Draw, Sketch and Doodle with your Sewing Machine

The sewing machine is your pencil, the fabric is your paper, let’s draw! Doodling and drawing is mainly a “free motion” sewing technique.

However, you can also do many parts of your straight line work such as a flower stem, with the feed dogs engaged.

Below are many of my tips, tricks, techniques and suggestions. They are not in “step-by-step-order”, so read all the tips before starting:

  1. Always practice your doodling before you make a big project. You will be more confident, you will have sorted out any issues such as bad tension, needle type/size/age and thread colours.
  2. Approach doodling with your sewing machine with the attitude of a five year old being asked by the teacher to draw pictures. Although your work may initially look like a scribbly mess, they will become “works of art” with practice. In other words, enjoy yourself and don’t be critical of your work, you are on the path to awesome success!
  3. Free Motion set-up: Disengage any “Built-in Walking Foot/Dual Feed/IDF”
  4. Drop feed dogs (If they cannot be dropped, cover them with the feed dog cover provided)
  5. Attached Free Motion Quilting Foot aka. Darning Foot
  6. Attach the extension table to the machine. This is a must. Your left hand will now have a surface to work on. If you are quilting with the machine dropped down in a cabinet, you will not need an extension table.
  7. Optional: Cover the bed (sewing area around the needle) of the machine with a “Sew Slip” a teflon sheet. Your fabric will move more smoothly and wont bind on the uneven surfaces of the sewing machine
  8. Wear Quilting Gloves. They give you a firm grip on the fabric and you will be able to move it without your hands slipping. This will give you the control to achieve an even stitch length!
  9. Insert a new needle, size 80/12 or 90/14. Choose a sharp needle such as a Microtex, jeans or a quilting needle. Change to a new needle every few hours of sewing. Or, choose the needle that works best for you, but change it often.
  10. I use Aurifil Mako Cotton Thread for Doodling. In the needle, 28 weight is thick and really shows off the stitching! In the bobbin I use 50 weight, a very fine thread. You won’t be changing bobbins as often.
  11. Select the needle down function. This keeps the needle in the last stitch whenever you need to pause.
  12. When you start to sew, moving the fabric, sew only in the area between your two hands. Do not sew in the space above or below your hands. Instead, stop, re-position your hands and continue stitching. I envision my two hands on the fabric as an embroidery hoop, clamped down on the fabric. Stitch “in the hoop”, when done, re-position “the hoop” and continue sewing.

Doodle, Sketch and Drawing Tips:

Draw your design with a pencil on paper. This is good practise for warming up and not wasting fabric and thread, saves you from using the seam ripper. Doodle!

Prewash fabric to shrink the fibers. This is optional, but a good suggestion for some fabrics as they may be washed later.

Stabilize the fabric to give it a “backbone.” Stitching on single layers of fabric may cause puckering and shrinkage. Stabilizers are a must.

Choose either a tear-away stabilizer or my favourite: thin batting (I’m a quilter) Even a second layer of fabric can be considered a stabilizer.

Attaching the fabric in a sewing machine embroidery hoop is also an option, to eliminate puckering and help in handling the fabric.

Test the upper and lower tensions on your machine. Too tight tensions will pucker the fabric. If the tension is too tight it will manifest itself later, especially after washing.

Draw guidelines on the fabric with a blue wash-away marker. The lines should be considered a general guide, to help you with the proportions of the design. Don’t worry about hitting your guidelines perfectly (no fun otherwise)

Writing words: Mark lines the same as in your grade two exercise book. You remember!

My favourite way to stabilize my fabric is to use thin batting, which will remain in my project. Other ways to stabilize the fabric is with a tear-away temporary stabilizer, starch or even an embroidery hoop designed for use in sewing machines.

Can’t draw designs? Trace designs from a colouring book (please keep in mind not to use copyrighted material. It is okay to use other people’s designs for inspiration, But do not copy.  If you do copy a pattern you have purchased, you will have permission to do so. But it must be for personal use only and not to be shared with others. If in doubt, contact the owner of the design

My favourite way of sketching a design such as a dog, poppy, bird etc. is to google “How to draw a_______. There are lots of on line drawing tutorials that show the steps, tricks and secrets of how to draw anything! Who knew it could be so easy!


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