I was first introduced to free motion embroidery in the Late 50s as part of a compulsary subject module at Art School. It was the lesser of all the evil sewing modules. I loathed sewing or anything associated with it. Luckily I was fortunate to have as my first instructor, one of the Singer Ladies from the machine embroidery Art and lace Singer studios.
The methods they used are those still in use today, tho the standards achieved by the Singer Ladies have never been matched even by computerised embroidery machines.
I have noticed a lot of letters discusing stippling on quilts, it's a very small step sideways to produce free motion embroidery if you can do an even stipple stitch. The technique whilest similar is differen.Quilt stippling doesnt require hooping if the piece is supported and wadding is present. However the sprung clear plastic foot is required. For free motion embroidery no foot is required but can be used as a safety measure. To do Art free motion work ( we called it needle drawing ) you need a good grip hoop. A wooden embroidery hoop even when tape bound doesnt hold the fabric tautly enough. In America, you ladies can buy a cork lined sprung metal hoop, perfect for this work, you are so lucky Here in England they're no longer produced. A 7" hoop is large enough to start with and should be a circular hoop not a rectangle..
metal sprung embroidery hoops
They grip the fabric beautifully and can keep it taut indefinately, the cork stops metal damaging fabric. A close second is a plastic hoop, preferrably the sprung inner metal ones, or the high ridged ones with a thumb adjusting screw.
A British link and an American link for the hoops.
I've sourced some sites with hints and tips to save my typing finger.
A maestro at work using a commercial free motion embroidery machine.
Basic first steps, lower the feed dogs, if your machine doesnt have that function, set stitch length to zero.
Select straight or run stitch
Insert a new needle
Thread the machine, to begin with same weight top and bobbin but different colours, say black and red..
an old pillow case or cotton bed sheet that's worn in the centre torn into manageable sizes. 12" squares are good to begin on.
Hoop the fabric tautly, should be drum tight.
( if at first you are wary of needle attach the sprung embroidery foot or darning foot, it protects stray fingers and the needle from striking the frame )
Raise presser foot arm, place hoop on machine
Lower presser arm, this engages top tension
Turn the needle wheel to lower needle and catch bobbin thread, draw bobbin thread to top. lay bobbin thread and top thread behind needle and hold in one hand, use other and to hold hoop. Make 3 or 4 stitches to lock threads and release ends.
Use both hands on hoop and press foot pedal, use the foot pedal not the machines start stop button, you need to control the stitch speed variances. Now stitch medium speed for two or three inches guiding the frame. Your hands are now the feed dogs. Stop and cut ends, raise presser foot and remove hoop, examine the stitches. Stitch length will be determined by how much you moved the hoop forward or back and how quickly. look at the stitches are they evenly locked top and bottom. If the top stitches look pulled the top tension is too tight, if the stitch looks loopy, top tension is too loose. if it looks lumpy or resembles tiny knots it's top tension too loose agan. Are there any bobbin coloured loops on top, top tension is too tight or bobbin tension too loose
Now the back, can you see any top thread loops, top tension loose or bobbin tension too tight This is where most free motion work stops as the machine owner hates changing bobbin tensions, it's a good idea to obtain a second bobbin case for free motion work, as normal sewing tensions wont be correct for free motion work. Just continue making small adjustments to bobbin and top tensions untill both top and underside stitchess lock correctly with no loops or lumps or knots forming. Now make a coffee to release all the frustration you felt because the loops kept changing places.
Ok coffee breaks over, Hoop another piece of fabric, make certain the bobbin thread is drawn to the top and the presser foot is lowered, if you dont use a prung foot, which I dont, it's too easy to forget it and the result is nasty. Big birds nests trapped under the throat plate. I use a straight stitc throat plate on my old machine, it gives a better result to all non zizzag stitches. Free motion embroidery is 90% straight stitch. Now using both hands to guide the hoop, stitch quickly ,guide slowly
Make your movements as smooth as possible, quick jerky movements produce uneven stitches, (a technique that's used to create effects delberately, later as you become more profficient.) practise making straight lines, loops in figure of eights, circles overlapping, stippling (cornelli fill) picots, writing..
That's enough for now my finger is tired. I'll add more in a few days.