Blog, Sewing for Beginners, Sewing Machine Hardware

What Is A Walking Foot On A Sewing Machine?

By Jessica Strohlson

Think of a walking foot as a giant presser foot for your sewing machine that lets your tackle thicker and more complex fabrics with ease!

With the help of a walking foot on your sewing machine of choice, you can tackle difficult fabrics that often gum up a regular domestic sewing machine or slip out of the work field at the most inopportune of times. No more struggling with spandex to stabilize it and keep it in place. No more concerning whirring noises when working with knits or heavy flannel. You can use a walking foot to work with multiple layers of rare, bulky fabric and do so without all of the usual headaches!

The key to a good sewing machine walking foot is the extra feed dogs. While they are blessed with a funny name that conjures up visions of man’s best friends and cute puppy memes, added feed dogs are essential to bracing bulky and slippery fabrics while guiding them successfully and efficaciously through a sewing machine bed. 

woman working on fixing a dress with sewing machine

What Do Extra Feed Dogs Mean For Your Next Sewing Project?

On the plate of your sewing machine, you’ll notice rows (or columns) of teeth sticking out. These are feed dogs and they are used to feed your fabric through the sewing machine. 

The problem, though, is that most domestic sewing machines have feed dogs that are made to pull one or two layers of simple fabric through the machine at one time. When you’re working with multiple layers of fabric stacked or sewn together, you may struggle to align your fabric as the layers closest to the feed dogs separate from the layers on top.

A walking foot remedies this problem, bracing and pushing the top layers of a quilt or complex fabric at the same speed as the bottom layers. The extra feed dogs on a walking foot don’t press down and push against your fabric as a normal presser foot will. Rather, the feed dogs on the walking foot work with those on your sewing machine to move all layers of fabric  at once. 

You don’t have to deal with bunching, slipping, puckering, jamming, and shifting when you pull out a thicker piece of fabric to work with. A walking foot essentially increases the feed capacity of your sewing machine, preventing errant stitching and keeping everything aligned properly.

close up threading on sewing machine

When Should You Use A Walking Foot While Sewing?

A walking foot is a fantastic sewing accessory for quilters, sewing aficionados, and embroidery lovers alike. Here are a few common uses for a sewing machine walking foot work considering for future projects:

  • Quilting — Regardless of what stage of a quilting project you are at, a walking foot is a key accessory for constructing and finishing! With a walking foot attached to your quilting machine, you can easily move multiple fabrics through without worrying about bunching or uneven stitching!
  • Matching Prints, Stripes, and Plaids — If you want to create continuity with your plaid, print, and stripe patterns, a walking foot can help you with that! All you have to do is pin your pieces in the right spots, aligning them to your taste. The walking foot will do the rest, feeding the pieces through the machine without shifting oddly and ruining the effect you’re looking for. 
  • Topstitching Hems and Bindings —  If you struggle with settling the fabric of your bindings and hems, you can eliminate drag lines and uneven edges with the help of a walking foot. A walking foot will keep all layers aligned through the sewing process, smoothing things down without risking unseemly lines and bends. 
  • Working With Slippery Fabrics — A walking foot is an extra set of hands helping brace a piece of fabric to feed it through your sewing machine. The feed dogs on your sewing machine aren’t enough to push a piece of spandex or another slippery fabric through your machine at the pacing you desire. The added set of teeth will hold the fabric in place, giving you even pacing and a stabilized field for stitching. 
  • Working With Knits — Knit fabrics love to stretch. It’s part of the reason why they are so fun and comfy to wear! However, their stretchy properties often cause them to extend themselves out of shape under a normal presser foot. A walking foot braces them without allowing them to catch and stretch themselves to the point of uselessness. 
  • Straight-Line Quilting and Stitch-In-The-Ditch Stitching — If you’re looking to quilt straight lights and create deep, divot stitches that separate batting layers, you can do so with the help of a walking foot. A walking foot helps you work with multiple layers and multiple fabric types on a single piece of quilt, allowing you to get creative on thicker fabrics and fabric combinations. 
excited woman works on sewing multiple cloths together

When Should You Avoid Using A Walking Foot?

While a walking foot is a great sewing accessory for a wide variety of sewing and quilting projects, there are a few situations where it’s not advisable to use one: 

  • Free-Motion Quilting — A walking foot is built to push a piece of fabric forward through a machine in a straight line. If you want to be more creative with your quilting and move side to side with your stitching, a walking foot isn’t the way to go. 
  • Sewing In Reverse — If you try reverse sewing with the feed dogs of your machine working backward, you’re going to run into problems with a walking foot. The walking foot always pushes fabric forward and will cause a real mess in conjunction with the reverse sewing function on your machine. 
  • Decorative, Wider Stitching — When creating wide and complex decorative stitches, you usually have to move the fabric side to side to get your desired effect. With a walking foot pushing the fabric forward and only forward, this is downright impossible to do. 
designing a sewing project with pencil and paper

Should You Use A Classic Sewing Walking Foot Or An Open-Toe Walking Foot?

It depends on your sewing project. 

A classic walking foot offers more stability and support than the newer open-toe version. Classic walking feet, however, offer less visibility of your sewing area. They are less useful when you need to see when and where your needle pierces through a piece of fabric. 

Whether you prefer to use an open-toe walking foot or a classic walking foot, both are fantastic investments for complex sewing projects. If you work consistently with thicker fabrics, quilts, slippery fabrics, and knits, a walking foot isn’t just a good idea. It’s a necessity!

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