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Couching with your sewing machine can open you up to all sorts of new possibilities in your textile art and while couching in needlework is typically associated with embroidery and hand sewing, you can totally do it by machine!
In this post we are going to focus specifically on how to couch with your sewing machine, but if you want to learn some basics for sewing by hand make sure you check out our post on Couching as an Embroidery Technique.
I typically like to do most of my couching by hand because it gives you the most control, but you can totally also couch on a lot of materials with your sewing machine! And, once you learn how to couch on your machine, you can also experiment with a bunch more projects, such as pretty thread wrapped yarn!
What Type of Sewing Machine Is Best For Couching?
Couching with an older machine such as my Singer 201 that only does straight stitch is a bit of a challenge and requires a special technique, but if your machine has a zig zag stitch (which just about every machine after 1970 has!) – then you can just use that and it’s super quick and easy!
Some machines, especially those with a wide variety of decorative stitches, may even have a few stitches specifically for couching – so be sure to double check what stitches your machine has built in!
You may also want to use a special foot that is designed specifically for couching. These usually are designed so that the center part of the foot is raised or in some cases the foot is very narrow on just the left side of the needle with the right side open.
Some sewing machines have couching feet specifically, and some manufacturers even have multiple options for what types of couching feet they offer. For example, Bernina has a bulky overlock foot, a cording foot, braiding foot and even a double couching foot that lets you couch on two items parallel to each other.
If you don’t have all those bells and whistles though, no worries! You can totally couch with just a zig zag stitch and a regular presser foot, although you will want to stick with somewhat thin cording.
How to Couch by Machine – Step by Step
While this method is pretty simple to understand (we are just going to stitch over the cord with a zig zag stitch!), I know I always appreciate step by step instructions, so I will put those here too.
1. Prepare Your Cord and Fabric
You can use any kind of cord and fabric, but if this is your very first time I would probably suggest using either plain muslin fabric or some scrap cotton fabric you really don’t like. (We all have fabrics we don’t like in our stash, even if we don’t want to admit it!)
You can use any kind of cord for this project, although again if this is your first time you might as well just use what you have and what is readily available and inexpensive. In this tutorial, I am using cheap acrylic yarn.
Step 2: Set Your Machine for Zig Zag Stitch
Every machine is different, but the easiest way to practice and try this technique at first is with a zig zag stitch. If you are able to adjust your zig zag settings, you may also want to experiment with stitch length and width.
You may also need to adjust the position of your needle – sometimes having it over a little bit can make the process a little smoother.
Step 3: Practice Some Zig Zags Without the Couching
One thing that is a good idea to do before you start couching is to draw a line down your scrap fabric that is the same width as your cording and do some test zig zag stitches with your machine.
This will help give you an idea of whether the stitch size is going to work with the cording you have, as well as help you understand better the placement of the cord on the fabric when you start the stitch.
Step 4: Start Couching!
After you have some test zig zags done, you are ready to start couching! All you need to do at this step is put your cord on your fabric and zig zag over it!
I usually don’t do any kind of back stitching when couching with the zig zag stitch, and I will start the stitch right at the edge of the material I am couching on.
It’s good to go slow at first until you have an idea of where the stitches will go and how they will lay around the cord you are couching on.
Step 5: Try Different Couching Patterns!
Once you have the basics down on how to do couching with your sewing machine, you are ready to try all kinds of different patterns and designs!
You could do stripes and bands of couching, or you could even do curvy lines, spirals and scrolls.
There is really no limit to couching with your machine and you may even find that you enjoy this technique without any kind of backing fabric and just use it to create thread wrapped yarn and cords. It’s also a great technique for making your own scrap fabric yarn if you have some long thin strips!
Sometimes I won’t even plan on couching by machine, I’ll just use my machine in this method to create cords and yarns to couch on by hand later because I like the look of the machine stitches!
The key with it all is to play and have fun with it – You can experiment with different stitch lengths and widths, different threads, and different materials to couch on to see what you like best. Before you know it you’ll be couching all kinds of stuff!
Do you have any tips or questions about couching with your sewing machine? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!