Sunday, 27 May 2012

Free machining - any tips?

 I had a lovely email yesterday from someone wanting to know if I had any tips for free machining.

Well, I'm afraid, I probably don't!  All I can do is tell you how I do things and maybe that might help?

Left is the front of a postcard I've machined this morning and underneath is the back which probably shows the stitching a little better.

As you can see, I don't go in for perfectly  immaculate lines and edges as I think it gives a more arty look if you can relax slightly.  That's not to say I approve of slapdash!

First of all experiment with your machine to see what it will do.  Dig out the instructions from wherever you've hidden them and see what it suggests.

As all machines are different, I won't go into different ones here.  I have a Pfaff and a Bernina.  I keep the Bernina (a recent purchase, an entry level, the 1008, just for free machining. The Pfaff * I keep for seams .

(*I find that I sometimes need to loosen the top tension to 2 on the Pfaff depending on the thread.)

 I use a 12 or sometimes a 14 needle and replace it often. An embroidery or general use needle is fine.

Relax. Breathe. Put the shoulders down. Drink a glass of wine if it helps.  (I don't recommend more than 1 glass though - see "slapdash" above!)

Make sure your quilt is as flat as humanly possible.  I prefer to baste mine with safety pins and put lots in.  Do not pull on the quilt, but keep it bunched up around the needle so it will feed through without strain.
Bring the top thread up from underneath, and make 3 stitches into the same hole to secure the stitch.

Away you go.  Take it slowly. I'm not a fan of fast and furious.  If necessary do it stitch by stitch until you get the hang of it.  Draw in pencil lines if you're not up to straight lines.  Patterns don't need lines, but hey, no ones looking. Do what you need to do.

Practice first.  Even if I've only been away from the machine for a couple of hours, I still need a few seconds for my eye and brain to get themselves together.  If you don't want to use a practise piece, start somewhere where it won't matter too much - on the bit at the edge that's going to be cut off etc.

It really is just a matter of controlling the speed. The speed of the needle and the speed your hands move, control the size of the stitch.  Again, relax. Go slowly.

Once you're up and moving, do as much as you can without finishing off - ie go over a line already stitched to get to somewhere else.  It saves an awful lot of ends (nb much easier to finish off ends as you go rather than save them for the end)

Don't forget I always paint over my stitches so don't have to worry too much about colour changes. My stitching isn't there to be looked at in detail, but to add a layer of meaning to a quilt which is going to be painted.


  1. oh dear - what do you think of me, being both slapdash and a slattern??

    some very good tips here, ms a - i always take a deep breath and drop my shoulders just as the lactation consultant told me to do when i was learning to breastfeed! works a treat, as does having music on in the background. i really admire your stitched text - i'm not up to that yet :)

  2. You're definitely not slapdash lisette!! Most assuredly arty though. There's the world of difference I think between using the machine as a drawing tool and being free and relaxed, and on the other hand, just not being arsed!

    I'm not going to comment on the slattern bit as I've never seen you after a few glasses of wine :)

    The shoulders is a definite tip I suppose, and it's comforting to know that one could breastfeed and sew with the same technique. I forgot about the music too. Music helps enormously. What do you like to sew to?? I'm a classic/opera sew-er. Oh, and Otter Rock by Chemical Brothers!!

  3. Very sound advice Annabel. I finally got the hang of the speed thing the other week when I was doing FME with Gina. Mind you, practice helps and I havn't done any since! Tsk tsk!

  4. When I teach and I say the S-L-O-W word people look at me like I have grown two heads!! It really does work though (best tip I ever got) I get people to draw first on a white board and pen. This somehow is not as scary as leaving pencil/pen marks on paper as it can be rubbed off easily. Just love the stitching on this piece/ I am getting all inspired to start stitching text.
    Angela x