Do you drop the feed dogs when using a walking foot?

Sewing MAchine feed dogs, so Do you drop the feed dogs when using a walking foot?A sewing machine’s feed dogs and the presser feet are two of the most critical pieces of its fabric feeding mechanism. These parts work together to ensure that the fabric is kept moving forward at the predetermined pace and that the resulting stitches are neat and consistent. The walking foot has distinguished itself for excellent and coordinated feeding of thick and multi-layered fabrics, an application that is especially useful in quilting. However, the feed dogs are usually kept raised when doing straight line quilting. So, the question for free motion quilters is, do you drop the feed dogs when using a walking foot?

Yes, you can drop the feed dogs even when using a walking foot. Nevertheless, this largely depends on the sewing technique you are sewing and your general preferences. For example, when you are doing free motion quilting, dropping the feed dogs will increase the control you have over the fabric.

It is also crucial for the quilter to note that while you can use the walking foot for free motion quilting, it cannot effectively make complex designs with tight curves. This restriction is because it is primarily for straight-line sewing. However, you can still use it to make looser and longer curves. Also, instead of dropping the feed dogs, you can disengage them using other techniques that we will discuss later on in this article.

What Is the Role Of Feed Dogs?

Sewing machine feed dogs are arguably one of the essential parts of the feeding mechanism.

The main functions of feed dogs are:

  • Moving the fabric
  • Ensuring you have stitches of a predetermined length.

Sets of feed dogs generally resemble thin metal bars with diagonal teeth, and they emerge from an opening in the machine’s throat plate and then drop below the needle plate in preparation for the next stroke. These teeth gently grip the fabric being worked on to ‘feed’ it through the machine in-between the stitches.

The movement of the feed dogs usually adjusts to the stitch length settings. The larger the stitches, the more fabric is pulled through the machine. Feed dogs are, therefore, essential to creating stitches of the desired length when sewing.

What Are Some Of The Common Feed Dog Problems?

An issue with the sewing machine feed dogs can make it impossible or highly frustrating for you to work. Below is an analysis of some of the common problems experienced with feed dogs and how to solve each.

1. The feed dogs are not moving back and forth

The main reason why your feed dogs would not be moving is the stitch length settings. The feed dogs usually adjust to any change in stitch length setting; their movement controls the amount of fabric you pull through with every stitch. So with a shorter stitch length, less material is pulled through and vice versa.

Setting the stitch length to zero will stop the forward and backward movement of the machine feed dogs, a feature that may be useful for other machine functions. You can correct this problem by setting the stitch length to a two or higher.

2. The feed dogs are stuck in the down position 

While the drop feed dog feature is an invaluable tool when free-motion sewing, you will need raised feed dogs for efficient guided sewing. Before any troubleshooting, try the steps below to raise your feed dogs.

  • Ensure that the presser foot has been lifted.
  • Ensure that you have set the feed dog lever in the up position.
  • Turn the handwheel manually until you hear the dogs click back into position.
  • If the feed dogs do not click back into position, try turning the handwheel again.

If following the above steps does not raise the machine’s feed dogs, you can try the following troubleshooting tips:

  • Check the machine to see if there is any setting that is keeping the feed dogs lowered.
  • Try turning the needle as high as it can go.
  • Read through the manufacturer’s manual to see any solutions they recommend.

3. Broken or worn feed dogs.

Sometimes, the problem may be that your feed dogs are just broken. This problem is commonly caused by loose screws, which may cause the dogs to come loose, leaving them open to damage. However, you do not have to replace the entire machine when this happens. You can replace the machine feed dogs with those from a certified reseller. Make sure you speak with the manufacturer so that you get the most compatible model.

4. Filthy feed dogs

Thread pieces, dust, and lint may get stuck in the sewing machine feed dogs causing them to jam. You can fix this issue by taking off the throat plate and softly brushing or vacuuming the feed dogs and the bobbin area to get rid of any debris.

When Do You Need To Use A Walking Foot?

Also known as the even-feed foot, a walking foot is a specialty foot designed to ensure that all fabric layers feed evenly. The walking foot is more than just a regular presser foot. It has a two-part mechanical action that allows it to lift the sole as the foot’s feeding mechanism moves with the machine’s feed dogs. This action gives it a motion that resembles walking, hence its name.

So, exactly why do you need a walking foot?

Irrespective of the sewing machine you have, there will always be a small amount of slippage when the presser foot presses on the fabric and the machine feed dogs pull the material under a regular foot.

Although this slippage may not usually be noticeable, in certain situations, it can build up and cause significant shifts so that the top fabric layer will seem longer than the bottom one. This problem is also evident when you match prints that started perfectly aligned but are not so at the end. Working with multiple layers only compounds the problem significantly faster and causes a shift that is difficult to overlook.

The walking foot is crucial in avoiding these problems.  Generally, we recommend you use the walking foot when:

  • Working on cushioned materials
  • Sewing together multi-layered fabrics where a drop feed may cause a shift in the lower layers that does not match the upper layers.
  • Sewing fabrics that have varying layers.
  • Sewing bulky fabrics where the needle feed is not mechanically adequate.

Although this foot is undoubtedly most commonly used when quilting, you can use it for many other circumstances. Below are some of the sewing situations and projects where you will need to use the walking foot.

1. Straight-line quilting

The walking foot is among the best and most efficient feet for straight line quilting; it can easily grip and move all three fabric layers evenly to prevent slippage and shifting as you quilt. The overall result is a cleanly made quilt without puckers or bunched areas.

2. Sewing long seams

Sewing long seams involve stitching together long fabric strips. As you build your confidence and improve your skills, you will eventually come across areas where you need long seams. Such large sewing areas give ample opportunity for any slippage or shifting in the fabric to compound as you continue sewing. You can often see the result of this when the seam ends do not match up. It can also result in fabric bunching and ripples, which are unsightly.

A walking foot will ensure that the fabrics being sewn remain in alignment as you sew along the seam till you reach the end.

3. Matching prints, plaid, and other fabric prints.

The walking foot is an invaluable addition when sewing patterned fabrics or directional prints that you must match up across seams. As long as you cut the materials correctly and align them well across the seams before you begin sewing, a walking foot will help you maintain this alignment perfectly.

4. Stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

Stitch in the ditch quilting is a technique where stitches are sewn along the channel of existing seams. This method is highly valued because the sewn stitches are almost or entirely invisible when the fabric is turned to the right side. A walking foot is highly suited for straight-line quilting, which makes it efficient at stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

Apart from quickly moving over the bulky fabric, a walking foot will help you sew within the seam and help you avoid straying from the seams and ruining the final appearance.

5. Binding

Binding is the final step in finishing quilts. This process involves covering the raw edges of the quilt with fabric and making a border. Since this process involves several fabric layers, using a regular presser foot may cause the top material to shift as you sew. This shift can cause puckering and drag that will deny your binding, clean lines, a problem you can avoid by using a walking foot.

 6. Matching seam intersections

When sewing garments with separate cuffs or a waist seam, it is essential to create continuous vertical and horizontal lines that offer excellent aesthetics. A regular presser foot may be unable to do this even if everything is pinned correctly, thus requiring a walking foot.

 7. Sewing over bulky fabrics and seams

The walking foot is almost generally known as a quilting foot. This relation is because its structure and function align perfectly with stitching quilts. Quilts typically have three fabric layers, the creatively decorated top, the batting in between the layers for warmth, and the back layer, which covers the batting. Sewing through all these, often thick, layers and getting an even fabric feed is nigh impossible.

The mechanisms in a walking foot allow it to lift the sole as the feet feeding mechanisms move with the feed dogs. The walking motion helps avoid pushing on the fabric top layer, which causes slippage. 

In cases where there are bulky seams, such as the intersection of a waistband and the side seam, the walking foot has an extra set of teeth that help climb over these seams, where a regular foot is likely to get stuck.

At What Point Do You Need to Drop Your Feed Dogs When Using A Walking Foot?

The appeal of free-motion sewing is in unrestricted motion in any direction. This technique will allow you to sew anything from quick, tight turns to complex and intricate loops and designs. And while the feed dogs are helpful in guided sewing, and you can use them in free-motion sewing, they restrict this full range of motion in some ways.

When using a walking foot for free motion quilting, you can drop the feed dogs to increase your control over the fabric. However, the walking foot, while great for even fabric feeding, restricts complex designs. This restriction is because it is primarily designed for straight-line sewing, and while it can sew loose and long curves, it is not the best choice for complex designs.

How Do I Drop the Feed Dogs on My Sewing Machine? 

While machine feed dogs are essential for guided sewing, they are unnecessary when doing free-motion sewing. Free-motion sewing is a sewing technique that allows you to sew in any direction you please. It is an invaluable technique in creating unique designs and is very popular for the freedom of motion.

For you to do free-motion sewing, you need to disengage the feed dogs. One way of doing this is by lowering them below the throat plate, a feature that is present on most sewing machines. To drop the machine’s feed dogs, you will first need to raise the machine’s presser foot. You then need to locate the feed dog position switch. The location may vary according to the sewing machine you are sewing.

For example, some sewing machine models will have small diagrams next to the lever that illustrates teeth below a bar for dropped feed dogs and teeth above a bar for raised feed dogs. After locating the switch or lever, slide it to the raised position, and turn the handwheel towards you.

Your sewing machine manual should also have a comprehensive guide on lowering the feed dogs of your specific machine, depending on the type and model.

Watch the video below on raising and lowering of feed dogs:

Can You Lower the Feed Dogs on All Sewing Machines?

While most modern sewing machines have a feature that allows you to drop the feed dogs, this is not so for all models. Some devices, especially older models, have different mechanisms that will enable you to disengage the feed dogs when you want to sew without them. In any case, there are three primary methods of disengaging the feed dogs that should cover all sewing machines.

1. Use the drop feed dogs lever

As mentioned above, this lever, when set to the correct position, will drop the feed dogs below the throat plate. It is available on most machines.

2. Cover the machine feed dogs.

An equally effective method of disengaging the feed dogs if your machine lacks the drop lever is to cover up the feed dogs. On older devices, some sewers did this by using an index card that had a hole cut out to allow space for the needle.

Today you can buy a special polyester sheet that covers the feed dogs. Supreme sliders are famous for this. Their surfaces are slick and give the added advantage of allowing the fabric to move over the machine’s surface smoothly while reducing the strain on your arms and hands.

3. Set the stitch length to 0

The stitch length that you et will determine how the feed dogs move. Again, if you set a shorter stitch length on your machine, less fabric will get pulled through, while setting a more considerable stitch length will result in a larger fabric piece of cloth pulled through. When the stitch length is set to zero, the machine’s feed dogs will stop their back-and-forth motion, effectively disengaging them.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are a sewing machine’s feed dogs always visible?

No, the sewing machine feed dogs are not always visible. While most sewing techniques are executed with the feed dogs raised for fabric guiding, with some methods, such as free-motion sewing, the feed dogs are either lowered or covered to give more control over the fabric.

  • Are there presser feet that have feed dogs?

Yes, there are. An excellent example of this is the walking foot, also known as the even feed foot. It has integrated feed dogs at its base that works to move the upper fabric layers through the machine at an equal rate to the sewing machine’s feed dogs.

  • Will I damage my machine if I leave the feed dogs up during free-motion quilting?

No, you will not. Doing free motion quilting with the feed dogs raised is entirely possible and will not harm your machine. Alternatively, you can leave the feed dogs up but cover them with a polyester sheet such as the supreme slider at no risk of damaging your device. Some older models also use an index card for this.

Final Thoughts

There are also several different feed mechanisms that you can choose from to best suit your primary needs. The walking foot also has variations that you can choose from. With these mechanisms in place, half the work in finishing your project is already done. All that you now need is precise placement and skillful sewing. Still, the main question is,

Do you drop the feed dogs when using a walking foot?

Yes, you can drop the feed dogs when using the walking foot, a choice that depends on the sewing technique you plan to use and your preference.

We appreciate you for taking your time to read to the end of this article. We hope that it has been informative and addressed any questions you had on this topic. The comment section below is open for any questions, comments, and suggestions.

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