The Walking Foot–Optional or Necessary?

On many of the supply lists for projects in Sew News, CME and Sew it All , you’ll find the following: “Optional: Walking foot for your sewing machine.”

If the designer is a little more opinionated, it may read: “Optional, but helpful …”

So what does this odd-shaped foot do, and is it: optional, helpful, or … necessary?

Image Credit: Getty
Image Credit: Getty
The walking foot helps keep thick,
slippery, or sticky fabric layers from
shifting as you sew.
This raglan knit was topstitched
without the benefit of a walking foot.
Look what a difference using
a walking foot makes!
These comparison photos
courtesy of The Sewing Workshop



Basically, the walking foot provides a gripping action from the top of the fabric which coordinates with the grip of the feed dogs which are built into the bed of your sewing machine.As the bottom feed dogs pull–or feed–the fabric under the needle so that even stitches are created, the walking foot is gripping and pulling the fabric through from the top.

So when is a walking foot “Optional”?

•  If you’re working with two layers of a fairly stable woven fabric, there is very little need for a walking foot. The pressure of your feed dogs against a standard foot provides all the friction necessary for the fabric layers to move through smoothly.

What are the “Optional, but Helpful” uses?

•  When working with laminates or oilcloth, a walking foot definitely helps to keep these “sticky” fabrics moving.

•  If you have several layers of fabric or heavier, canvas-type fabrics, it’s often difficult for the machine foot to provide enough pressure to keep the fabric layers from shifting. Frequent pinning may solve the problem, but a walking foot is, well, helpful.

And how about the “Necessary” category?

•  If you are quilting layers of fabric with batting, a walking foot keeps all the layers stable and moving smoothly. This is true whether you’re making a bed-size quilt or a small tote.

•  And here is a little known–but my new favorite use for the walking foot: topstitching on knits. No more watching the knits creep and bunch as you finish neck edges or hems. I learned this trick from Linda Lee of The Sewing Workshop and now can’t imagine working with knits without my walking foot.

That being said, may I also say that in sewing, I’m always a bit hesitant to use the word “necessary”. I’ve done a tremendous amount of fairly complex sewing on an old Sears machine which has no bells and maybe one whistle. So when I use the word “necessary”, I don’t mean that it is absolutely impossible to complete a project without it. It is simply that the process is so much less laborious and the results are so much more successful with the foot than without it.

Walking feet are not inexpensive, but depending on the type of projects you work on, your sewing can be a lot more pleasant when you use one.

Sewing machine feet perform all sorts of distinctive tasks. In the Stitch DVD: Secrets of Home Décor Sewing, Kevin Kosbab demonstrates using a zipper foot to make pillow cording. DVDs are a great way to learn something new and to enhance your current skills—to say nothing of the fun factor!

Now I’m curious—what’s your favorite foot? Are there projects you wouldn’t do without it? I’d love to know.

Happy stitching!

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18 thoughts on “The Walking Foot–Optional or Necessary?

  1. Being one of the “optional, but helpful”-writhing designers, I have to admit that my walking foot ist an absolutely essential tool for me. It wasn’t inexpensive, and at the time I bought it I had to save for it – but I would never want to miss it and it’s a frequently used foot on my sewing machine.
    Not just for slippery fabrics or (straight-line) quilting, but also for a neat topstitching on bags and clothes. Hands down for the presser foot most people think they can live without. They just don’t know what they’re missing.

  2. My non-stick foot (aka “Teflon” foot) is an absolute necessity for me. I make purses and bags frequently and use laminated fabrics along with heavier, textured or napped fabrics. These are almost impossible to sew properly without a non-stick foot.

  3. The walking foot is essential for keeping the wonkies away that like to creep up in quilting. However, I also have a old Japanese-made machine from the 50s that feeds beautifully without the walking foot that my Bernina requires.

    Those oldies have some great attachments like the ruffler and bias binder that aren’t readily available on modern machines.

  4. My favorite foot is a 1/4″ piecing foot with a guide. I bought it to sew with children that had no sewing experience, and found it so helpful, I seldom piece quilt blocks without it. I too have used a walking foot, and have actually worn out three I used them so much. My present machines have them built in, so I have to remember to put them “down” to get the job done. A walking foot certainly takes the pain out of the project when it is needed.

  5. The first foot I purchased years ago after buying my first Bernina sewing machine was a walking foot. I use it for quiting and general sewing projects all the time. I also purchased a generic walking foot that fit my old Singer portable and my antique Singer Featherweight. It was especially helpful when teaching a teenager to machine piece, machine quilt, and machine bind a small quilt for her Gobal Studies project as a graduating senior. I wouldn’t be without a walking foot for any type of sewing! Suz

  6. I sew a lot with minky fabric, and I could not make minky elephant blankets without my walking foot. Is most useful when placing the binding on a quilt, and so many other uses also……I guess that it is my most favorite foot.

  7. I sew a lot with minky fabric, and I could not make minky elephant blankets without my walking foot. Is most useful when placing the binding on a quilt, and so many other uses also……I guess that it is my most favorite foot.

  8. I sew a lot with minky fabric, and I could not make minky elephant blankets without my walking foot. Is most useful when placing the binding on a quilt, and so many other uses also……I guess that it is my most favorite foot.

  9. I see the walking-foot and the straight-stitch foot as being tools along a continuum. If I want the layers to feed evenly, and if they are on the same grain, then the walking foot works best. If one of the layers is off-grain, as in sewing a princess seam, then it helps me to use a straight stitch foot with the off-grain or bias portion next to the feed dogs. Lots of things fall in between these two.

    My straight-stitch foot is my personal favorite. You can use the fact that it advances the top-layer more rapidly to your advantage.

  10. I bought my very first Pfaff sewing machine in 1962 and it did not have a buit-in walking foot. My next 1980 model 1222E has it and after 32 years I cannot imagine doing without it. On the 7th October (last weekend) I did a Sashiko course and my latest model 2056 developed a glitch so I had to use a Bernina with a screw-on walking foot. It is heavy, too big and makes the moving around of the fabric very difficult. Three cheers for Pfaff and their built-in dual feed! Martru, South Africa

  11. I bought my Pfaff 7510 SPECIFICALLY because it had the built in walking foot.(I could have afforded a Bernina at the time.) I NEVER sew without it being engaged, and my sewing became a absolute pleasure the moment I started using my Pfaff. Even with an add-on walking foot on my old Janome, I could never sew light weight fabrics without some seam puckering. I would NEVER buy a new machine without one! And, no, I do not work for Pfaff. :-))

  12. I loved this! I have been very frustrated with knits so I will be purchasing a walking foot soon.

    My necessary foot is the rolled hem foot. I do a lot of alterations for weddings. The rolled hem foot is tricky to get started with but once you feel comfortable with it, it is fantastic for hemming those beautiful dresses. A small investment that saves a lot of time and the results are wonderful on all kinds of fabrics.

  13. I wish authors, bloggers, whoever would stress the importance of a walking foot more. Often instructions appear to be written for the average quilter, but the writer has no way of knowing how many beginner or “almost novice” quilters might be attempting this quilt. Certain assumptions are made because after all, we ALL have walking feet, don’t we? The answer is no, not really. I spent more than a year trying to machine quilt, trying to sew bindings on, trying to do a lot of projects that I would later find to be easier if I’d had a walking foot. Even though I’d sewn for more than 40 years at the time, I’d never heard of a walking foot (nor did I know that a darning foot was great for freemotion quilting). If you read many of the Facebook pages and interactive blogs, you know that there are a lot of quilters out there that either have no local quilting connections or are not aware that such exist. They are making “passable” quilts because they aren’t aware that something so small as a walking foot could change the appearance of their work. (Frankly, I’m stunned at how many novices seem to unaware of the importance of quilting the top, batting and backing together and are under the misconception that these rows of stitching are simply decorative stitching that can be left out.) While it’s certainly not the fault of the quilt designers that this information isn’t being received, maybe it should be considered when writing the instructions for a quilt. Maybe more attention needs to be given to that tiny step in the instructions where we say “Now, quilt these three pieces together. Then cut your binding strips…..”

  14. I use a quality 80/20 batting for most of my quilts. While I do a lot of free motion and sometimes stitch in the ditch with free motion, I find that a regular foot and quilting gloves allow good enough control for stitching in the ditch and attaching binding. On a throw or larger project, it helps that I use some temporary spray basting mixed with pins.

    I simply don’t bother to put the walking foot on, but to each their own….there are no absolutes in sewing.

  15. I would NEVER even think of doing a quilt /large or small/ without my walking foot…it is the MOST necessary foot I own……….I have a Bernina Artista, so that walking foot was NOT a cheap item, but it is worth every penny to me. I do a LOT of quilting for Project Linus and could never do it without that WALKING FOOT.