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What Is A Feed Dog On Sewing Machine

Ever since it was first invented by Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor in 1830, the sewing machine has not only helped us stitch beautiful clothes but also repaired our torn pants, skirts, and uniforms —saving truckloads of precious time.

But have you ever been bewildered by its strange part, namely feed dog— which can sound intimidating to a new sewer with its extraordinary name and mysterious functions!

Worry no more, feed dog is not as complicated as it might seem to the uninitiated. And the more you know about it, the less daunting it will be.

What is a feed dog on sewing machine?

It is the basic component of the sewing machine that looks like tiny spiky metal ‘teeth’ sitting on stitch plate underneath your presser foot. A feed dog gently grips the bottom fabric to help it move through the machine and allows you to concentrate on other sewing needs.

A feed point system marches back and forth in precisely timed discreet increments that create uniform distance between each stitch. In general, the higher the number of feed dogs on a sewing machine, the better contact feed dogs will have with the fabric— which means more control and precision while sewing.

Are the Feed dogs always visible?

Most sewing is done when the feed dogs are up and visible, as these zigzag metal ridges grip and pull the fabric through the machine, in precise increments. However, it is only during free-motion machine quilting or darning that the feed dogs are either dropped right beneath the throat plate or covered using some special plate.

What does ‘Lowering the Feed dogs’ mean?

When you “lower the feed dogs” you are not just dropping them below the needle plate but also disabling their use as you sew. This technique is mostly used for freehand-motion quilting that requires you to take full control of the speed of the fabric smoothly in all directions. As a result, the sewer can enjoy unlimited creativity and freely enrich the quilts with beautiful texture.

How to lower feed dog

Raised feed dogs, on the contrary, pull against the backside of your quilt, which makes it more challenging to maneuver in all directions smoothly. That’s why amateur quilters are taught to lower their feed dogs using a lever or button on their machine.

While the modern sewing machines offer quick, convenient options to drop the feed dogs, a majority of older machines don’t have this capability. Let’s unveil this functionality in the next section of the guide:

How to Lower the Feed dog?

There are different kinds of machines used for garment sewing and all of them differ by make, manufacturer, and methodology. For this reason, the feed mechanism of all the sewing machines is not the same and they employ different methods to move the feed dogs up and down.

  • The ultra-modern or computerized sewing machines come loaded with the goodness of a working switch that lowers the feed dogs straight away as you press it.
  • If you own an older sewing machine, then you can expect a pre-installed metallic plate that covers the feed dogs— allowing you to practice free-motion quilting with ease.
  • Most quilters prefer to use playing cards or a plastic sheet to cover the feed dogs that are permanently fixed and cannot be lowered anymore.

Beginners are strictly advised to refer to the instruction manual of their sewing machines in case they’re not sure how the feed dogs are lowered.

Still can’t lower your feed dogs? Try these hacks:

  • Cover the needle plate with a low-tack tape— which will not only help to prevent the moving feed dogs from grabbing your fabric, but also allow you to control the motion and direction of the fabric freely.
  • Try a Supreme Slider: A slick plastic sheet that fits tightly to your sewing machine like a vinyl decal; this polyester sheet covers the feed dogs perfectly. Even better, it boasts a small rectangular cut out at the center for the needle hole, allowing the needle to move easily.
  • In case, you do not have access to the user manual, there are online instructions available as well. Simply navigate to your manufacturers’ website, input your machine’s model number and find your way through the instructions.

What also turns off with dropping the Feed Dogs?

While dropping the feed dogs does assist in a ‘free-flowing motion’, many machines just don’t work positively with dropped feed dogs. As the timing of the sewing machine is closely linked to feed dogs, lowering them often makes the tension go finicky, while the thread nests on the back of the fabric become far more evident, and the stress level of the quilter simply soars.

This is the main reason why many try free motion quilting on a high note, but end up throwing in the towel simply because they cannot achieve a decent looking stitch with the feed dogs down.

Even worse; the blame for the bad stitches is usually put on the sewing machine. This brings us to the biggest debacle:

IS THIS EVEN NECESSARY?

The truth is the normal position for your feed dogs is to be up and engaged so it is possible to sew evenly spaced stitches. After all, this is how the machine is designed to be used!

But since so many amateur quilters have been taught to strictly drop their feed dogs to assist free motion quilting, it is naturally assumed that changing this step will damage the machine. Worse still— even more quilters are convinced that it’s not viable to try free motion quilting on their older machine simply because it cannot drop the feed dogs.

But surprisingly, it is a completely optional step! You can either drop your feed dogs or even leave them up. And it is best to test both the methods and see which one works the best for you on your specific machine — free motion quilt when the feed dogs are up OR free motion quilt when they’re down?

 Recommended Setting for Free Motion Machine Quilting when Feed Dogs are Up Recommended Setting for Free Motion Machine Quilting when Feed Dogs are down
Alter the stitch length to the lowest settingLet the stitch length rest at normal setting

As you test different permutations and combinations to master free-motion quilting, you can also try modifying your darning foot. An invaluable sewing tool with a circular opening at its base; it keeps the fabric from coming up as the quilter moves the fabric around.

With a plethora of new tools introduced in the sewing market every year, the world of machine quilting is growing rapidly. Computerized darning foot, for example, takes full control of the stitches to help you craft consistent stitch lengths while pursuing free-motion quilting, even though feed dogs are lowered.

Pro Tip: Stay updated with the recent product developments of your machine brand to know if there are any new tools available for your sewing machine.

Do some Presser Feet also Have Built-in Feed Dogs?

A feed presser or a walking foot, which evenly feeds layers of fabric to the sewing machine while quilting— has built-in feed dogs at its base. This allows the craftsperson to sew multiple layers of fabric at the same time.

What’s more; the built-in feed dogs found in the walking foot grips onto the top layer of fabric and push it at the same pace as the machine’s feed dogs moving the bottom layer of fabric— and thus preventing the layers from shifting. While a walking foot is one of the most versatile parts of the sewing machine that can be used for any type of sewing; it is especially helpful in straight-line machine quilting.

Final Verdict

Feed dogs are arguably the most indispensable sewing machine parts that play a crucial role in gripping the fabric. While it is fine to drop your feed dogs and try free-motion quilting, it is equally viable to leave them up in the normal position so you can sew evenly spaced stitches.

No matter which route you take, it’s best to try both methods and see what works best for you on your particular machine.

But more than anything else: DON’T GIVE UP! AND KEEP TRYING.

Let’s go QUILT J

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