How to free-hand embroider with a regular sewing machine

Updated February 21, 2017

The art of embroidery is an old one, dating back, perhaps, from the moment primitive man learnt to secure two pieces of material together with thread. Today, specialised embroidery machines are faster than hand embroidery -- but also quite expensive. Luckily, as long as your regular sewing machine is in good condition, you can use it for freehand embroidery put the money saved by not purchasing an embroidery machine toward beautiful threads and fabrics.

Choose your design. This can be from any source: a painting, an illustration or even a drawing of your own. Simplify this drawing on paper into something that you can embroider. Start with something simple. As your skill in embroidery improves, you can make your designs more complex. Draw the design on paper.

Transfer the design to the fabric. There are many methods by which to do this. One of the simplest is to punch holes in the paper design with a needle, then pin the paper to the fabric. Rub the paper with cinnamon so powder goes through the holes and marks the fabric beneath. Alternately, you can pin the paper to the fabric and do a running stitch over the lines of the design. Dip the fabric and paper in water, then tear the paper way. The stitches will remain. It is helpful to jot down the colour of each section so that you can use the appropriate coloured thread for your design.

Centre clean newsprint underneath the fabric. Put your fabric and newsprint on top of the larger of the two embroidery hoops and make sure the design is facing up and centred. Slip the smaller hoop inside the larger one. Pull the fabric taut as you tighten the screw on the embroider hoop. Gently push down on the smaller hoop until it is a little below the larger hoop -- about 3 mm (1/8 inch) or so.

Rub your machine thoroughly with a rag to make sure that there's no machine oil on any of the surfaces. Any oil could transfer onto your fabric and stain it and your embroidery design.

Raise the presser bar on the machine and slip in the embroidery hoop, the design facing up. Thread the machine with the first colour in the design, and the same colour or white for the bobbin. Lower the presser foot.

Turn the hand wheel with your hand until the machine makes at least four stitches then clip off the excess thread. Adjust your stitch length as needed, and slowly and deliberately sew, following your design. Make sure you move the embroidery hoop up and down as well as side to side. If you try to turn the hoop, you run the risk of breaking your sewing machine's needle.

Hold the hoop with one hand, even pressing two or three fingers against the fabric, keeping it from bouncing up from the needleplate. To fill in the design, use zigzag stitches. Create outlines that are jagged with feathering. When you are finished, gently tear away the newsprint.

Things You'll Need

  • Pen and paper
  • Needle
  • Embroidery thread
  • Straight pins
  • Cinnamon
  • Rag
  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Size 11 machine needle
  • 15 or 20 cm (6 or 8 inch) embroidery hoop
  • Newsprint
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About the Author

Marjorie Gilbert is a freelance writer and published author. An avid researcher, Gilbert has created an Empire gown (circa 1795 to 1805) from scratch, including drafting the gown's patterns by hand.