Your sewing machine should come with a basic presser foot which allows you to straight stitch and zigzag. (Or just straight stitch if you bought an old straight stitch only machine.) We’ll call that the “plain” foot. It may include a number of other feet, or it may not.
Most people find a zipper foot to be very useful. There are a number of styles of zipper foot – if you don’t get one with your machine and have a selection, look them over carefully and think about which one you’ll like better. It’s a matter of preference. With a plain foot and a zipper foot you’re well equipped to get started.
Other feet tend to perform functions which you can do without the foot but may be easier with the foot.
- Plain foot
Good for most ordinary stitching, straight or zigzag.
- Automatic buttonhole foot
Used to make buttonholes on sewing machines capable of automatic buttonholes. You place the button for which the hole is to be sewn into a clip on the foot, which sets the length of the buttonhole. A sensor arm on the sewing machine “feels” to know when the end of the buttonhole is reached. This type of foot can only be used with sewing machines that specifically support it as a feature – most such machines come with the foot.
- Binder foot
Used to install bias tape binding, the binder foot automatically feeds the binding into the correct place on the edge of the fabric and folds it correctly as you sew. One of your authors thinks this is wonderful… another thinks it’s easier to do by hand.
- Button foot
Used to install buttons, a button foot may take several forms. generally it will have something to make a bit of slack in the threads holding the button in place. Some button feet may have a clip to hold the button in place while you sew as well. This can make installation of the button particularly easy, as you place the button in the clip, then position the fabric under the button foot, then just stitch a little. (This avoids having to carefully hold the button in place while you position everything and stitch.) This type of foot may also ease installation of various other types of snaps and fasteners.
- Even feed foot
See Walking foot, below.
- Embroidery foot
This foot has a minimal surface area so that you can easily see what you’re doing as you embroider.
- Flat fell foot
Used for making flat felled seams. Your authors don’t understand why this is necessary, having done perfectly good flat felled seams without any special foot.
- Gathering foot
Used for gathering fabric. Your authors don’t quite see the point of this foot – it doesn’t seem to do anything that a plain foot can’t be used for.
- Rolled hem foot
Automatically rolls the edge of the fabric as you sew in order to make a very neat hem. This isn’t absolutely necessary – it can be done by hand, and it’s tricky to learn to do it right with the rolled hem foot, but if you learn it you can produce very neat hems very quickly, and if you use a very small rolled hem foot, you can probably make a much narrower hem than you could do by hand. Your authors have several rolled hem feet but don’t actually use them… yet. Tip: You can achieve much better results by feeding the fabric into the rolled hem foot on an angle.
- Ruffler foot
Automatically ruffles fabric. It generally has a little metal thingie which shoves extra fabric under the needle just before the stitch is formed, making a little pleat. You can usually control the depth of the pleats and how many stitches between pleats. These can be awfully fun to play with.
- Satin stitching foot
Has a raised area behind the needle hole to allow closely packed zigzag stitching to pass through without catching on the needle hole.
- Walking foot
This device acts as a set of feed dogs on the upper side of the fabric as you sew. It’s used when you’re sewing several (at least two) layers of fabric together to help keep all the layers moving at the same speed to prevent bunching, puckering, or mismatching of patterns.
- Zipper foot
Excellent for installing zippers. This foot is also excellent for topstitching very close to the edge of something, as it stays out of the way of your work so you can see more easily what you’re doing.