Why It's Essential To Have More Than One Presser Foot

Why It's Essential To Have More Than One Presser Foot main article image
Posted on February 8, 2021 by Diane Earhart

What would be the plural of “presser foot?” Presser feet? That feels wrong. Presser foots? That twists my tongue.

Whatever they’re called, you need them. Plurals of presser foot. One size presser foot may fit all (or most) sewing machines, but not all presser foot plurals fit all tasks. Using the right one for the right job not only makes your sewing life easier, but also makes your finished garment look better.

The purpose of the presser foot

The presser foot attaches to the vertical shank (called a presser bar) with a thumb screw.  The purpose of a presser foot is to hold the fabric snuggly against the toothed mechanism (called the feed dog) that moves the fabric along.

The “normal” presser foot that came with all sewing machines years ago had a needle-sized opening for the machine’s sewing needle to fit through. It would be interesting to tally up how many people broke how many needles by forgetting to change this presser foot when zigzag stitching. My first sewing machine only sewed straight stitches, and, therefore, only came with one presser foot. My first zigzag machine came with two presser foot plurals. The second one, a zigzag foot, had a slightly wider needle hole to accommodate the needle moving side to side. I think the manufacturers must have wised up and made all presser foot plurals with a zigzag opening. I’m sure this is much to the dismay of the sewing machine needle manufacturers! I broke more than one needle by zigzagging into the actual presser foot before I was smart enough to just leave the zigzag foot on all the time.

The Zipper Foot

Another essential presser foot is the zipper foot. This foot is narrower than a regular foot and has a notch in each side. The notch is for the needle.  It also has a thumb screw that allows the foot to be placed on either side of the needle.  The purpose of this foot is to sew very closely to the zipper coil.  It can also be useful for sewing very closely to bead trim or something similar.  A zipper presser foot is a  non-negotiable necessity accessory.

One of the most hateful inventions is the Unique® invisible zipper and the proprietary zipper presser foot (sold separately). The Unique zipper was relatively new when I was learning to sew in the 1970s, and we thought it was wonderful. Oh, the zipper is beautiful when sewn into a garment.  It is truly invisible except for the small pull tab that hangs at the top. The zipper seam looks like just another seam. The only good thing about the sold-separately presser foot was that a one-time purchase of a packet of a basic piece (foot) with its three adapters could be used repeatedly. Today eBay offers a plethora of concealed zipper presser foot plurals. There was no such luxury in the ancient times of the ’70s. Regardless of your source, a Unique® or concealed zipper presser foot should be in the notion compartment of your sewing basket.

Stitching in the ditch

I love to “stitch in the ditch.” Stitching in the ditch is often used in quilting, but I use it in making garments. Thank you, Mary Jo Hultgren, for teaching us this trick in high school sewing class. The purpose is to sew through more than one layer of fabric, the top layer having a seam or border, without seeing the stitching on the top. I commonly stitch in the ditch when attaching a cuff to a shirt. First I attach the cuff to the sleeve; then I fold the cuff under to the inside of the sleeve. I sew in the seam (stitch in the ditch) formed by attaching the cuff to the sleeve. A few other ways you might stitch in the ditch include:

  • Attaching the waistband to slacks.
  • Attach a lining or facing underneath the yoke of a dress or shirt.
  • Sewing bias tape around a neckline.
  • Stabilizing a layer of fabric under the main fabric to keep it from pulling and shifting, especially in quilting.

Some specialty sewing shops sell a specific stitch in the ditch presser foot. It has a perpendicular guide at the leading edge of the foot. As the seamstress feeds the fabric, the guide slides along the ditch and helps maintain the proper position of the needle going through the needle platform. It has been an eyeball-saver! Without a special presser foot, the stitching in the ditch relies on seeing the needle poking into the ditch with each stitch. One tiny slip and you will end up with some visible topstitching instead of invisible stitching. I have discovered one big difference sewing now that wasn’t a factor 50 years ago in high school: I didn’t wear trifocals in high school! Anything that helps me see better doing close work is a blessing for me and my eyes!

Other specialty presser foot plurals that are sold by specialty shops (and websites) include a foot to steady beading or other trim pieces. The presser foot holds the trim or string of beading, guiding it through the sewing platform without extensive pinning ahead of time. If you do a lot of embellishing in your sewing tasks, these presser foot plurals will take a lot of frustration out of completing your projects. There are many presser foot plurals to make quilting easier. (I don’t quilt, so I can’t comment on those.)

Wherever you keep your most important sewing tools, presser foot plurals need to be included.

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Really interesting article Diane! I am a beginner and tend to use the same presser foot for almost all my projects (mainly out of laziness) but this has open my eyes for the world of pressar feet!

Diane Earhart's profile picture
Diane Earhart

February 8, 2021


Thanks, Linnea. You can limp along with one for most projects, but the extra effort to change the presser foot will save you hassle in the long run. Thanks for following me, and I hope to have some more insight soon! Good luck with your sewing projects! It truly is my happy place!

Creative Fabrica
Linnea from Creative Fabrica

February 9, 2021

Creative Fabrica

Yes I already noticed the benefit of having a zipper foot (borrowed during a sewing class), and the results was so much better. Will probably invest in more once I figured out which ones I like and need for the projects I make. I am a beginner sewer and would love to learn more from you about how to sew! Excited to follow you and read more of your articles :)

Diane Earhart's profile picture
Diane Earhart

February 9, 2021


Thanks, Linnea! I am excited that you're excited! I am eager to write more soon!

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