Are Your Feed Dogs Running Right?

Who even knows what feed dogs are?

What Paul sees

No, they’re not hungry cats.

Literally (and figuratively)… mine weren’t operating correctly, and I had no clue they existed.

I took a sewing class in high school back when McCalls, Butterick, and Simplicity patterns were all the rage. To buy a Vogue pattern elicited Ooohs and Aaahs and sparked rumors of untold wealth among classmates.

Pattern - jacket and skirt

That skirt and jacket look so familiar.




pattern - halter top

Oh, yes. It was the 70’s.


My father gifted my mother with a Kenmore sewing machine, which she had no intention of using, so by default, I sewed my little heart out on it. Back in the days before petite hems caught on, I had to adjust everything.

Creating things came naturally to me. Though we kids were warned at both Grandmas’ houses not to play with their Singer sewing machines, Aunt Margie forgot to mention that caveat, so in third grade, I figured out how to make a pillow with a ruffle on her machine.

But back to feed dogs. I made extra money in college by embroidering and repairing blue jeans. (I will NEVER replace another zipper in a pair of Levis again.) I decorated my first apartment(s) with sheets turned into everything from throw pillows to matching curtains. How was it I’d never faced a feed dog?

embroidery jeans

Here we go.

Because I didn’t have to. As long as a machine runs smoothly, we assume all is okay, right?

I was able to part with that Kenmore in its heavy table when I found a portable Brother XV 809 at a garage sale for $20.  It had never been used, though the woman’s husband bought it for her with hopes she would use it.  She showed him. (Sounds like my mom.)
With one initial tune up, my little Brother has served me well. Until yesterday.

A friend wanted to surprise his wife by redoing their bathroom while she was out of town, which included a simple panel of matching curtain material he’d found at Hobby Lobby. He was desperate to find a seamstress. When I realized how easy the project was, I offered to whip it together.


What began as a simple project…

Let’s face it:  I didn’t know I had feed dogs, so I assumed everything on my machine worked correctly. I jumped into what should have been a thirty minute project. Fours hour later and under pressure to complete the promised deadline, I discovered feed dogs.

I’d wasted a huge amount of time trying to ensure my bobbin tension was correct, which I may never know now because I was so focused on that being the problem, I probably screwed it up, too…

Bottom line, I definitely had a problem with my feed dogs, and unlike newer models, there was no switch to lower or raise them to engage. No, for my baby, you have to unscrew stuff and unscrew other stuff to reach them.

feed dog access

Except mine doesn’t have a diagram to help. (Can you spot the feed dogs?)

So, what did I do?  As every seasoned seamstress knows, there are “fix-arounds”. Once I identified the real issue (and confirmed I would not be able to fix it on my own), I improvised. And, yes, the seams will hold together.

Though the finished product might not be up to my standards, the end user – the guy planning to wow his wife – was thrilled to have this small piece of his puzzle ready to go.

For you non-sewers out there, my simple definition of a feed dog is a cog/gear (teeth) to pull the material and automatically feed it forward so one’s hands do very little work except to guide it.

But when they don’t work, watch out. You have to pull and fight the material and be very careful so the nut/bolt above the presser foot doesn’t whack you if you’re too close to the needle/action.

feed dogs under presser foot

The feed dogs are the two rows on the bottom with “teeth”. The presser foot above lowers to clamp the material down until the feed dogs move it forward when you step on the pedal to engage.

As I was desperately wrestling with an innocent piece of material, trying way too hard to make a simple curtain, I pondered feed dogs and what they symbolize in life. I woke up thinking about them.

            What are my own personal feed dogs?

How have I taken them for granted?

How have I neglected them?

Is that why I struggle so hard with things that should be easy?

*Taking the sewing analogy a bit further, the upper and lower tensions must  balance one another.

I’m glad my little feed dogs need a tune-up. Recognizing there are problems lets me fix them before they’re beyond repair.

Happy August 1st!!! (Rabbit Rabbit)
Today is a new day and I have at least one dog to feed!

zu on porch 2016.jpg

Oh, but you will feed me whenever I command.

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8 Responses to Are Your Feed Dogs Running Right?

  1. paula monroe says:

    Your Mom sounds like me – laundry!

    Paula Monroe

  2. Donna Wilkinson says:

    My sewing machine is giving me fits too! I can’t get the needle to pick up the thread from the bobbin. I am pretty sure I had the sewing machine threaded correctly, but after 1.5 hours of trying to fix a simple belt loop, I put it away until I can really examine the situation!

    Love reading your Sit. Desk. Write.

    Donna Wilkinson
    Administrative Assistant
    Phone: (309) 662-2100
    Fax: (309) 665-4165

    To upload a file Click Here

  3. Candace says:

    Zuzu is getting gray!

  4. Janean says:

    I knew what feed dogs were as soon as you added “sewing” to the sentence. I loved your pattern photos and agree about ooo’s and ahh’s for Vogue! Beautiful blue jean embroidery too. Love learning more of your many talents. Next time, if you are sewing up against a deadline and your machine is acting up, in any way, please call me. I’ll make a house call and loan you mine and it’d be the first time it left my side. I have a Bernina, a gift from my grandmother in the late 80’s when I was in high school. She had a really nice sewing machine I’d borrowed because my mother’s was crap. Feed dog problems. Tension problems. Couldn’t zig zag. My mom’s machine made sewing not fun. My grandma wanted her sewing machine back and offered to buy me one. Hope your feed dogs will soon undergo professional care so next time you sew it is smooth and a pleasure. Glad you persevered and completed the project on deadline! Impressive!

    • GJD says:

      Very interesting! Something else we have in common!
      But a Bernina. Wow. I am in awe!
      So fun to learn more about you, too! 🙂

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