What is a Walking Foot and How To Use One

Welcome to the fifth lesson in the Beginner’s Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel! Download the ebook for free!

This lesson is part of the Tools To Make Sewing Knits Easier section in the guide, and it just might change your life! Okay maybe not your life, but it will make sewing knits on your sewing machine a bajillion times easier.

What Is A Walking Foot and Why I Love Mine

If you’ve ever sewn knits on your sewing machine with a regular foot, you may have experienced a couple of common issues:

  1. Your machine kept “eating” your fabric. This means that your fabric kept getting sucked under the plate as you tried to sew. Which usually results in a big wad of chewed up fabric and thread. It also results in many expletives shouted at your machine.
  2. Your seams ended up looking really wavy. These waves can’t be ironed out either. So you spend all day working on a beautiful project only to end up with a garment that “looks homemade”. Blech.

These problems occur because sewing machines don’t have what’s called a differential feed. A differential feed is when a machine has two sets of feed dogs to evenly feed the fabric under the foot. You can see the two sets of feed dogs on my serger in this picture:

A sewing machine only has one set of feed dogs, as seen in this picture:

In this scenario, your fabric is getting pulled and stretched as it goes under the foot. With woven fabrics, this is no big deal because they don’t stretch. Knit fabrics, however, have stretch to them. So pulling them through your machine like that produces waves and makes it easier for them to get sucked underneath the sewing plate to be munched up by your machine.

A walking foot, or even feed foot, has a set of “teeth” on the underside that move in sync with your machine’s feed dogs to help feed it evenly through your machine. You can see these teeth on the bottom of my walking foot here:

This extra set of teeth is God’s greatest gift to you, new sewer of knit fabrics! It does a fabulous job preventing wavy seams and helps stabilize the fabric to keep it from getting sucked into your machine. I mean check out this super drapey, lightweight knit fabric seam I sewed with my walking foot:

No, I didn’t press it. Don’t flat seams just make you as happy as a ray of sunshine?

Where You Can Find Them

Unfortunately, walking feet are not universal. You’ll want to make sure you get the right one for your machine. My first step is always to call around local shops. Most sewing stores will carry a small assortment of walking feet. If you can’t find one locally, there are tons available on Amazon. And once again, double check that whatever one you purchase is compatible with your machine model.

How to Install and Use It

Switching out sewing machine feet is a breeze. Check out this video of me demonstrating how to install and use your new walking foot if you haven’t done it before:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08TdKvP0Gtw]

Alternatives to a Walking Foot

While a walking foot is not necessarily an expensive accessory, I understand affordability can be an issue at times. Or perhaps you need to finish a knit project quickly and you don’t have access to one locally or time to wait to order one online. If that is the case there are still some alternatives you can consider.

Tissue Paper

The first alternative is wrapping tissue paper. You know, the stuff you use to bag birthday presents with. When you are pinning your fabric pieces together, simply pin some tissue paper along the back side with it.

What is a Walking Foot and How to Use One For Sewing Knits.

What is a Walking Foot and How to Use One For Sewing Knits.

Sew over the fabric and tissue paper as usual, then rip it off when you are finished sewing your seam. The tissue paper will stabilize your fabric and prevent the feed dogs from stretching it as you’re sewing. That means no wavy seams and no eaten fabric.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Messy when you rip it off to clean up the seams
  • More work to set up. You’ll have a lot of pieces of tissue paper strewn about your sewing space by time the project is over with.

Hemming Tape

Another common alternative to a walking foot is washable hemming tape. This tape is ironed onto the underside of your fabric and used as a stabilizer just like the tissue paper. The nice thing about the hemming tape is that it doesn’t leave a mess to clean up like ripping off the tissue paper does (just make sure you buy the wash-away kind). The obvious downside, however, is that you will find yourself going through it pretty quickly. And a couple bucks per roll adds up over time.

What is a Walking Foot and How to Use One For Sewing Knits.

Pros:

  • Helps make perfectly even hems
  • Washes away (make sure you buy the wash-away kind)
  • Easy to apply

Cons:

  • Not practical to use on all of your seams
  • Expensive
  • Difficult to use on itty bitty clothes for small children

All in all, if you have the time and ability to get one, a walking foot is a much better solution to these alternatives. They are great solutions when you’re in a pinch, but if you intend on sewing knits frequently on your sewing machine, a walking foot is worth the investment.


Editor’s Note: Enjoying this fundamental sewing technique? Put it to use on our Mae Poncho!


TIPS FROM THE PROS:

We love that sewing allows us to have clothes that fit our bodies and personal style. However, we still want our clothing to look professional and well-made and we couldn’t quite pinpoint why we weren’t getting that effect. Then we found about three little notions: hem tape, craft clips and a twin stretch needle.

– Hem tape: We use and sell the brand Wonder Tape but the basic idea is that you iron this fusible strip of tape to the inside of your hem and then iron over the other side. It creates a crisp, clean line for you to stitch over and dissolves once washed.

– Craft clips: Once we switched out our pins for clips we’ve never looked back. They come in a variety of sizes and can be used for multiple projects and perhaps most importantly, no more pricked fingers! I personally use approximately 1,000,000 clips when I am tackling a neckline but it helps me avoid puckering and gaps.

Twin stretch needle: You need this. Right now. Having the right type of needle for the right fabric makes things so much easier and when sewing with knits a stretch needle is key. But once we learned about using the twin stretch needle we were blown away with how much better our hem and necklines looked. A twin needle will fit most sewing machines (still one post just with two needles) and it allows you to have an even, double stitched row which gives clothing that extra bit of polish.

– Allison Jones, Vinegar and Honey Co.

 

Assignment for this lesson: If you will be sewing exclusively on a sewing machine, I highly recommend you find yourself a walking foot. If it’s not in the budget go get yourself some tissue paper (I used tissue paper the first several months I started sewing with knits).

Ready for the next lesson? Check out all the fuss about rotary cutters and how they’ll cut down your sewing time (I’m so punny…)

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8 thoughts on “What is a Walking Foot and How To Use One”

  1. Did you know that the higher end machines allow you to adjust the pressure foot pressure. This can eliminate the drag that is created from the combination of the presser foot and the feed dogs. Then you don’t need a walking foot at all.

    also, there are sewing machines with multi part feed dogs. They mimic serger feed dogs so also result in even feed without using a walking foot.

    Happy sewing!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this Tibeca! One day I will invest in a nicer sewing machine and I will definitely be looking for these features <3

  2. Can you get a walking foot for a surger (singer)? That is my issue right now I can’t find one that says it will work with the machine and I am wondering if walking feet ever go on sergers.
    Thanks
    Angela

    1. Hey Angela! Walking feet cannot be used with sergers. My recommendation is to use a serger with a differential feed (many at-home sergers do). This will give you all of the control you’ll need with knits 🙂

  3. Marie-Claude Hamelin

    Hi Jessica! I have read in some places that walking foot cannot handle back stitching. How do you start and end your stitches then? Thanks!

    1. You can simply lift the pressure foot, shift the fabric back, and sew back over your last couple of stitches 🙂

      1. I can’t believe I didn’t think about shifting the walking foot back a bit to accomplish a “back stitch” – that’s brilliant! I’m a beginner using a walking foot, but have only had success if the hem is wide enough to span across all the upper feed dogs and I stitch right down the middle (if it is only in contact with some, then it becomes skewed and I have to lift the presser foot to fix it). This makes for pretty wide hems and seam allowances. Any suggestions, or does this sound normal? Thanks for the great tutorials!

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