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How to do Free Motion Applique

I adore sewing and I indulge this passion any chance I get but on occasion following instructions and making sure everything I do is perfect isn't what I feel like doing. Don't get me wrong, having worked as a scientist for more years than I care to remember, I'm good and comfortable following the rules. However, sometimes you just want to dump the directions and see where your own creative mind takes you. Free motion applique is a great way of doing this and adding some personal, creative style into your sewing projects.

So what is this free motion applique I hear you shout. Well, applique is a technique of applying pieces of fabric in different shapes and patterns to a larger piece of fabric to form a picture or pattern. Free motion means that, instead of working in straight lines producing uniform stitches with the foot and feed dogs moving the fabric, you work with a free motion foot (sometimes known as a darning foot, quilting foot or embroidery foot), you drop your feed dogs and guide the fabric under the needle using your hands. This means you can control the length and direction of each stitch allowing you to 'draw' your own designs on to your fabric. Combine the two and you have free motion applique.

I should explain, my preferred way of producing a piece of free motion applique is a cheats method. Most people would draw out a design they like, look through their hoard of fabric (we all have one) to find pieces that will work best and create a magnificent, unique piece of art work they can be proud of. I, however, work slightly differently. By no stretch of the imagination would anyone consider me good at drawing which does leave me somewhat stuck with the first step of this project. If I want to create anything that wouldn't be immediately laughed at I don't start by getting out my pencil and paper. Instead I get out my hoard of scrap fabric and look through it to find inspiration. Of course, if you are also appalling at drawing but want to draw out a design you could always use a template. Either Google what you want and print it for free or alternatively, you can purchase free motion applique templates. Another nice alternative is to use a photograph. Trace round the large items in the photo and transfer those shapes to fabric. Then use the stitches to add detail. Just remember it is difficult to get intricate detail in free motion applique. However, for now I will explain my method of creating a free motion applique.

For my cheaters method of free motion applique I use sections of fabric that contain a subject I like such as a bird or flower and cut out the individual object. I then use these individual pieces to create a new scene or pattern.

Today I will show you how I made a lovely simple, small scene which I later turned into a bib for my toddler.


Free Motion Applique Foot - Bother Sewing Machine

Sewing machine

Free motion applique foot

Large fabric scissors

Small fabric scissors for intricate cutting out

Clear drying and flexible fabric glue



Depending on the project you have planned there is additional equipment you can use to make things easier or give a finer finish.

  • Stabilizer - Stabilizers are used to prevent your fabric from distorting which can occur if you are sewing over one area repeatedly and layering up a large amount of thread.

  • Double sided adhesive sheets - these allow you to stick two pieces of fabric together, often using an iron, and can prevent your raw edges from fraying. I've used fabric glue for this project as there were lots of small pieces and I think light fraying adds to the effect. However, if I were to applique a large piece to clothing I might use this instead.

A word on fabric:

The best fabric to use for my cheats method of applique are ones with objects with discernible edges. These are much easier to cut out. A good example of what I mean by this would be the tree fabric pictured below.


  1. Select the fabric you want to use for your project and decide on the scene or pattern you wish to create.

Lay out your background fabric and mark on it any parameters hout by hand and cut them out to the size and shape required.

Add any outlines or other details you need to take into consideration with your scene, to your backing fabric. As I was making my free motion applique piece into a bib I needed to add the bib outline to the piece. The ensured my piece was the right shape , size and helped with the overall layout.

Bib layout on background fabric. A diffeent fabrics will be used for the top part of the bib so was not included on the yellow backing fabric.

Cut out your chosen shapes from your fabric. Use small sharp scissors to ensure you can accurately remove the piece.

Place the pieces on your background fabric and arrange them as you like.Once you are happy with your scene take a photo of it. You will need to move your pieces off of the background so this will be the best way of knowing where each piece belongs.

Pieces placed in to position. I wanted the hills to meet the bib edge so I allowed them to over lap the edge of the bib.

As we will be layering up our pieces and overlapping them, starting with your piece that will be nearest to the background, spread a thin layer of fabric glue over the wrong side of your fabric and put the piece in place on your background and allow to dry for a few seconds. I started with my furthest hill as it wouldn't be overlapping any other piece.

Now, with your chosen thread, you can draw round your first piece using free motion applique. This can simply involve stitching close to the edge of the piece once or several times or alternately you can add details or a pattern.

First hill completed with a simple edge stitch.

Take your next pattern piece, the second closest to the background, and repeat the process

Repeat this until all your pieces are in position and you have added any free motion details you require.

Remember: You don't have to use the same thread for your entire scene. I used complementary colours to help the details pop out.

Once your scene is competed you can use it however you see fit. Cushion covers, blankets, clothing, wall art or even a simple bib.

Free Motion Applique Bib

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