Last week I was lucky enough to be involved in the Big Draw at an event at my local Art centre. Illustrator Emily set up in the gallery creating life sized monsters with the kids and my creative sewing buddy, Alice and I set up some sewing machines in the foyer and invited visitors to have a go at drawing with the sewing machine.
The technique for drawing with a sewing machine is called freehand machine embroidery or free-motion embroidery. It has become very popular in recent years and is the technique favoured by Cornish artist Poppy Treffry who has written a book on how to do it. Other UK artists who use this technique include Jane Lyndsey from Snapdragon, who creates beautiful wildflower cushions. my good friend, Janet Clare, who combines it with applique and quilting. Linda Miller,who uses just stitch and creates highly detailed filled in pictures, the amazing Lou Gardiner who used it in a free-form artistic way layering with fabric and adding paint and the lovely Sarah from Lotus Blossom, who creates the most amazing stitched birds.
I had a few requests on our Alice And Ginny facebook page asking to explain how to set the machine up for this technique. The setting on your sewing machine is exactly the same as a traditional darning setting. Older machines will have the darning process explained in their sewing manual.
here is the process;
1. Locate the feed dogs (the metal teeth which sit within the throat plate under the presser foot) which take up the fabric during normal sewing.
2. Cover (with a plastic cover) or drop the feed dogs (some machines will have a sliding knob to do this, so check your manual!).
3. Remove the standard presser foot and attach an embroidery or darning foot. If you don't have one you will be able to go to your machine manufacturer or local sewing machine shop and order one that fits your specific model.
Some artists recommend you stitch without a foot attached. This is possible but the foot helps hold the fabric in place and also helps you keep your fingers safe as you can see more clearly where the needle is.
4. Put in a new needle as this process doesn't behave well with a blunt one!
5. Place your fabric into an embroidery hoop to keep it taught. If your fabric is thick you may not need to do this. Applying a stabiliser (temporary interfacing)to the back of your fabric helps avoid puckering but it is not always essential.
6. Set your machine to straight stitch and stitch length to zero. Loosen the top tension through the needle slightly to avoid the thread snapping.
7. Position your fabric under the needle and lower the presser foot. Hand wheel the needle into your work to find your starting point.
As the feed dogs are covered or dropped you will need to manually move the fabric whilst controlling the speed of the needle using the foot pedal.
Tips: Move the fabric side to side or up and down and in a circular motion. Do not turn or twist the fabric or the thread will snap. Get into a rhythm. Keep your fingers out of the way!
Try drawing circles and swirls to get warmed up then have a go at your name in joined up letters. It really is a case of diving straight in and having a go.
Once you are confident with the technique you are aiming for regular even stitches; if your stitches are too small you are moving the fabric too slowly and pressing the foot pedal too fast. If you have long stitches, you are moving the fabric too fast and pressing the foot pedal too slowly.
It will take a bit of practice but it’s great fun and highly addictive too!
My final advice is to leave perfectionism at the door; this techniques creates a very sketchy feel and takes some time to master but when you have practiced it can be used to write messages, embellish applique and on your quilts to create that wonderful free-motion quilting effect.
Enjoy and do let me know if you have tried this technique and how it was for you. I would love to see what you create.