Do I Have to Drop My Feed Dogs?
One of the most commonly asked questions about free motion quilting finally gets answered
In short - NO! You absolutely don't have to drop your feed dogs unless your machine works better with them down!
For free motion quilting, the commonly advised way to get started is to first drop your feed dogs, or the little teeth that feed your fabric smoothly and evenly through the machine.
The idea is, if the feed dogs are up and engaged, then those little teeth will come in contact with the back of your quilt, making it difficult to move the quilt smoothly and evenly to create beautiful free motion designs.
This is what I was taught and believed for many years, until one day I realized that I'd been quilting for 2 weeks with my feed dogs up the whole time.
And best of all - my stitches looked BETTER with the feed dogs up!
So I started to do some research on this - asking quilters how they quilted their quilts and paying more attention to what I was doing in my sewing room to see when my stitches looked best.
Lo and behold, I soon found that my machine not only made better stitches with the feed dogs up, I had fewer tension issues, fewer thread breaks, and generally a much more enjoyable quilting experience!
From my experience, I've found that many machines just don't work as well with the feed dogs dropped, or turned off. I think this has something to do with the timing of the machine. Something about the gears that move those little teeth up and down are needed to keep the bobbin and top thread moving smoothly together.
When those gears are turned off, it changes something in the mechanics of the machine, making it harder to get perfect tension and good stitch quality. I've found many machines that stitched with perfect tension, but as soon as the feed dogs were turned off those perfect stitches went straight out the window!
Of course, if you're going to leave the feed dogs up, you're going to have to do something about them coming in contact with the back of your quilt. My general rule of thumb is simply to turn my stitch length to 0.
With your stitch length down so low, your feed dogs will continue to move up and down, but they will not actually feed your quilt forward. So even though the teeth are coming in contact with the back of your quilt, it shouldn't effect your ability to free motion quilt at all. If you do still find it difficult to move your quilt, the problem could be your free motion foot squishing the surface of your quilt, and not the feed dogs at all.
This slick sheet does double duty: covers your feed dogs, and reduces all the friction between the back of your quilt and the surface of your machine and table, making it much easier to free motion quilt on a domestic machine!
Of course, not all machines will work better with the feed dogs left up for free motion quilting.
Out of the 4 machines I own right now, one machine does work better with the feed dogs down. However for the other three, leaving the feed dogs up makes for a much better quilting experience. I see fewer tension and thread issues, and my stitches simply look better with those little teeth engaged.
So what should you do? Drop em' or leave em' up?
Why don't you try it both ways and see what works the best for you!
Let's go quilt,
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