During the past several years of teaching free-motion quilting, I've been surprised on more than one occasion by what someone thought was a machine-quilting foot, but wasn't. I've added a number of photos to my materials lists to help elucidate the matter, so I thought it would be helpful to share it here as well.
What a machine quilting foot does and doesn't do
A machine quilting foot is designed first and foremost to let you move the fabric beneath it. In order to do that it has to float - it does not press the fabric down against the feed dogs the way a regular sewing foot does. In the photos below you can see that the regular foot on the left is fully against the fabric, while there is space under the machine quilting foot on the right.
One problem I encounter somewhat frequently is that the machine quilting foot presses down on the fabric and DOESN'T let it move. Here are a couple of reasons this might happen, and what to do to fix them.
1) The presser foot pressure is pushing down too much. To fix this, adjust the presser foot pressure setting to less pressure. (Some machines have this, some don't. Check your manual or ask your service person.)
2) Some machine quilting feet have a screw that will let you adjust the height of the foot within the foot itself. If you have one of these, twist the screw to raise the foot.
3) It's the wrong foot. The shaft of the foot is too long. Return the foot and get the right one.
Different styles for different purposes
Beyond the basic function of floating to let you move the fabric, there are several types of machine quilting feet that function in slightly different ways. Here are some of them:
General purpose machine-quilting feet
This is my favorite general-purpose quilting foot - a BERNINA #24 Open-toe darning foot. I like it because the cut out in the front gives me a good view of my needle. The foot itself doesn't bounce noticeably.
This is a closed-toe foot on a BERNINA Stitch Regulator. I'll save a discussion of stitch regulators for another day, but I just want to point out that many machine-quilting feet are closed circles or squares, and they also give a pretty good view of the needle. I prefer a circle over a square, because the edge of the circle can be used to measure the distance between lines for shadowing or echoing.
Feet for working with applique, dimensional textures
and echo or shadow quilting
And speaking of shadowing and echoing, this is the foot you want to use to shadow around hand applique. The raised edge goes over the dimension of the edge and the rings around the "bowl" help measure distance between lines for echoing and shadowing. The reason I don't use the #24 above for quilting around hand applique is that the extended toe of the open circle on that foot can get caught between the hand stitches of the applique.
When you're using a quilting ruler as a guide, you need a ruler foot. The top one is the BERNINA #72 Ruler Foot, the bottom one is my Handiquilter longarm foot. The three most important features of these feet are:
1) The wall around the foot prevents the ruler from sliding over the foot and under the needle.
2) Shaft is raised above the height of the ruler so the ruler can be used on any side of the foot.
3) The foot is 1/2" in diameter with the needle exactly in the middle, so no matter where the ruler is positioned, it is always 1/4" from the needle.
You can do regular machine quilting with a ruler foot -- in a pinch. But the high wall around the foot makes it hard to see the needle, and you'll probably find yourself leaning over the machine to look down into the foot. It's just best to switch back to your regular foot when you're done with ruler work.
Don't try to do ruler work with a regular machine quilting foot. You run the risk of the ruler sliding over the foot. If the needle hits the ruler it can throw off all the timing in your machine and that's an expensive repair. For some sewing machine brands, this will not be covered under the warranty because it is operator error. The difference between the cost of a foot and the cost of a repair makes it definitely worth the purchase of a foot!
My least favorite quilting foot
Many sewing machines come with this foot, which they bill as a machine quilting foot. Yes, I started with it. Yes, you can use it. But after about 20 minutes you'll go running to your sewing machine shop to buy a different foot.
1) Even though it is clear and they say you can see through it, you can't. It makes overstitching a line impossible.
2) The plastic in front of the needle blocks your view of the needle so you can't really see where it's going. (Some models have a cut out in the front, but it doesn't help much to solve either problem #1 or #2.
3) It bounces up and down like a jackhammer and practically makes me seasick. I start feeling like a bobble-head doll.
4) Because the foot is an oval, not a circle, you can't use it for spacing shadow quilting. If you tried to use it for ruler work (which I don't recommend) you would have the same problem - different distances from the edge of the foot to the needle.
So that's my 2-cents worth about machine quilting feet I hope it's helpful. If you have questions or want to add something, feel free to leave a comment below.
Happy Quilting! ~ RaNae
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