Free machining project: cocktail collage

27 March 2020
Free-machine a mixed media collage of cocktails and create a canvas perfectly suited to making any of your favourite fancy drinks with this colourful project by Anne Brooke.

This project has all of the cocktails lined up in a row, but you could easily place them vertically, in a square or as individual collages that are ideal for cards!

Free machining – how does it work?

Free machining is a little like rubbing your stomach and patting your head. You need to combine the speed of the needle with the speed of the paper. If you are unsure, always practice first on some spare paper. Doodle on the piece of paper first then stitch over it to get a real feel for what you’re creating. 

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  • Pencil
  • White paper
  • Scissors
  • Canvas: 16x6in
  • Iron-on interfacing
  • Selection of neutral-coloured papers (magazines, paper bags, maps, old books etc.)
  • Iron & ironing board
  • Baking paper
  • Various coloured machine threads
  • Sewing machine with freemachine/darning foot
  • Strip of fabric for the table top
  • Selection of coloured papers
  • Glue stick
  • 1 sheet of white cartridge paper: A3
  • Buttons: 3 green, 1 red
  • Embroidery needle
  • Embroidery thread: red, purple
  • White textured thread


Trace the templates onto white paper and cut out. Audition the templates on the canvas to plan your composition.

Auditioning cocktail glass templates onto white paper

Cut the interfacing ¼in smaller than the canvas, to give your work extra strength for stitching on. Rip the selection of neutral-coloured papers into strips that are longer than the interfacing, so you can decide later if you want to trim them or wrap them around your canvas.

Ripped selection of papers

Arrange the strips of paper on the interfacing, ensuring each one overlaps slightly. Iron on the interfacing, using a piece of baking paper to protect your work and your iron.

Ironing on the interfacing

Get stitching!

1. Set your sewing machine up for general sewing and select a thread that matches with the background colours. Stitch down the joins between the strips of paper.

Setting up sewing machine

Paper joins stitched down

Top Tip! Keep your background papers fairly neutral in colour and pattern, to prevent the background from overpowering the cocktails.

Top Tip! Use old needles for stitching onto paper as they will blunt over time. Also, clean out your machine after stitching on paper, as you will have paper fibres collecting under the machine.

2. Sew a strip of fabric along the bottom of the stitched-together strips of paper, to act as a table top for the glasses to sit on and test the glasses to make sure you are happy with the order.

Sewing a strip of fabric

Glass shapes placed

Colour coordination

Try and use paper for each drink that has similar colours to the cocktail you are recreating. Matt and shiny magazines are ideal places to look for the colours that you need, as you only need small pieces and the mix of surfaces will add to your collage. Margarita: cream, with yellow for the lemon.

Gin Bramble: purple, red and pink, with yellow for the lemon and a colour of your choice for the straw.

Martini: a range of pale greys and whites as the liquid is clear, then any colour for the stick and olive.

Mojito: green, grey and white, with any colour for the straw.

Tequila Sunrise: red, orange and yellow, with any colour for the umbrella and yellow, orange or green for the citrus slice.

3. Cut a piece from the coloured papers in the shape of each glass, in a similar colour to each drink’s final look, as a background for each cocktail.

4. Working on one cocktail at a time, rip the remaining coordinating coloured papers into small pieces and begin gluing in place on the background. Don’t worry if you go over the edge, as you will be able to trim the edges of the glass once finished.

Glued cocktail glass shapes

Glued cocktail glass shapes closeup

5. Glue your finished glass collage pieces onto white copier paper, trimming to leave a white frame
around the glass, to make the drink stand out from the background and create an edge to the glass.

Finished glass collage glued on white copier paper

6. Create the decorative elements of the cocktails. These can include citrus fruit slices, olives, cherries, straws, umbrellas, crystallised edges of the glasses etc., made from paper, buttons, actual cocktail embellishments, textured threads etc. Play around with different combinations to find the ones that best work with the background.

Created decorative elements of the cocktails

Decorative elements of cocktails

7. Once you are happy with your embellishments, glue the glasses without the decorations onto the
neutral-coloured background section. Set your machine for free machining by lowering the feed dogs, changing your foot to a darning foot and setting your machine on straight stitch.

8. The aim is to ‘doodle’ over the glass shapes. Use a dark thread for this, so you can see the sewn illustration. For each glass, you could ‘doodle’ over the edges in different ways, for example using a straight stitch on one, a blanket stitch on the next, a curly stitch on another etc.

'Doodle' over glass shapes using a dark thread

Varying stitches for doodle process

9. Once you have stitched down the edges of each glass, you can begin to add detail, using the machine.

Details added to the cocktail glass shapes using the sewing machine

10. When you are happy with the stitched details, glue down the decorations and machine stitch over the top. 

Top Tip! To make paper embellishments look as if they are partially inside the glass, cut the shape, glue the outside section first, leaving the white border visible and glue the other section inside the glass.

Partially glued embellishments in cocktail glass shapes

11. Free machine the names of the drinks alongside the drinks. It may help to write the names on the background papers first and stitch over the top.

Free machining names of drinks

Bramble stitching

12. You can now add hand embellishments. Use the three green buttons as olives in the Martini and the red button in the Tequila Sunrise. Using a red thread for both sets of buttons adds an extra bit of detail.

Hand embellishments on cocktail collage

13. Use purple embroidery thread and French knots to add brambles to the gin.

Purple embroidery and French knots to add brambles to the gin

14. Couch white textured thread onto the rim of the Margarita glass to add a frosting effect.

15. Once all of the elements are complete, you can either trim the edges of the papers to fi t the canvas, or leave them to wrap around the sides. Apply glue to the whole back of your piece and attach to the canvas. If leaving the edges to wrap around, then glue and stick these down last. 

Trimmed edges of papers and attached to the canvas

16. Mix yourself a well-earned drink, hang your piece up and enjoy!

Cocktail collage hung on the wall

More canvas cocktails inspiration...

Looking for more ideas for creating canvas cocktails? Here’s a selection of other drink possibilities and the colours that best suit…

Long Island Iced Tea: brown, orange and cream, with yellow or green for the citrus.

Blue Lagoon: shades of blue with yellow, orange or green for the citrus and red for a cherry.

Cosmopolitan: shades of pink with red cherry or yellow citrus.

Purple Rain: shades of purple with green or yellow for the citrus.

B-52: dark brown, cream and orange.

Midori Sour: bright green, with red for a cherry or yellow for citrus.

Pina Colada: creams and pale yellows, with dark yellow and green for a pineapple slice.

About Anne Brooke:
Anne is a mixed media textile artist living and working in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. Instead of drawing with a pencil, I use a needle and thread. I build up layers of paper and fabric, re-working my pieces with paint, ink, dyes and stamps before drawing on the surface with a sewing machine and needle. My inspiration comes from the walks and journeys I go on. I also run workshops at my studio and give talks, demonstrations and run workshops for other groups. 

Find out more:

Facebook: Anne Brooke Textile Artist

Looking to learn more about free machining? Take a look at our ‘focus on… free machining’.

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