In this article, you will learn all about the most common presser feet; low vs. high shank sewing machines; how to measure shank height; the two types of presser feet; and how to change a presser feet.
Sewing machine presser feet allow you to extend the functionality of your machine and/or make certain time-consuming, drudge jobs quick and simple.
Here’s a couple of things you should keep in mind when it comes to presser feet:
- The most important part of a presser foot is its underside! Because this is where all the magic happens.
- Knowing the maximum stitch width of your sewing machine is important when buying universal feet. For example, let’s say your sewing machine has a maximum stitch width of 7mm. But you attach a 5mm universal all-purpose/zigzag presser foot and then set your 7mm machine to zigzag or decorative stitch, it is likely you will break your needle!
Here is a shortlist of some of the many presser feet available to you…
Common Presser Feet
All-Purpose or Zigzag
All sewing machines come with an all-purpose or zigzag presser foot. It has an extra-wide opening that allows you to sew a wide range of stitches, such as zigzag stitches, decorative stitches, heirloom stitches, stretch stitches, and even straight stitches.
You need to know that the width of the opening can vary from 4mm up to 9mm, depending on the age, type of sewing machine, and/or manufacturer.
If you don’t know the maximum stitch width of your sewing machine, it is easy enough to determine:
Simply take your tape measure and using the side with metric markings (that is, millimeters [mm]), measure the opening of your all-purpose presser foot from one side to the next. Easy.
Sew easy tip: If you are wise enough to buy a sewing machine that takes universal presser feet, then you will avoid paying a small fortune for additional feet.
RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to zigzag stitch!
The blindhem presser foot is another presser foot that is generally included standard with modern sewing machines.
There are many styles of blindhem presser feet.
And its official purpose is to sew a blindhem.
But the little blade on this foot makes capable of so much more…
- Precision topstitching;
- Precision edgestitching;
- Stitching in the ditch; and
- A gorgeous Hong Kong seam finish.
And probably more…
The buttonhole presser foot makes automatic buttonholes as easy as a cool breeze on a gorgeous spring morning.
And it is usually included as one of the standard presser feet that comes with modern sewing machines. If it doesn’t, please just walk away from that machine!
Who needs a serger?! Not me!
Seriously, you can use this foot for a lovely finish to seam allowances (SAs)!
See the vertical bar?! Well, if you ever invest in an overcast presser foot, check out how that vertical bar works its magic!
Sew easy tip: If your pattern calls for a 5/8 inch SA, you could reduce the SA to ¼ inch. Then, with this foot, you could sew the seam AND finish it in one go like you do with a serger!
The quarter-inch (patchwork) presser foot allows you to sew an exact quarter inch seam allowance (SA).
There are two flavors: (1) with a guide or (2) without a guide.
It is without a doubt an absolute MUST HAVE for those who quilt!
But those of us who construct garments will also find it extremely helpful when topstitching or when constructing one of the most beautiful seam finishes EVER and my personal favorite: The. French. Seam.
The roller presser foot was originally designed to sew double knits. But because it increases control and reduces friction when sewing, it is great when sewing fussy fabrics, such as denim, silk, silkies, leather, vinyl, velveteen, or velvet.
It works its magic by feeding the upper layer and the bottom layer together.
Just so you know: If you have this foot, you probably don’t need to buy a Teflon foot too.
When you want the most precise straight stitch ever or if you’re sewing slippery, silky fabrics, the single-hole presser foot is for you.
It is often used in combination with a straight stitch throat plate.
The Teflon presser foot is also known as the nonstick presser foot. It looks very much like the all-purpose/zipper foot.
But it is nonstick!
So it eliminates drag and puckering when sewing leather, ultra suede, laminated foam, oilcloth, vinyl, rubber, and other sticky fabrics.
Sew easy tip: If you have a roller foot, then buying this foot is probably redundant!
The walking presser foot also goes by the names dual feed or even feed. And it is a screw-on, rather than a snap-on, presser foot!
It has built-in feed dogs (see the white teeth in the image above?!) that grip your fabric from on top so that both layers can feed evenly.
It is great when you are sewing knits, multiple layers, slippery fabrics, pile fabrics, or pattern matching.
I got really lucky as it came standard with my Janome DC2014! But I did once pay a handsome ransom of $150 for one for a previous sewing machine I owned. UGH!
RELATED: Click HERE to see how the walking foot produces a very pretty knit hem!
Zipper ~ All-Purpose
The standard zipper foot usually comes bundled with most sewing machines you buy today. There are a profusion of variations on the standard zipper foot.
One Janome machine I owned had a standard zipper feet that only allowed you to position the needle on ONE side of the zipper foot.
In the image above, the standard zipper foot on the left allows you to snap it on so the needle sits either on the left or on the right. This style can vary in width from ½ to 1 inch wide.
And because of its width, it is often more awkward to use for sewing in zippers. In other words, it makes sewing in a smooth zipper more difficult and more frustrating!
But there is better zipper foot…
It is the narrow (ski style) zipper foot — it is a screw-on presser foot (it is on the right in the image above). It does NOT come standard with most sewing machine. Why? Because Life is illogical and frustrating.
Personally, I love, love the narrow (ski-style) version and think it is worthwhile additional expense! Because it allows us to get really close to the zipper teeth and stitch without zipper pull interference.
Plus, you can use it to sew in an invisible zipper!
Plus, you can also use it to make and insert piping!
See?! So many reasons why it deserves the love.
You can often buy this zipper foot directly from your sewing machine manufacturer or at online sewing machine suppliers.
Zipper ~ Invisible
The invisible zipper presser foot is usually an additional presser foot you have to purchase.
And it can be metal or plastic. The benefit of the clear plastic version is that you can see clearly where your stitches are landing.
Although it is not technically required to install an invisible zipper, it can be very helpful.
Does Your Machine Have a Low Shank Height?
A sewing machine can be low shank or high shank. And it is important to know which yours is when you get ready to buy add-on presser feet.
No one ever explains this to you when you buy a sewing machine.
So I wanted to change that by telling you upfront that you need to know which machine you have.
And I think you should also know that 80% of modern, domestic sewing machines are low shank machines, which is good.
How to Measure Shank Height
First, this is how the low-shank snap-on foot adapter looks for my machine…
The appearance of this adapter will vary slightly from machine to machine.
In the image above, pressing the red button releases the presser foot; however, your machine may have a black lever.
Now, if you want to find out if your machine is a low shank machine, it is really simple:
- First, lower your presser foot.
- Then, measure the distance from the bottom of your presser foot to the center of the thumbscrew on the low-shank snap-on adapter on the presser bar. Check this out in the image above.
If it measures about ½ inch or less, you have a low shank machine.
And you know what’s great about this?!
You should be able to use just about any universal low shank presser feet on your machine. (Unless you own a Bernina or a Janome Horizon. Sorry.)
However, if the area measures 1 inch or more, you have a high shank machine.
And in the spirit of full disclosure, there are third and fourth shank types: the slant and the clip-on. But they are only found on Singer and Bernina sewing machines, respectively.
Sew easy tip: Most high-end and embroidery sewing machines are high shank.
Now, let’s talk about presser feet types…
Two Types of Presser Feet
There are two types of low shank presser feet:
- Snap-on ~ these feet have a horizontal bar
- Screw-on ~ these feet essentially it has its own shank; for example, the walking or narrow zipper foot
How to Change Snap-On Presser Foot
If your machine takes snap-on presser feet, changing them is as easy as a summer breeze…
Step 1: Turn off your machine!
Step 2: Raise the needle to its highest position either by pressing the needle up/down button or by turning the handwheel towards you.
Step 3: Lift the presser foot using the presser foot lifter (1).
Step 4: Then, look behind your presser foot for the presser foot release button or lever (2).
Then, to snap on the new presser foot:
Step 5: Place the presser foot so that its horizontal pin or bar is directly under the groove of the presser foot holder. The blue arrow points the way.
Step 6: Now, lower your presser foot holder using the presser foot lifter (1) to lock the foot in place.
Now, how simple was that?!
How to Change a Screw-On Presser Foot
Essentially, screw on presser feet have their own shank, which is why you have to remove the low-shank snap-on adapter.
Frankly, while I love my walking foot, I despise having to put it on because it is a screw-on presser foot.
It’s not that it is so difficult, but it can be a bit of a pain in the ar$e…
Because you have to get out your screwdriver and work in a rather confined area to get the job done. And for some reason, I’m all thumbs when I do it.
But that’s just me. You will be a pro after your first few tries. So let’s do this…
Step 1: Please turn OFF the power to your machine and unplug it.
Step 2: Now, press the Needle UP button. Or, turn your handwheel TOWARDS you until the takeup lever is at its highest position.
Step 3: Lift your presser foot using the presser foot lifter.
Step 4: Then, release the presser foot from the presser foot holder.
Step 5: Use a screwdriver to remove your presser foot holder from the presser bar by turning the thumbscrew counterclockwise. Whatever you do, do NOT use force on the thumbscrew — you don’t want to strip its threading!
Step 6: Align the hole on your screw-on presser foot with the hole on your presser bar. Now, tighten the thumbscrew by turning it clockwise.
Voila! Your screw-on presser foot is ready for business!
Sew easy tip: A magnetized screwdriver has a magnetized tip that is drawn irresistibly to the screw-like a new lover. In the image below, see how the thumbscrew and the magnetic screwdriver stuck together in mid-air! No slipping and sliding drama, thank you very much. Trust me, you want one of these when installing screw-on presser feet!
When it comes to presser feet, the choices are endless.
As you become the boss of your sewing machine, you will want to explore the wide, wild world of sewing machine presser feet.
Because if there is a tedious sewing job that needs to be done, there is probably a presser foot for that.
Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!