What Is the Walking Foot on Your Sewing Machine Used For in Patchwork/Quilting?
So many quilting jobs can be tackled with a walking foot.
A 'walking' foot for your sewing machine is essential if you are a quiltmaker. It is used for several purposes:
straight line quilting
curves —yes curves!Let me (Jan T Urquhart Baillie) show you how to use your walking foot for quilting your quilts.
What is a walking foot?
and why do I need one?
Many domestic sewing machines, especially those sold as 'quilting machines', come with one of these. This foot is a foot with its own feed dogs to move the top layer of fabric, while the machine's feed dogs move the bottom layer.
As the fabric is proceeding under the needle, the machine's feed dogs grip the bottom layer of fabric and pull it through the machine so that the stitches are formed in a line.
This special sewing machine foot prevents the top layer of fabric from shifting by moving it under the needle at the same rate as the machine's feed dogs are moing the bottom layer, preventing puckering and pleating of the layers.
A walking foot is essential for pucker-free, straight line machine quilting. It is a handy tool to have when you sew together the multi-layers of a rag quilt and when you work with heavy fabrics such as denim.
I use my walking foot for several processes in producing a quilt:
• Attaching the binding
• Straight line or grid quilting
• Ditch stitching the top to the backing (lining) through the sandwich
• Continuous curve quilting
• Free form cables— Jan T Urquhart Baillie
What should I look for in a walking foot?
You MUST buy the correct foot
A walking foot is designed to move (feed) the top fabric under the needle at the same rate as the feed dogs are moving the bottom fabric, eliminating puckering or pleating.
The space between both the foot feed dogs or sliders and the machine feed dogs must be equal or this won't happen.
You MUST buy the correct foot for YOUR machine brand and model.
A generic foot may not match the feed dogs in your machine and you won't achieve what needs to happen.
Five reasons you need a walking foot: - when making patchwork quilts
- Attaching the binding
If you attempt to attach a binding to your quilt with a utility foot, then the top will slide along as you sew, and the quilt will be puckered underneath the binding when you turn it back. If you apply the binding with the walking foot attached, then you should avoid this problem.
- Straight line or grid quilting
Sewing a grid across the quilt surface can be a trap for unwary players, without the walking foot attached to your machine. Pulling along the rows is a result that you want to avoid.
Many walking feet have a guide arm which attaches so you can quilt in set distances from the previous row, for a grid or line pattern.
- Stitching in the ditch
This is stitching very close to the seam on the low side of two adjoining patches, to stabilise the quilt, before any design quilting is attempted.
- Sewing continuous curves
Curved quilting across the patches in a quilt in a form of outline quilting.
- Sewing free-form curves
Using the walking foot to create curved grids or cables across the surface, making the quilting simple and effective.
You can be an expert - if you use this book
1. Sewing on the binding
using your walking foot
Because the quilt is three layers, and the binding is usually two thicknesses of fabric, that means you are trying to stitch together five layers of fabric when you are attaching binding. Thicker battings mean even more depth under the needle.
If you sew on the binding with a walking foot attached to your sewing machine, the layers will be more likely to stay together, and minimal shifting (if any) will occur.
2. Straight line quilting
for traditional grids
In old quilts you often see rows of parallel running stitches from one side of the quilt to the other. As well, you see another set crossing the first lines, making a grid.
Hanging diamonds was a very common quilting design when quilts were hand quilted in large floor quilting frames.
It's easy to emulate these grid designs using your sewing machine and the walking foot. You can use masking tape to set the widths, or if your foot has a guide attachment, you can set that so the rows are spaced evenly apart.
Read this blog - for some great info about straight line quilting
- Tallgrass Prairie Studio: Straight Line Quilting...Hints and Tips
Excellent blog about straight line quilting.
3. Stitch in the ditch
What is stitching in the ditch?
Stitching in the ditch is when you stitch very close to the seam on the low side of two adjoining patches.
The idea is to quilt so close that the stitches are not seen, 'just the valley'.
In the extreme close-up here you can see the white stitches close to the blue fabric.
The same patches as in the close up picture on the right ...
An almost invisible stitch line.
Practice makes perfect
Low side: High side
When you press your patchwork, it's usual to press to one side, making a 'low' and a 'high' side. The high side is most often the darker of the two patches, and a little ridge is formed along the seam.
Stitch as close as you can to the high side, without jumping up onto the high side. If you slip up, and stitch on the dark fabric, your stitching will show.
For perfect ditch stitching, spread the work slightly with your hands as it goes under the needle.
When you release the quilt, the stitching should disappear into the valley of the seam.
In theory, you could ditch stitch with black thread on a white quilt and only see the valley, not the stitching.
4. Continuous curves
by Barbara Johannah
A very interesting way to quilt a quilt.
If you had a bobbin that never ran out, you could start on one edge of the quilt and keep going around the patches until you finished.
The curves on the back form interlocking circles.
You start at the junction of the patches, swing out to the centre of the side, at about ¼" away from the seam.
You swing back to the next patch junction, and proceed in the same fashion, until each patch on the quilt is quilted.
Well, almost traditional.
Great for a border, or for the sashing on the quilt, these cables are easy to manage with your walking foot.
As you move the quilt from side to side in gentle arcs, not too deep, count 1-2-3-swing-right, 1-2-3-swing-left, and you will get an even distance between the cross-over points.
Return to the top for the second side, and reverse the direction of the first swing.
You could also put marking or masking tape either side for the width.
Evenly spaced traditional-style cables
If you want the cable loops to be more or less the same size, you could draw some gauge markings at regular intervals along a long border.
Beautifully even cable, as near as
5. Free style curves too
You can create gentle curves to make quilting lines that are more interesting than straight lines. If you've tried free machining and found it wasn't for you, then this will let you do some 'free-machining' style quilting.
How does it work?
As you sew you simply move the quilt from side to side in gentle arcs, not too deep, and not evenly spread apart.
This image shows the quilting on a quilt border.
This is especially good for casual quilts, or quilts that need to be washed a lot, like those made for children.
At left you see a diagram of how the lines can overlap and give you a smart effect for a border.
Baby Elephant Walk - completely quilted and bound with a walking foot on my Bernina
Queen size bed quilt, designed in Electric Quilt 5
© Jan T Urquhart Baillie 2001-2020
Free form curved grids
more interesting than straight grids
Once you master the gentle curves in a long border, why not try these gentle swings to make a grid across an entire quilt.
Use this instead of stitching in the ditch to anchor the quilt.
The square grid in the background represents blocks sewn together into a quilt, and the curved grid is so effective across the diagonals of the blocks.
You don't need to mark the quilting lines, just aim for the corner of the block. The secret is that the lines are curved, so they won't always meet the corner exactly! Cool!
I have stitched a grid across a very plain scrap quilt and then stippled in every other 'square' on the curved grid. It was so effective, especially on the back, where the quilting was more visible.
Questions & Answers
Any suggestions for quilting a border that had prairie points above the start of the 4" border?
You could try holding the points away from the foot as you stitch below them. In this way you won't make them flattened. Another way might be to stitch on top of them, 1/4" away from where they are attached to the border. Have fun deciding.Helpful 2
Will this walking foot work for a thick padded quilt?
If you pin quite closely across the areas that you want to sew, it should be able to work. Perhaps the quilt would suit tying instead, if it is really thick.
© 2009 Jan T Urquhart Baillie