Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Machine applique using free motion

I first read about free motion in the 90s and back then I had a Singer sewing machine. It was a basic machine and no matter how I tried, I couldn't figure out how to lower the feed dog. In all the books I had read, you need to be able to lower the feed dog in order to do free motion.

Years later, I bought a Sakura sewing machine and this one was a cash and carry deal and I forgot to check about the darn feed dog. I tried to explain to the old man who showed up at my home to teach me how to use the machine. He had no idea what I was talking about. Well, the feed dog stayed up and one day I discovered that if I lower the presser foot number to zero, I could free motion. Even with my regular foot. In the old days, I never bought extra machine feet. I had no idea where to buy them.

Then I bought a Brother sewing machine and I remembered to ask about lowering the feed dog. Yes! This machine not only had a switch to lower the feed dog, it came with a special foot for it. It's what most people use for free motion - a darning foot. That was 2007. Many of my early bags had free motion stitching on them. When I was selling the bags, customers would ask me to explain how I made the stitches. Well, either I got tired of explaining or the bags were hard to sell. I stopped including free motion stitching on my bags.

I forgot when I bought my current Janome. It was around 2011 or 2012. It came with a switch to lower the feed dog and I already had the darning foot. So I started doing free motion again. The thing is I completely forgot to lower the feed dog and I managed to do free motion as well. So that's pretty much how I do my free motion now. I don't change any machine settings but I use the darning foot. Without the darning foot, it won't work. Remember I mentioned earlier that in my Sakura I could change the pressure on the presser foot to zero? My Brother and Janome couldn't do that. The lowest number is one.

So here are the possible settings for free motion:
1. Cover the feed dog manually, use darning foot/free motion foot
2. Lower the feed dog, use darning foot/free motion foot
3. Change pressure on presser foot to zero, use regular foot
4. Don't lower the feed dog, change stitch length to zero, use darning foot/free motion foot
5. Don't change any machine settings, use darning foot/free motion foot

Some people do free motion by not lowering the feed dog like me but they change the stitch length to zero. When you change the stitch length to zero, you'll notice the feed dog does not move. For me I don't even change the stitch length but you do understand what I'm doing is not free motion quilting with all the swirly lines and stippling. What I do is a little more rigid as I sew outlines on applique and maybe some doodles of drawings. I'm no expert on free motion quilting and I don't even quilt so I'm not even sure if not lowering the feed dog and not setting the stitch length to zero is workable for sewing on quilts.

So what I think is this. There are different ways to do things and you need to find out what works best for you. Lower the feed dog, don't lower the feed dog. You try it out and see for yourself. The feed dog is honestly the least of your problems. To do free motion, you need to find the right combination of machine, needle and thread. There is no formula. You have to try it out and see for yourself. What works for me may not work for you.

The general guideline is this. You try to match your needle to your thread. If your thread is thick, use embroidery or topstitch needle otherwise your thread will shred and you will be very frustrated. Your bobbin thread should be the same or less weight as your top thread. When starting out, just use the sewing thread you use for regular sewing and use the exact same thread in the bobbin. If you're not using a special thread, a sharp 80/12 needle will be the go to needle. If you find a mass of bobbin thread building up on the underside of your fabric, you've got the wrong tension. My machine allows me to adjust the thread tension but if I use anything other than Auto, things go nuts. So for my machine, I have to use Auto. In my previous machines, I was able to modify the tension to my liking. Like I said, you have to see what works for you.

Fyi, I have tried Aurifil Mako 50wt and man, this thread sews like butter! Unfortunately, my sewing supplies shop doesn't stock Aurifil.

Before I show you how I do it, if you have a needle down feature you should activate it. Mine is on by default. Needle down means when you stop sewing, your needle is always in a down position. If you don't have this feature, you need to manually rotate the needle to be down when you stop sewing.

Starting and ending your thread.
Hold on to your top thread, needle down through applique where you want to stitch...

Needle up. Use top thread to pull up bobbin thread. Pull it up...

Top and bobbin thread to one side, insert needle right back where it came from. Take a few small stitches to anchor the thread. If you're confident you can snip off the excess thread. Otherwise leave till later to check if thread is truly anchored.

 In order to free motion, you need to use your hands to nudge the fabric along.  In the image above, I have shown only one hand nudging the fabric because I used my other hand to take the photo. But I do use both hands to move the fabric along. Even if you haven't lowered the feed dog, it won't do much for you. So you have to move the fabric yourself. Follow the edge of the applique and move the fabric at a moderate speed. Your sewing speed should not be too fast. To pivot, you can just spin the fabric to go any direction without having to stop/lift presser foot/pivot. This is the best part about free motion!

You can use a heat erasable pen to draw details on the applique and sew over the drawn lines. Or you could just sew freehand without following any drawn lines.

You don't need to cut off your thread when you want to start somewhere else. Just end the previous stitch by doing a few back and forth small stitches to anchor. Then drag the top thread to wherever you want to start and start all over again. Always remember to start and stop the same way with a few back and forth small stitches.

You can also sew outside the applique but it is important never to sew through one layer of fabric. You will get puckering.

In this applique, I've tried to sew outlines on the really tiny areas. It's not perfect but I feel with free motion, you want the child-like sewing. At least for my case, I do.

Here's another one where I did some freehand stitching outside the applique. Occasionally my hands slip and I get a large stitch. What I do is I go back and stitch over it.

The most difficult part of free motion has to be moving the fabric around. There are tools available and if you google for them I'm sure you'll be able to find them. For me, if I find my movements jerky, I stick a piece of plastic over the sewing area. I cut out a space for the needle to go through. This plastic is something I get from the stationery shop. It helps a little. If I can get something smoother, I would.

Some people wear special gloves but I don't have such gloves. What I've tried is these rubber gloves cashiers wear. It makes some difference but I find it weird to wear them. If I do wear them, I wear them on the thumbs and the middle fingers.

Finally, remember all the pivoting we do? I rotate the fabric in so many directions that sooner or later the thread gets twisted. What I do is before I start sewing on a new project, I cut off the top thread and re-thread the needle. I find that when I do this diligently, everything goes smoothly.

Bag patterns at my Etsy shop

Applique patterns at my Etsy shop

For more Applique Resources
For more Tutorials


pennydog said...

Very informative- isn't it weird that we all have these different ways. On my old Pfaff machine you had to move a lever on the back of the presser foot lever for FMQ. On my Husqvarna I have to go into the electronic menu and tell it that's what I'm doing so it does the tension right- and I have to tell it I'm using woven heavy fabric rather than woven medium weight or it goes bananas.

Linda said...

I loved my Janome! It made free motion so easy!
You might look into a Supreme Slider. Here is one source, but there are many. I don't know if you can find one without ordering it online, but I had one and it made the surface very slick!

Sandra :) said...

I've only done zigzag applique because it's easy - the freemotion drawing kind intimidates me, because I can't even draw stick figures without them looking like amoebic blobs :D I love the look of the straight stitch drawing kind - it wouldn't have occurred to me to do it with the dogs down, but it certainly makes sense! I'm pinning this post - I wouldn't mind giving the technique a try :)

DeborahGun said...

such a great tutorial - thanks for sharing. I will come back to it one day when I have time to try something new - I love the look of applique done like this.

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