What Is the Walking Foot on Your Sewing Machine Used For in Patchwork/Quilting?

Updated on April 11, 2016
JanTUB profile image

Quilter, author, tutor, columnist, Jan T Urquhart Baillie has been enthusing others with her passion for quilting for more than 30 years.

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:

attaching bindings

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.

Top Tip

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Sewing continuous curves

    Curved quilting across the patches in a quilt in a form of outline quilting.

  5. 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

Machine Quilting Made Easy! (The Joy of Quilting)
Machine Quilting Made Easy! (The Joy of Quilting)

The definitive book for beginning machine quilters. I recommend this to anyone who is just starting out using the walking foot for machine quilting.

There are exercise for tension settings, needle choices, threads, and once you have mastered the walking foot, there are exercises using free motion quilting.

5 stars from me, Maurine!

 

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.

3. Stitch in the ditch

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.

Disappearing act

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.

Traditional cables

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

nearly

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

Gentle curves

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

    © 2009 Jan T Urquhart Baillie

    Machine Quilting made easy - Did you learn anything new?

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      • profile image

        Queenie 

        11 days ago

        Great ideas. I’m new to quilting and need all the help I can get. Thank you!

      • profile image

        Suzz 

        6 months ago

        Great ideas/suggestions for something different to try. Will use same soon as I am quilting my GGS's quilt which has a center-pieced panel surrounded by many many borders. This approach will definitely work as I have just started planning my quilting designs for this queen top. Thank you.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        18 months ago from Australia

        Eileen,

        Have you tried these ideas yet? How did you go?

      • profile image

        Eileen Tobin 

        23 months ago

        Thanks so much for sharing this info on using the walking foot for more tha stitch in the ditch. I just started using swirls on borders and I can't wait to try your designs on my next quilt! Great tips...thanks so much!

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        2 years ago from Australia

        Tineke:

        Let me know how you go, and good luck.

        Mary Liz:

        Ask at your dealer for a lesson in attaching the foot, then you will love it!

      • profile image

        Tineke 

        2 years ago

        loved the tutorial, a bit scared of free motion quilting but I think I can do the walking foot one! I have an Elna 6003 Quilter that came with walking foot and 1/4 foot so handy as it was made for the machine. Thank you so much!

      • profile image

        Mary Liz 

        2 years ago

        I have a new Brothers sewing machine, a walking foot did not come with it so I used my daughters. It was so clumsy and hard to get on, then fell off in the middle of sewing! I hated the thing

      • kimberlyschimmel profile image

        Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 

        4 years ago from Greensboro, NC

        I love my walking foot when dealing with heavy fabrics like denim as well as for quilts.

      • kindoak profile image

        kindoak 

        5 years ago

        I had no idea what a walking foot was before i found this lens. Very interesting. We were just talking about t-shirt quilting at home so this may come in handy!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        5 years ago

        yes I did. Thanks

      • MamaRuth profile image

        MamaRuth 

        5 years ago

        Very, very helpful information for this beginner!

      • SewingMama profile image

        SewingMama 

        6 years ago

        Wonderful lens -- it's difficult to find info for newbs with a walking foot. Thanks got making my life -- and projects -- easier!

      • SoSimplyStephanie profile image

        Stephanie 

        6 years ago from DeFuniak Springs

        I dabble in sewing the basic stuff but have never made a quilt. I have 'foots' that come with my sewing machine but have no idea how to use them, or the button hole foot for that matter. Very good to know. I think I will stick around your lenses for a while and see can't I learn something ;)

      • accfuller profile image

        accfuller 

        6 years ago

        This is a very detailed lens! Great job!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Is It possible to get a walking foot for a Crownpoint sewing machine?

      • canoz profile image

        Heather Bradford 

        6 years ago from Canada

        I have a basic machine and it handles most quilting needs with the walking foot in place. Essential tool and very worthy topic to share!! Thank you.

      • gottaloveit2 profile image

        gottaloveit2 

        6 years ago

        I am the last person on earth to have anything to do with sewing (I'm horrible at it). I am, though, passing this lens over to a friend who does quilting by hand. Nicely done.

      • profile image

        RobinDM 

        6 years ago

        I always wondered what a walking foot was for and now I know! Thank you so much!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        @JanTUB: Thanks Jan. I'll give it a try.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @anonymous: Hi Marsha

        No you always work with feed dogs up when using the walking foot, otherwise it won't sew.

        Thanks for your question.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        When quilting curves using a walking foot, do you lower the bottom feed dogs the same as when you do free motion quilting?

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @Lilly-n-Lloyd: Thanks for dropping in.

      • profile image

        Lilly-n-Lloyd 

        6 years ago

        My mom was a seamstress so I knew what a walking foot was but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Great details in this lens. Thanks.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @Scarlettohairy: If you Google the make and model for a walking foot, you might be able to get one. Good luck with it!

      • Genjud profile image

        Genjud 

        6 years ago

        Oh, how I love my walking foot. Pfaff has the built in one that is so great. It also is a

        great addition for doing a nice zigzag applique stitch that I love. Great lens.

      • Scarlettohairy profile image

        Peggy Hazelwood 

        6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

        Nice! My sewing machine is so old that I'm not sure I could find a walking foot for it. Great info!

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @Genjud: The dual feed foot on Bernina 8 series and on Pfaff machines is brilliant. I'm glad you popped in, thanks.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @Kitty Levee: Thanks for visiting!

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @Linda Pogue: I find they soften the harder lines of a pieced quilt, and are great on wide borders that don't need fabulous quilting, just interesting. Thanks for dropping in!

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        6 years ago from Australia

        @anonymous: Did you find it easier now you have some 'insider' tips?

        Have fun!

      • Kitty Levee profile image

        Kitty Levee 

        7 years ago

        Very nice lens. I like the diagrams of quilting. Very helpful! Thanks. 8))

      • Linda Pogue profile image

        Linda Pogue 

        7 years ago from Missouri

        I did not know how to make the free form curve grids. This is interesting. I will try it soon. I like the idea of stippling in some of the squares, too. Nice lens. I gave it a thumbs up!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

        I am working on my first quilt and I have those buckles in my quilt. I just purchased my walking foot so I am very excited to finish off the quilt using the walking foot. Thanks that the tips.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        7 years ago from Australia

        @freaknoodles1: Have the best fun with it! Thanks for dropping by.

      • freaknoodles1 profile image

        freaknoodles1 

        7 years ago

        I just got a walking foot for my machine, hoping to attempt my first quilt. Thanks for showing how many variations you can do when quilting with the walking foot.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        7 years ago from Australia

        @BuckHawkcenter: You have to learn something new every day before you die! That's your thing for today!

        Thanks for dropping by, Susan.

      • BuckHawkcenter profile image

        BuckHawkcenter 

        7 years ago

        Ah, Jan, I see what you mean. Learned much from this lens. Thanks for sharing!

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        7 years ago from Australia

        Thanks for those nice comments!

      • Brookelorren LM profile image

        Brookelorren LM 

        7 years ago

        I didn't really know much about this subject before (I sew, but not quilts), so this was really good. You did a really good job explaining it.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        8 years ago from Australia

        @Faye Rutledge: Thanks for saying that!

      • Faye Rutledge profile image

        Faye Rutledge 

        8 years ago from Concord VA

        You did a great job of explaing a walking foot and what you can do with it. Very nice lens.

      • JanTUB profile imageAUTHOR

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        8 years ago from Australia

        @ZenandChic: I'm so glad you liked it, and learned something too. Thanks for the blessing.

      • ZenandChic profile image

        Patricia 

        8 years ago

        Yes. Very nice lens! Blessed by an angel!

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