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Needle Dancing

Needle Dancing Fun

As a left-hander I spent my schooldays with ink on the side of my hand as it went over every word I wrote. Biro always smudged and fountain pen had to be blotted after every word. I never got a gold star for writing. Not ever. My writing was awkward and ugly.

Free machining has changed all that. I no longer feel the clumsy left-hander I was at school and useless at art. Dropping the dogs on my machine has allowed me to feel equal. Now both my hands work together as I handle the fabric beneath the needle (my pen) and let the needle dance across the work sketching the black thread, like ink, across it adding details and depth with NO smudging! Needle dancing...that is what I call it...a wonderful poetic dance across the cloth, transforming it with details that bring it to life. My hands, and bare right foot, work in harmony - this is the one part of free machining that takes the most practice. When your hands slow the dance to move the fabric in an intricate pattern or to create a flower or leaf, your foot must slow too, ease back on the throttle, dance more slowly - together they must understand the need for harmony. Slow hands, slow foot. It does take time to master, to synchronise them in a slow dance of complexity, but it is SUCH FUN!

So here goes.  Fit your machine with a free machine embroidery or darning foot. Lower the feed dogs or cover them, according to your machine instructions. Layer up your fabric with lightweight wadding or paper backed fabric to make it stable using 505 spray glue to keep the layers together.

Some people wear quilting gloves, thin gloves with a rubber coating, but all I use are two pieces of rubber shelf matting 2" x 3" each, just big enough to put under my middle three fingers. They give me the control and grip I need. Make sure they stay on the work, and keep your fingers close enough to the needle so you have control but at a safe distance. Stop sewing and move your fingers when you need to. Keep them safe; they are precious.

I always use the needle down position on my machine when I am the needle dancing. If the phone rings, the needle stops firmly in the work. If you do not have that facility, always wind the wheel towards yourself to put the needle in the work if you want to stop and move your hands.

Start simple. Be kind to yourself. When you are practising you can draw an outline on your fabric using a Frixion pen as it will disappear when you iron over it with a hot iron. Not a good idea for precious projects but great for practice pieces.  Try drawing a simple heart or flower shape.  Let the machine take one stitch; pull up the lower thread to the surface, put the presser foot down and your foot on the pedal and simply push the fabric under the needle vaguely following the line. It doesn't matter if it looks awful - just go over it a few more times and it will look great, I promise. Next, add some bumps all around then try adding texture to the inside of the shape. Simply go where the needle takes you and enjoy the ride. Experiment!

Once you have mastered the basics, be bold and try something more complex. It is fun drawing with the needle continuously. All lines look better if there are two crossing over each other. Deliberately re-trace your steps going near, but not directly on top of your previous line. Work fast and free - you are Creating Art and making a statement, not creating a prize winning quilt for the next exhibition. Simply enjoy the dance and you will be amazed at how much fun needle dancing can be!

Moira Neal