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Machine Embroidery

Free Machine Embroidery Design: Make a Rainbow Fish

This is an easy machine embroidery design that will make you smile! 

These cute little fish measure approx 13cm or 51/4 inches long, and they can be used for a variety of things—gifts, baby toys, cat toys, pin cushions, mobiles, or whatever you like!

Follow the step-by-step instructions below to make this design at home.

Subscribe to my newsletter to download this embroidery design file for free.

Step One: Transfer the design file to your embroidery machine

When you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll receive an email with the rainbow fish in a .zip file.

Here’s how to get the file onto your embroidery machine:

  • Download the embroidery file onto your computer.
  • Unzip the file (here’s how to unzip files on mac and PC)
  • Transfer it to a memory stick. 
  • Put the memory stick into your embroidery machine

This design file is compatible with Brother, Babylock, and Deco machines (.PES file format). 

If you’re not using a Brother, Babylock, or Deco machine, you’ll need to convert the embroidery design file into a format that is compatible with your embroidery machine.


Step Two: Hoop your fabric

To embroider this design, you’ll need to add a stabilizer and get it into a hoop.

First, attach backing fabric onto the back side (aka the “wrong” side) of your fish fabric.

I embroidered this design onto a lovely linen and cotton fabric called Essex yarn dyed from Robert Kaufman fabrics. The colour is called Graphite.

This fabric has a lovely feel to it and I use it often for my projects.

The only catch is that linen fabrics like this one do have a little give in them. So it’s important to keep them as firm as you can when you’re embroidering. You don’t want your fish swimming around in the hoop!

So, keep this fabric stable, I used an iron-on tear away embroidery backing material.

If you choose a firmer fabric you probably won’t need the iron on backing material though. Just a tear-away stabilizer would do.

Once you’ve attached your backing to your fabric, put it into your embroidery hoop.


Step 3: Embroider your rainbow fish

Now it’s time to start embroidering out your fish!

The first part of this process is to embroider an outline stitch.

This outline stitch appears on your color last as color list – grey, but I suggest you use a colour similar to the fabric that you are stitching onto so you will hardly notice it in your final design.

Next, use embroider an outline finishing stitch.

Once your outline stitch is complete, use your jump stitch to go forward to the next step which is the outline finishing stitch.

The outline finishing stitch is the last color on your color list: color list – brown.

Finally, embroider your rainbow fish scales.

You’re welcome to use any colors you like for this design! If you’d like to use the same colors as me, I’ve added the exact threads and colors further below in this guide.


Step 4: Attach your fish’s backside fabric  

Now it’s time to attach your fish’s back fabric—the second side of your fish.

To do this, do not remove your fish from the hoop or the machine.

Simply lay your fish back fabric on top of your embroidered fish, making sure that the “right side” of the fabric is facing your embroidered fish.

Make sure that the grey outline stitch around the fish is fully covered with at least a 1cm (or 1/2 inch) excess.

This grey outline stitch indicates your next stitching line, and the excess fabric is for a seam allowance.

As you can see in the image above, I have placed a whole square of fabric on top of my hoop that is still in the embroidery machine.

I didn’t remove the hoop and I simply covered my embroidered fish.

Because my embroidery machine’s foot was in the raised position, it was easy for me to slide my fabric underneath the foot and into position.


Step 5: Embroider your outer stitched line 

The machine then stitches the fish outline, leaving a gap which you will later use to turn your fish inside out. (You can see the gap in the image below) 

During this step, make sure that your machine foot is free to glide.

Your machine should glide over your top layer of fabric and not get caught up while it is stitching. 


Step 6: Stuff and sew your rainbow fish

You’re almost there! It’s time to stuff and sew your rainbow fish.

When the embroidery machine has finished up, remove the hoop from and take the fabric out of the hoop.

Your two pieces of fabric should now be joined together.

Follow these steps to finish up your rainbow fish by hand:

  • Cut out around the outer stitched line (see image below).
  • Don’t cut through stitching by mistake!
  • Make a few SMALL snips at the point where the tail joins the body.

Next, peel off as much backing as you can.

I left the bits around the fish scales because it was too fiddly!

Next, turn your fish inside out and stuff.

Hooray! Your fish’s rainbow scales are showing and it’s time to stuff your fish.

This is also the point you could put in catnip if this is a toy for your cat.

I’m ashamed to say I did use an embroidery machine screwdriver to turn my fish to the right side. If you’d like to use something a little less sharp and angular, a chopstick or a big knitting needle could help with this step.

Finally, close the small opening in your fish with a hand stitch.

Once your fish is fully stuffed, sew it up with a simple hand stitch.

I prefer to do a slip stitch, but you can use any kind of hand stitching you like.

Congratulations on making your first beautiful rainbow fish!


How to choose your colours for this design

To embroider the rainbow scales onto the fish, I used these colours from the Gutermann Rayon 40 range: 

  • Pink col. 1109
  • Purple col. 1255
  • Turquoise col. 1095
  • Mid blue col. 1534
  • Green col. 1278
  • Yellow col. 1187
  • Orange 1168
  • Red 1147
  • Silver 7009

When you’re using colours with this design, you can choose whichever colours make you happy!

The lighter threads on the left (see image above) are from the Madeira Frosted Matt range.

  • Grey – col. 7811
  • Light blue – col. 7828
  • Mid blue – col. 7797
  • Neon yellow – col.7823

I only have a small collection of the Frosted Matt colours but it’s growing steadily.

They give a nice matt finish and work brilliantly on the embroidery machine. I have also used neon thread and it looked great!

Did you notice? You don’t need a sewing machine to finish this design.

Traditionally, designs like this would be machine embroidered, taken out of the hoop, and finished up on a sewing machine.

This method allows you to embroider two rainbow fish on your embroidery machine—no sewing machine required!

Once you learn the technique I’ve used to create this rainbow fish, it will open up a whole world of things you can do with machine embroidery without needing a sewing machine.

What other designs would you like me to create?

Let me know in the comments below.

I’m already onto my next idea for Christmas decorations, although Halloween is first and I do love the holidays!

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