.

Place the larger OUTER ring on the table. The fabric, with the design on the RIGHT side goes on top of the large ring. Then the smaller hoop is fitted into the larger hoop to hold the fabric. The fabric is pulled up firmly and evenly all around the hoop, keeping the GRAIN even and the hoop flat on the table. Tighten the screw for added tension and firmly pull upward evenly around the hoop. NEVER twist the grain line. Now, push the INNER hoop out from the outer hoop just a little bit. This will make the fabric in the hoop TAUT, like a drum.

100% natural cotton, linen, silk and wool have the best results for ME. Heavier Polyester is does not always stitch out as pretty. T Shirt weight is the easiest. Use a spring hoop, again with the inner ring wrapped. Knits CANNOT be stretched in the hoop. Place the fabric onto the larger ring and holding the spring INNER hoop, clamp the fabric firmly. Again do NOT pull on the fabric.

You remove the foot from the machine and either lower or cover the feed dogs. In your manual, you will find which way your machine uses for darning, (free motion is darning with style and color!). Place the hoop under the needle by turning it on the side to slide under the needle. You may also have to raise the presser foot lever at the same time. Place the fabric on the bed of the machine with the pattern on top. This will be on the RIGHT side of the fabric

You can use the special pre-filled bobbin thread that comes in black or white. They hold MORE thread because it is a 60 wt. denier thread and easier to cover with the upper thread.

TESTING proper sewing tension use the wider stitch. The top thread will be looser and the bobbin thread will be firm. With the small screwdriver, adjust the screw on the bobbin case so the thread is firm. When you gently shake the bobbin case, thread will drop slowly in short jumps. If it just RUNS down, the tension is TOO loose. The right adjustment makes the top thread WRAP around the bobbin thread a little.

ZIG ZAG Stitching. The TOP tension will be a little looser and the bobbin will be firm. You will have to fiddle around to make YOUR machine does the best stitch. The top thread wraps around the bobbin thread a little. When doing a straight stitch or 2 to 1 stitch width, many machines do not cover well and the bobbin thread shows. In that case, use the same color in the bobbin as in the top of the machine.

You will ALWAYS use a stabilizer UNDER the hoop. This keeps the stitching from puckering or tunneling, rolling to the wrong side. We will start by using Tear Away Stabilizer. It does not go in the hoop because it adds unneeded bulk. The WSS will be explained when you get to the Monogramming.

LOWER THE PRESSER BAR, before you begin to stitch. There is no presser foot. Some machines have a "park" mode for the presser foot. Check your manual. Even tho= sewing with no sewing foot, there MUST be tension on the top thread. This is a most important step.

Lean your arms on the table. Place your hands on each side of the hoop. With your hands on the sides of the hoop, you are not near the needle, (Yeah, you don't want to be). A needle spring or darning foot may be used. Up and down the width of the ZZ you desire. At the beginning of the ZZ stitch, make 3 or 5 SS to lock the threads. You will guide the hoop back and forth to form the feathered stitching, you need not lock as these stitches cover themselves. . Move in a steady rhythm. Going too slowly the stitches are jerky. Moving too fast you lose control. As you practice, you will find a comfortable pace.

Putting the Presser Bar DOWN, is ALWAYS number one before you start to stitch. Otherwise, there will be noise and jamming and the machine will stoop sewing. This will cause a "BIRD NEST" to form under the throat plate. This is just frustrating, but you won't forget too often. Take the foot plate off, remove the work, keeping it in the hoop if possible) and cut away the BIRDNEST. Be careful NOT to cut the fabric. The little mass of thread is cut and easily pulls away with tweezers. You always need the tension from lowering the presser bar.

Proper Balance Top And Bottom

The TOP thread has no bobbin thread showing on top of the fabric. This shows the BOBBIN thread wrapped around the top thread.

There are many threads available, but cotton is easiest to start with. Rayon, metallic, monofilament and others can be added to your stash as you are more comfortable with the motion and control of your hoop. Your local sewing machine store, on line or catalogs will have supplies. Be sure the threads are for Sewing Machine Embroidery. The nylon thread is popular and used a lot in quilting. A word of caution, when quilting BABY quilts, NYLON thread is NOT recommended because if there are ANY small loops they are hard for us to see them. A baby's tiny fingers can be easily caught in the thread and the thread will NOT break. Nylon thread has many uses other than for this one. A cotton thread would be a safer choice.

Straight Stitching

The bobbin and top tension are normal. It is the same as using a pencil. You can make any kind of lines and they may OR may not cross. Words and designs can be incorporated with SS or just doodle. If the bobbin thread shows, put in the same color thread as on top.

Zig Zag Guide

Make a Zig Zag sample of stitches from 2, 1, 1 2 ------ up each 2 increment to the full width of your machine= This visual aid will be handy for judging sewn widths. The stitch numbers do not SHOW the width. In Monogramming and other areas, SEEING the width is easier to determine which to use. Every machine does not have the same number of STITCH WIDTHS.

Zig Zag In A Circle

Using any size ZZ going around in a circle. The level lines are the same. If you feel you do not need them, that is fine. ALWAYS start a ZZ with 3 or 4 SS to lock the tjreas. Note that there are 2 V spaces in the circle, one on the outside and the other on the inside of the circle. When the needle is put down to hold the fabric as you turn, you must be aware where the needle ENTERS the fabric to avoid the V space. The V happens when the needle needs to go back INTO the fabric.

French Knots

Pull bobbin thread to right side and take 3 or 4 stitches in place,. Needle down, set width to 1 2 or 2 and rock ever so SLIGHTLY and a tiny FR. Knot will form. I have pulled the thread out 3 or 4 inches in one sample. This allows cutting the threads closer to the knot. In the other sample, the threads are very close, harder to clip. There will be a tiny snip showing. Use the SNAG IT TOOL to push this snip DOWN close to the knot. Magic, no snips will show.

Level Lines

The other important factor is the Level Line. These give movement and direction of something living such as plants, flowers, animals, water, trees and try to determine the LL to stitch your artistic creation. These LL go in the direction things

Grow. It is especially important in Monogramming. The words MUST be sewn on a straight line or you will not wear the garment. And as you sew, be sure to hit ALL lines for EACH letter. Look at the black lettering. The H is up a little from the LL. It is even MORE noticeable if the LL is NOT on the garment. If it is crooked in any way. This may make a garment no one wants to wear.

Make a circle and draw in the LL. FOLLOW the LL as you slowly move AROUND the circle. At the same time you will be moving the hoop SIDEWAYS. This is like rubbing your tummy and patting your head. BOTH are done at the same time. ALWAYS be sure to go over the middle MORE as you go back and forth. You will become more comfortable as you do more samples. NOTE that one circle is NOT round. That is because the LL was NOT followed.

When you begin to embroider on something permanent, use Tear-Away Stabilizer underneath the fabric that is in the hoop before stitching. It will stabilize the fabric, keeping the embroidery flat.

Pressing Your Machine Embroidery

Be sure ALL Water and Air markers are gone, or use a little water to remove them. Check that NO stabilizer snips remain. This is just an extra precaution to CHECK the sewing surface. Place the ME right side DOWN on a dry towel. Then iron either damp or with a steam iron PRESS the finished embroidery.

These are the BASIC stitches to start you adventure with Sewing Machine Embroidery.

Accuracy is Number ONE !




Relax And Enjoy
The Magic Of Free Motion Sewing Machine Embroidery


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