Embroidery Evolution

I am often asked how I go about a free motion machine embroidery. I am self-taught and my style has evolved over the last few years. I started using simple appliqué designs and as I became more confident using free motion machine embroidery techniques, the designs became more detailed.

I still love appliqué work – however, the focus is on the design more than the stitching itself. I think of the difference between pure free motion embroidery and appliqué being like the difference between an oil painting and a silk screen print.


darning foot
darning foot

Technically, to free motion embroider I just drop the feed dogs on my sewing machine (those metal teeth that pull the fabric under the presser foot), switch to a darning foot and away I go.



The fabric needs to be held taut to stop it gathering up as you sew and I use a mixture of ‘stitch and tear’ (which is ironed on to the back of the fabric and is ripped off once the piece is complete), a bamboo embroidery hoop and a printable, soluble stabiliser that sticks to the front of the fabric.

The composition takes a bit more work.

I start with a photo – where I can I use my own, but my range of subjects is limited. I hear owls every night, but I never see them! Wildlife reference books and websites are useful starting points. In order to get proportions and perspectives I will either draw or paint directly on to the fabric or print a photo on to the fabric stabiliser. When I draw I need to use a board to put the paper at an angle or everything ends up long and thin if I draw on a horizontal surface. Naturally I cannot put the sewing machine at an angle, so I need a starting image on the fabric.

barn owl face

As I sew I cover whatever image I start with, so I stitch the main lines to keep on track and fill in the detail by eye from my reference image(s). It may sound strange, but I have to stitch the eyes of an animal first, as soon as I have an outline. The eyes make it feel real and starting with them I am sure helps the realism of the final piece.

8 nov - 7

This type of detailed embroidery takes quite some time – even when using a sewing machine – so I try to change thread as little as possible. This means that flecks and spots and spines etc are best done early on. Each spot is joined by a line of thread that will be covered with subsequent layers of thread.

8 nov - 4

Whereas with paint you can mix colours to get just the shade you need, with thread you need to think impressionism. Layering colours of threads gives the impression of the shade you are looking for – and also adds texture (without having to wait for colours to dry!)

Once I feel the piece is finished I put it aside for a day or two. Looking at it with fresh eyes lets me see areas that need more work.

8 nov - 6

The final stage is to frame the piece. Sometimes I will use a traditional oak frame, but mainly I frame embroideries in woodgrain effect flexi hoops. It just highlights the fact that it is an embroidery rather than a painting. I also like circles. Squares are good too, but I am not so keen in rectangles. Odd, huh!

2016: A Year in Thread

Between my day job, wedding and birthday cakes and general life, 2016 was not my most productive year…threadwise. However, it was a year in which I feel my freemotion embroidery skills took a step forward and I found my own style.

The year started with some seasonal appliqué.

Then there were the days I woke up with an idea in my head and couldn’t wait to put it on fabric.

Miniatures inspired by the Very Berry ATC (artist trading card) and mini hoop swaps.

Much of my time…and my heart…has been invested in portraits of pets and wild creatures.

I am still in love with the beautiful city of Bath, and want to many more cityscape and landscape embroideries in 2017.



a right royal embroidery

I have long been meaning to try a few applique/embroidery pictures of buildings. I had initially intended to start with our own humble home, but after recently visiting Prince Charles’ residence of Highgrove I felt inspired to set my sights a little higher. Photography is understandably not allowed in the grounds of Highgrove House and, although I loved every minute of the tour, I was itching to record the place somehow…and so here is my first building portrait (I don’t think my beach hut pictures and bags count!).

highrove - 1

highrove - 2This is the view along thyme walk (the thymes having been planted by HRH Prince Charles himself, our guide informed us!). I really loved making this picture and my head is full of ideas for more!

The gardens at Highgrove are amazing – each ‘room’ has a different feel and the attention to detail is incredible. What I wouldn’t give to be allowed free reign to wander around the gardens one early morning with my camera…!

and the Christmas making continues

Well, my time continues to be ploughed in to making for the Christmas fair on 4 December – I rarely have time to write much, which I miss. I also suspect that just bunging a load of photos in to my blog is not only a cop out, but makes entries less interesting. Of course I may be wrong and readers may be relieved when they see I have refrained from wittering on.

I am trying to fit in a bit more non-business stuff. This week I made 12 jars of dumpsideary jam (spiced apple, pear and plum) from Gloria Nicol’s book ‘Fruits of the Earth‘  and shortbread Christmas trees to photograph for Christmas cards from uk.Moo.com and four Christmas cakes to be fed weekly with brandy. What’s more Mark and I went out for lunch today – just the two of us (and he bought me flowers on Friday…should I be worried?). Tomorrow afternoon I am giving blood , so that too will be a non-business activity.

shortbread snow scene
shortbread snow scene
edible snow scene
edible snow scene


I also signed up for an artist trading card (ATC) swap run by Ali at very berry handmade. I confess that although I had seen the size of the card, it had not sunk in just how small it actually is. The finished card sits easily in the palm of my hand – and that makes cutting out all those leaves exceedingly fiddly. I worked out the design on paper and then painted the dog in fabric paint on natural calico, then used a temporary spray adhesive to hold it in place on the background fabric and ironed on some stitch and tear to stabilise the fabric while I stitched on the leaves and highlighted the dog’s fur in black and white, adding a French knot nose. I made a backing and cut down some bias binding for the edging. It goes in the post tomorrow and I am a little sad to see it go, but I am excited to see what I receive in the post in return!

little dog 'Autumn' artist trading card
little dog ‘Autumn’ artist trading card

On the business side, I have had orders for dalek pincushions and will be making still more this week.

dalek pincushions
dalek pincushions


I found some old fashioned milk bottles in Lakeland and am very happy with the look of the snow scenes (not edible!) I have made in them – what do you think? I am running out of space in our dining room/my work room for snow scenes, but am reluctant to fill the living room with them as I don’t want us to get bored of Christmas before it has even started. I generally refuse to put up the tree or any decorations (other than the wooden advent train) more than a week before Christmas, so really hope these things sell!

old fashioned milk bottle snow scene
old fashioned milk bottle snow scene


Finally, I just want to share my latest indulgence. For a long time now I have been drooling over Lilla Lotta‘s printed tapes and treated myself to this one:

Lilla Lotta printed tape
Lilla Lotta printed tape

I am not sure how I will use it, but I have an urge to make a number of items relating to fairy tales and think this will fit in. I like it so much I went back and ordered some more – I considered this one, because it’s lovely:

Lilla Lotta red riding hood tape
Lilla Lotta red riding hood tape

I decided though that I don’t want someone else’s image of a fairy tale, as I want to use my own images, so opted for this one.

Lilla Lotta magic mushrooms tape
Lilla Lotta magic mushrooms tape

If you are tempted to buy yourself some of these printed tapes, you will need to get a wriggle on as Lilla Lotta’s Etsy shop says she will be closed for at least a year from January!

Right then, now I have done a wee bit of writing, i want to do some reading…Vastgotaspets och tradgard, Knitsofacto and Twigg Studios, here I come!