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Freestyle Embroidery - Doodle Art With Thread

Rochelle enjoys using needle and thread to create decorative and personalized designs to wearable items.

No Pattern Needed

Shirt with freestyle embroidery.

Shirt with freestyle embroidery.

Designing With Needle and Thread

Embroidery with colored threads is a craft that has been used to decorate and embellish cloth items for centuries.

With the easy availability of modern embroidery threads, it is an easy skill to learn. Most often a commercially made pattern is either drawn or ironed onto a piece of cloth and the lines are stitched over with a needle using colored threads.

Some modern sewing machines can be set up to sew programmed designs or monograms on pillow covers, tablecloths and clothing.

Though the results of commercial designs can be very pleasing, you might find even more pleasure in creating something absolutely unique with your own hands.

Some Basics

Free Yourself

Freeform embroidery does not use a pattern and may not even have a subject in mind before you start to sew.

It is almost like doodling absent-mindedly on paper.

Sew a line, straight or curved. Add to the line. Change colors if you wish. Add another line. See what shapes are evolving.

Fill in a shape. If you don't like the line, you can snip the stitches, pull them out and start over.

You might start with a subject or shape in mind. A heart? A rainbow? Maybe a bouquet? How about just some organic shapes of vines or branches?

The Hat

My walking hat is old, frayed, patched and mended. The original embroidery design is coming apart which, I think, makes it more interesting. When I wear it in public, someone I don't even know says, "I like your hat."


You Need Thread

Cotton colorfast embroidery floss comes in a very wide assortment of colors. It is pre-shrunk so it doesn't do something funny to your fabric when you wash it. It comes in skeins about eight or nine yards long in a strand consisting of six threads.

Cut the strand to a useable length (two or three feet) . If you wish to have a nice bold line, you can sew with all six strands -- though it is easier to separate the threads and use strands of two or three threads. It is like using different sized pen points, depending upon if you wish to have a heavy or delicate line.

It also depends on your fabric and the detail of your design. If you are using a heavy denim and sewing a bold image, you can use four to six threads. On lightweight or delicate fabric you will use fewer strands. You can also vary the number of strands you use in different parts of your design.


Other Supplies

  • Embroidery needles -- Embroidery needles have a larger "eye" , making it easier to accommodate multi-thread strands. Larger, heavier needles work better on heavy fabric; smaller needles are good for more delicate materials.
  • An embroidery hoop -- is a two-part ring or oval made of metal or wood. One is smaller and fits inside the other. The fabric to be stitched is placed between the two parts and they are squeezed together to hold the fabric taut, so you are not bunching up the material each time you make a stitch.
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On the shirt a the top, I didn't even use a hoop most of the time, because the fabric was sturdy enough for me to hold it straight. The hat was also sturdy enough to not need a hoop.

  • A small, sharp scissor with pointy tips -- for cutting thread and for "erasing" a line you don't like. If you are not using a pattern, you might stitch a line that doesn't quite look like you want it to. By carefully slipping the pointy scissor under the stitches and snipping in several places, you can pull out the "mistakes" and start again.
  • An organized storage box like the one shown above for colored thread makes the project a lot easier. They are not expensive and will save you lots of time and frustration in finding the colors you want.
Now I have a direction to follow.

Now I have a direction to follow.

Start Freestyling!

On the shirt above I have started a design by establishing a few lines in the direction I wanted the design to flow.

I wanted this to be a little more subtle than the "rainbow shirt", so I have chosen more subdued and related colors, ones that don't stand out too much against the background color.

The form is an organic doodle, reminiscent of trailing vines, starting just under the right collar point. You might want to try something more geometric -- remember it's your doodle.

I have used a very basic embroidery stitch. If you have never done embroidery before, don't worry. You can learn an easy stitch or two, use a plain running stitch or improvise your own way of doing it. Remember, you can undo anything with your tiny scissors or seam ripper if you don't like the way it looks.

A few more details.

A few more details.

Continuing On . . .

I next added a few darker colored "buds" to the end of some of the vining stems.

I don't like the way the open flower bumps in to another vine near the top. So I probably will change that later by removing the vine and making one that runs a little higher.

The orangy-gold color running stitches, continue to trail downward. Right now they are only an indication of where the design may go. I will probably add to them, too.
If you want to try something like this pick out an older piece of clothing, something casual and not too expensive, to practice on. I have done it on a shirt that had paint spots on it. It disguised the stains just fine by making the spots a part of the design.

Chose Your Basic Color and Direction

Your thread doodling might just start by choosing a few colors that look nice together.

Establish a few lines or shapes with your stitches and build on whatever image or design you see emerging.

Is it a flower? A butterfly? Even a totally abstract arrangement of shapes, or color blocks can work for you.

Remember to tie the end, or the stopping point of each strand, securely on the "wrong" side of the fabric. If it looks messy on the back, don't worry. Concentrate on the look of the front side.

A closer look.

A closer look.

How do You Know When to Stop?

The Rainbow Shirt has a row of scallop shells floating over the top of the rainbow.

I have debated whether to fill in all of the sections of the first shell on the left in the picture, but I kind of like it that way. Besides, I can always do it later if I change my mind. You decide when it is finished, or if it will remain a work-in-progress.

The shells are important. See, it's a "row" of "shells". It helps me remember my name.

One of the fun things about freestyle embroidery is that you can personalize your design to include things that are meaningful to you.

It is kind of like a personalized tattoo, ecept you can take it off or put it on when ever you want to.


The Flip Side.

On the other side of the rainbow shirt, you can see the trailing end of the rainbow, which flows over the sholder-- just because that's where my thread doodle wanted to go.

A bit of the vegetable garden, the pea pods, grew over the right shoulder.

And in the center is the sun, which grew outward from the center and developed swirling rays on its outward edges. My horoscope is a "sun sign" and I grew up in sunny Southern California. I like warm weather.

So What Do You Think?

Freestyle embroidery can be fun and relaxing. There's no such thing as a mistake when you follow your own inclinations. Anything you stitch can be easily undone if it's not quite what you want.

If you like having something to do when watching TV, you might surprise yourself with the unique and interesting designs you can create with no patterns and no rules.

© 2012 Rochelle Frank


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 13, 2017:

Thank you Peggy. There's no way I could produce enough of this to have a craft booth. I only do it occasionally for fun. Selling would take the fun out, and would take more time than earning from Hubs :). I appreciate the read and the comment, anyway.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 13, 2017:

What beautiful freestyle designs you have created! They really brighten up a shirt or hat. I believe that they would sell well in craft shows. Just think of the seasonal designs that could be created!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 08, 2016:

Thank you for bring this back to life, Phyllis. I found some typos to correct. I have done a couple more hats since writing this. I might add another photo or two later.

@ Randy I'll bet embroidery would look good on camo material. You could add a nice patterned snake sliding in and out between the patches of color. That would look manly.

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on February 07, 2016:

That is very interesting, Randy. Your mother was very creative. Did you know that some embroidery stitches stemmed from the way men stitched together animal hides in ancient times? When my son was little and at times when he was ill, I would give him some needle work to do - simple pictures traced from a coloring book onto a cotton towel - and let him stitch the lines with embroidery thread. It helped him to relax and also developed his creative side.I can really relate to your mother.

I really have to try Rochelle's thread doodling. I love to create embroidered pieces.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on February 07, 2016:

Believe it or not I learned to embroider when I was in grammar school. I was ill with some childhood malady or another when my mom put some appliques--not flowers or butterflies or other such sissy stuff--on some linen, gave me a hoop, some needles and colored thread and turned loose.

My mother was a self taught seamstress and could make anything she had the pattern for. She made most of my sister's dresses and all of our costumes for school plays and Halloween.

Later on in the 60s when I was playing rock and roll for a living I embroidered a denim vest and other items. It's a manly craft I tell you!!:)

This hub made me remember my youth....

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on February 07, 2016:

Hi Rochelle. I am so glad I came across this hub of yours. I love to embroider. I usually use a pattern and a few times drew my own pictures to embroider, but I have never doodled with the threads. This is a wonderful idea and just may give it a try.

Thanks for sharing this delightful and fun idea. I must share and pin.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 03, 2015:

Usually in a simple embroidery 'running stitch' each stitch after the first, starts about halfway up the length of the first one. (This is probably best explained by watching a video on basic embroidery stitching.) It gives a nice solid line without gaps between stitches if you want to create lines.

However-- it is up to you when you are doing your own thing. I would say to experiment on a small piece of cloth. You might like how it looks, and if not, it can be easily undone.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 03, 2015:

if i draw the shape and then start sewing stitches, do i have to overlap each stitch?

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 22, 2014:

Thank you, again Ai fait. My mom could sew anything, and i have a daughter-in-law who is also an expert. Seems that sewing is not as common as it once was.

C E Clark from North Texas on July 21, 2014:

I learned to embroider when I was just 5 and started hand sewing and designing clothes for my dolls then too. In high school I sewed most of my own clothes including prom dresses. The most recent thing I sewed was a tote bag and I embroidered my own pattern onto the pocket.

You have some beautiful examples here. Excellent article!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 25, 2013:

You are right, Shona Venter. If I sit and watch TV without doing anything else, I tend to doze off.

Shona Venter from South Africa on June 24, 2013:

One of the best ways to keep the hands busy while watching TV is to sew or embroider...many a project has been completed that way here :-)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 14, 2013:

I appreciate your comment, keepyouinstitches. It looks like you are the pro, while I only do it for fun. I don't always like to watch TV without something to keep my hands busy.

So nice that you found something you enjoy, which also makes you some money. Your designs look great.

Erica J from Seattle, WA on June 14, 2013:

I love what you did with the bucket hat! You really have a mastery of the art!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 16, 2013:

Thanks for commenting, B. Leekley. Nice of you to share, too.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on March 15, 2013:

My wife is into various arts and crafts, including artistic quilting and sewing. Maybe she'll like this freestyle embroidery idea.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 12, 2013:

Thanks, SweetiePie, but it would take me a long time to get enough inventory. I do it when the mood strikes. Making it a job wouldn't be as much fun.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on March 11, 2013:

It looks like you could start and etsy shop with some of your cool designs.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 11, 2013:

It does take a little patience, I like to do it when 'watching' TV. Thanks for reading and commenting, Au fait.

C E Clark from North Texas on March 11, 2013:

I learned to embroider when I was 5. Have been doing it from time to time ever since. I don't try to do the really complicated things because I don't have the patients, but it's possible to do some cute things pretty quickly with a little practice. I like to use my own patterns too. This looks like a good hobby to have for when you have to sit in waiting rooms. Great additions to crazy quilts/pillows, etc.

Voted up!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 10, 2013:

Thanks for commenting, Honey BB. I use very simple stitches, and I think it would be easy for most people.

H Lax on January 09, 2013:

I learned how to embroider 30 something years ago in high school and I have been wanting to relearn it for some time now. I love your theme on your rainbow shirt. It's unexpected and a little quirky which makes it fun. Thanks for sharing.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 15, 2012:

Thanks so much, Dolores. Pencil outlines are allowed, but eventually you just want to let it grow.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on November 13, 2012:

Hi Rochelle - oh my gosh that shirt up at the top is so beautiful! I used to sort of do a bit of this, but ususally drew a light pencil outline first. I love the simple organic design too and that one looks doable as a free hand embroidery. Here is a way to have a piece of clothing that is unique - no one else in the world will have the same thing! Voted up and awesome. Must tweet too!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 19, 2012:

I use very simple stitches. You can try it out on something small or old, and you might surprise yourself about how easy it is. I appreciate your comment, peachpurple.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on October 19, 2012:

Interesting but looks hard to sew. I can sew simple stitch but not this. Interesting hub. Voted interesting

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 18, 2012:

Thank you, Joy At Home. Hope you have fun with it.

Joilene Rasmussen from United States on October 18, 2012:

This is such a beautiful idea. My mother's family has always done much sewing and needlework, and so the skills got passed on - even my brother knows how to sew and embroider - but I've never done much freestyle embroidery. I did a little on a quilt for my daughter - a crazy quilt with all kinds of designs, and a few pictures, including "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" -but I feel inspired by this hub to try something more.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 17, 2012:

It is a fun thing to try, Om Paramapoonya. Thanks for commenting.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 17, 2012:

It gives you unlimited choices Iharkye11. I haven't looked for patterns lately. Sometimes, they used to appear in "women's magazines", but They probably don't even do that anymore.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 17, 2012:

I appreciate your comment, SUSO. You might surprise yourself if you give it a try.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 17, 2012:

Thanks, Gypsy Willow. I would like to see what others come up with.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 17, 2012:

Thank you joaniebaby-- it looks like you are sewing in your profile picture.

Om Paramapoonya on October 17, 2012:

Wow, so cute! Can't believe you made these without patterns. I'd love to try freestyle embroidery sometime. It would be interesting to see where my creativity takes me.

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on October 16, 2012:

Beautiful embroidery! I love hand embroidering clothes and linens, and have used my own designs. It is very fun and relaxing. Plus, it gives you more choices...there just aren't many patterns anymore.

Love that shirt!

Criss from Southern California on October 16, 2012:

These are so beautiful!!! I can not draw so I doubt I could freehand designs like this; your designs are really great.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 16, 2012:

I appreciate the comments, drbj. Maybe it IS lost. I still have some tablecloths my mom stitched designs on.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 16, 2012:

Thank you, Sherry. I think I did most of that one in the early 80's I don't wear it a lot --- unless I'm trying to attract attention :) .

joaniebaby on October 16, 2012:

Voted up and beautiful. Thanks for the Hub. Wish I could still embroider, but my hands won't obey my instructions anymore!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on October 16, 2012:

You have resurrected in a very interesting way, Rochelle, what I thought might have been a lost art. Very imaginative designs, m'dear.

Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on October 15, 2012:

These are beautiful Rochelle, I used to love to embroider, but haven't done it in years. That rainbow shirt reminds me of my old hippie days. Voted up and shared.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 15, 2012:

LOL....way too funny!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 15, 2012:

I'm sorry, that course has been cancelled to make room for the Freestyle Embroidery class.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 15, 2012:

Let me know if you figure out how to add more hours to the day and I'll sign up for that course. :)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 15, 2012:

I don't know how you do it, billybuc. Are there enough hours in the day?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 15, 2012:

Rochelle, this is when you know you have a loyal follower. There is no way I'm doing this, but I'm more than willing to show you support and read it anyway. :) By the way, Carol has beaten me to four straight hubs....she is a bit feisty today. :) Good job my friend.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 15, 2012:

Stitching requires a little patience, but I think following a pattern is tedious-- too much like work.

Thanks for commenting, Carol7777.

carol stanley from Arizona on October 15, 2012:

Sounds like something new and fun to do...I have spent so much time on Hubpages the last four months a lot of my other fun things I do have been neglected. So once I start painting again this could be fun. I love free handed things...Following instructions for me is very difficult..not that I don't understand..just impatient. Very creative and fun hub. Voted UP and shared.

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