Machine embroidery on felt

One of my new year’s resolutions was to try to get to grips with machine embroidery. I still haven’t found a way to drop the feed dogs on my ancient sewing machine, so for now I’m restricted to practising at college.

At the moment I’m making mostly 3D felt, such as pots, Kindle covers and slippers – and it’s not very easy to machine embroider these items once they’re complete. Therefore I was interested in this post by Ruth Lane on The Felting and Fiber Studio blog about stitching on dissolvable fabric and then felting it onto the fibre as part of the felting process.

So yesterday I stitched a pattern like a flower – a circle with radiating narrow petals in black thread on plastic water-soluble film. I made a pot using a flat resist in the usual way, adding the stitching on top of one side as the final layer, and started rubbing.

The film dissolved without any problems, but because the stitching was quite fine (single rows of straight stitch, except the circle), the “petals” soon started moving around. Not a problem – the original petals were of irregular sizes, so there was no beautiful pattern to spoil.

More of a problem was that the single lines of stitching didn’t really want to felt into the wool. I suspect the thread was probably polyester rather than cotton (it didn’t say on the reel), and that there wasn’t enough for the wool fibres to grip onto.  The circle of stitches around the rim of the pot did felt in better.

In the end I laid some fine wisps of wool over the stitching, but at too late a stage for it to felt properly onto the wool beneath. Final result below:

In the afternoon I decided to try again, with another new technique – honeycomb felt. I tried making honeycomb felt once before, not long after I started felting, and it was fairly disastrous: not having any marbles, I used styrofoam pellets, which flattened and stuck to the felt.

This time I used proper marbles, trapped between four layers of wool and overlaid with more stitching (thicker lines this time!). I had to rub very well between the marbles, and did manage to roll it a bit, though it was rather bumpy! The washboard was much easier to use and more effective.

The piece provoked various unflattering comparisons from my tutor and fellow students, mostly centring around boils and pustules! Personally, I prefer to liken it to volcanoes and lava flows. 🙂

Finally, after a long day at college, I got home to find an entire sheep’s fleece in my front garden, delivered by a friend from Ireland. As I’m not sure what breed it is, Chrissie has suggested that I make it into a raw sheepskin rug.

However, I would like to have a go at cleaning, carding and even dyeing at least part of it – so expect some future posts on this!


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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

10 thoughts on “Machine embroidery on felt”

  1. Kim
    interesting ,would love to know what your ancient machine is that will not let you drop the dogs –on the old machines it is talked of as a darning function.
    My old and ancient Bernina has funny slider to let me drop the dogs.there are many youtube videos on free machinery have a look at,as she went on this same journey .Try doing a C&G free machinery course which shows you all the tricks and dissolvables,Use silk thread or fine wool threads look at Handweavers Studio these are the threads I use.Happy felting
    The fleece looks great

    1. Chrissie – your comment finally prompted me to go and hunt through an old pile of appliance instruction manuals! I finally unearthed a manual for the Singer 257, and it appears that “to darn with an embroidery hoop” I need to insert a “throat plate raising shim”.So rather than drop the feed dogs, I need to raise the fabric above them.

      Naturally, another hunt among the machine’s (rather meagre) accessories revealed no throat plate raising shim. Looks like a foray into flea markets or on eBay is required!

  2. I’m glad you tried my technique. Did you use two layers of water soluble film and put wool in between? Then stitch after that and apply to the felt. That gives you unfelted wool in between the stitching to catch down into the felt. I wasn’t sure from your explanation whether you did it that way or not.

    1. Ruth – I didn’t. I used only one layer of film, with no wool, as I wanted quite a delicate effect. As you say, the wool between the stitching gives the felt something to catch on to.

      I’ll probably try it again with some silk or wool thread, as I’ve felted silk threads successfully in the past. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go for your way of doing it. 🙂

  3. Kim my daughter has a newer Singer – and you cannot drop the feeddogs on that (so I guess that is a Singer feature). We had to buy a plate to cover the feed dogs – it was not standard issue kit. Good luck with it.


  4. Hi, Regarding your feed dog comment – older machines did not have a way to drop the feed dogs. Instead, if they weren’t too old, say 30 years or so would be young enough :-), they came with a small plastic cover that fit over the feed dogs, allowing free motion stitching. Either look in your attachments for a squarish piece of plastic that might snap on over the feed dogs, or try to track down if one is available for your machine. Otherwise, if I were you, I’d try out some firm plastics that I could tape down on top of the machine to cover the feed dogs. Be sure to punch a hole in the middle for the needle.

    Good luck!

    1. Hi Sherilyn,

      Thanks for dropping by! I’ve now had a reply from Singer saying that the product I require is no longer made, that they don’t have any second-hand ones, and that maybe it is time to get a new machine. 😦

      I can’t find anything in my attachments that looks like the illustration in the instruction manual – probably got lost in one of the numerous house moves over the years. So it looks like haunting vintage sewing machine specialists, trying your plastic idea or saving up for a new machine. But it probably won’t be a Singer!


      1. Kim,
        I am sorry to hear that Singer no longer has the part. If you have a Singer dealer nearby, you might ask them. Sometimes they have old spare parts lying around.

        Singer is not what it used to be, that’s for sure. I have one from 1985, and I can’t believe it’s that old already. I keep it, even though I have two other much newer machines, because it sews through heavier fabrics more easily than my newer models. Depending on what you want to sew, that is something to consider. That said, since you clearly want to free motion quilt, there are lots of great machines on the market that specialize in quilting techniques. I wish you happy hunting!

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