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 pillow.

free motion embroidery DIY

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!

free motion embroidery stitching

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

free motion embroidery 6

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 and create any shape you want. All you need is a quilting foot.

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.

All you need is the free motion foot for your machine. This foot may vary based on tour type of machine but I linked a “universal” one.

I read a lot about lowering 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 machine. These teeth are extremely important because they help us produce perfectly spaced, even stitches whenever we sew garments, piece quilts, or applique shapes on our machine. Most people recommend that you lower the feed dogs for free motion embroidery.

For this pillow, I lowered the feed dogs using a lever on my machine. But I did have some problems with breaking threads and tension. Next time I think I will 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 stitceh 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!

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 spring colors. I hope I have inspired you to give this a try.

free motion embroidery detailing

Pin the image below to your Craft or sewing boards on Pinterest (just click the Pin button in the top left corner). You can also follow along with me on Pinterest!


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Painted and Stitched Pillow

21 Responses

  1. This is so interesting. I will share with my stitching friends. We meet weekly to crosstitch, needlepoint or do handwork. They are very creative and will enjoy seeing this method. Thank you for sharing.

  2. What a fun craft project. I love that you get to paint and sew. My very first job in high school was at a fabric store as well! I loved it and learned so much from the talented people that would shop in our store. I made lots of prom dresses for friends, but making costumes was my favorite. I made all of my kids Halloween costumes when they were little and it was so much fun!

  3. Is there anything you can’t do? These pillows are beautiful and if I saw them in a store, I’d expect to pay a fortune. I’m so thankful to have found your site. I don’t know what I did prior to finding it. Lol. I did get my materials to make your pinecones wreath this weekend. Will probably start it today.
    Thank you for bringing so much into my life. I’m truly thankful. 😊

  4. This looks like so much fun! Your pillows are absolutely gorgeous! I am going to have to give this a try! Thanks for this wonderful tutorial! 😊

  5. Your pillows are simply gorgeous, Leslie! If I hadn’t gotten a “D” in Home Economics during the sewing portion of class, I’d attempt to make one! They are beautiful!

  6. I love the flower pillows ! I am going to have to try this. I love all your DIY stuff…..My mother taught my sisters and I to sew when we were younger. I still love to sew and love to craft and make unique things that everyone else doesn’t have in their homes. You are very talented and I love that you share it with us.

  7. Absolutely beautiful! Your talents abound!! ❤️ I’m a pretty novice sewer, and I have a new machine I’m trying to figure out! Will definitely have to give this a try! Thank you for sharing this wonderful project!

  8. These are gorgeous! I do not have a sewing machine, but I’m wondering if one of those little handheld sewing machines would work for this project?


  10. How did I miss this post?? I am obsessed with pillows and this is definitely a DIY that I have to try!! Thank you for sharing this idea, I can’t wait to try this!!

  11. How did I miss this post?? I am obsessed with pillows and this is definitely a DIY that I have to try!! LOVE This!!!!!
    Thank you for sharing this idea, I can’t wait to try this!!

  12. Slid..I love this. Wha ti am not understanding is your reference to craft paper? What is that ? (The drawing you showed of flowers.) Where do you find something like that?

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I'm Leslie,
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