Decorating clothes with free motion sewing: a tutorial

Daisy top for Daisy

It’s been babypalooza around here. No, I have not been delivered of any more of my own (“delivered of” – love that phrase,  used most recently by Buck Palace to announce bonny Prince George’s arrival), but friends and family are popping them out all over the place.

Most recently, my darling brother-in-law and his bewdiful wife had a baby girl.

To celebrate I made her this little top using the free sewing technique I’ve talked about before when I made these napkins, and these personalised paper gift bags.

Now as you can see, this is not a neat and perfect art. By its very definition free motion sewing gives a sketchy, scribbly look which I adore but won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Close-up free-motion Daisy

But if it is, then that is awesome on a stick and here’s a little how-to.

What you need:

  • Garment to sew onto (duh!)
  • Free motion sewing foot
  • Eraser pen for fabric
  • Your design.

What to do:

1. Print your design onto paper and trim it down so you can slip it under your garment.

2. Trace the design using your eraser pen. If the fabric is too thick to see the pattern underneath, you may wish to use another method for transferring your design like a transfer pencil and hot iron. However be aware that not all transfer pencils wash out so make sure you use one that does.

Flower pattern

3. Fit your free motion sewing foot to your sewing machine. I have a standard Brother foot that I modified using this really excellent tutorial. You don’t have to modify your foot – just makes life a bit easier. I’m all for easier.

Modifiedf free motion sewing foot

4. Sew over your design.  Free motion sewing can take a little bit of getting used too so you might want to practise on some scraps first. Here are some good tips and here’s a video of a guy doing a free motion sewing portrait. It’s amazing but his fingers seem to go so very close to the needle it makes me shudder. No blood on the fabric – that’s my rule.

T-shirt for Daisy

You’ll notice how the fabric has puckered – especially around the flowers. That’s what happens with stretchy material and, again, I like it because it gives texture. However, if you want a flatter result, simply iron some tear-out or wash-out stabiliser behind your design before you begin.

So can you guess my niece’s name?  And no, smart arse, it’s not Roughly-Sketched Indeterminate Flower.

And I’m worried you might think they called her Carnation.

Free motion Daisy with stem

It’s a daisy, people. And so is she.

PS: Alex and Jo own and run the fabulous  and beautiful St Isidore on the NSW South Coast. The restaurant is in both the 2013 Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant Guide and the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Do go and give it a go if you’re in that part of the world and tell ’em I sent you. It’s a cracker.

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Personalised packaging

I wanted a way to package the necklaces I showed you in the last post.

I am not really a great present wrapper. Presents I give tend to look like they’ve been wrapped in haste by someone with the shakes. And no eye for colour or contrast. Despite the fact they’re given with great love.

So rather than haul out the sticky tape and tissue paper and create another creased parcel with a wonky bow that not even someone who loved me could like, I came up with this.

Do give freehand sewing a try if you’re at all inclined. It’s not as tricky as it might look. You can get presser feet precisely for this kind of sewing which I HIGHLY recommend.

But in keeping with my cowboyish ways, I sew without a guard. It’s only a matter of time before there is blood splatter.

Note to self: you are risk averse in every other way, stop being so cavalier and buy a fecking freehand sewing presser foot.

A polkadot sundress and retro play suit.

The day before Olive was born (10 months ago or so) I decided I needed to buy a sewing machine.  So I hauled my very pregnant self to Spotlight and soon after I had a brand spanking new sewing machine and a brand spanking new baby. I knew what to do with the latter but the former sat, untouched, for a month while I worked up the courage to turn it on.

One day I bit the bullet, read the manual and  threaded the needle.  Then I left it for another month. Finally I could put it off no longer.  Ignoring the intimidation I felt I just sat down and began to play around.

No one was more surprised than I that I could actually do it. Okay, so I didn’t sew the straightest seams, know all the technical terms or understand things like tension but I did an okay job. And before too long I had my confidence up and if a material was able to be pierced with a needle, I had a go at sewing it.

It was a few months later, talking to my mum about my new-found passion,  that I discovered that my great Grandmother was a dress-maker and milliner. Suddenly I knew where my ability (we won’t be referring to it as skill in these embryonic stages!) came from.  Now, every time I sit down at the machine I think of my great Grandmother and imagine her at hers or sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s night as she hand-sewed tiny stitches on a gown for someone. Well, I’m nothing if not romantic.

Nine months down the track I decided I was ready to tackle some summer clothes for the girls. I was also keen to try some new techniques like shirring, french seams and using bias binding.  I almost went blind trying to sew everything up in one day but I ended up with some things the girls could actually wear.

The beauty of being able to make things yourself is that you can choose colours and patterns you really like. For example, I love black on little girls (yep, must be the Melbourne in me) but it can be hard to find simple black basics and dresses.  So, I made one of Sophia’s dresses (from this gorgeous pattern)  in black and white polka dot.

I couldn’t find a pattern for the kind of old-fashioned  play suit I wanted for Olive so I adapted a couple of patterns and kind of made it up a bit as I went along and I was really pleased with the way it turned out. It really did have that retro feel to it; helped along by the apple print fabric.

Don’t look too closely or you’ll see all the wonky bits!

Do you have any favourite kids’ clothes patterns?