You might have realized by now that there are tons of different presser feet out there, ranging from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars. We're just going to cover what we consider the 9 most essential. Since our sewing school at Stonemountain is equipped with Berninas, that's what you'll be seeing, and it's worth mentioning that Bernina feet are different from what you may be used to seeing in Brothers, Singers, Janomes, etc. Most home sewing machines switch feet with a lever that drops the foot, and you just snap a new one on. True Bernina feet are attached to a shank, so they may look a little different from what you're used to, but the mechanics are the same.
Basic Presser Foot1. Just about anyone who's ever sewed before has used a basic presser foot. It sews straight. It's usually named foot #1 or foot A. That's pretty much all there is to say! However, this is the perfect opportunity to show you the difference between Bernina feet and regular feet.
What you see on the right is what most machines use. That bar on the top will snap on to the shank, seen on the left. And then that little red button will drop it. Bernina feet come with a shank attached to the foot. The shank on the left is often called an adapter, since it allows Bernina sewists to use feet like you see on the right.
2. Zipper FootMoving on, let's show you another basic, commonly used foot: the zipper foot.
|Bernina zipper foot on the left, regular zipper foot on the right.|
Rather than having two little "toes" and space in the center, the zipper foot has one central "toe." That "toe" goes on top of the zipper being installed and the needle sews on either side of this.
3. Invisible Zipper FootBut a zipper foot cannot properly install an invisible zipper, which has its own foot. Coats & Clark and YKK (two major zipper manufacturers) make invisible zipper feet, since many machines do not come with one. However, since the Coats and YKK ones are all plastic and thus a bit flimsy, getting a zipper foot made to go with your machine or your brand is probably in your best interest.
What makes an invisible zipper foot different is the grooves on the bottom. These allow you to get right up next to the zipper teeth, which is what ultimately makes it invisible.
See how the zipper teeth of one side go inside that groove on the left? The closer you can get to those teeth—without actually sewing on the teeth—the better your invisible zipper will look.
4. Overlock FootA lot of home sewists don't have sergers, so an overlock foot can be a big help. There's all kinds of these, including ones that even have a blade in them to really imitate a serger! But most machines come with a basic overlock stitch and accompanying foot that will do the trick just fine.
See that little bar the arrow is pointing to? That's what makes this foot different. Below, you'll be able to see a little thread behind that bar, while the needle goes past the edge of the fabric. This action is what allows the thread to essentially wrap around the raw edge, finishing it off with a mock overlock.
While it differs by machine, the symbol for a mock overlock stitch will often look like a zig zag stitch with a straight line next to it. Sometimes it also looks like the graph on a heart rate monitor!
5. Blind Hem FootMachines will also often come with a blind hem stitch and accompanying foot. This can go hand in hand with your mock overlock stitch!
A blind hem foot will often have some kind of metal or plastic attachment on the side of the actual foot. This will act as a guide as you sew, allowing the actual stitches to be very tiny, and therefore, blind from the right side. After attaching your foot and selecting the stitch (which always looks like a little mountain range to me), you'll fold your fabric as shown in your manual. The way we've done it below, the raw edge was first finished with a mock overlock. We folded the hem allowance up, and then flipped it back over to the right side, making another fold. That is what you see up against the guide below.
This process will make more sense if you refer to your manual's instructions, but here is the finished product.
|Machine stitched blind hem, wrong side (L) and right side (R).|
Quilting and Beyond
6. Edgestitch FootThough not essential, a stitch in the ditch foot or edgestitch foot can be a lifesaver. This foot also has a guide to assist you, like the blind hem foot.
That guide would either go on the edge of the fabric or in the "ditch." Stitching in the ditch is a technique often used in quilting, but it also has uses in garment sewing. It's when you sew directly on top of a seam, which can hide the stitch when you use a matching thread.
This isn't always the case, but seeing as how this Bernina's blind hem and edgestitch feet look so similar, you may be wondering how to tell the difference. Obviously these ones are numbered, but here's what really sets them apart.
The bind hem foot on the right has that little metal part in the oval shape hole where the needle goes. In a blind hem stitch, the needle goes side to side to make those little triangles, and in order to make the stitches small on the right side, the needle just barely has to catch the fold. That little curved metal piece is part of the guide on the blind hem foot, so that your fold is accurately placed. The edgestitch foot is made for a straight stitch, so no guide is necessary for the needle.
7. 1/4" Seam FootMost sewing patterns for garments include 5/8" seam allowances, but the standard seam allowance for quilting is 1/4". You can follow the seam allowance lines on your machine's throat plate, but this can be more difficult when your seam allowance is so small. And with quilting, even 1/8" can make a visible difference! Enter the 1/4" seam foot. Like the edgestitch or blind hem feet, this presser foot has a guide to make your life easier.
That guide will take any guesswork out of sewing a 1/4" seam. Other than that, it acts like a regular presser foot.
The result is a perfect 1/4" seam every time, making this an essential foot for quilters, especially beginning quilters!
8. Darning/Free Motion Quilting Foot
You probably know that when you sew a seam, the feed dogs underneath your fabric are what move the fabric along. This keeps your stitches neat, even, and straight. But if you're trying to free motion quilt, these feed dogs would quickly get in the way! Luckily, they can be dropped. This switch or button is located in different places on different machines. However, dropping the feed dogs alone won't be enough to easily free motion quilt, since a regular presser foot won't allow you to move the fabric a lot, especially if you're trying to quilt curves or shapes. A free motion quilting foot, also known as a darning foot, will give you the freedom to turn your fabric as much as you want.
One of these darning feet has a clear plastic part to allow you to better see what you're quilting. You'll also notice that they both have a spring in them. This allows the foot to hop up and down while sewing, so that your fabric doesn't get stuck under the foot. This also means that when you lower the presser foot, the foot doesn't actually touch the fabric like others would. You can see this below, where there is still a shadow under the foot, even though it's been lowered.
You may also see that the stitches are not all an even length, since there's no regulation from feed dogs. Sewing without feed dogs leaves you with all the control, but it can be hard to master! Some machines have stitch regulator mechanisms to keep your stitches even, but these can be pricey.
Despite its difficulty, a free motion quilting foot is the only foot that would allow you to make curves and designs like these!
9. Walking Foot
Let's talk about feed dogs some more. When working with one or two layers of fabric, those feed dogs underneath move everything along just fine. But when you're working with multiple layers, like in a quilt, the top layers may not be moving as fast or as easily as the bottom layers next to the feed dogs. This also becomes an issue with working with thick fabrics like fur or leather or with sticky fabrics like oilcloth and vinyl. These are all reasons why a walking foot can be your best friend.
See that green arrow? It's pointing to what makes a walking foot different: its extra set of feed dogs. With feed dogs on the bottom and the top, thick layers of fabric, quilt "sandwiches," and sticky fabrics will move with ease.
Here you can see the walking foot's feed dogs lifting up. They'll move back down again and help move the fabric along at an even pace.
With the exception of the feed dogs, a walking foot acts much like a regular foot. It's just quite a bit bigger. Walking feet vary by machine, and you should make sure you get one that is compatible with yours. You'll soon wonder how you ever survived without one!
At the end of the day, most sewing projects can be completed with just a regular presser foot and a zipper foot. But having these extra feet can eliminate a lot of headaches and make your sewing more enjoyable. There are dozens of other feet we haven't mentioned, and the more your sewing skills progress, the more interested you may be in them. But for most sewists, quilters, and crafters, these nine feet can tackle almost any problem!
Do you have a specialty presser foot you can't live without? Tell us about it!
P.S. These samples were sewn with Kona Cerise, and the feet were photographed on top of our organic cotton double gauze in blue.