Creative articles about sewing

Free-motion embroidery with the sewing machine

Free-motion embroidery could also be described as “painting with a sewing machine”. It can be sewn on almost any machine. The needle is your pen, and the fabric is the paper. The feed dog is lowered. In free-motion embroidery, the material is moved instead of the pen; painting is done with thread. 

Technique itself is not difficult

It takes a little time to develop a rhythm, but the technique itself is not difficult. In order to have more control over the material, you can hoop the fabric in an embroidery hoop. As an example, we show you the creation of the Zebra picture. For supplies and cutting, as well as the further processing, please refer to the instructions.

Place the fabric on the draft of the zebra head and copy it roughly with a pencil. Alternatively, you can work with copy paper. The left ear as well as the hairs on the head can be omitted as they are later covered with the organza flowers.

To prepare the machine, insert the Free-motion embroidery foot # 24 or the BERNINA Stitch Regulator (BSR). Use embroidery thread for upper and bobbin threads and lower the feed dog. Set the zigzag stitch at a width of approx. 2.2, and length of approx. 1.1. Reduce the bobbin thread tension – depending on the machine to approx. 2.75.

Image of BERNINA Stitch Regulator (BSR).

BERNINA Stitch Regulator (BSR)

Perfect for free-motion quilting with a controlled stitch length ✓  The sewing speed adapts automatically to the speed of the moving fabric ✓  Automatic control of the stitch length ensures absolutely even stitch formation ✓  For 5.5 mm & 9 mm machines with BSR function ✓ 

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Image of Free-Motion Embroidery Foot #24.

Free-Motion Embroidery Foot #24

For precise and creative free-motion sewing ✓  For monogram, silk-ribbon and Richelieu embroidery and thread painting ✓  For contour quilting, free-motion quilting and microstippling ✓  Clear view of the embroidery area ✓  For 5.5 mm and 9 mm machines ✓ 

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Test the settings on a sample piece with a backing of stabiliser. At the first free-motion embroidery attempt just try out a little bit and practice the right swing and rhythm. For the zebra, underlay the fabric with stabiliser and fix it with needles or a spray adhesive. First follow the outlines with the adjusted zigzag stitch.

For the eyes use the straight stitch, stitch length approx. 2.5, reducing the bobbin thread tension. Again, first sew the outlines that form the filled areas. Sew a grid and fill it up bit by bit. To make the eyes come into their own, the remaining small white areas can be painted with a textile marker. To fill the zebra’s stripes, adjust the zigzag stitch again and colour in the areas.

Free-motion embroidery with the sewing machine ‒ Leaves

Place the water-soluble Soluvlies on the template of the leaves and transfer the shape with a pencil. Hoop embroidery foil with the Soluvlies in the embroidery hoop. Sew the outlines and work out the spaces with the straight stitch settings. Cut out the leaves with a few millimetres of extra allowance and wash out the Soluvlies. Place the leaves as desired and sew them on only at one end.

Free-motion embroidery with the sewing machine ‒ Blossoms

Fold two tulle strips in different colours (approx. 8 × 20 cm) individually in a zigzag, half them in the centre and sew them together as a flower with a few hand stitches. For the organza blossoms cut circles in different colours and diameters (approx. 3 to 7 cm).


Use a fire lighter to “clean” the edges: Since organza is usually made out of polyester, the edges will melt with heat.
As a result of this, the circles are additionally domed.

Place 5 layers of organza on top of each other, fix them with pins and arrange them on the picture. Sew a circle in the centre of the blossoms, sew a grid over it and fill it in. Place the tulle blossom in between and sew it on by hand.

More inspiration

With free-motion embroidery a whole new world of decoration and embelishments is at your disposal. Check out some of our authors free-motion work in the following articles:

Button it! – Turning Buttons to Art

Creating this piece of art is not as hard as it seems. It’s a perfect project to try free-motion embroidery, since each branch looks best with their individual grains and quirks.

Free-Motion quilting with the Adjustable Stippling Foot #73

With the stippling technique you make small curvy lines and curls to fill a shape of your quilt.

Advanced Free-Motion Embroidery

More elaborate designs can be made with combining different colours of threads. Get inspired by Connie Mabbott’s work and watch her creating beautiful designs with her BERNINA sewing machine.

Thread paintings by Tilly de Harde

Tilly de Harde uses fabrics and threads to create stunning artworks. 

Free sewing instructions: Free-motion embroidery with the sewing machine

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  • Karla Eaton EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    Hello–I found this blog post while searching online about free motion embroidery. I really like the zebra pattern, and would like to try it. Is a copy of the zebra available? BTW I don’t have a Bernina, just being forthright. The tulle and organza flowers are so colorful and quirky; would love to try!

    • ramonawirth EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

      Dear Karla,

      Thank you for loving the design! And no worries, every sewing lover is welcome here, you do not have to own a BERNINA to enjoy all the sewing ideas 🙂
      This design is available in the sewing magazine from BERNINA called “inspiration”, and it was in number 1/2020. The design is called “Stay wild” and can be purchased here:

      The download will include a picture of the full zebra head and the leaves, as well as instructions and pictures for an elephant bag which is bundled with the Zebra. Hope this helps and enjoy sewing! 🙂

      Kind regards, Ramona from BERNINA International

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