DIY Scribbles

If you haven’t lurked around on the site enough, or perhaps at all, you might not have noticed a special style of machine embroidery we have here at Urban Threads: scribbles! Scribbles are a fun, sketchy version of machine embroidery that are versatile, light, and quick stitching. They’re perfect for stitching on garments you don’t want to weigh down with heavy stitching, and great for projects you need to stitch up quick. For that reason, sometimes you might wish that every design were a scribble, so you could stitch it on your favorite stretchy tee. Well... today I’m going to show you how to machine embroider without an embroidery machine, and how to turn any design you want into a scribble!

I’ll let you in on a little secret about our groundbreaking scribbles style... it’s actually an old-school quilting technique that’s been around for a coon’s age! It’s just that often freestyle machine embroidery was just used for loopy shapes and simple things, and only recently has become a new form of embroidery art. We took the “freeform” look and ran with it to create scribbles, but you can still learn the old-school technique in order to create your very own DIY scribbles out of any design! All you need is some water soluble stabilizer, a darning foot, a pen or marking utensil, something fun to “scribble” on (like a shirt), and a hand embroidery version of your favorite design!

The darning foot is an important addition to your sewing kit if you want to do free-motion embroidery, because it will lift up the foot with each stitch and let the fabric move more freely underneath the needle. Mine was a generic one I picked up at a sewing store. Most of the time it looks like a foot with a round or oval opening at the bottom.

If you’re embroidering on something other than a big heavy quilt, you’ll probably also need a hoop of some kind. You can either use the hoop that came with your embroidery machine, or if you don’t have an embroidery machine, a hand embroidery hoop will do. You also have to make sure you have a sewing machine that can drop the feed dogs.

First we’re going to transfer our design onto the stabilizer. Cut a piece of stabilizer large enough to hoop, and lay it on top of your printed design. I chose Runs with Scissors because it’s always been a favorite design of mine, but all the solid fills make it hard to stick on a light garment. Hand embroidery files are perfect for this because the design has already been adjusted down to its simplest lines.

Trace your design onto your stabilizer. I’m going to share a tip here with you... don’t use a marker or pen that’s likely to “bleed” on to your stitches. (Yes, exactly like the one I’m using here...)

A pen or pencil will do fine, because otherwise when you dissolve your stabilizer with water when you’re finished, the color of the marker can stain your pretty stitches, and you spend ages trying to get it out.

I’ve said it before... learn from my mistakes. I make enough of them for both of us.

Lay your design where you want it on your shirt, and then hoop up everything together. If your shirt is super stretchy, like mine, be careful not to “tug” too much on the fabric and distort the weave, otherwise you’ll stitch your design on stretched fabric, and when you’re done, it’ll return to the relaxed state and be all bunchy. The stretchier the fabric, the tougher it will be to keep it from light puckering. Just be gentle. I experimented on a pretty stretchy shirt, just to make sure it could be done.

Remember you can use either a machine embroidery hoop, like this one, or a regular hand embroidery hoop.

To set up free motion embroidery, you’ll want to change the foot to a darning foot, and drop the feed dogs on your machine. This step is very important, because it will let you guide the fabric yourself, instead of having your machine pull the fabric in one direction.

Before you begin on your shirt or project, it’s a good idea to practice a bit. This “freestyle” stuff takes a bit of getting used to. Test it on a similar fabric, with the same stabilizer, thread, and tension levels. It will help you get the hang of it. I highly recommend matching the color of your bobbin to your thread in order to help disguise any thread tension issues.

When you begin in a spot, stitch in place a few times to secure your thread, and then slowly move the hoop with both hands to follow the lines of your design. Slow and steady is the key. You set the stitch length with the speed you run the needle and how much you move the hoop as you’re sewing, and slow stitching is the easiest way of getting a cleaner result. Don’t turn your design to follow lines, just move it back and forth and up and down.

If you find your fabric stuck on some spot, don’t tug harder. Instead, lift the needle and gently move the fabric yourself. This will lessen the times when you get “jump” stitches, when your tugging suddenly dislodges your fabric and jumps the needle somewhere unwanted.

Continue with your slow and steady stitches. When it comes to “trims”, areas where you need to jump to from one stitch to another (like between the letters) I found it easiest to stitch a few times in place to finish a letter, lift the needle and move it to the next letter, stitch a few times in place to begin, and then continue. Then I trimmed the “between” thread as I went along, not unlike you would do with a regular machine embroidery design.

It’s important to remember that this will look very handmade and sketchy. This is all part of the look, and something I emulate when I draw the scribble designs. It’s part of the charm of freestyle embroidery. You just have to let it be what it is.

Here’s my design after I finished stitching it. I will say, hand stitching scribbles does take quite a bit longer than machine embroidering them, but it gives you total freedom with the design.

It’s a bit hard to see with the strong red markings, but it’s all stitched in. If you want to just follow the lines on the design, that’s fine. You can also have fun with adding your own embellishments or shading. It’s a freestyle process - have fun with it!

Un-hoop your design and trim any excess threads left between stitches. You might also want to clean up the back a bit.

Carefully snip away as much stabilizer as you can from the design, so you have less to dissolve.

Follow the directions on your water soluble stabilizer to remove it. Most have you soak your design under warm water until all the stabilizer is dissolved. If you leave some of it on the fabric, it dries into a sticky residue. Ick. Let it soak long enough to remove everything.

Once your design is soaked, gently pat it with a towel and then let it air dry. Let the design dry flat to avoid any excess wrinkling.

Here’s my first attempt at a finished scribble. It’s messy, handmade and fun, and it finally lets me wear one of my favorite “heavy” designs as a light stitch scribble! With practice you’ll get more control over stitch length and direction, and get more adventurous with adding details and embellishments.

Now you know how to machine embroider without an embroidery machine! Turn any design you want into a fun, handmade scribble with just your sewing machine and a little ingenuity. Hand embroiderers can try their craft with machine stitches, and machine embroiderers can have some fun taking some creative control from the machine and putting it back into their hands. This technique is just as limitless as hand embroidery, but offers faster stitching and a fun, modern effect.

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Suggested designs for this tutorial: 
Runs With Scissors_image
Runs With Scissors $1.00
2 Available Sizes:
Machine Embroidery: 5.91"w x 4.33"h | 3.74"w x 2.76"h | Hand Embroidery
Runs With Scissors_image
Runs With Scissors $4.99 - $5.99
2 Available Sizes:
Machine Embroidery: 5.91"w x 4.33"h | 3.74"w x 2.76"h | Hand Embroidery