Sewing Machine Walking Foot | The Comprehensive Guide

The sewing machine walking foot is one of the most useful machine attachments for quilting. Learn how it works, how to install it, and how to use a walking foot for quilting.

You might have heard of this gorgeous little thing. It may look like a funny crab-like creature, but it is amazing how much easier your life gets when you start using it.

Yup, you’ve guessed it! It’s the sewing machine walking foot. And if this is the first time you’re hearing of it, after reading this article you’ll wish you knew about it sooner. 

But we want to know everything there is to know, so we’ll start at the beginning…

sewing machine walking foot

What Is A Sewing Machine Walking Foot?

A sewing machine walking foot, sometimes also called an even feed foot, is a special presser foot that you use on your sewing machine (in place of your regular presser foot) that helps you manage the layers of fabric you are sewing together. Its main purpose is to help you feed multiple layers of fabric through the machine without them puckering or shifting.

It looks like a fairly large presser foot, made of metal and plastic. 

It is very useful in all sorts of sewing projects (for example when you’re sewing heavy materials, slippery fabrics, or bulky projects), but we are talking quilting here. And this is where it gets really exciting.

What does a Sewing Machine walking foot do?

To really understand how the sewing machine walking foot attachment works, we’re going to need to get technical for a bit. Are you with me?

Take a close look at the bed of your sewing machine. That is the part underneath the needle. You will see toothed metal bars in the slots of the needle plate. These are called feed dogs. (See the little teeth in the picture below?)

feed dogs on sewing machine

Try slowly turning the handwheel and you will see the feed dogs moving back and forth as the needle goes up and down. The purpose of this is to move the fabric through the machine.

If you’ve ever tried quilting your quilt sandwich with a regular presser foot, you’ve probably noticed that it can be very hard to move all the layers under the needle evenly. That is because a regular presser foot presses down on the fabric and can sometimes push against the fabric while the feed dogs on the machine feed the fabric through the machine (in the opposite direction).

The walking foot attachment, on the other hand, has a whole set of feed dogs on the bottom. This set of feed dogs works in harmony with the feed dogs in the bed of the machine to move all the layers through the machine evenly.

To put it in other words, the machine’s feed dogs move the bottom layer of the quilt sandwich and the foot’s feed dogs move the top layer of the sandwich at the same pace.

How To Use A Walking Foot for Quilting and Beyond

Now that you understand what a sewing machine walking foot does, it’s much easier to appreciate everything it can do for you – in quilting and your other sewing projects.

Here is where the walking foot comes in super handy:

Straight line machine quilting

1 – Walking Foot for Machine Quilting

First and foremost, a sewing machine walking foot is indispensable when machine quilting. It will keep your quilt sandwich (the three layers: your quilt top, batting, and backing) together and move them through the machine evenly. It prevents puckering and unwanted pleats. We use it religiously for quilting – I would never even attempt machine quilting without a walking foot! Whether you’re quilting something as small as a table runner or a whole quilt, a walking foot is a must. It works perfectly for straight-line machine quilting designs, stitch-in-the-ditch quilting, and even gently curved lines.

sewing binding on a quilt

2 – Binding with a Walking Foot

The walking foot is amazing for binding your quilts. When sewing binding you stitch multiple layers of fabric. Without a walking foot, the layers would shift, which can be such a hassle. Use a walking foot to ensure an even feed of all the layers and perfect clean lines.

3 – Piecing (Especially When Matching Prints)

A sewing machine walking foot can help you immensely when you’re trying to piece striped or checkered fabrics together. For example, if you’re trying to sew two striped pieces together with the stripes perfectly aligned, the walking foot will keep both layers in place. This way the layers won’t shift and you will get the perfect alignment you’re looking for.

Sew Strips of Fabric Into Rows

4 – Long Seam Sewing

The walking foot attachment can also help with long seam sewing. Long seam sewing is sewing together very long pieces of fabric at a time. You will often do this if you’re working on a pattern that uses the strip piecing technique. You’ll love this technique as it really speeds up the piecing process. However, as you are sewing very long seams, it can also cause the fabric to accumulate which causes bunching and ripples. The walking foot does a great job of keeping the layers in place.

5 – Sewing Stretch Fabrics with a Walking Foot

If you like to work with stretchy materials and are having trouble with getting even seams, try attaching the walking foot and see if that helps. The way the walking foot feeds the material through the machine can be very helpful when dealing with stretchy fabrics. It prevents fabric shifting and misalignment of the stretchy material. It will also help you achieve a consistent seam. When using a walking foot with stretch fabrics, I also recommend you use a stretch or ballpoint needle and select a stretch stitch on your sewing machine if available. 

6 – Other Projects 

As you can see, a sewing machine walking foot is a really versatile gadget. It comes in handy for so many different uses. I just wanted to add as a reminder, that anytime you’re working on a project where the layers seem to be pushing through the machine unevenly, try using the walking foot! That’s often when you’re working on something with multiple (3 or more) layers or where you have layers made of different materials. If you’re experiencing problems with how the machine feeds the fabrics, try the walking foot. It’s often the magic solution you’d been wishing for!

How to Install a Walking Foot 

Of course, before you can start sewing with a walking foot, you will need to install it. I will try to explain how to attach a walking foot on my machine (a Janome Skyline S5). This process should be similar for all domestic sewing machines, but keep in mind your machine might have its specifics. Please refer to your machine’s user manual when in doubt.

Required Tools:

– Sewing machine
– Walking foot

Here is how you install a sewing machine walking foot:

Step 1: Prepare your machine

First, make sure the needle is in its highest position. If it’s not, turn the handwheel towards you to bring the needle up. Raise your presser foot so it’s lifted away from the metal plate.

Step 2: Remove the presser foot with the adaptor

You will need to remove the presser foot that is currently installed, along with the presser foot adaptor (the small metal part that the presser foot is attached to). Using a screwdriver unscrew the screw on the side of the adaptor. To unscrew, turn the screwdriver anticlockwise.

Place both the presser foot and the adaptor somewhere safe, so you don’t lose them! You will need the screw you just removed to attach the walking foot.

Step 4: Place the walking foot on the shank

Hold your sewing machine walking foot and raise the lever on the right. Holding the lever raised, hook the walking foot around the shank.

Step 5: Screw the walking foot on the shank

Align the sewing machine walking foot along the shank so you can insert the screw. Using a screwdriver, screw the walking foot onto the shank by turning the screwdriver clockwise.

Step 6: Do a final check

Make sure the sewing machine walking foot is attached securely. Also, check that the foot’s lever is lying on top of the needle bar. It won’t make a stitch if it’s underneath it!

Voila! Your walking foot is ready to walk 🙂

How to Sew with a Walking Foot

Sewing with a sewing machine walking foot is not much different from sewing with a regular presser foot. (Except for the headache it saves you by feeding the fabric neatly through the machine.)

If you’re using a walking foot for the first time, go a bit slower to get the hang of it.

Also, remember that because of the way the feed dogs on the sewing machine walking foot move the fabric forward, it is not meant to reverse stitch – however it might be okay to do a few reverse stitches to secure the seam.

I have found that on my machine (which is a Janome Skyline S5) those couple of reverse stitches are fine. Check your machine manual to see if your machine and walking foot attachment allow you to do that.

Depending on what you are sewing, you might want to secure the stitches another way. I recommend you pull the threads to the back and secure the stitch with a knot on the beginning and the end of a seam.

Of course, if your machine has this feature, let the machine do the work and lock the stitch automatically.

What Needle To Use With A Walking Foot

The fact that you’re using a sewing machine walking foot doesn’t really affect the choice of a needle. Use the needle that is appropriate for the chosen fabric.

We normally use a universal needle size 70 (10) for piecing and an 80 (12) for quilting.

What Thread To Use With A Walking Foot

Similar to the needle question, a sewing machine walking foot attachment doesn’t affect the type of thread you should choose. Use a thread appropriate for the type of material you are using. Read our thread guide for more information on which thread to use for quilitng.

Walking Foot Troubleshooting

I haven’t had much trouble with the sewing machine walking foot myself, so far it’s been pretty smooth sailing. However, there are certain questions that seem to come up. Below are some of the most common that will hopefully help you out if you’ve got problems.

If there’s something else you have an issue with, let us know in the comments below and we’ll try to help.

Walking foot doesn’t reverse stitch

Good news! That’s not really a problem. The sewing machine walking foot is not meant to reverse stitch. That’s because  of the way its feed dogs move the fabric through the machine. I have found (as I explain above) that it’s OK to do a few reverse stitches to secure the seam, but consult your sewing machine manual for your specific machine to see if you can do that on your machine.

I Can’t attach a walking foot

If you have trouble installing your walking foot, there might be a problem with the compatibility of your machine and walking foot. Please check the user manuals or contact your seller. 

Walking foot does not stitch

Check if you installed the sewing machine walking foot correctly. If the needle seems to get blocked when you lower it, check that the lever of the walking foot is lying OVER the needle bar and not under. That seems to happen a lot. Otherwise, follow our walking foot installation tutorial above to see if you set up everything correctly.

That’s it, friends. I hope you’ve learned everything you need to know about the walking foot. Now, like with everything else in quilting, it’s time to put what you learned into practice. Happy quilting!

Further Reading

Finish a Quilt in 3 steps

If you’re new to quilting and you’re overwhelmed with how to finish a quilt, here are the 3 basic steps with links to useful tutorials:

How to Baste a Quilt >

Machine Quilting for Beginners >
Inspiring Straight Line Quilting Designs >

The Ultimate Quilt Binding Tutorial >

If you prefer, you can follow our beginner-friendly tutorial on How to make a quilt from start to finish.


Share it with your quilty friends!

4 thoughts on “Sewing Machine Walking Foot | The Comprehensive Guide”

  1. Why does the needle loosen (sometimes fall off) from the needle bar when I’m using the walking foot, it can be very frustrating , am I doing something wrong? It’s a Janome machine
    Looking forward to your response 🙂

    1. Ula | Designed to Quilt

      Hey Chris, I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s definitely happened to me, as well, so I feel your pain haha. I think it might be because the walking foot lever rests on top of the needle set screw – perhaps it loosens the screw just a tiny bit every time the needle goes up and down. Or my other theory – that you accidentally unscrew it slightly when attaching the walking foot.
      What works for me is fastening the needle set screw (turning it clockwise) every time I change the presser foot. I haven’t had any problems since I started doing that. I hope that helps!

    1. Ula | Designed to Quilt

      Usually when I used to get puckers, it was because I didn’t use enough pins when basting. I’ve learned to use more pins and don’t get any more puckers. Another option is that the pressure of your pressure foot is off. Generally for thicker fabrics and multiple layers (I’m guessing you’re quilting with your walking foot) you might need to decrease the pressure. (On the other hand, if you’re sewing thin fabrics, you’d need to increase the pressure.) Hope that helps!

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