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Should I use a walking foot or a zipper foot to stitch in the ditch around piping?

by Diana
(Portland, OR)

Detail w/ Piping

Detail w/ Piping

Diana writes...

I am teaching myself how to machine quilt for the very first time.

It is suggested using a walking foot to stitch in the ditch, which I would like to do just to stabilize the overall quilt (tho' the seams are mostly all curves, not straight lines), but I am not sure the walking foot would be appropriate in the areas where I have used PIPING in my quilt.

I had contemplated using my zipper foot so that I can get as close to the seams with the piping....but thought I'd ask for your suggestions before I get started. I'm not in a wicked hurry, but am also anxious to get started.

I made a smaller, more simplified sample of the "real" quilt, so that I can learn, and also figure out how I want it quilted, so it's for practice only. I've attached a detail of the quilt where the piping is for reference.

BTW, LOVE your site...thank you for posting all of your lessons's very detailed, systematic, easy to follow, and I like your little antics too (i.e. "ruh-roh"....etc.)

Thanks in advance.



Julie replies...

Hi Diana!

Welcome to the wonderful world of machine quilting! You are going to have So.Much.Fun.!!!

I firmly believe that you learn best when you know why. So let's get down to what a walking foot does for you.

Walking Foot Basics

The purpose of the walking foot is to assist in evenly feeding the layers of your quilt sandwich through the machine.

With feed dogs engaged, the sewing machine is doing most of the work; the quilter merely steers. But there's a lot to steering, namely managing the bulk of the layers. Even harder to learn is to stop stitching while you still have full control and then re-adjusting and re-positioning the sandwich and your hands. That's why a walking foot is recommended and beginning quilters usually quilt their first quilts with one.

As you indicated, since the purpose of this quilting is to stabilize, then I would practice on your smaller quilt using the walking foot.

A curved line is really a line of many small, straight stitches

Though some of the curves are pretty 'curvy', I suggest mentally segmenting a curve between the different fabrics. Be prepared to stop and re-adjust hands and sandwich when you come to a new fabric. (More often, if needed.) Many of those shorter segments are much closer to straight lines.

Also good to remember is that your machine doesn't stitch a true curved line, but rather many short straight lines (a stitch) with slight changes in the angle. So stop with the needle down, raise your foot and pivot just the slightest amount, to match the curved seam of your patchwork with your machine's straight stitches.

Does that make sense?

Avoiding tucks

When you must turn the quilt, take your time to completely re-position the layers. This is when you are most likely to stitch a tuck into the backing.

Does a tuck on the back destroy your quilt?


But as quilters, we insist on making it our mission to point out any and all 'mistakes' to others.

When someone compliments you on your quilt and you feel that irresistible urge to point out something you think is 'less than'...take a step back.

Breathe deeply, hold your head high, smile and politely say 'Thank you'.

There's no need for more.

The zipper foot... a standard presser foot and doesn't provide the 'dual feed' action that helps pull the layers evenly through the machine. Though I agree it'd make it easier to stitch close to the piping, I think ultimately, you'd end up with tucks and puckers front and back.

If you feel like you're fighting your quilt that makes for a really crappy first experience. I want you to enjoy yourself! Machine quilting is FUN!

Typically, when you're sewing two patches together, the presser foot pushes the top patch towards you just an itty-itty-bit.

That's why it's recommended to put a patch with a bias edge on the bottom next to the feed dogs when you're piecing. The same reasoning applies to one patch being slightly bigger than the one it is sewn to—put the bigger one on the bottom. As long as it's not too much bigger, the action of the presser foot likely evens them out.

Your zipper foot will do the same thing, except now you've got three layers to contend with. That's why I vote 'no' on it, unless...

There's an exception... always, right??!

If you have a sewing machine with a built-in even feed, Pfaff has one on all their machines and Bernina may have it on their newer ones (check your manual), then engage it and use your zipper foot.

An edge joining foot would work nicely, too. The center flange rides right in the seam line.

Fun things to come...

As you progress with your machine quilting, something you're apt to try is free motion ditch quilting.


Deep breath. Don't freak out!

The advantage of free motion ditch quilting is that you're no longer limited to moving only forward on your quilt. You now have the ability to move in any direction. That means less starting and stopping and tying off. Less of the big manipulations of the quilt sandwich in and out from under the needle to reposition.

Quite frankly, I find it much more relaxing than quilting with my walking foot.

SERIOUS NOTE: If you have no free motion quilting experience, this project is not the one to try it on first. However, I just want you to be aware of where you can go with machine quilting.

Diana, I am thrilled to read of your determination and positive attitude towards machine quilting. The fact that you're resourceful and understand the value of a practice quilt sandwich from the beginning is FA-BU-LOUS!!!

You will learn so much by trial and error. The practice sandwich gives you a place where it doesn't hurt to find out something didn't work as you expected. There's no amount of 'reading' or 'watching' about quilting that will make you a terrific quilter, only doing. And you're well on your way!

So Diana, this is for you!


Julie Baird

PS Thank you for your kind words! They made my day!

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Thank You!
by: Diana

Hello Julie:

Wow, that was a quick response, and a thorough one to boot. Thank you so much. I do have some experience with free motion quilting from a former quilting group I was in, where we had a special speaker come for the day. I have some small sandwiches I've been experimenting with, but I have never done my own quilt before; everything I've done before was just playing around. So, once deciding to do my own quilt, I decided to start at the very beginning. I had thought of the free-motion foot for stitch in the ditch, and you just confirmed that I may have been on the right track. Thank you again, and for the special "cheer" you attached. So awesome. I'm a happy camper now:) Can't wait to explore your site some more.

Be well.


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