"What is FMAnyway?" Intro, Tips & Tricks

Raise your hand if you've seen the phrase "FMA" float around your sewing circles. Well, if your hand isn't raised yet, it should be now. You've officially heard of "FMA"! But what is it, and how do you do it? 

FMA is short for "Free Motion Applique." Let's break that down into two parts:

  • Free Motion is a type of machine sewing. In your standard day-to-day sewing, you use a presser foot and "feed dogs" - little metal 'teeth' that guide your fabric under the needle producing evenly spaced stitches in (relatively) straight lines. In "Free Motion" sewing, you drop your feed dogs and guide the fabric under the needle using your hands to determine the distance and direction of each stitch. "Drawing" on fabric this way adds texture and designs to your projects, especially quilting and.....

  • Applique: the act of stitching a contrast fabric onto another fabric for decorative purposes. 

Putting it all together - FMA is essentially drawing a design of stitches overtop of a contrast fabric. These stitch-drawn designs secure the fabrics to one another, creating lasting embellishments for garments, bags, and more.


My three-weeks-ago self could have read that definition 1000 times and it still would have been clear as mud. I'm a visual learner, and in case you are too, I thought it best to offer an illustrated demo.


And here's how you do it! (But first, I'm required to tell you that all products listed below have affiliate links. I get a small commission on any sales made. Thanks for supporting my blogging habit!)

You'll need the standard supplies - fabric, scissors, thread, sewing machine... AND:

A quilting foot. Check the feet that came with your machine. It should look like this:


Tear-Away Stabilizer:


Heat n' Bond Lite - a double-sided adhesive product that secures your fabric from fraying, and affixes your applique in place.

Universal Needles. I prefer this titanium kind. Regardless what fabric you use for your applique or your finished garment, this needle will suit your project. 


Your applique design! I have traced, free-handed, and purchased art from FMA designers like StitchArt

Click to "like" StitchArt on Facebook!

Click to "like" StitchArt on Facebook!

Here, I free handed a "heart" shaped pretzel for a kid-friendly Oktoberfest graphic:

I traced the REVERSE image on the paper-side of my Heat n' Bond Lite. Trim around your design. You don't need to cut it out perfectly, but too much excess "HNBL" has a nasty way of hanging off the sides of your fabric scrap and melting onto your ironing board. YUCK.

Place your design "bumpy side down". This is all the magic glue dots that will melt under the heat of the iron and make your fabric fray-resistant! Your freshly ironed applique will be HOT. So while you take a minute for it to cool, here's a little PSA:

There's no need to follow grain lines when you place your design, but you should be aware of print placement and "fussy cut" so there are no distractions in your applique, or to "feature" part of the fabric you like best. 

Cut out your design carefully! Using tailors's chalk or vanishing ink, sketch any details you want to add to your applique. Then peel the paper off the back of your applique and set it aside.

Gently iron guide lines down the center of your garment, then create a fold line roughly at or under the armpits. This is usually a safe place to feature your design without it sneaking up into seam allowances. 

Once you're happy with your placement, iron in place. You won't be able to change this once it's fused in place!

Then, grab your stabilizer. There is NO NEED to hoop your applique. I pinned the corners of my stabilizer, far from the applique itself, and had no trouble with the design staying in place while I moved it freely under the needle. But I'm getting ahead of myself - so - back to the stabilizer!

Turning to your machine, drop your feed dogs. My Brother machine has a switch on the back, just behind the bobbin case. Check your machine's manual for specific instructions.

Feed dogs up (left), feed dogs down (Right). Or maybe they're the same photo. Who can tell anyway? Tutorial fail :P

When you lower your darning/quilting foot, you will notice it doesn't hit the fabric. This is because you need the space to freely shift your fabric around as you stitch. The foot will hit the fabric once the needle lowers, so watch out for that! Here it is with the needle in the down position:

Set your standard stitch length and tension (2.5-3, and 4-5 respectively). Though, stitch length really won't matter since you're controlling that by hand. 

Find a central place in your design, and mentally map out your route. You will want to start from the middle and work your way around to the outside of your applique, with as few start/stop points as possible. This will just keep the design tidy, with fewer knots on the back of the design. At a steady (not necessarily slow) pace, stitch back and forth about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch at a time. Check the video below to see it in action!

She slowly stitched, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.... FMA in action!

A video posted by Becca DuVal (@beccaduvalphoto) on

I will stitch over the same line 3-4 times, depending on how wonky my stitching. I find that the fourth pass over a line of stitching fills in any gaps between the rest of my stitching and really pulls it all together.

*If your applique has a LOT of detail work, or you have multiple pieces of fabric making up your applique, you'll sew those first onto muslin, following the same general steps you read above. Then you'll repeat this process - applying HNBL to your muslin, carefully cutting around your applique - and stitching just the outline to affix your design onto your garment.

Once I've made my way around all edges, I tidy up my threads with knots and a close snip! 

The tear away stabilizer will tear easily apart from the stitches, and you'll be left with a clean design on front and back! Assemble your garment per usual, and voilà

Ready to get started with your own FMA adventure?? Pop on over to Instagram! StitchArt and I collaborated on a three pack of appliques, and you can WIN THEM just by tagging a sewing friend! GOOD LUCK! XOXO

Can't hardly wait for the winner to be drawn?? Try your hand at the free FMA printable I made for last month's CraftingCon Post!

What did I miss? Need a step clarified? Let me know! I will do my best to get you all the photos and instructions you need to confidently stitch your first free motion applique. It's addictive!