Multi-functional Sewing Feet – One Foot With Many Functions

Multi-functional Sewing Feet – One Foot With Many Functions main article image
Posted on May 2, 2021 by Rita Hiller

To the question: ‘Do I need a full set of sewing feet?’, the simple answer is ‘No’. However, it’s sometimes easier to use a special foot for a technique than to fiddle and do it with a standard foot. When you think that our grandmothers sewed everything with a straight foot and still managed to produce some amazing garments and household textiles then you realize just how much easier some of these feet make our lives.

In this blog I’m going to take a closer look at a couple of presser feet and what you can use them for as well as taking a more detailed look at zipper feet.

Zigzag foot

Nowadays the ‘standard’ foot that comes with nearly all domestic sewing machines is the zigzag foot, not the straight stitch foot. This can be metal, plastic (see-through), Teflon or with a Teflon coated sole, and the maximum zigzag width can be anything between 5 and 9 mm depending on the capability of your machine.

This foot is really an all rounder.

It can:

Straight stitch with the needle in the middle position. Stitch length 0.2 – 5.0 mm or even 6 mm although 2.5 is recommended for general sewing

Straight stitch left or right to maximum zigzag width of foot

Decorative stitches – maximum width the capability of your machine and the zigzag width of the foot

Triple stitch – used for reinforcement or – one of my favorites, particularly with jeans fabric – for bold top-stitching. I use this with a 3 – 4 mm stitch width for bold top-stitching

Directional sewing – if your machine has this capability – to sew left, right or diagonally with straight or zigzag stitching – this is the foot you’ll use for that

Zigzag stitching – standard zigzag used for overcasting raw edges if you don’t have a serger – stitch width anything from about 3 generally makes a good job of it

  • 2-step elastic zigzag – on your machine the one with the stitch divided down the middle – sometimes called the stretch or knit zigzag stitch, is used for sewing elastic, stretch and knit fabrics. Some machines also have a double or triple stretch/elastic zigzag stitch with the same function but sometimes better for heavier fabrics
  • Applique – this foot is and can be used for applique although there are other feet that make this job easier. If you use this foot you have to use the inside edge of the foot as a guide and move the needle position so that the stitch you use – zigzag or blanket stitch, cross stitch, ladder stitch, feather stitch or whatever lands in both the applique and your base fabric.
  • Freehand quilting – it can be done with this foot but it’s much more difficult to control it than with a dedicated quilting foot

Attaching tape, ribbon or elastic. Using the needle hole for the ribbon or elastic makes sewing on tape etc. easy. Of course, the tape width is restricted to the width of the hole in your foot.

Quick and easy ties/bands using bias tape

You simply thread the tape into the foot, make sure you get it under the foot and then you can use a straight stitch with a single or twin needle, zigzag stitch or decorative stitch to attach your tape. It’s a quick and simple embellishment for children’s clothes or on blouses and dresses.

Elastic can be attached in the same way. Get the elastic under the foot, needle down through elastic and fabric and then slightly pull elastic as you sew. This isn’t the most even way of applying elastic but if you decide how long the elastic should be and then get the fabric and elastic held by the foot whilst you hold both the end of your elastic and fabric together, making sure they are flat as they go under the foot you can make a reasonable job of it. You’d sew the elastic on the wrong side of your fabric.

Attaching elastic with straight, narrow or wide zigzag stitch

Satin stitch – by reducing your stitch length to minimum or minimum + a bit, depending on how close you want your satin stitch to be, you can sew a very good-looking satin stitch with this foot. The width of your stitch can be anything up to the maximum zigzag width of your foot and machine. I have often used it to clean up satin stitch edges on embroider-in-the-hoop projects. Sometimes the satin stitch edging isn’t as clean or firm as you might want it to be so this foot is ideal for sorting that out.

Straight stitch foot

The zigzag foot – whichever one you use – has for some manufacturers and sewers completely replaced the straight stitch foot. Ideally when you use the straight stitch foot you also need to change your stitch plate to one for straight stitching. It has one hole instead of a slit.

Why then bother with a straight stitch foot?

Many sewers, like myself, either don’t think of it or take the easy way and use their multi-purpose or zigzag foot – we really shouldn’t.

The small round hole in this foot will ensure you have a straighter, firmer straight stitch than if you were using a zigzag foot or multi-purpose foot. It’s flat on the underside so you have even pressure against the feed dogs and the round needle hole gives better support round the needle, which prevents skipped stitches and puckering. It’s the best foot for seaming woven and fine fabrics. It can be used for more than you think like top stitching, edge stitching, under-stitching, making tucks, sewing darts and gathering. It’s what our grandmothers used, it was all they had. Give it a try – if you’ve got one – just don’t forget to swap the needle plate back before you use your zigzag foot again, otherwise you’ll have a broken needle once you sew away from the center line.

Edge Stitch Foot

This foot is sometimes called an edge joining foot or stitch-in-the-ditch foot. It’s a pretty versatile presser foot. You can sew close to edges and in-the-ditch without it but this foot certainly makes things a bit easier and can lead to a more professional looking result.

The foot has a center blade which is its all-important guide. It can be used to keep the foot along the edge of your sewing or to make sure the foot is centered over the seam – hence its other names – edge joining foot or stitch-in-the-ditch foot.

With the blade along the edge or in the center of the seam as your guide, you can sew straight without too much effort. You can vary your stitch length depending on what you’re sewing.

Stitch-in-the-ditch probably the most common use of this foot. Simply make sure your machine is set to straight stitching, decide which stitch length you want to use, put your sewing under the foot so the blade is in the ‘ditch’ and sew. A favorite with quilters. Much easier than trying to do it freehand with a standard foot.

Joining fabrics. Press or tack the edges of the 2 pieces of fabric and push them together under the foot with one piece on each side of the blade. You can join them using a simple zigzag stitch, satin stitch or decorative stitch. With a wider zigzag or decorative stitch and the 2 fabrics 1 mm or more away from the blade on each side you can create a fagotted seam. This used to be popular in ‘very’ high end garments. The narrower version is often found in baby clothes. It’s easier with tear away backing underneath.

Joining lace to fabric. Using the same method as above with the folded or hemmed fabric (right side up) on one side and lace on the other it’s easy to attach lace or other decorative edging with this foot.

Applique. Attaching applique is certainly easier with this foot because you have the blade to ensure you really go around the edge of the applique giving you an even stitch all round.

Decorative stitching over or near a seam line. When you want to sew a decorative stitching line over or near a seam line this is the foot to use. If you want a decorative line of stitching or simply a row of top-stitching near the seam line, move the needle position to whichever side you want to sew along.  Keep the blade in the seam line and you’ll get a neat, straight row of stitching. If you want to put decorative stitching over the seam, by keeping the blade in the center of the seam – stitch-in-the-ditch style – your pattern will be even on both sides of the seam.

The beginning sewn without stabilizer the last part with 

Tucks and pin tucks. The easiest way is to mark, fold and press where you want your pin tucks and then, using the blade along the fold, sew down the edge of the fold. The finer the fabric the closer you should sew to the edge is the general rule. Very attractive on blouses and children’s dresses. If your fabric is fine and likely to slip put a bit of tear away or wash away stabilizer under where you’re sewing. It makes life a lot easier!

Open Toe or Satin Stitch Foot

This is another multi-purpose sewing foot. It can be used with a variable stitch width and length for embroidery, satin stitching, applique, hemstitching, heirloom sewing as well as twin and triple needle sewing.

The wide opening at the front of the foot ensures the stitching area is clearly visible and the wide wedge-shaped groove on the sole of the foot means the fabric feeds smoothly, even over dense stitch patterns. You can see what you’re doing with this foot. It comes in a metal, plastic or Teflon version.

The shorter ‘toes’ of this foot help it to go around curves more easily which can be very useful if you’re using it for applique or satin stitching.

This is a sewing presser foot for embroidery or wide decorative stitches. It can also be useful for quilting and top stitching when you need to see where you’re sewing.

From the left to the satin stitch shown without stabilizer, from the satin stitch right with!

Tip: When you sew any decorative stitches put some tearaway or soluble stabilizer under your fabric – you’ll be amazed at how different your sewing looks. I use the odd bits I have from embroidery as there’s often too much to throw away and not enough to use in the hoop again.

Blanket stitching along the edge of your sewing adds color and texture and you can also sew on ribbon at the same time. Position the edge along the inside right toe of the foot and adjust the needle position all the way to the left, you can also do the same on the right side. The needle will land just off the edge, sewing into the fabric as it swings across to form the stitch.

Pocket edges. This foot is ideal for sewing pockets on. Again, positioning the edge of your pocket against the inside edge of the foot makes life much easier. If you have a square corner, with the needle down lift the presser foot and turn your pocket. If you have a rounded pocket corner you can sew round the edge. A trick to make life easier is to reduce the stitch length on the rounded corner and put it back to the same length once you get back on the straight section. This is a good tip generally when sewing round corners.

If you sew pleats or the top of pleats this foot is also very useful. Your folded pleat is against the edge of the foot and you determine where you want to sew the pleat by adjusting the needle position. With a longer stitch length and maybe a triple stitch it can also be used for decorative or bold stitching. This foot is also useful for top-stitching jeans fabric because the firm fabric along the inside edge of the foot means you can sew a nice even stitch.

Blind Hem Foot

This is not to be confused with the edge stitch foot because it also has a blade. It’s sometimes called a blind stitch foot and its main function is certainly to produce a blind stitch. The difference between the two feet is that the blade on this foot runs down the center into the needle slot. On some machines you adjust the needle position to use this foot, on others the foot itself has a movable blade (usually white plastic) so you adjust the position of the blade not the needle.

This foot is used to make a blind (invisible) hem on the bottom of clothes and soft furnishings. If you don’t have an edge stitch foot you can also use this foot for top-stitching.

How do we sew a blind hem? You can serge or zigzag round the edge of your hem to give it a clean finish or if it’s fine fabric, you can turn up a small ¼” hem. Then turn the hem up to the desired length and press.

Lay the hem on the machine wrong side up and fold your hem under (back on itself) leaving about 1/4 to 1/2” visible below the fold. You’ll then see the finished edge with a fold on top about 1/4 to 1/2“ away from the edge with the wrong side looking at you. Then set your machine to a blind stitch. Check your machine manual if you’re not sure which it is. Slowly test the machine. The straight stitching goes along the edge looking out from under the fold and the zigzag stitch should catch the fold when you keep the blade running along the fold. The zigzag stitch shouldn’t land too far into the fold otherwise the stitch won’t be almost  invisible on the right side. The finer the fabric the closer that zigzag stitch needs to hit the fold edge.

Zipper Feet

The standard zipper foot

Standard zippers left visible as embellishment

Standard zip

Can I only use it to install a zip? No. This foot can be quite useful for other things. The fact that you can move the needle and sew right down the edge of the foot on 2 sides makes this foot multi-functional.

Let’s start with installing a standard zip which is the main function of this foot. I’ve used rather bulky fabric so I’m not sewing too close to the teeth. Generally, the finer the fabric the closer to the teeth you sew. Having said that, it isn’t a good idea to hit the teeth. With this foot you sew round the entire zip in one go.

I use a bit of double-sided tape to secure my zip in a couple of places before I start sewing. Some people stick the whole length of the zip with tape which is something I prefer not to do because you sew into the sticky tape so you can’t remove it afterwards and when you press over your zip the tape shrivels and you have to pull it apart leaving yourself with a lot of sticky bits under the zip.

Other people use pins – again it’s quick but often, especially in loose weave fabrics, the pins slide out and you’re left – usually at the most critical points – without any and using pins can distort the zip on one side leaving waves when you’ve finished.

In the end everyone has to work out what suits them best and a method you use for one fabric might not be so good with another one.

In my video I’ve left the zip visible in this bag I’ve sewn. If I was sewing a garment or thinner fabric I’d place the zip down the line where the fabric meets. I simply wanted to demonstrate this zip foot compared to the invisible zip foot.

My finished zipper bag

Other uses for this foot

Piping and inserting piping

This foot is generally useful when you really want to sew along the outside edge of the foot. It’s an ideal foot for sewing or making piping. You fold the fabric (bias cut) over the cord, put the fabric with the piping under the foot close up to the outside edge of the foot – usually easier if the cord is on the left side and then you can sew down the fabric enclosing your cord.

You can also install piping in the same way. If the piping is going between 2 fabrics you make a sandwich with the fabric of the piping and the seam allowances aligned and you can sew down making sure your foot is as close to the cord as you can get it and the needle as far right or left as the fabric allows.

French seams

Use the foot to join the fabric with wrong sides together. Generally, you sew down the right side of the fabric, this time you have the needle as far to the inside as possible (close in to the center of that side of the foot) whilst the right-hand edge of the foot is level with the outside edges of your seam.

Then carefully press your seam. First press it flat as you would any seam and then fold along the seam line (now the right sides are facing) and take it to the machine. Align the foot about 1 mm from the fold, further in if you prefer, using the machine guide lines to help you. You again sew with the needle as far left as possible. This method produces a very nice-looking French seam.

Invisible zipper foot

I have to admit this is a favorite of mine.

 Best choice for light summer clothes

Pattern & piping matched exactly

Top stitching lined up

You can also use this foot to attach soft cord that needs a groove but there are better feet for this because you can’t use a zigzag function with this foot. You can buy metal and plastic versions – I would say metal always wins as it seems to grip the zip better and the zip is held firmer between the foot and the fabric.

It’s sometimes called an invisible zipper foot, sometimes a hidden zipper foot and also a seam zipper foot as it is basically used to conceal a zip in a seam. It amounts to the same. If you use it to install a zip the zip shouldn’t be visible when you’ve finished. The zips are designed for these feet and from many years of experience the only thing you really need to watch is that both sides start out absolutely evenly from the top otherwise you’ll have ripples or when you get to the bottom you’ll find you’ve somehow got a bulge on one side.

I have seen posts recommending you press the teeth flat before you start. Don’t. That’s the job of the foot and if they’re so flat they can’t be picked up by the groove you’re likely to have a line of sewing that isn’t close to the teeth or you risk sewing through the teeth. In my video I was using some scrap jersey to demonstrate this so I couldn’t align the teeth with a nice crisp pressed line but it still didn’t prevent me from getting the zip in smoothly. I apologize now for when my arm is in the way – the problem is you do need to guide the zip a bit, especially when you first start sewing so with using my right hand to hang onto the zip and fabric my left arm sometimes blocks the view for a moment.

The position the zip will be sewn in 

The top of the seam at the bottom of the zip

  Lined up ready to mark the position of the zip 

Marking across the zip and the fabric

Mark so you can see it 

Flatten the fabric and mark clearly on the right side

End mark above bottom seam slightly above start of seam

Clear line

The position you’ll sew the first side of the zip

So now you’ve got one side of the zip sewn in, it’s time to do the other side.

In case you don’t see exactly what I do in the video:

Fold the fabric right sides together and grab the top of the zip and fabric to be sewn. Fold the sewn side down out of the way to the right so you can sew this side with the right side of the zip facing down onto the right side of the fabric. The teeth are facing to the right and the tape of the zip and your fabric seam allowance are to the left. Now make sure your top mark on the zip and fabric are exactly lined up. This is the most important of all.

Now you can sew.

Some people think installing an invisible zip is beyond them. Quite honestly, if you mark your fabric and your zip and make sure you get those perfectly aligned, get the teeth in the right groove for the side you’re sewing down there’s not much can go wrong – especially if you mark the end point so you sew each side to exactly the same spot.

These zips should always be longer than the seam you’re putting them in and you should never attempt to sew round them like you would a conventional zip because it simply doesn’t work. Often, when you sew in two directions it produces ripples. The purists always sew garment seams in the same direction and most prefer to sew from the hem upwards.

Get a couple of these zips and practice before you start putting one into expensive fabric. A couple of times and you’ll probably be hooked, like I am!

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section and I’ll do my best to help!

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Multi-functional Sewing Feet – One Foot With Many Functions

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