How To Use A Walking Foot For Quilting

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

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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 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…

What is a walking foot?

A 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 walking foot do?

To really understand how the 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. 

Feed dogs

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

Why Use a Walking Foot for Quilting

Now that you understand what a walking foot does, it’s much easier to appreciate everything it can do for you in quilting. And if you’ve been wondering what a walking foot is used for, you’ll see it is in fact very versatile.

Walking Foot for Machine Quilting

First and foremost, it is indispensable when machine quilting. It will keep your quilt top, your batting, and your backing together and move them through the machine evenly. It works perfectly for machine quilting straight lines and even gently curved lines.

Piecing with a Walking Foot

Secondly, it is also great for piecing, especially 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.

Long Seam Sewing

Thirdly, the walking foot can also help with long seam sewing. Long seam sewing is sewing together very long pieces of fabric at a time. This can really speed 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.

Binding with a Walking Foot

Last but not least, a walking foot is amazing for binding your quilt. 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.

What Needle to use with a Walking Foot

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

We’re working on a quilter’s needle guide, so we’ll share some more information on choosing the right type of needle soon.

What Thread to use with a Walking Foot

Similar to the needle question, a 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. For a beginner, I recommend using a good all-purpose polyester thread, which will work great in most of your sewing projects.

How to Install a Walking Foot 

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 own specifics. Please refer to your machine’s user manual when in doubt.

This is how you install a walking foot:

  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.

  2. Remove the presser foot

    You will need to remove the presser foot that is currently installed. To do this, press the lever (or button) on the backside of the presser foot adaptor. The presser foot should snap right off.

  3. Remove the presser foot adaptor

    The presser foot adaptor is the small metal part that the presser foot was 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.

    Installing a Walking Foot on a Sewing Machine

  4. Place the walking foot on the shank

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

    Installing a Walking Foot on a Sewing Machine

  5. Screw the walking foot on the shank

    Align the 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.

  6. Do a final check

    Make sure the 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

Now that your walking foot is securely attached, you can start sewing.

Sewing with a walking foot is not much different from sewing with a regular presser foot. (Except all 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 walking foot move the fabric forward, it is impossible to reverse stitch with it.

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 machine.

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

Walking Foot Troubleshooting

I haven’t had much trouble with the 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 walking foot is not meant to reverse stitch. It would be impossible for it to do so because of the way its feed dogs move the fabric through the machine. So no reverse stitching with the walking foot.

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 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’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 5 steps

If you’re new to quilting and you’re overwhelmed with how to finish a quilt, here are the 5 basic steps with useful links:

  1. Choose backing for your quilt (we also show you how to calculate yardage here).
  2. Choose batting for your quilt.
  3. Baste the quilt.
  4. Quilt the quilt sandwich (either machine quilt it with a walking foot or hand quilt it).
  5. Make quilt binding and bind your quilt.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small comission if you make a purchase on any of the affiliated sites (with no additional cost to you). Learn more here.

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