Sewing Lessons 101

Lesson 5: Interlacing, Piercing, and Couching Part 1 of 2



Hello all!

This week we will take a closer look at interlacing and piercing with paper, and begin to look at couching.  These are wonderful skills to have in your toolbox for art journal pages, scrapbook or sketchbooks, or other art projects.

Interlacing and Piercing

Many thicker and heavier threads, yarns, and ribbons are too big to pass through a sewing machine needle, a smaller hand needle, and really shouldn’t be pulled through paper over and over since eventually both the fiber and the paper will fall apart.  This is where piercing a channel through the paper first makes a huge difference, particularly if the hole is stabilized with a brad, an eyelet, or stitching.  Piercing a hole before hand stitching on paper also makes it far easier on your wrists and fingers to form the stitch since paper will not fold and bend as easily as a fabric.

Below are a few pages from my hand stitching sketchbook:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog


Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog


Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Below is another image of holes that were punched with the larger Japanese hole punch into painted sketchbook paper, and the beginnings of chain stitch.

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog


The next two images are the front and back side of one page out of my hand stitching book, with pen, ink, paint and marker drawings.  The edges of the page were pierced with a seam ripper first, then overhand stitched first with yellow, then back the opposite way with green.  In the lower right corner you can see the back side of the chain and feather stitching.


Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog


And another edge with pierced holes:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog




Below is another page from the same book, this one a stitched collage of my painted and monoprinted paper.  I am using the machine stitches of the collaged bits to anchor hand stitches with a thicker thread.  Since the automatic decorative stitches have a lot of thread bars, I can pick and choose where to insert the needle for my design.

It isn’t necessary to have a sewing machine to make the thread bars, you can also just lace thread through pre-punched holes, then use those thread bars as an anchor for further embellishment.


Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog



Let’s look at a “Junque Journal” cover I made from a printed page from Tangie’s “Gypsy Diaries” workshop.   Below is the finished and mounted cover:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog


In part 2 of  Interlacing, Piercing, and Couching,  we will take a close look at making this journal cover which includes all of these techniques.

Until next week, take care and have some fun making art!


Lesson 4: Thread Painting Part 2 of 2


Hello all,

Well here we are a week later and the flood waters have receded, thank God.  Meanwhile, our daughter is in labor with our first grandchild!  Never a dull moment around here!

On to the second part of Thread painting, and a closer look at the mechanics of stitching densely.

Thread Painting Part 2 of 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog


Choosing threads for Tangie Baxter's blog


Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog


Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog


Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog



Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Below is an image from a library slideshow as well as a photobook I made about our trip to Morocco, with tips on the traveling sketchbook:

Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog


Thread Painting Part 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Lesson 2: Using Fusible Interfacings to Attach and Glue Papers and Fabrics

Art Travels with Rain a Series on the Studio Tangie Blog


On into Lesson 2, to learn about using fusible interfacings, and the magic possible when combining these handy products with paper, fabric, and stitch for your art journal or other projects.

sson 2: Using Fusible Interfacings to attach and glue papers and fabrics for Tangie Baxter's blog

I have already stitched my back cover decoration, using the same page as the inner flap from last week’s Lesson 1, this time printed on a canvas paper.  I have mounted the back cover panel to a piece of Lutrador interfacing that was previously painted, and free motion zigzag stitched all the edges.  Above is the finished sketchbook wrap cover for my Symbology Project workbook, and below is an image of the inner cover and page one of the workshop.  Let’s take a look at the specifics of using fusible interfacing for this type of project, and then I will demonstrate how to make up the wrap cover.

Inner Cover of Symbology Sketchbook for Tangie Baxter's blog

What exactly is fusible interfacing?  Over on Planet Quilt, fusibles have been used for years to hold applique’ or other pieces in place while stitching.  There are one-sided and two-sided fusibles, and for the art journal and book artist, the two-sided products are the most useful.  I often fuse paper to other paper or fabric, as well as ephemera, postcards, print outs, paintings, etc., but I avoid fusing photos that are precious or need archival treatment.  Since free motion embroidery by machine is a bit uncontrolled, fusing first can feel like having a third hand, holding elements in place while sewing.  Also, as we venture in the future into machine stitched cords and trims, dissolvable stabilizer lace and writing, and other fabulous embellishment tricks, fusible interfacing will become a close friend and ally! These products have transformed my ability to create collages with paper and fabrics mixed together, easily and quickly.

There are a lot of two-sided products, and in the U.S. Pellon company’s Wonder Under is probably the best known.  Most box stores have half-off coupons regularly, and this is when I buy Wonder Under, Misty Fuse, or other “glue” fusibles.  For our purposes today, I want to focus on the paper-backed two sided products like Wonder Under.   After fusing the exposed glue layer to a paper or fabric, the backing parchment paper is removed, exposing the second glue layer…this can then be fused to a base or whatever I’d like, hence gluing with an iron rather than a wet glue.

Lesson 2: Fusible Interfacing for Tangie Baxter's blog


Fusible, cont.  for Tangie Baxter's blog


fusing paper collage sheets


Let’s look at two pieces of mine where I used fusible interfacing:

Ganesha mixed media fusing example for Tangie Baxter's blog

This page is from Tangie’s mixed media swap that took place back in May for the Art Journal Caravan participants.  I first printed various papers, elements, and the Ganesha onto fabrics and papers using an inkjet printer.  Then I fused Wonder Under to the back of each page before cutting apart borders, elements, etc.  Each was then pressed with a dry, hot iron onto a base paper and free motion stitched.


Fusible floral piece for Tangie Baxter's blog

The above floral image is an example of many layers fused one on top of the other as I created the piece from various dyed fibers and painted papers.  This is part of my current garden journal.

Are you getting excited yet?  Ok, well fasten your seat belt because there is another entire level of art and design possible with fusible interfacing:  it can be painted and still function as a two-sided glue! The possibilities of creating backgrounds, foregrounds, embellishments, book covers, clothing, on and on, are just endless.

The easiest method is using an old metal tray or one of those horrible styrofoam cooler lids or other packing material as a paint board.  I have covered larger pieces of styrofoam packing with muslin fabric, duct taping the back.  After I’ve painted on the boards for awhile the muslin becomes an amazing piece of fabric itself, so I remove it and heat set.  Sometimes I give the fabric a wash of dye or fabric paint to unify the markings, but honestly, without any planning at all most of the muslin comes out terrific.  Or, you could use large sheets of drawing paper to do the same thing, basically doubling your stash with the same amount of materials.

I first gently remove the glue layer from the parchment backing, then lay it back down on top of the backing.  Acrylic paints work best, although I have gotten good effects with watercolor paints.  If the end piece will be sprayed with water or other mediums, the watercolor can reconstitute and run, so I usually stick to acrylics.  Dilute the paint if using heavy body or thicker acrylics, then all options are open:  dribble, brush, brayer, etc.  Until the layer is covered.

Allow to dry, then separate the layers if you haven’t already done so.  Now just use the glue layer as before.  Voila’! Instant lovely.

Here are some examples from my “Experiments with Media” sketchbook:

Painted fusible for Tangie Baxter's blog


fusible with chiffon for Tangie Baxter's blog

When the glue layer is painted, both sides are gorgeous, and fusing between transparent fabrics or paper will give you a double sided fabric or page to work with.


Paper backing for Tangie Baxter's blogThe backing paper becomes usable in its own right!  Below are three pages of experiments with fusible interfacing and a variety of items I have glued down:


Fusing examples 1 for Tangie Baxter's blog


Fusing examples 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog


Fusing examples 3 for Tangie Baxter's blog



Now let’s look at how I used fusible interfacing to make the Symbology Project workshop sketchbook wrap cover:  first I made a painted large piece of 100 pound paper using acrylic paints and stamps.  I dried one side, then fused some thinner copy paper printed with basic color.  Any combination you desire will work for a paper cover, including brown Kraft paper or bags, drawing paper painted or decorated on both sides, scrapbook larger sheets of paper, etc., whatever your heart desires.  Since I made a stitched front with pockets and flaps, and a back that forms a pocket, I made the paper wrap coordinate with the stitched pieces.


First, complete any machine or hand stitching on the front and back decorative covers.  Then lay down your paper for the cover wrap, outer side down, and follow the instructions in the image below:cover directions for Tangie Baxter's blog

cover directions for Tangie Baxter's blog




Here’s a second preview of a sheet of flowers from Tangie’s kit, Cuatro Day of the Dead, for the thread painting lesson next week. Until then, take care!

Rainthread painting preview 2 for Tangie Baxter's blog

Art Travels with Rain: Lesson One: Making Borders and Pockets Using Automatic Machine Stitching

Lesson One:  Making Borders and Pockets Using Automatic Machine Stitching

***Note:  please read through  “Sewing 101: The Prequel”  for the basics of sewing on paper!


In this lesson, I will explore using automatic straight and zigzag stitching to create pockets for your art journal pages.  I am demonstrating pockets and borders using my new sketchbook wrap cover for Tangie Baxter’s September Symbology Project, pictured below.  Details for this exciting new workshop that begins September 1, 2013 are in Tangie’s shop at (


Symbology workshop book cover by Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

And the inner cover and pockets:


Symbology Workshop inner cover by Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

On the left, the inner cover has two pockets stitched:


Symbology Workshop inner cover by Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Let’s get started with creating your own book cover or other pockets for a page:



Attaching a border and a pocket to a base page is a fabulous first step in sewing on paper.

First, have a look at a few examples of straight and zigzag stitching on my pages below.  Then have some fun with stitching various pieces together.  Tangie has many options in her shop at ( of borders, pages, and other printables, including in the Collage Mania Grab Bags from 2010 and 2011.  It is also easy to use software such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to create a printable page with various elements and papers, then save as a jpeg file, and print at home on whatever type of paper you desire.  For pockets and hinges, index or cardstock is sturdy enough, but copier paper is not. Some home printers need cardstock fed one sheet at a time.  Also consider painted or other mixed media papers made at home, just be cautious if a lot of glues, gel mediums, acrylic paints, or other thick polymers have been used, as you will not want to stitch through these on a machine.  Bits of glue are not safe for the bobbin area.

Pockets with Automatic Stitching for Tangie Baxter's blog


Collage with Automatic Stitching for Tangie Baxter's blog



Various decorative stitches hold bits and pieces of the collage above together.  Some straight stitching also holds down some pieces.  This is part of a larger group of pages experimenting with sewing on paper, and is a terrific resource that I return to regularly.  Consider spending some time exploring the various utility and decorative stitches your machine may make, with different colors of thread and background papers. Many of these examples are from a sketchbook of sewing options that includes both hand and machine stitch, where I have opened the wire binding to work on the pages individually, then rebinding. Other pages include notes on stitch length, stitch width, the numbers and variations of decorative stitches, paper and thread samples, etc. and form a valuable resource manual.


Finished Pockets for Symbology Book cover for Tangie Baxter's blog

Above is an example of pockets that I filled with garden stickers and die cuts as a Garden Journal gift for an elderly friend that sadly can no longer hold tools.  There are large and small pockets throughout the journal with bits of paper, seed packets, pressed flowers, scrapbook elements, and quotes/poetry for her to make pages or play with. Some of the pockets hold her writing, too private to have on view, so safely tucked away in the pocket.


Hinges for Symbology Book cover for Tangie Baxter's Blog

I have also hand stitched papers, seed packets, little paintings, and other bits of garden ephemera onto the pages by first piercing the page with a large machine needle, on the machine.  Some of these areas were planned, while others were added here and there for later use.  It is far easier to stick a brad or other fastener through a hole that is already punched, and also offers attachment options of thicker ribbons, knitting yarns, or other novelty items to be laced through the holes.

Hinges for Symbology Book cover for Tangie Baxter's blog


More examples of hinges:  on top, many sketchbook pages zigzag stitched together as a pull-out,  bound into a larger sketchbook.  Below left, painted Timtex stabilizer with fused paper, free motion and automatic stitched, with zigzag panels as the cover of a book.  On the lower right, the cover hinges are opened, revealing the first page of satin stitched edge options.

For hinges, the zigzag stitch must be wide enough for the two pages or elements to lay flat next to each other, with a shorter stitch length of 2.0mm depending on the thickness you are sewing, so there is enough thread to support the opening and closing of the hinge. Always try a small sample first, before stitching your art work together! Ask me how I know…seriously try a sample first!



So, now let’s look at my Symbology cover starting points: the first image below is the flap on the outer cover as a jpg Photoshop file, combined from various elements of  Tangie’s “Thoughts of Thee” and “Luminescence” kits.  I printed this on Epson Premium matte photo paper before adding a lot of stitch both automatic and free motion using a variegated thread.  The central hand motif is from Orchid Elixir, although I used the Collage Mania Grab bag sheet, ready to print at high resolution, then cut, and sewn on.


I added two old Chinese coins from my stash, and again used free motion to attach the coins to the page by making small stitches in one spot, gently pulling the thread over to the inner coin, more small anchoring stitches, then reversed, back and forth on both sides of the coin.  In the center of the coin, I sewed a free motion teeny circle of stitches to look like a bead, and repeated this on the blue “beaded elements” at the corners of the page.  The very top of this flap has the letter “e” scrolled along the top bar, which you will remember from the Prequel free motion exercises. This is called Garnet or Granite stitch in free machine embroidery parlance.


Before free motion zigzag stitching the edges together, I made the inner flap and pockets, and made a ribbon beaded tie that was slipped between the outer and inner flap to anchor the ribbon while stitching the edges.  The image below the starter-flap is the digital file from Photoshop that I again printed onto Epson Premium matte paper.  Credits for this page include Field Notes: Fall, Midnight Dreams, and AJC13 Atlantis.  I printed off two copies of the inner flap base page, cut one into a pocket, zigzag stitched all around the edges of the square, then straight automatic stitched the paper printout of the door and hand motifs, forming a second pocket.  Then the entire pocket piece was straight stitched to the base, and the inner and outer flaps joined by free motion zigzag around the edges.


When edging a page with free motion zigzag, the best end look is achieved by using a 3 step motion:  stitch forward about an inch or so, then back over it again, then forward filling in and making the edge look pretty.  So, forward, back, forward again, over and over, around the edge.  I find this to be far easier than stitching all the way around three times. I use this same 3 step process for raw edge applique’, but that is a future lesson!


The main cover page started as a digital Photoshop file with elements from the Bestiary of Beasties, Celtic Tradition, Midnight Dreams, and the Mehndi Caravan alpha in white.  I printed this page on Epson premium matte photo paper, then added a lot of free motion embellishment embroidery. The edges were zigzag stitched with the same variegated thread as the flap, attaching the cover to a painted piece of canvas paper, 100 weight.  The edges of the canvas paper were also free motion zigzag stitched, attaching the other part of the ribbon closure at the same time.


The flap was automatic zigzag stitched to the cover on the left hand side only, using a wide stitch width of 5mm and long stitch length of 4mm, to act as a hinge, however I folded the flap back against the zigzag stitching instead, just because I like it better.

My cover is now complete and ready to attach to the book wrap for the spine and the back cover next week.

Door of Symbology Book cover by Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog






Inner Door of Symbology Book cover by Rain



Now it’s your turn…have a go at stitching on some paper, make a few pockets, attach a border, start on your own book cover.  Next week we will learn about attaching the cover to the wrap for the spine and back cover of the sketchbook, after decorating the page with free motion embroidery.  And perhaps a bit of thread painting thrown in! Have a look at my Photoshop jpg page of flowers from Tangie’s kit:  Field Notes Fall, one of my favorites, and part of what I printed to thread paint before adding to the back cover.

Until then, take care!


Back cover preview Symbology Book cover by Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Art Travels with Rain: The Sewing Prequel

Art Travels with Rain header for Tangie Baxter blog


The Sewing Prequel:  This is the introductory prequel for Sewing Lessons 101:  Sewing on Paper.  Start here for all the basics of combining automatic and free motion sewing machine stitch into your art journal and scrapbook pages.  Below is a primer on machine care and feeding, set up, and accessories that will make your journey of sewing on paper and hybrid pages a delight, opening up new avenues of artistic exploration.



Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Page credits: Tangie Baxter:  Sew Girlie, Wonderland Mad Hatter’s, Perennial Paperie, You are Brilliant, August AJC12, Font: MaryAnn


The Prequel:  The Basics of Understanding Sewing with Paper on a Machine

Before launching into the creation of art journal pages, book covers and bindings, we need to cover the basics of automatic and free motion sewing on a machine, and the steps necessary for success.

Clean and oil your machine

First of all, stitching on paper creates more dust and bits of fiber falling into the bobbin case of your machine than most fabrics.  Well, unless you are sewing with flannel or faux fur!  Following your machine’s instruction manual, clean and oil the machine, using a soft brush and canned air.  Don’t blow into your machine, especially if it is computerized, as this is basically spitting into your machine!

Prequel: Sewing 101 on Tangie Baxter's blog



Needle sizes and storage

Whatever needle used for stitching on paper must now be dedicated to only paper, as it will get very dull very quickly. I have a pincushion that looks like a tomato with sections marked with sizes and “paper” to hold the various needles until they are spent.  I will often use a needle that is no longer sharp enough for fabric to stitch on paper.  Or, mark a scrap of fabric with the word, “paper” for storage between paper stitching sessions.  On cardstock and index paper, or layered copy papers, a dull thudding sound is somewhat “normal” unless it becomes loud, then it is time to change to a newer, sharper needle. Dispose of machine needles carefully as even a dull needle can hurt.  I tend to keep an old film canister for discards, emptying into trash packaging  for disposal.

The choice of needle size will vary according to the thickness of paper layers, or paper and fabric sandwich that you will be sewing.  Think of the range of needle sizes in relation to the hole made in the paper…a smaller needle will make a smaller hole, and vice versa.  Do you want the thread and line of stitching to be a design feature? If yes, then choose a larger needle.

Finer needles are generally size 60-80, usually for sewing on quilt cottons or dress fabrics.  Larger, heavier needles such as a size 90 jeans needle, or a 100N or 110N, are for heavier fabrics like denim or canvas, and of course, thicker papers like cardstock.  Size 90 and above have a larger eye to the needle and can be threaded with 2 threads at once, a fun embellishment technique that we will cover later on.

I sew without thread if I want holes perforated into the paper for lacing, hand stitching, or just a textural element.  To begin with, practicing sewing without thread is easier and less expensive.


Sewing 101 Needle Sizes on Tangie Baxter's blog



Sewing Feet

There are many choices for automatic sewing feet, and I tend to use a foot that is open in the front for better viewing of the needle, such as a Bernina #20. Any regular sewing foot will be sufficient. For free motion stitching, aka free machining in the UK, an open toe darning or embroidery foot is best.  Consult your manual for your machine’s accessories.


Sewing 101: Feet, Tangie Baxter's blog



The Feed Dogs

Under the presser foot/needle area, there are “teeth” under the throat plate referred to as feed dogs…these teeth move the fabric along when sewing.  The feed dogs can be lowered or covered allowing your hands to move the paper or fabric without the assistance of the machine.  Free motion stitching requires dropping the feed dogs.  Appropriate method of covering or lowering your feed dogs will be in the manual for your specific model of machine.

Sewing 101:  Feed Dogs, Tangie Baxter's Blog


Tension, Stitch Length and Width buttons

The top tension governs the speed of thread release, and the bottom, the release of thread from the bobbin.  Depending on your machine, normal tension for sewing on fabric is approximately 3.5-4.0.  For free machining, I usually lower the top tension a bit, down to 2.5-3, but this is dependent on your machine.  Altering bobbin tension is a book unto itself, so will not be covered in these blog posts.

Stitch length button or slider changes the length of the actual stitch, from 1mm, which is tiny and barely moves to 6mm, which is a huge basting stitch.  Stitch length settings for paper depend on whether or not the seam will be holding two items together, or are just decorative.  I generally use a 3mm stitch length unless I have a good reason not to.  Stitch width buttons or sliders are the same, only for width.  If your machine can make a zigzag or decorative stitches, the stitch width becomes very important.

Sewing 101: Stitch Length and Width variations, Tangie Baxter blog




Another topic worth at least a book or two, so here’s a brief summary to get you sewing:  thread is characterized by weight, with numbers from 12-100. For threads, the higher the number, the finer the thread.  For sewing with paper, use at least a 40 weight/2ply, or a 50/3.  The ply is the numbers of strands wound together.  These are strong threads, used in general sewing with fabrics, and freely available.  Please don’t buy the “ten zillion for a dollar” threads at your local box store…these tend to be loosely plied and very weak and fuzzy.  The amount of time you will spend cleaning out the bobbin area is so not worth it, let alone having things come apart from the thread disintegrating.

I organize my threads by color, in a shallow cabinet.  I live in Colorado at 6000 feet in elevation, so the climate is very dry.  For rayon threads, I keep the spools in a plastic bag in a cool, dark place…seems weird to those of you in a humid climate, I know, however rayon threads will literally shatter if dried out to the point of being brittle.  So for me, it is worth the extra step.

Sewing 101: Threads, Tangie Baxter's blog



First Exercise with Automatic Straight Stitching:

Let’s start with straight, automatic stitching before moving on to free motion.  Unthread your machine on top and remove the bobbin, leaving the case in place.  We will start with straight stitch, set at 3mm, with normal top and bottom tension.

Ok, grab a piece of lined scrap paper.  Start sewing with the unthreaded needle, following up and down the lines printed on the paper, punching holes.  Experiment with pressing the foot peddle so the machine runs faster and slower, lifting your hands away from the paper to see how it moves without guidance, starting and stopping, and occasionally reversing.  My machine will sink the needle if I press my heel down on the foot peddle, but you may have to lower the needle into the paper using the hand wheel on the side of the machine. With the needle depressed, you can lift the presser foot and turn the paper in any direction without losing your place.  This is very handy for turning corners. Practice sewing down one line, stopping, sinking the needle, lifting the presser foot, turning the page 90 degrees, then dropping the presser foot down and continuing.  Develop comfort with starting, stopping, and turning corners.


Second Exercise with Automatic ZigZag

Ok, now if your machine has a zigzag stitch, practice with various stitch widths to see where the needle punches the hole in the paper on the zig vs. the zag…try lining up the zigzag between the lines on your paper.  Experiment with changing the stitch length as well as the width.  When the stitch length is dropped to .5-1mm, thread will form a dense satin stitch.  This is hard to accomplish unless the paper is pretty sturdy, or the thread very thin.  Without thread, a very low stitch length can perforate paper to the point of tearing a big hole, so beware unless that is what you are after.



Third Exercise:  Automatic Stitching Practice with Thread

Thread the top of your machine and insert a full bobbin.  Using a new piece of lined paper, start stitching by holding both the top and bobbin thread off to the left behind the foot so the end threads won’t get tangled in your first stitches.  This is an excellent habit to develop.  Most machines require holding the top thread and pulling up gently while slowly lowering the needle using the hand wheel or your foot pedal to bring up the bobbin thread when a new bobbin has been inserted.



Repeat Exercise 1 and 2, noticing the difference when stitching with thread.



Free Motion Embroidery

Get ready for a whole new world of possibilities as an artist!  Free motion stitching is the overview term for a plethora of techniques, all with the sewing machine’s feed dogs lowered or covered.  There are many books that explore the abundance of techniques and uses of FME, so this will be a brief and condensed review of the basics for the art journal/scrapbook artist.

Your sewing machine must be able to drop or cover the feed dogs to sew free motion.  Check your manual or local dealer if you have questions.  Without this capacity, the following techniques will not work.  For some older machines, setting the stitch length to zero will disengage the feed dogs, however most modern machines have an override for this approach.

As always, first clean and oil your machine, particularly under the throat plate and the bobbin case area.  Repeat this action every few hours of sewing, especially with paper.

Drop, lower, or cover your feed dogs.  Set the top tension between 2 and 3 mm, and the stitch length to at least 2mm, despite the fact the stitch length will be determined by how fast your hands move.  Machines behave better with a stitch length of 2mm and above.  Stitch width depends on whether you choose straight FME or zigzag.  A darning or embroidery foot is a necessity, as with the feed dogs lowered, a regular presser foot holding the paper or fabric against the throat plate is not desired.  A darning or embroidery foot has a spring in back and does not touch the bed of the machine at all, hence allowing free movement.

Needle choice will depend on the thickness of the “sandwich” of layers, the thread choice, as well as how large of a needle-hole is desired.  With extensive thread painting type of stitching, changing the needle often is a good idea.



First Exercise:  Coordinating your Hands and Feet

The trick to learning free motion stitching is relaxing your shoulders while moving the fabric or paper around under the needle.  Start by running your machine a bit slower than usual, and moving your hands at a speed that appears to make a decent stitch length.  Too fast, it will look like a basting stitch, too slow and you may tear your paper.


Start by stitching on paper without the machine threaded again to get the hang of moving the paper around. Then thread up the machine, and go on to the next exercise using a piece or two of scrap fabric first.


Make scrolling movements, like a cursive letter “e”, over and over, experimenting with your hands moving slower and faster, the machine slower and faster, the scrolls bigger and smaller.


On a new piece of fabric, start in a straight line slowly, then fast to see how the stitch length goes from teeny to a long basting stitch, depending on how fast you move the fabric.


Try a zigzag stitch, moving the fabric in scrolls, straight lines both vertical and horizontal, building up areas of thread as a fill stitch, and making jagged lines.


Write your name in cursive, large and small.


Once you have had a chance to experiment, use another piece of fabric and repeat some of these moves without turning the direction of the fabric, just moving your hands front, back, and side to side.  Imagine the needle is a pencil that you cannot lift from the paper.  Try stitching M’s, O’s, W’s, jagged lines, meandering lines, spirals, leaf shapes, etc.  There are many quilt stitches that are feather, fan, serpentine scrolls, or other elaborate free motion patterns to follow when marked on the quilt top, and these patterns can give a wide variety of options for drawing with a needle.



Below is a sample of marked paper for you to either print off to practice stitching FME, or draw some patterns on paper yourself and sew.  Keep practicing until you get comfortable with moving the fabric or paper while sewing.


Sewing 101: FME practice sheet, Tangie Baxter's Blog

Art Travels with Rain introduction

Art Travels with Rain header

Join me in a new Tangie Baxter blog feature on Wednesdays:  Art Travels with Rain

The first project will be hybrid, learning the skills of sewing on paper while making a sketchbook wrap cover.  My piece, pictured below, is the cover for the September Symbology workshop with Tangie, beginning September 1st.  See ( for all the details of this exciting new workshop.

My book cover has a central flap that holds two pockets for elements I want to use on my Symbology pages.  In Lesson 1, I will show you how to sew pockets, flaps, and hinges.  If you are new to sewing on paper, or need a refresher, please start with the Prequel post for the details of machine set up and exercises to practice stitching on paper using both automatic and free motion stitchery.

Rain's Symbology book cover for Tangie Baxter's Workshop

Symbology Workshop by Tangie Baxter: Rain's inner book cover


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