Blog, Sewing Machine Hardware

How Does a Foot Presser Work?

By Jessica Strohlson

A presser foot is one of the most important parts of your sewing machine. It may look intimidating, but don’t worry—we’ll help you learn everything there is to know.

The presser foot is the part of the machine that sits below the needle and looks like a pair of skis. It holds down your fabric while you guide it through with your left hand. 

Its main function is to do tasks easily for you, such as holding down the fabric and providing a frame for fancy stitching. The foot is spring-hinged with a bit of give for flexibility, and it is changeable to help with different types of stitching.

While it may look simple, the presser foot can do a lot more than just straight stitching. Different kinds can bring your sewing machine to the next level in terms of functionality.

presser foot top view

How to identify the presser foot on your sewing machine

The all-purpose presser foot has two toes for holding down the fabric on both sides of the needle.

Most presser foots are made of steel or clear plastic. Some feet are made of Teflon or other nonstick materials for sewing fabrics such as leather, plastic, vinyl, and oilcloth.

Presser feet usually have two toes, one to go on each side of the needle.

Why is it helpful?

The presser foot holds down the fabric as it is fed through the machine and stitched so that it doesn’t rise and fall with the needle. This prevents the fabric from puckering and scrunching up.

How to use the presser foot effectively

Be sure to put the presser foot up while threading the needle. After that, place your fabric under the foot with the longer side to the left. Line the fabric up correctly so it is parallel with the machine. 

When sewing corners, keep the needle down in the fabric and lift the foot. Rotate the fabric 90 degrees, place the foot down, and begin again.

effective use of a presser foot

You can also use specialized presser feet for zippers, buttons, and different designs.

Types of shank

There are three main types of shank for presser feet. The shank is the distance between the bottom of the foot and the screw. What type of machine you have determines which type of shank you will be using. For example, a high shank machine only uses high shank presser feet.

Low shank

A low shank presser foot measures .5 inches or 13mm from the bottom of the foot to the center of the thumbscrew. Most machines use this type.

High shank

A high shank presser foot measures 1 inch or 25mm from the bottom of the foot to the center of the thumbscrew.

Slant shank

A slant shank is quite rare in presser feet, and it is only used with a Singer slant needle machine.

How to find the right presser foot for your sewing machine

Once you’ve identified the type of shank, you’re halfway there. Next, determine whether your machine uses a snap-on presser foot or a screw-on presser foot. A snap-on will be able to snap easily into a groove in the machine, while the screw-on has to be screwed on with a nail. Pretty self explanatory, right?

Types of feet

The most common types of presser feet are the all-purpose and the zipper. Both usually come with sewing machines.

All-purpose

The all-purpose presser foot is usually used for straight single needle stitches, but it can perform most stitches your sewing machine offers. While it does not include work aids to help with tasks, it can be used for simple decorations and zig-zag stitches. 

Zipper

The zipper presser foot allows you to sew—you guessed it!—zippers. The foot snaps on the left or the right of the needle rather than the center, allowing you to sew the stitch much closer to the edge of the fabric. This makes it perfect for sewing as close to the zipper teeth as possible. 

By using a zipper presser foot, you can be sure that the stitch will be close to the teeth while keeping the zipper functional. Without it, the stitch can often prevent the zipper from working correctly after its installation.

Specialized feet

Outside of the two main feet, multiple specialized feet also exist. At first, this may seem a bit overwhelming. Don’t worry! These specialized feet will actually make your sewing life easier, not more complicated. Here are some of the main ones.

Adjustable bias tape binding foot

This foot helps you finish a seam with bias tape, which is often used on the edges of quilts, bibs, necklines, and other projects.

Blind hem foot

The blind hem foot creates an almost invisible hem in the garment, making it perfect for delicate dresses, skirts, and curtains. Before buying this foot, make sure your sewing machine has the capability for a blind hem stitch. 

Button-hole foot

Save time by using this foot to create uniform patterns of button-holes quickly and easily.

Edge stitching foot

This foot is used on the edge of the hem to create clean and precise top-stitching.

Fell foot

Use this foot for felled seams, which are created by stitching folds in fabric.

Gathering foot

When gathering sections of fabric, use this foot to save time. The foot can be fed gathered or flat fabric, and it can make flat fabric gathered. The fabric fed underneath stays flat and the fabric that goes through the foot itself becomes or stays gathered.

Invisible zipper foot

An invisible zipper usually cannot be installed without an invisible zipper foot. The foot sits on the zipper and guides it through the sewing machine, directing the needle as close to the teeth as possible. 

Jeans foot

Use this foot when sewing jeans or other heavy fabrics.

Non-stick foot

Similar to the jean foot, this foot should be used for heavy or sticky fabrics, such as leather, faux-leather, and vinyl. Such fabrics have friction with metal sewing feet, so the non-stick foot is usually made of Teflon or plastic to prevent sticking.

side view of a presser foot

Open toe embroidery foot

Although it may sound like it, this foot is not used for sandals! The large space between the two toes of the presser foot allow the experienced embroider to show off their skills. It requires sturdy hands and a knack for designs, but it can also be helpful for curves.

Overlock foot

Instead of a serger, you can use this foot to lock in seams on slippery and loose fabrics such as knits and woven fabrics.

Patchwork foot

This foot can be used for quilting or when you need exact seams. It creates a consistent .25 inch stitch for designs and top stitching.

presser foot on a sewing machine

Pintuck foot

This fabric creates pintucks and is best used on light fabrics. It does require a double needle attachment. 

Rolled hemmer foot

Use this foot for rolled hems. You can turn a fabric under it twice.

Side cutter presser foot

This foot trims fabric as it sews a seam. It can also be used to replace a serger, which is helpful for finishing projects.

Satin stitch or decorative stitch foot

With this foot, you can create decorative and thick stitches.

Straight stitch foot

While you can use the all-purpose foot for straight stitches, this foot can be used for fine cottons if the fabric gets caught in the throat plate. 

Walking foot

Use this foot for fabrics that move too much, such as knots, layered fabric, or quilting. Its wide and steady plate helps the fabric behave. Without it, knitted material stretches and layers move around.

Now you know almost everything these is to know about presser feet! If you are still lost on how to use your presser foot or the sewing machine, refer to our article How easy is it to learn how to use a sewing machine.


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