A walking foot is used on sewing machines to help evenly feed fabric. Learn how to set up and use a walking foot in this tutorial.
Hey y’all, today we’re going to talk about why, when and how to use a walking foot for sewing. This is a sewing question I’ve gotten many times. In this post I’ll be sharing a video that explains why you might want to use a walking foot, when specifically you might want to use one, and how to do it.
A walking foot helps create even stitches on quilts, knit fabrics, leather, and when sewing through multiple layers of fabric. I’ve also heard it called an even feed foot for that reason. In the video below you can see how to set up a walking foot and watch it in motion. You can also watch on YouTube here if the link below doesn’t work.
What are Feed Dogs in Sewing?
To understand how a walking foot works and why you might want to use one, first we need to understand how a sewing machine feeds fabric. Feed dogs are the part of the sewing machine that pull the fabric toward the back of the machine as you sew. They look like little ridged or toothed bars under the presser foot and they move up, back, down and forward in conjunction with the motion of the needle. In fact, if you’ve ever heard of misalignment in a sewing machine or it being out of time, that’s referring to the needle and feed dogs not working together as intended. You can see a close up image of the feed dogs below.
As you can see the feed dogs are only in contact with the bottom layer of fabric. The top layer slides against the presser foot. The majority of the time sewing, this works well. But sometimes the top layer of fabric drags a tiny bit on the regular presser foot. Over the course of a seam, this can mean that the fabric feeds unevenly so stitches aren’t even. This is most likely seen with multiple layers of fabric like in a quilt or sticky fabrics like leather. Or it can mean that the top of your fabric feeds at a different rate than the bottom fabric (this is most likely seen in sewing knits) causing puckers.
How Does A Walking Foot Work?
A walking foot has it’s own feed dogs on it. If you look at the picture of a walking foot below, you can see how there are openings in the presser foot. The white ridged parts come through those openings in time with the machine’s feed dogs to pull the top fabric. The feed dogs on the presser foot also have teeth that grip the fabric. The lobster claw piece on the side of the foot fits over the needle bar and rides up and down with it to keep the foot in time with the feed dogs and stitches.
When To Use A Walking Foot
Now that we understand how fabric feeds through the sewing machine, let’s talk about when to use a walking foot. I alluded to this above when I talked about fabrics that can be difficult to stitch evenly. Those include bulky fabric, stretchy fabrics, sticky fabrics (like leather or vinyl), and thin fabric in multiple layers (like a quilt sandwich). Sewing a knit fabric to a woven fabric can also be a difficult fabric combination even if each fabric on its own feeds well. If you are using those fabrics with a general purpose foot and getting uneven stitches, it’s time to switch. A walking foot is great when quilting or topstitching because your stitching will be visible, unlike the interior seams in garment sewing. If you feel like you’re having to pull the fabric through by hand, a walking foot will help.
How To Set Up A Walking Foot
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To set up the walking foot, you’ll want to consult your machine manual. Some walking feet have to be plugged into the machine, but here’s the process for a manual foot like mine (similar foot here,[affiliate link] mine came with my machine). First, I have to unscrew the snap on presser foot shank. I keep these tiny screwdrivers (affiliate link) in my machine storage box to help with this.
Once the shank is off, place the claw of the walking foot on the needle bar and screw the shank of the foot onto the machine. Make sure to tighten both the needle clamp screw and the shank screw. One problem with this type of foot is that the lobster claw on the needle bar can loosen the screw and make the needle fall out.
How to Feed Your Fabric Evenly
Once you’ve got the walking foot on the machine, it should work in time with the feed dogs to evenly feed your fabric. Because of the motion involved in this presser foot I recommend stitching at a slower pace at first. This will allow all the parts to work smoothly together and feed your fabric for beautiful, even stitches. You can try going faster on scraps of fabric that mimic your actual project. In other words, if you want to see how it will work when quilting, you’ll have to use scraps of all the quilt layers. Pins or clips holding your fabric together will also help make sure they feed evenly.