How to Make a Free Motion Embroidery Stitch Pillow

I recently discovered free motion embroidery and I love it! I combined two of my most favorite passions, art, and sewing, and created this painted and embroidered DIY pillow.

free motion embroidery DIY

I think this is my new favorite DIY. It’s true. I discovered free motion embroidery and I love it. I bet when you first looked at this you probably didn’t even know it was stitched. Haha. Fooled ya! It’s a DIY pillow.

free motion embroidery stitching

I actually painted this DIY pillow first and then added the detail with free motion embroidery.

free motion embroidery 6

Look at all of the Free-Motion Embroidery DIY Pillows I Have Made

Just tap on any link to see the DIY for the pillow.

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What is free motion embroidery?

Free motion machine embroidery is a type of sewing that you do on a regular sewing machine but you can move the material in any direction while sewing it on your machine.  Normally when you sew, the machine automatically moves the fabric forward. When you sew free motion embroidery, you get to move the fabric so you determine exactly where you want to sew. You can move sideways, forward, backward to create any shape you want. All you need is a quilting foot (or darning foot) and to lower the feed dogs on your sewing machine.

The free-motion quilting foot, sometimes called a darning foot, is designed so that the sewing machine needle passes through a small ring on the foot. Instead of hopping, these feet float over the fabric without providing pressure.  The Foot releases the fabric when the needle is in the up position, allowing you to move the fabric freely.

This is a free-motion foot for your machine. This foot may vary based on tour type of machine but I linked a “universal” one. This means … you don’t need a special sewing machine to do this!

Why do you need to lower the “feed dogs” on your machine when stitching free-motion embroidery? Feed dogs are the little teeth on your sewing machine that feed your fabric evenly through the sewing machine. These are extremely important because they help us produce perfectly spaced, even stitches whenever we sew garments, piece quilts, or applique shapes on our machine. If you lower the feed dogs for free-motion embroidery, you can move the fabric freely.

For this DIY pillow, I lowered the feed dogs using a lever on my machine and it was easy. If you can’t find the feed dog lever on your machine you can leave the feed dogs up and use a Supreme Slider instead.

What You Need to Make a Free Motion Embroidery Pillow

Pillow cover (I used the Gurli 20″ cover from Ikea)

Acrylic paint and brush

Dark Embroidery thread (I used brown)

Parchment paper or cardboard to fit inside the pillow while painting.

Free motion quilting foot for your machine (varies by sewing machine brand)

supplies to make a pillow
DIY make a pillow

How to Make a Free Motion Embroidery Stitch Pillow

To prevent the paint from leaking through place a piece of parchment paper or cardboard inside the pillow.

IKEA pillow DIY

Select your design. You can use inspiration from craft paper (as seen below) or anywhere! 

floral pattern

Choose your color palette and place paints on paper plates. Feel free to mix the colors as this will result in a more cohesive color palette.

paint colors

Paint shapes on the pillow, not flowers. I like just painting shapes and not things. 

painted pillow DIY

At this point, all you are trying to do is add color shapes, not specific flowers (the embroidery is for that).

Painted and embroidery pillow

Also, vary the colors and don’t just use one color. I added some orange to depict a warmer color of sunlight.

Pillow DIY

Let the pillow dry overnight. Or if you are impatient like me, dry it with your hairdryer. 

Can acrylic paint go through the wash?
Acrylic paints are permanent once dry. There is no need to heat-set acrylic paint although I did iron the painted pillow cover once it was dry. Just to be safe! 

How to Sew Free Motion Embroidery

Free motion embroidery is so much fun! I have sewn for years. My mom taught me to sew when I was eight. During the summer I would often make a new outfit every few days. I worked at a fabric store in high school, made my own wedding dress (with 700 hand-sewn pearls) and made 17 stenographer dresses for my son Michael’s school play.
So how is it that I have never sewn free motion embroidery? 
I have no idea.
free motion embroidery

The best thing about free embroidery is that it doesn’t need to be perfect. I love how it looks when the two layers of stitches don’t match. And I love being able to push the fabric wherever I want it to go.

I loved making these roses. I had no pattern and all I did was sew a lot of crescent shapes. It was “free-handed” and not perfect. That is why I like it so much. As you can see, I roughly stitch over the round painted shape, not worrying if the shape was covered or if I stitched out of the lines. 

machine embroidery

As you can see here, the leaves I stitched barely conformed with the green painted “stems and leaves”. But I love that too!

DIY free motion embroidery

This was so much fun.

free motion embroidery stitches

Watch the video to see how to make this pillow.

I love how the finished pillow looks in our living room.

spring pillow DIY

This is the other one I made.

spring painted pillow

I really love these colors. I hope I have inspired you to give this (or any of the other seven free-stitch embroidery pillows I have made) a try.

free motion embroidery detailing

Links to the Items Shown in This Flower Pillow Post

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Painted and Stitched Pillow

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  1. When I was reading it, I was having a lot of fun with it. Even I’ve enjoyed reading a few more posts. I appreciate your time and effort in putting this article together. I noticed you can spend a lot of time reading comments and replying to comments. You care a lot more. I have seen all your posts so far. It was as successful as the previous posts.

  2. I love these pillows. I may try this soon. Have to get up the courage. I love your crafting ideas so much! You a e great taste!!

  3. Where would I find the video you refer to that shows how to sew the free motion pillows? Thank you so much for all of your wonderful ideas! I’m wanting to try this on an apron bib front so we’ll see how it goes! I love everything you do!!!!! You’re one talented lady!

  4. I adore the free motion embroidery projects you do!!! I am working on my free motion embroidery techniques. The tension in my machine is off … flat string on the bottom and loops from the top. I have tried resetting the tension and changing threads and nettles.
    Is there a particular tension you set your sewing machine to for free motion ? I am embroidering a flour sack towel. Could paint be clogging or interfering with nettle of tension? I am just baffled.

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