Learn how to use a walking foot! A sewing machine walking foot – what a sensible name for an attachment that does exactly what it says. This is the one foot on the machine that can walk you through a number of processes and is adaptable, hard-working, and makes sewing bulky fabrics simple.
The sewing machine walking foot is an attachment for your machine that replaces the all-purpose presser foot (regular presser foot). The walking foot has an extra set of teeth on the bottom which is used to guide the layers of fabric evenly through the machine. It is quite large in size and has a box-like protrusion at the back which hides the walking mechanism. Some brands have detachable plates at the bottom to suit slightly different purposes. Mine has a fixed plate.
Here is a photo of my Janome walking foot from the side and top. You can see how bulky it is. I have to say though that despite its size, once it is on your machine it doesn’t feel that different from a regular foot.
Instead of gliding over the fabric with the foot touching at all times, it lifts up and down so that any pulling or puckering on the top layers or bottom layers is released. This foot is especially useful for bulky, stretchy, or slippery fabrics. It is easy to attach and with a bit of practice will make your sewing of difficult fabrics a whole lot easier.
What is a Walking Foot Attachment Used for?
A sewing machine walking foot travels slowly over different types of fabric and helps to produce a smoother, more professional look. It is invaluable in thick quilting projects, but its job does not end there. The extra set of teeth to grip material from above makes this gadget ideal for use over thick fabrics or bulky seams. The teeth on the top help grip stretch material as well as silky fabrics.
The walking foot can climb over bulky seams, sew along waistbands, fly openings, and crotch seams. It is also ideal for garment sewing and stitching bindings, hems, and plackets. In many sewing projects, the walking foot will be of great use. The walking foot controls the movement of the fabric and helps to avoid puckering and shifting of the fabric.
One of its great assets can be seen when stripes or plaids are to be sewn. The walking foot holds the fabric in place for accurate matching of stripes.
Walking feet are used for sewing:
- Quilting and quilt binding
- Bulky seas
- Slippery fabrics like Lycra and knits
- Thick straps where ripples are caused by a regular foot
- Stripes and plaids
- Leather and vinyl
- Stretchy Fabrics
- Thick fabrics
- Garments such as jeans
This gadget is not suited to free embroidery because the feed teeth are controlling the direction of the fabric not allowing it to move in different directions.
Brands of Walking Foot
You can purchase the same brand walking foot as your sewing machines such as Janome, Brother, or Singer, or one of the many generic ones on the market. They are readily available at your local haberdashery or Amazon or eBay. Before purchasing, you will need to know whether your machine has a high shank or low shank.
Here is how to use a walking foot including the best stitches, and needles, and attaching it to your sewing machine.
What Stitches to Use with a Walking Foot
The walking foot is not very versatile in terms of the kind of stitches it can do. It likes to stick to the straight and narrow!
The walking foot will not do a reverse stitch or fancy wide decorative stitches. The walking foot is best used for straight stitching and for the completion of quilts using the space bar included with a walking foot kit.
A walking foot is best with a straight stitch or narrow width stitches.
What Needle to Use with a Walking Foot
Just use your regular needles which will be matched to your fabric. If you are sewing thicker or bulkier fabrics, make sure you choose a thicker needle that will not break.
- Quilts – Quilting Needles
- Leather – Leather Needles
- Cotton Straps – Thicker Universal Needles
Further reading – Types of Sewing Machine Needle
What Thread to Use with a Walking Foot
Once again the thread should match the fabric you are sewing. I would recommend a strong thread since you will be sewing bulky or difficult fabrics.
Further reading – Types of Thread
Supplies You Will Need
All you need is your walking foot and a screwdriver to undo the screw that normally holds on your all-purpose sewing foot. Most machines come with an appropriately sized screwdriver. You can see here the walking foot in comparison to my regular foot and the screw that needed to be removed.
How to Use a Walking Foot on Your Machine
Setting up your machine to use a walking foot may take a bit of time and practice, but it is not difficult. Firstly you need to remove the current presser foot and presser foot holder. Keep the screw from the presser foot holder on one side or try not to remove it completely. Put the presser foot in a safe place.
Make sure your needle is up and out of the way. Slip the walking foot into place and screw it in firmly. It can be a bit fiddly, but practice makes perfect and you will succeed. Use the screwdriver utility from your machine to ensure the screw is tightened.
When attaching the walking foot, the other essential part of the attachment is the claw-like extension at the side of the foot. It is a lever that needs to be set over the needle bar.
This is just a resting position, but as the needle bar drives the needle, the lever of the walking foot will move in unison with the needle. This will make sure that the serrated feeds of the walking foot and the feed dogs of the machine will work together.
My Janome lever is a straight bar that just sits on top of the needle bar. Other brands have a claw-like end that goes around the needle bar.
It is all about the synchronization of the top and bottom feeds as they work over and under the fabric.
The quilting bar that comes with the walking foot is an extra part of the attachment and is ideal for quilting. Slide it through the holes provided on the walking foot and set it at the desired width to sew evenly spaced lines along the quilt. The bar is not essential for other sewing projects, but very useful for keeping an equal distance of stitching for quilted projects.
Stitching with the Walking Foot
Sewing with the walking foot is not that different from straight stitching with a regular foot. You will thread your bobbin as normal. When sewing, it is best to go a little slower so the mechanism has time to walk up and down smoothly. My Janome has a switch on the foot pedal than can go from high speed to low speed. If your machine doesn’t have a speed regulator, then just go easy on the pedal.
Don’t forget that this foot won’t go backward so just start near the edge and go forwards.
To stop the ends from unraveling, pull the threads to the back and knot the ends. Another way to secure the ends would be to make the first inch or so really small stitches. Put the length down to 0.5 and then switch to your regular length.
Further reading – How to Stop and Start Seams
If your foot is not working smoothly here are some suggested remedies.
|Foot not walking smoothly||Check it is attached correctly to the machine. In particular, check the screw and that the lever is over the needle bar.|
|Won’t backstitch||It is not designed to sew in reverse. Go forwards. Tie the ends of the threads to stop unraveling|
|Skipping stitches||This is more likely your needle. Check the type and replace it if damaged or bent. Also, check the thread is appropriate weight and type.|
|Won’t attach to the machine||Check for brand compatibility|
When you are sewing really bulky fabrics or quits then the walking foot really is the best option. For other finer fabrics like Lycra and knits, there is another alternative. You can use a Teflon presser foot. This much smaller, the regular-sized foot can just snap on and is much easier to maneuver and sew curves. Because the foot is coated or made entirely from Teflon it glides over fabric that would normally stick and result in uneven or skipped stitches.
Further reading – Teflon Foot
Now you know how to use a walking foot, it is important to try out the new gadget on scraps of fabric to test drive the walking foot. You will be amazed at the difference it makes to sewing knits. After you have finished you may not want to go back to your normal presser foot.
Caution! This foot responds best to slower speeds so set the pace at a slower tempo.
Your walking foot will behave beautifully on bulky fabrics, stretch knits, and slippery fabrics.