free motion zigzag used in the Brittingham Applique technique

Free Motion Zigzag and Satin Stitching

Tags: applique, applique stitching, Brittingham Applique, free motion, Workshop, zigzag

Did you know that zigzag stitching and satin stitching can be done in free motion mode? Most often these stitches are executed using regular stitching mode with feed dogs engaged, but they don't have to be. 

When free motion satin stitching, the stitch LENGTH is controlled by the speed at which you move the fabric under the needle combined with the speed of the machine. Move the fabric slowly to make a short stitch length, move the fabric faster to make the stitch longer.

Study the photo below, on the left you will see different stitch lengths alternating short and long stitch lengths. The length is short where the stitches are most dense and longer when the stitches are spread further apart.  The only difference is the speed at which I pushed the fabric through the machine. The faster I push the fabric through, the longer the stitches are and less dense. 

free motion zigzag demonstration

Right: Fabric is rotated as the satin stitch is sewn
Center: Fabric is not rotated
Left: Stitch length depends on how fast you move the fabric

The swirls in the center of the photo are made WITHOUT ROTATING the fabric as you sew.  The stitch WIDTH appears to change as you move the fabric sideways, but actually remains constant.

On the right the fabric is ROTATED WHILE YOU SEW to keep the appearance of the stitch WIDTH constant.

I first used this technique many years ago when I attended a Bernina workshop with Ken Smith, an Australia artist and have used it many times since. This small art quilt is one I made during one such workshop.

Summer Reflections by Ruth Blanchet - a 2002 small art quilt

 Summer Reflections

Susan Brittingham also used this technique a lot in her applique quilts. Sadly Susan has since passed away but I was fortunate to attended some of her classes. She used this zigzag technique inconjunction with her upsidedown applique technique and created beautiful quilts. Midsummer being one such quilt.

midsummer an applique quilt
Midsummer uses Susan's Upside Down Applique method

I call Susan's technique "Brittingham Applique", a technique I demonstrate (with video content) in my BOM Spring Life Online Workshop. It really is a lovely way to applique.

If you'd like to learn Brittingham Applique, join me in making some beautiful butterflies and flowers. Note: this is a BOM program where each block can be purchased separately however it is only the workshop that teaches Brittingham Applique.

butterfly using the Brittingham Applique technique 
My Butterfly from BOM spring life uses Brittingham Applique

If you'd like to find out more about this technique and my online workshop where I teach a number of different applique techniques, the Brittingham Applique being just one, then you'll find more details here: BOM Spring Life Workshop

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Christine, you will need some sort of stabilizer underneath. I usually work on a layer of fabric and batting so find a medium-weight stabilizer works fine. If I work on fabric alone, then a heavier weight stabilizer would be needed. It also depends on the width of your stitch. Very narrow stitches are less likely to bunch up, whereas wide stitches are more likely to. Hope this helps!


I tried this but my fabric bunched up under the stitches. How do I stop this?


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