Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Presser Feet Basics

When looking at sewing machines to buy, often you will see many manufacturers boasting about how many stitches the machine has, and how many feet it comes with. But does it really matter, when you just want to start sewing, already?

To be honest, I don't really see the real benefit of having 500+ fancy stitches. Give me a straight stitch, a zig-zag, and a decent buttonhole in a sturdy machine with a strong motor, and I'm happy. However, I do love specialty presser feet.

Using the right presser foot can make a huge difference in your sewing, and can shave off a lot of time and frustration as you work. This first post on feet will look at the universal foot, sometimes referred to as your all-purpose or general foot.

Most machines come with a number of snap-on feet, which are physically designed for different functions. In the image below, the shank is in the top left. This is what holds the actual foot pieces. The ones that my little Bernina came with are very standard, and, from left to right, they are a universal foot, a buttonhole foot, a zipper foot, and a blindstitch foot.

The universal foot is like a universal needle: you can use it for most types of fabrics and sewing applications, and except when you need to do something special, you can normally default to it. 

Universal feel will have a small slit, either at the front or to the side, which lets you slip your top thread into the hole for the needle. This lets you pull your threads to the back, without letting them get tangled or having weird tension issues as you start to sew.

You'll also notice that the universal foot has an oval opening, which sits parallel to the front of the foot. This space lets you do zigzag and specialty stitches. The width of your zigzag is dependent on the ability of your machine, but also the width of that opening.

If you flip your universal foot over, you might see a little bit of a groove before and after the opening. This gives a little bit of space, so that you can do those non-straight stitches without the foot catching your threads.

This is important, because no matter how small your thread seems to be, it does still take up some space. The next time you sew something, take a close look and you can see that the thread does rise above the fabric.

So, when should you use the universal foot? Most of the time. 

Some computerized machines will recommend a foot to use when you make a stitch selection. My Bernina, for example, is showing me here that for a straight stitch, I should be using foot #1.

There are other versions of the universal foot that can help with tricky fabrics, such as non-stick feet if you're working with sticky materials, like vinyls or leather. But in terms of physical functionality, they are very similar.

If your machine isn't trying to tell you something, and you really aren't sure, chances are you're fine with the universal foot, just like the universal needle.

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