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Free Motion Quilting: My feed dogs don't drop

by Louise Sutara
(Annandale, Va)

My feed dogs do not drop.

What can you do to do free motion quilting without dropping the feed dogs?


If there isn't a lever or button to drop the feed dogs and your machine is an older machine, there may be a cover for them. You'll need to check your sewing machine's instruction manual. If you've got one, it should be in your accessories box or case.

Machine Set Up for Free Motion Quilting

When you set up for free motion quilting, you lower or cover the feed dogs so that they are out of the way. They aren't needed because YOU are in total control of moving the quilt sandwich under the needle of the machine. You create the stitch length by how fast or slow you run the machine and move the quilt.

With the feed dogs lowered there is more room to move the fabric under the needle. When your machine is property set up for free motion quilting, you will be able to move the sandwich freely under the quilting foot when it is in the down position.

In all honesty...

...many quilters quilt with the feed dogs up...kind of like mental training wheels...when they first start free motion quilting. I did it, too, when I first started, though I don't anymore.

Your feed dogs work to pull the quilt straight through the sewing machine. No problem when you are moving your quilt forward through the machine.

Now when you quilt from side to side or backwards, those same feed dogs are working against you. But if there's plenty of room to freely move the quilt, you won't notice it very much. Set your stitch length to zero and the feed dogs won't move at all.

So if, with your darning foot/quilting foot installed, you can still move the fabric, then you're good to go to get started free motion quilting.

If you can't move it with the presser for down, check your manual to see if there's a setting for 'darning'. On my Singer from the late 1950's the manual has a set up for darning and not free motion quilting, though the use is the same.

If all else fails...

Spring needle for free motion quilting may want to try a spring needle (pictured to the right).

It's exactly what it says, a needle enclosed in a spring. It's pricier than a regular needle and comes in packs of 1.

Schmetz makes one, but again, check your manual to see that your machine uses a Schmetz needle. Otherwise do a Google search that includes your brand of sewing machine and the words 'spring needle' as most stores don't seem to carry these needles.

The spring takes the place of the presser foot which gives you more space to move the quilt. Just be careful. There's only a tiny spring between your hands and the moving needle. Sewers use this needle for free motion machine embroidery.

I hope this information helps you get started with free motion quilting. It's so much fun to do!

Readers, if you've had this same problem, what did you do to solve it? Just use the 'Comments' link below to share your suggestions. Thank you!


Julie Baird

Comments for Free Motion Quilting: My feed dogs don't drop

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Slick piece os plastic.
by: Anonymous

I also used a piece of plastic w a hole cut for needle/ thread. So far, it is working great!

Thanks for advice
by: Fionnuala

Thanks so much, just starting quilting and the explanation regards setting the length dial to zero was key to my success. I’ve just mastered my first few stitches of free motion excited, gotta go and practice.

Thanks, thanks, thanks so much!

From the Editor:

You are most welcome! Now go have some fun!



Universal fix
by: Anonymous

If you are unable to lower the feed dogs and you can't find the darning plate, using the manual wheel until they are in the lowest position then setting your Stitch length to 0 seems to work as a universal solution.

From the Editor: I hadn't tried this before.

Thank you for sharing!

~ Julie

Finally! Success
by: Dee

The key for me was reading the sentence that said to keep your Stitch length at 0. I just watched a video by Professor pincushion and she removed the presser foot but I don't remember her saying to keep the Stitch length at zero. She may have and it went right over my head

I have an old singer slant shank can't find the proper quilting foot so I was so thrilled to finally have some success. What I was doing before was starting off with my Stitch length at zero and then changing it up to two or three.

Now I can go back and watch the other YouTube tutorials on the types of free motion quilting. the Super Slider.

From the Editor: Awesome Sauce, Dee! It's amazing how it's one little tiny thing that seems inconsequential that can make all the difference. I'm my own worst enemy when I get excited about doing something.

I'm glad you found the key for you!

Keep on quilting!

~ Julie

Free motion quilting
by: Anonymous

Thank you. 👍🏻

It worked
by: Jean

I'm so excited! I have a very simple sewing machine so there is no way to lower the feed dog. I just simply covered the feed dog with a slippery plastic piece and it worked perfect.

My first attempt was pretty good!

From the Editor: Congratulations on both your finished quilt and ingenuity!

~ Julie Baird

If unable to lower feed dogs for older machines
by: Anonymous

Then use darning plate on the machine bed..... that way the dogs won't come into contact with the fabric.

Tension is better with feed dogs up
by: Leah Day

Personally I find I have better tension and stitch quality if I leave the feed dogs up while free motion quilting. Machines simply stitch better when this mechanism is left alone!

While yes, you need a full free range of movement for machine quilting, the truth is you are more likely to have this if you adjust your free motion foot so it's not squishing your quilt at any time.

The best thing to do - try it both ways and see what works best for YOU and YOUR machine!

Leah Day

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