Freestyle Machine Embroidery 

So, what a wonderful creative weekend this has been  (apart from writing this blog post as it keeps deciding to eat itself !)

Friday night was spent on another workshop introducing a new group of people to needle felting – more of that in a future post …but this is all about Saturday and Freestyle Machine Embroidery (FME)

My mission was to introduce a group of budding textile artists and designers to the thrill that is FME. My aim – to get them to try different approaches to FME and to consider how these could be used to further develop their own creative textile ‘handwriting’ – that is to use FME in a way that would enhance the content and meaning of their work as opposed to being just another process in their textile toolkit.

We were working at the fantastic Lynemouth Resource Centre, where a disused function room has been transformed into a fully functioning textile workspace – with industrial and domestic machines, cutting tables, equipment and (almost) everything your textile arty heart could desire!

So we had space, resources, ideas and enthusiasm. Each participant was asked to bring an image to work from – either their own work or another source. As workshop leader I provided lots of kit…below you can see pelmet vilene, fusible vilene, soluble fabric, bondaweb, plenty of fabrics – dyed, printed and plain and a huge array of threads. There were also embroidery hoops, polystyrene blocks and cat litter trays (new ones!) All essential for a day exploring FME! Lets drop those dog teeth and get stuck in!

My objective was for everyone to try several different ways of using FME, working from their starting point to see how stitching densely, combining with applique, drawing in detail and texture or working on soluble fabric would alter the outcome.

I brought along examples of FME in my own work (finished pieces above, work in progress below) and also reference material to show how other textile artists use this versatile process in their own work.

We had a quick discussion of the technical bits – the possibilities of the different materials provided, the importance of using baking parchment to prevent ironing board disaster zones occurring – then it was straight into ‘playtime’ with people using the resources to sample ideas and test the limitations of the process.

Above and below you see two approaches to using bondaweb. Above, the bondaweb has been applied to fabric before cutting out the required shapes – this gives great accuracy and clean edges to the applique pieces as the adhesive also ‘seals’ the cut edges of the fabric. Below, the bondaweb has been applied as a whole sheet to a piece of hand painted pelmet vilene; this allows the artist to place small fragments and torn strips of fabric on the background . The piece is then covered with baking parchment and ironed to fix the pieces in place. Thus making the job of adding the tiny pieces and torn strips much easier, instead of having to cut thin strips of bondaweb and apply them to individual strips.

Work in progress, pieces laid out in front of the source of inspiration to contemplate next steps..

Hooped up and ready to go. Using an embroidery hoop replaces the tension lost by dropping the dog teeth on the machine. This means the fabric is less likely to pucker as stitching is worked over the surface. Here soluble fabric is being used – see how the artist has laid down a base of foundation stitches on the left of the hoop – this helps stabilise the embroidered design when the soluble fabric is rinsed away. The fabric we were using (Romeo Aquatics) was heavy enough to stitch without a hoop but would pucker without it. Source material is kept close to hand to refer to as the ammonite is stitched.


Above, vessel shapes are cut from fabric with bondaweb already applied to the back. Then, below, after ironing to fix in place, the artist uses FME to permanently attach the vessel shape and to add detail.

Further detail is added with FME including the stems and blossoms. Because the artist is working on thick pelmet vilene, no hoop is needed.

Here again, the artist is working directly onto pelmet vilene. The surface has been painted and dried before using FME to ‘draw’ the image on the surface

Here you can see that FME has been used to applique fabric to create rocky headlands. The artist is now using soluble fabric to stitch the more pronounced texture of the shells, capturing fibre fragments in the stitch to enhance the three dimensional effect.

Above is a sample of FME on soluble fabric, the hoop has been re-positioned so that a longer piece can be created. Jute fibres are trapped in the stitching to add bulk and texture to another rocky shore line. Below, a sample of FME on soluble fabric has been rinsed off and placed on a possible background while the artist considers her next steps.

Here FME on soluble fabric has been used to create a decorative light fitting. Once stitched, it has been pinned to a polystyrene block and rinsed to dissolve the ground. Pinning the piece helps it to retain its shape and reduce shrinkage on drying.

Whilst the light fitting detail dries, the artist uses FME to applique the interior scene it will fit into. Working on pelmet vilene means no hooping is necessary and there is greater freedom to work on a larger area. Using fabric to cover the vilene this time so no painting was necessary.

A piece of pelmet vilene was painted in vibrant yellow oranges before applying ice dyed fabric motifs. These were fixed in place with bondaweb and then stitched to create an abstract floral effect

Here flower designs are developed with FME using non bonded shapes on a painted pelmet vilene ground and on dyed fabrics. This means that the petal edges can be left free, adding texture and depth to the pieces.

Here,rather than painting the whole piece of vilene, the artist painted the hellebores directly, embellishing the painting with snippets of green fabric bonded in place over which FME adds further detail and texture. The final intent is to cut out the hellebores and place them on a fabric ground.

Densely worked stitching on calico gives a very painterly effect to this coastal scene. No hoop means the piece puckers under the intensity of the stitch, rippling the surface in a watery way.

Layers of fabric on pelmet vilene are stitched intensively to add definition and link the piece back to its original source. The contrast of dense stitching against the vivid but unstitched green fabric adds energy to the piece.

By lunch time the resources were not quite so tidy! Everyone was engrossed – and Im still not sure that they all took a lunch break!

This artist chose to interpret traditional folk symbols. Here carefully cut bonded fabric has been applied to a plain ground and then embellished with FME

A similar image is stitched onto soluble fabric; the design has been traced onto the clear fabric for guidance.

The motif released from the hoop, prior to rinsing.

We used the last half hour of the day to review the work – it was wonderful to see the variety of outcomes – scroll down and see for yourself!

As I had intended, each participant had tried several approaches to FME, getting to grips with new processes and materials, challenging themselves to interpret their source material with this versatile process. I was delighted and inspired by the enthusiasm and creativity shown by the group. A brilliant day ended with comments on intent to continue to explore and ‘own’ this process.

I look forward to seeing future outcomes as this fabulous group go on to exhibit their work. Well done and all the very best for you future textile endeavors – now don’t forget to go and vote for ME!


Published by Donna Cheshire Textiles

I am a professional textile artist specializing in Appliqué and Free Motion machine stitching. In order to create a unique colour palette, I hand dye my own fabrics and then use these to create the landscapes and coastal scenes recorded in my sketchbook. I often incorporate recycled or vintage fabrics in my work - they add meaning to the story the work is telling. I love being so close to the Northumbrian coast and countryside and I especially like taking time walk and draw these stunning landscapes

8 thoughts on “Freestyle Machine Embroidery 

  1. Thanks Donna for a very enjoyable day and for showcasing our efforts in your blog. You can tell we were having lots of fun when we all shouted ‘NO’ when you asked us to pack up! Hope to see you again very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We all had a fab time Donna, and your art is gorgeous. Since the workshop I’ve bought an LED light box for tracing copyright-free images so that I can conquer my issues about drawing. I’ve traced a crab onto craft vilene, painted it with watercolours, and FME stitched the whole thing. It’s going to be added to a piece I’m working on for the Newbiggin Geneology Project. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and inspiring us.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Of all the master classes we’ve had at Weave, as part of the Creative Futures Enterprise Programme, the skills I learned from you have been the most useful, and most inspiring.


  3. I loved your workshop, it was so good to be able to play with this technique with such a supportive tutor and group. Thank you


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