Colorful Collage

Linda MacPhee
Colorful Collage

Free-motion stitching allows you draw unique artistic designs with thread. This technique is a fun and easy way to embellish and customize fabric for garments, quilts and home décor. Learn the keys to successful free-motion stitching and put your skills to work to decorate a one-of-a-kind jacket.

Free-Motion Notions

Free-motion stitching is enabled when the sewing machine feed dogs are disengaged and the presser foot hovers over the throat plate. When engaged, the feed dogs guide the fabric toward the machine back, but when they're lowered, it's possible to stitch in any direction. Refer to the machine manual for instructions on how to lower the feed dogs.

A specialty free-motion or darning presser foot helps control the fabric and allows you to see the stitches as you sew. Contact your machine dealer or manufacturer to find a free-motion foot suitable for your machine make and model.

For best results when incorporating this technique on a garment, select an uncomplicated pattern with minimal seams. Use a firm, stable fabric, such as cotton twill or flannel-backed satin. These fabrics are resistant to slipping and puckering during stitching. For extra security and to maintain tautness, hoop the fabric area when free-motion stitching. Any thread type is suitable for free-motion stitching, but for more contrast, use heavyweight rayon thread or decorative metallic thread.

Before beginning a project, test-stitch on fabric scraps. Install the machine's table or flat bed attachment, if applicable, to provide a larger sewing surface. Practice "doodling" by carefully guiding the fabric with both hands. Draw an assortment of lines, curves and squiggles until you're comfortable with the machine speed.

Jazzy Jacket


  • Sewing machine capable of free-motion stitching
  • Jacket pattern (see "Sources.")
  • Heavyweight woven fabric and notions (as indicated on pattern envelope)
  • Heavyweight rayon embroidery thread
  • Assortment of 80 to 100 fabric scraps no larger than 5" square
  • Free-motion or darning foot
  • Removable fabric marker
  • Fabric glue (such as Glue Pins)


Roughly cut out all of the jacket pattern pieces from the fabric, allowing an additional 1" border around each pattern piece perimeter. This border enables you to maintain a secure grip on the fabric and allows for possible shrinkage, as the fabric may pucker during stitching.

Cut the fabric scraps into shapes, such as squares, strips, circles and rectangles, as desired.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: For extra contrast when free-motion stitching, use a twin needle threaded with contrasting thread colors.


Audition the fabric shapes on each pattern piece until pleased with the arrangement. Layer and overlap the shapes for variety (1). Secure the shapes using fabric glue or use monofilament thread to zigzag stitch each shape perimeter.

Use a removable fabric marker to draw stitching lines and motifs on the fabric, if desired (see "Delightful Designs" below). Thread the needle with heavyweight rayon thread.

Position one pattern piece over the machine throat plate. With both hands on the fabric, guide the fabric as desired to stitch lines and various motifs through all fabric layers (2).

Once satisfied with the amount of free-motion stitching, press the pattern piece from the fabric wrong side to reduce any puckering. Repeat to free-motion stitch the remaining pattern pieces.


Position each corresponding paper pattern over the fabric piece and trace the perimeter. Cut along the traced lines.

Construct the jacket according to the pattern guidesheet.


Delightful Designs

Check out these ideas for inspiration when creating free-motion motifs and designs:

  • Mimic a pattern or design from a selected fabric.
  • Incorporate an assortment of simple motifs, such as flowers, leaves, suns and spirals.
  • Stitch a wavy border around each shape perimeter.
  • Don't be afraid to stitch over the fabric edges or cross previous stitching lines.


Pretty Patches

Create unique patches using variegated decorative thread and water-soluble stabilizer.

Cut a stabilizer rectangle slightly larger than the desired patch size.

Thread the machine with decorative thread in the needle and bobbin. Stitch rows of parallel lines on the stabilizer.

Rotate the stabilizer rectangle 90°, and then stitch a series of rows perpendicular to the first row series to create a dense grid.

Set the machine to a zigzag or decorative stitch, and then stitch several rows at random across the rectangle, if desired.

Dissolve the stabilizer, following the manufacturer's instructions. Allow the thread rectangle to dry.

Source: The MacPhee Workshop carries the MacPhee Workshop #35 Blazer Bonanza pattern and the #33 Free Motion Frenzy jacket kit:


Appeared in:

Post a comment
To comment on this article you must be logged in. Not a member?


Sew News past issues
Have been looking for SewNews magazine since October 2009 and have not been able to find it to purchase the magazine. I enjoy your magazine and have asked in a book store if it were available. They told me it was no longer being published. Is it not available in Canada any more. Please let me know. Many thanks for reading my comments.
RE: Jazzy Jacket
Please email, and I can email you the instructions.
Jazzy Jacket
I cannot print the instructions out. I only get page 1. Help
great idea
Linda always has great ideas, so keep them coming


Forgot password?
© F+W All rights reserved.