Saturday, 17 September 2011

Techniques ~ Using Lutrador with Free Machine Embroidery

I have recently been revisiting some flower motifs that I designed at University about 16 years ago. At the time, I did not actually use the motifs as I did not know what to do with them, hence, I filed them away for a rainy day. That day arrived last week as I needed to produce some samples to demonstrate the art of free machine embroidery to my GCSE students, so I sifted through my old art files. I picked out the following example to use:

Free machining allows the user of the sewing machine to control the fabric by hand, and thus alter the direction and path of the needle and stitching. To free machine, one requires an embroidery foot for the sewing machine (sometimes called a darning foot) this can be seen in some of the following photos. The 'dog feet' on the sewing machine must be lowered too, as they usually control the fabric on it's way through the machine. Refer to the manual of the particular sewing machine, on my Bernina there is a dial which must be set to the hash sign.

Lowering the 'dog feet'
I decided to show the students free machine embroidery on Lutrador, additionally enabling the demonstration of using a heat gun. Lutrador is a non-woven bonded fabric (similar construction to Vilene fusible interfacing), the fibres are random and bonded to set in position and produce the fabric, as opposed to being woven or knitted into a fabric.

Lutrador in original state

Lutrador can be machined on in it's original state. However, colour can be added by a variety of methods. I have used spray paint (particularly for metallic colours), painted or sponged acrylic paint on the surface, and used Indian inks and dyes. It looks very effective when colours are layered. The application of paint can be used as a masking fluid is used in watercolour painting, i.e. sponge the paint on thinly where the Lutrador is required to dissolve, but put the paint on more thickly to protect areas of the design that need to remain.

Lutrador sprayed gold
Lutrador sprayed gold, and sponged with acrylic

After applying colour to the Lutrador, I placed the Lutrador over my motif and traced the design onto it. If it is light application of colour, it should be easy to see through. However, if there is access to a light box this may help. I traced the design using a pencil.

Lutrador with motif design outlined
To prepare the Lutrador for free machine embroidery it is safer and much easier to control if it is placed in an embroidery hoop. It is sometimes difficult to get the hoop under the embroidery presser foot, if this happens, remove the presser foot, position the hoop and replace the presser foot. If you choose this method remember, when removing the hoop, you will have to remove the presser foot first to get it off again.

Lutrador inserted into embroidery hoop

Machine threads: I have used spun polyester machine thread for the basic colours, and highlighted areas with a metallic thread. Metallic thread can be exceedingly frustrating to machine with, because some types break easily. Refer to your machine's manual for advice on using metallic threads, and you can try investing in metallic thread machine needles which have a larger needle eye (however, I do not find them any more effective than a basic needle). Guterman metallic thread is thicker and more reliable.

Metallic thread and spun polyester thread
The next process is the fun bit, the free machining. Everyone has their own technique, I sometimes use free machine embroidery as a base for another design so in that case I free machine very randomly. However, the nature of the motif I chose required me to 'draw' using the machine. It is best to not have any preconceptions regarding the outcome, just a basic plan. Sometimes my students expect the result to be perfect when it is likely to be very sketchy and can look more effective with several lines of machining as opposed to a single line. I find when 'drawing' with the machine it is best to run the machine fast (I floor the foot pedal), and move the hoop very slowly. For my motif, I decided to outline in a dark purple, then fill in sections in a lilac and pastel green.
Outlining: See the embroidery foot or 'darning foot'
Filling in the sections in lilac.

Filling in sections in green, and highlighting with metallic thread

Once the free machine embroidery is completed, remove the Lutrador from the embroidery hoop. The applied paint and the machine embroidery will both act as masks to protect the Lutrador. Next, I used a heat gun to 'burn away' areas of the Lutrador. I purchased my heat gun from Hobbycraft and it was about £26. (I did search online for a cheaper one, but they were all a similar price). Please be careful, the heat gun burns away fibres, so do not point it at your clothing or hair!

Heat Gun
The heat gun will burn away as much or little as you want it to, leaving areas that have been free machine embroidered, or where the paint is thicker. It is important to have a design that connects, otherwise you may find that the segments fall apart.

The finished sample.

My example has gained a 'shabby-chic' or antiqued effect. This could be layered with other fabrics or Lutrador surfaces to inject more colour, texture and depth.


  1. Found this very interesting.
    I have just got the hang of free machine embroidery but yet to create anything...quite happy playing and have a while to go before get to your level but it's fun.
    Love the fact the results don;t have perfect lines.

    {Dab and a dash.}

  2. hm.. I am reached here by searching for calibration details of embroidery machines... think it is right place for it and this site should be an encyclopedia for the embroidery business.

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  4. I know every single detail of your works - I look at them so often :)
    Here is the link to the butterflies inspired by your thread painting . (you know them already)