Reprinted from Suck It Up, Buttercup
The husband is fond of saying "Get the right tool for the job" any time he needs to do anything. Neither of us likes wasting time trying to cobble together a fix that doesn't work well. When I started making quilt tops, I spent a lot of time experimenting with different quarter-inch feet to find the ones that worked well with my machines. Thankfully, presser feet are relatively cheap, because I had to do a lot of experimenting. I thought I would share my collection with you and offer up some thoughts on which ones I like and which ones I don't.
First, some commentary about integrated feet versus snap-on feet. I much prefer the integrated feet—the ones where the foot and shank are one unit—to the snap-on feet. While the snap-on feet are infinitely more convenient and easier to change in and out, I have found that there is simply too much "slop" in them to suit me. Their greatest advantage—ease of removal—is also their greatest weakness, because the point at which the foot attaches to the shank is just not as strong. Having said that, if your machine is like the Janome that I used last weekend in the sewing class I took, where you have to keep a screwdriver next to you at all times in order to remove and attach feet (aarrgghh), a snap-on foot may be preferable. Either that, or replace the slotted screw with a thumbscrew that can be removed more easily, as on many of the the vintage machines.
Here endeth that sermon. On to the feet.
This is a pretty ubiquitous quarter-inch foot. They sell these at Jo-Ann Fabrics, so if you're in a hurry and need one, they are easy to find. If you look at the bottom right side of the foot, you can see that there is a small metal flange. That is there to guide the edge of the fabric to provide an accurate 1/4" seam. I used this foot for quite a while and could not figure out why I didn't like it. My big Janome machine has a similar piecing foot and I use that one all the time. It finally dawned on my that the flange on this foot was too flexible, to the point where even a few thicknesses of fabric pressed up against it could push it out of alignment. I think that's a quality control issue, and something to be aware of if you use these flanged feet. It also goes without saying that you should check the accuracy of your 1/4" seam on every machine you use. There are slick little tools, like this one, which allow you to do that. Interestingly, Jane, the Singer 66 that I converted to a hand crank, does not make an accurate 1/4" seam when using the flanged feet. If your machine has a problem making an accurate seam with these feet, you can use one of the non-flanged feet and mark the bed of the machine with blue painter's tape to provide a guide for the material.
This next foot is an improvement. I like that it is a bit more streamlined and not so chunky. It also has nice red markings on it—there is one on the toe to indicate an 1/8" seam, should you need one, and a marking that allows you to stop sewing 1/4" from the bottom edge of the fabric, which can sometimes be useful. The flange on this one seems to be a bit sturdier and not as prone to flexing.
This foot, which is made by Distinctive—and Distinctive and Cutex are my two favorite foot suppliers at the moment—has a sturdy, extra-long flange on the end. This is a snap-on foot. That little lever at the back of the shank allows you to release and attach the different feet without removing the shank.
This next foot has become my absolute favorite piecing foot, to the point where I already have two and may get a few more so I can keep one with each machine I use for piecing. I stumbled across it at The Singer Featherweight Shop. I think the reason I like this foot so much has to do with the fact that the right toe is extended out. On a lot of vintage sewing machines—including my Singer 66s, 15s, 201s, and my Necchis—the feed dogs are uneven lengths, with the right feed dog being shorter than the left. I am not sure when the switch happened, but the later machines like the Rocketeer and the Touch and Swears have feed dogs of equal lengths. What that means for quilt piecing is that on those older machines with unequal feed dogs, the fabric is only riding on one feed dog as it feeds in. It is much easier for the beginning of that seam to get distorted. I am able to compensate for it a bit by using leaders and enders when chain piecing, which allow me to sew off of one piece of fabric onto another, but it isn't a complete fix.
I popped this foot onto Vittorio, my Necchi BF, a few nights ago and I was amazed at how quickly those piecing problems disappeared. I think that the extended right toe of this foot helps to "pull" the fabric into the machine and eliminates any potential distortion. It also has a little flange on the right side to provide a guide for the fabric.
Until I found the foot with the extended right toe, above, I used this open-toe piecing foot quite a bit (and this is the one I use on Jane, my handcrank). I like that it allows me a good view of the fabric. This one is an integrated style, although it also comes in a snap-on version.
The following feet are all snap-on versions. I don't use them much but have included them here for completeness. This foot is similar to the foot in the second photo, although the markings aren't delineated in red.
I am sure there are quilters who swear by these plastic feet, but I am not a fan. This one is useful only for the fact that it has a whole bunch of easy-to-see markings on it.
This one also has great markings, including for 1/8" seams. It is a bit chunky, though. I thought I might like being able to see the fabric as it goes through the machine, but it's not really a huge advantage.
I have no idea where this foot came from. It was in my collection so I probaby picked it up with a bag of presser feet at a thrift store or something.
This last one is a compensating foot. It is really intended for topstitching, but it works well for piecing, too. The flange on this one is nice and chunky and great for thicker pieces of fabric. I would probably use this foot if I were piecing something like flannel or wool.
So there you have it. I think it's important to remember that vintage sewing machines, for all their advantages, sometimes have some quirks. What works on one brand or model may not work as well on a different brand or model. I picked up a lot of these feet at Amazon for just a few bucks. I'd be curious to know if anyone has any other recommendations.
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