Free motion – Embroidery and Applique

Have you checked out your sewing machine space yet? How about checking out the settings available for free motion quilting? I don’t write this blog just for my entertainment! I sure hope that everyone is getting some useful ideas. If so, please feel free to share them. Next, let’s free motion — embroidery and applique!

Just when you were getting comfortable…

How many of you think of quilting when you hear freemotion? Did you know that you can use any stitch on the sewing machine for free motion? And, you can use those stitches to do embroidery and applique?

We’re going to check those options out today.

Pulling up the bobbin thread

Firstly, I want to share another video with you. In my high tech world, I’m still learning (I’m always learning). I was in the process of showing you how to bring up your bobbin thread yesterday when the video got cut off. Today, you get to see the entire process.

Let me explain why you need to bring up the bobbin thread through your project. If you don’t, you’ll get a thread nest on the bottom of your work and it’s ugly! To prevent this from happening, bring the bobbin thread up so the top and bobbin threads are on top of your project.

Such an easy fix to a messy problem!

The Sapphire 960Q is smart!

One of the things I love about the Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q is how smart it is. I may not remember what I was working on the day before, but, when I turn on the Sapphire 960Q, it tells me that the sewing machine is set up for free motion. No danger of breaking anything or wrecking a project, I can continue with the settings from the previous day or I can change them for what I am working on today.

When I turn on the Sapphire 960Q, it reminds me that the sewing machine is set for Free Motion.

Sewing machine tension

I want to mention one thing about tension. You remember from yesterday that I was using two high contrast threads. If the tension is set correctly, I will not be able to see the top thread on the bottom of my work and vice versa. Now it does happen on occasion, but there is usually a reason why. The trick is to figure out why and fix it.

Have a look at the bottom of my sample.

Slight shadowing of my dark thread shows through on the bottom of my free motion quilting

It would appear that we can see the black top thread coming through to the back. This is what is called “shadowing”. When the stitches are properly formed in the center of your quilt layers, you shouldn’t see the top or bottom threads coming through to the opposite side.

If you think about it, your needle has punched a hole through the quilt and the locked stitches are “visible” through that hole. Because of the high contrast thread, we are seeing the “shadow” of the dark thread coming through to the back. It’s easy to disguise this by not using such high contrast thread or using a busy fabric for the quilt backing. In this case, the Sapphire 960Q has made perfectly locked stitches and they will not come out.

Before you disguise those shadowing stitches, make sure that it’s just shadowing and not a true tension issue. If the stitches are not locked properly, you’ll be able to feel them and/or they’ll come out.

Free motion embroidery

The Sapphire 960Q is a very smart sewing machine, but it’s not an embroidery machine. But, wait, it can do free motion embroidery!

There are many options for doing free motion embroidery. Some people call it thread painting.

While the Sapphire 960Q allows you to use pretty much all the stitches in free motion mode, the most common stitches to use in free motion mode are the straight stitch and the zigzag.

The Sapphire 960Q is set up for free motion zig zag

The screen shot above shows that I’m in the zigzag stitch menu. See the squiggly line button? That button allows me to choose the free motion spring action mode or the free motion floating mode.

Set up the Sapphire 960Q as if you’re doing free motion quilting. Put on the correct foot, choose the correct mode (free motion spring action or free motion floating), and adjust the height of the presser foot. Now that I’m not working with batting, I can lower the foot to help stabilize the fabric. An important note: put the general purpose throat plate on the machine. Do not use the single hole throat plate.

You might want to check out the width of the stitch you’re using as well. You don’t want to break a needle by having a foot that isn’t wide enough to accommodate the stitch width.

I love words and I love putting words on quilts. As I mentioned, the Sapphire 960Q is not an embroidery machine. I could use the built-in alphabets, but I want bigger letters. Have a look at this! I used a free motion zigzag to write the words.

Writing with free motion zigzag

I marked the word on the fabric before I started to stitch. For obvious reasons, cursive writing works best. I dotted the “I” as I went along. I just jumped to the dot, stitched a bit, and jumped back to the bottom part of the letter. How close the stitches are to each other depends on how fast you move the fabric. You can see in the straight line how you can vary the density of the stitch.

Do not rotate the fabric as you do this. Well, you can…you’ll just get a different look. This is more like calligraphy and is fun and very easy to do.


This is a good time to chat about stabilizers. You may think that stabilizers are only for embroidery machines. Not so. Every time you’re doing something that results in a tight stitch (like a zigzag) you must use stabilizer. What happens if you don’t?

No stabilizer was used and, as the stitches got more dense, they pulled the fabric

See how, as the zig zag stitch width got larger, the fabric underneath the stitch could not support the density of the stitch? The zig zag pulled in the fabric. If you were to do the same exercise with stabilizer, the stitches would not have pulled the fabric.

How do you learn about stabilizers? Check your local sewing machine dealer, quilt store, or sewing store for a seminar on stabilizers. If you don’t see one on their class schedule…ask. Often the stabilizer seminar is part of a class for embroidery sewing machines. If you prefer to read about the various products, you might be lucky enough to snag a booklet with all the products in it – like this one. I also got a sample of each of the products, which is great, because I can touch them as I’m learning about them.

INSPIRA stabilizer sample pack and booklet

The best place to check out the various stabilizers is on the internet. Follow this link, which provides you with a description of when and how to use each of the INSPIRA stabilizers. You’ll always have the latest information on line as printed books get out of date.

The stabilizer that you would use for this type of free motion stitching is called INSPIRA Tear-a-Way Stabilizer. It’s easy to slip a piece underneath your work and when you’re finished, the stabilizer tears away cleanly. A breeze to use and can make or break your project.

Free motion applique

Free motion can also be used to finish the raw edges of your applique and to add detail.

I use INSPIRA Tear-a-Way stabilizer when I’m finishing raw-edge applique and adding detail to the piece.

Almost always, the back of the free motion applique piece looks like a mess. It’s very difficult to get perfect tension when doing free motion applique. What you’re looking for is a nice finish on the top with no bobbin thread showing on the front. The mess on the back will be covered with batting and a backing.

Raw edge applique stitching

In the piece above, all the applique pieces are raw edge that have been fused to the background. I added the spokes on the bicycle using free motion (so easy) and all the components of the bicycle were stitched using free motion. The fabric used for the fence and the road is the same! I just used different colors of thread and a different free motion stitch style to create a different look for the two components.

Free motion applique and thread painting

The cat started out as one piece of white fabric.The details were transferred to the cat shape. Various types of free motion stitch styles and thread colors were used to create the many parts of the cat.

Close-up of free motion applique and thread painting

In the close-up of the cat’s face, you can see that even the eyes were stitched with thread! He’s still missing some stitching on his face, but look how “furry” the outline stitching is around his body.

You can also create applique shapes using free motion stitching. In this case, I’d use  INSPIRA Aqua Magic Stabilizer, which is a water soluble stabilizer. I’d put at least two layers of the stabilizer in a wooden hoop specifically designed for this type of stitching. Once the applique piece is finished, cut away the excess stabilizer and soak the piece in water to remove the rest of the water soluble stabilizer. The stabilizer disappears and you have your own thread-painted applique! You must make sure the piece is well-stitched or it will fall apart once the stabilizer is gone.

Creating a free motion applique piece using water soluble stabilizer in a hoop

Wooden hoop designed for free motion embroidery

Now, you’re going to look at your sewing machine in a whole new light!

The Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 960Q has so many features and makes all types of free motion so easy. The Sapphire 960Q takes care of the little details like dropping the feed teeth, remembering which stitching mode you’re in and so much more. Those little extras make the free motion experience painless.

Tomorrow, I’ll have two small projects for you to work on. Perhaps they will require free motion — embroidery and applique! Wait and see…Ciao!

Related posts

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Tips for using the free motion foot

Tips for sewing Y seams


Irena Blaszkiewicz August 6, 2019 - 8:46 am
Thank you sooooo much for this. I've been looking everywhere for soemthing that is nothing to do with free motion 'quilting' it's the drawing I want to do. I've got a 965Q which, I'm sure will be the same. however, I've used the R foot that comes with the machine and it's not worked. It just does not stitch. it does not pick up the bobbin thread!!! So I'm getting the spring open toe foot. Hopefully that will work. Thank you again for this. perfect.
Elaine Theriault August 21, 2019 - 8:43 am
Irena --- you're welcome! Hopefully, that spring open toe foot has worked for you and you're drawing with your sewing machine. So much fun can be had! Elaine
Fred April 14, 2015 - 2:17 pm
Great post! I enjoy your blog a lot.
Carla A. Canonico April 15, 2015 - 2:41 pm
Glad to hear you're enjoying it!
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