In March I had the huge privilege of running a day on free motion quilting. This is one of my special Saturday courses that I run to help quilters develop their skills. Fun is high on the list of content for the day, though it does have to be said that coffee and cake are close seconds!

During the day though, it became very obvious that few of my participants that day had really investigated the possibilities that are offered by quilting with the aid of the feed dogs. We often call this Walking Foot quilting. They had assumed that you EITHER quilted in the ditch OR you did FMQ.

Have you ever gone “beyond the ditch”?

I love quilting with the feed dogs up. It offers so many possibilities. I am NOT saying that this is better than free motion quilting, or indeed that it is not as good, but what I AM saying is that it is different, good fun, very effective and well worth a try.

So, what do you need to know?

• Well, first of all you really need to know that I am not suggesting that every bit of quilting you do has to be in the ditch. Quilting in the ditch is very hard for beginners (so why is it always suggested as the first thing to try?) as you have to try and keep your stitching totally straight. A useful tip though, is to keep your eye on where you are going not where you have been – so look in front of the needle, not at the needle itself.  Here, you can maybe see where the stitching has missed the ditch!

• A walking foot is a good tool to use as it helps with the travel of all the layers of fabric through your machine. You can manage without one, but make extra sure your quilt sandwich is really smooth or it could ripple badly.

• If you can get a walking foot with an open toe you are on to a winner! This is because an open toe foot allows you to see what you are stitching far more clearly.

• Some machines have something very similar to a built in walking foot, known as Integrated Dual Feed or IDT. Pfaff are the original, but some higher end machines are now including this facility. This means that you can use a greater variety of feet whilst still getting the benefits of the fabric feeding through the machine more smoothly.

• Masking tape is your friend! You can do a lot of your marking out with masking tape, and no worries about removing the marks later.

• Other ways of marking your quilt top can be chalk, pencil, stitching (without thread) through paper patterns – just please DON’T use a Frixion pen!  Pretty please!

What is a Walking Foot –

• It has a 2nd set of feed dogs and therefore helps the top and bottom layer of fabric move together. It’s a great boon in patchwork and quilting, but is also great for dressmaking for fabrics that slip and move especially velvets and for matching checks. In a machine with IDT there is a little lever which pulls down a little grippy bit that fits into a cut out on the back of the presser foot

• There are different types of walking foot and it is important that you have the one that fits your own machine – apart from anything else; the wrong one might break your needles! Do take the advice of your local sewing machine engineer or the company that supplied your machine so that you can be sure of getting one that fits well.

• When your walking foot is fitted, do double check that it is nice and tight – nothing like a wobbly foot for creating havoc with your machine.

What quilting designs can you do with your feed dogs up?

• Square and diagonal grids or parallel lines – these can be in the ditch or beside the ditch – much more forgiving, or even nowhere near the ditch, creating a pattern that compliments the patchwork design rather than follows it.

• You could use straight lines radiating out from one corner of your quilt

• You could spiral around a motif – and spirals in this respect can be curved or linear. What about spiralling out from a triangle? Or a pentagon? Or stitch concentric lines around a shape

• Use the serpentine stitch on your machine (if it has one)

• Use some of your machine’s decorative stitches – but avoid anything that is too heavy/solid as it could distort your quilt top ….. and be a complete pig to unpick! Not that any of us ever need to do that!

• You can create some wonderful organic wiggly lines by just gently manoeuvring your quilt top from side to side

• Create a wonderful starburst using straight or wiggly lines radiating from a point within your quilt top.

Words to live by!

• Perfectly Imperfect – the best you can do on that day

• It’s a Walking Foot – not a running foot!

• Start small and practice before you hit your biggest and best quilt!

• Practice, practice, practice – and then practice again!


  1. Denise Roberts

    Thank you very much for sharing this blog I found it very helpful and informative, as I have a table runner to be quilted and have been at a loss as how to do it. I have had advice from members of the group though. Can I ask why not use Frixion pens?

    1. Sheena Roberts Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope this helps you to come up with some different ways of quilting

      Frixion pens are not designed for fabric use. They are only tested by the manufacturer on paper. They utilise two chemicals – one which is the “ink” and one the “eraser” – except it isn’t an eraser, it is a second chemical activated by heat that renders the first chemical relatively transparent. When cold, the original chemical can show through again. You can never actually get the ink out. Sometimes it works and you don’t see it again, but not always. And do you want to be like the person who sent her quilt to a show only to find that the lines showed through and spoilt her beautiful work!

      There are people who are happy with them, but I absolutely do not suggest that they are used on the top of the quilt.


  2. Denise Inkson

    Nice inspiring blog. I know why not to use those pens. But beginners might not. Also you didn’t make it clear if you had feed dogs up with walking foot or down. Might be me reading it wrong. But overall this was a great blog and my inspire others to stop worrying about quilting there own quilts.

    1. Sheena Roberts Post author

      Thanks for such a considered response – I do appreciate it. It is not possible to cover everytBut hing that we might wish to, so sometimes it the right thing to make a bold statement (eg the Frixion pens) and let people who need to know the why ask that question. With regard to the feed dogs – what a good point! As having the feed dogs up is a general thing for most sewing it didn’t occur to me to be specific! As the machine’s feed dogs work in tandem with the walking foot it is essential that they are up and engaging – otherwise you won’t get the benefit. It’s like crocodile jaws holding onto your sandwich from the top and the bottom, moving it along and then letting go in order to grab again a smidge further on. Hope that helps.

      1. Denise Inkson

        Thank you. The reason I asked about the feed dogs is I use them both up and down depending on the fabric and type of project. Your blog was an enjoyable read thank you.

    1. Sheena Roberts Post author

      Absolutely – the walking foot is used with the feed dogs up – i.e. their position for normal sewing. So if you don’t have the facility to drop the feed dogs, or don’t want to cover them, you can create some gorgeous quilting designs. If your machine doesn’t have a walking foot that fits, just use your standard foot, but be sure you baste well to get the best result possible.

  3. Karin Pope

    Thank you for writing about walking foot quilting! I love this technique as I’m not really a flowery or swirly sort of quilter,or one who has to have every square mm of a quilt decorated. It isn’t that I can’t appreciate that sort of quilting but it isn’t for me.

    1. Sheena Roberts Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I also really appreciate good FMQ, and am in awe of all those wonderful patterns that can be created, but for me it’s always about the spaces in between (cue Leonard Cohen singing about the gaps and that’s where the light gets in!). I am passionate about the creative opportunities that come from playing about with the walking foot.