I've been learning more about the different sewing machine feet in my mega-box of presser feet that I bought. This week, the pintuck foot has been intriguing and delighting me. Accurate sewing has never been a strong point of mine so the prospect of sewing lines and lines of neat and accurate little pin tucks – well, that would fill me with horror!
Bring it on now that I have the pintuck foot. Accurate and straight sewing has never been easier with this simple addition to the machine. Often seen in heirloom sewing mixed in with other decorative stitching, pin tucks are pretty and give dimension and structure to your sewing. They can be used purely as a decorative addition, but with some clever thinking, they can also be used to give shaping to garments in place of pleats and darts too. Imagine a nice crisp white cotton shirt pulled in at the waist with an evenly spaced row of neat pin tucks – adorable. I had a shirt just like it back in the 90's! Maybe I could recreate that now I've been practicing.
All about the pintuck foot
The pintuck foot has evenly spaced grooves on the bottom and is designed to be used in conjunction with a twin needle to create evenly spaced raised tucks of fabric. Typically found with 3, 5, 7 or 9 grooves on the bottom, the feet vary according to the weight of the fabric being sewn. Usually the finer the fabric, the smaller the pin tucks and the more grooves you would have on the bottom of the foot to accommodate that.
You can make both corded and un-corded pin tucks. With the corded pin tucks, a thin cord is sewn into the tuck to give it more dimension. Usually, you will use a separate attachment or a special bobbin cover to exactly line up the cord with the twin needle as you sew and then the cord is caught by the zig-zag of the bobbin thread on the reverse side. I'll just be making the un-corded pin tucks today.
Choosing your double needle
First I recommend that you check out the earlier article about how to sew with a twin needle. This will give you plenty of tips on threading the machine and the needles. Hint – get yourself a good needle threader because your automatic threader on the machine won't work with a twin needle.
Now you need to match the size of the needle to the size of the pintuck foot. You can generally get twin needles anywhere from size 1.6 to 6.0, which is the distance in millimeters between the points. The needle has to match the foot, so the more grooves you have the smaller the needle distance needs to be because the needles have to match the grooves in the foot.
See how the needles here lie along the grooves in the foot I'm using. If the distance between the grooves matches the distance between the needles, you have a good match.
Twin needle sizes (being the distance between the needle points in mm)
- 1.6 (use with 9 groove foot)
- 2.0 (use with 7 groove foot)
- 2.5, or 3.0 (use with 5 groove foot)
- 4.0 (use with 3 groove foot)
Use these needle sizes as a guideline as some feet might vary. Always test your needle again the grooves before sewing.
Setting your tension
If you have ever used a twin needle to create a hem on a knit garment, then you'll probably have realized that setting a higher tension causes the fabric to ‘tunnel' between the needles and lift up off the surface of the fabric. On a garment hemline, you don't want that to happen and so will usually loosen the tension to make the double line of stitching lie nice and flat. When using a pintuck foot you DO want that to happen to give your tucks lift off the surface of the fabric. How much lift is up to you. The higher you set your tension the higher the lift in the pin tuck.
I tried 3 different tension settings, and of course, all machines will vary so you'll need to experiment to see what works best for you. The set of pin tucks at the higher 6.0 tension brought the fabric in more and created more height in the tuck, but when I went really high to 7.5 it actually bunched up too much and caused puckers so dropping it back to 6.0 gave the best result for me. In contrast, leaving it at the regular 4.0 tension made them pretty flat and it was hard to exactly follow the previous tuck so those came out a little uneven.
Use some scraps of fabric and be prepared to try out different settings to see which gives you the neatest finish and the best dimension without over-puckering.
How to sew with the pintuck foot
Starting out with a nice straight line is going to be key to making all the other lines straight too. Use your favorite marking tool and draw your starting line. It will need to be on the right side of your fabric so you can follow it, so make sure it's a marker that will wash out/erase with heat/water etc. You can add your pin tucks in either direction so it's up to you if you start your first tuck in the center or at one edge.
TIP – creating pin tucks will pull in and shrink up your fabric. Therefore give yourself plenty of space and create your pin tucks before cutting your fabric to size for your garment or project.
Add and thread your twin needle and snap on your pintuck foot. Best to test your tension on a scrap of fabric first to make sure you get the size of tuck you are looking for. When you are ready to go, simply drop the foot and follow the line you created, keeping it centered on the middle of the foot and between the needles. Ta-dah – magic, one beautiful pin tuck completed.
Now decide on your spacing. You can have your pin tucks spaced right next to each other or you can use the grooves in the bottom of the foot to space them further apart. If you want them closely spaced, then move your fabric over just slightly, left or right, until the tuck you just sewed is now directly in line with the next groove. Follow that line as you sew the next tuck, keeping the groove in the foot nicely following along that pin tuck and there you have it – beautifully even pin tucks.
Follow that line as you sew the next tuck, keeping the groove in the foot nicely following along that pin tuck and there you have it – beautifully even pin tucks.
Just keep repeating these steps, moving across the fabric, following the previous tuck, and sewing a new one, until you have the number that you want. For some reason, as in nature, an odd number of tucks always seems to be a little more balanced so go for 3, 5, 7 or 9 for best results.
If you want them spread further apart, then the process is exactly the same but instead of following the closest groove, skip one or two and keep the original tuck in that further groove – your next tucks are now further apart and you can leave them like that or go for the heirloom look with the embroidery in the channels.
In this example, I've made a very pretty but subtle decoration by spacing the pin tucks widely and then adding a line of decorative stitching down the center. You can still use your pin tucks foot at this stage to make sure your decorative stitching is running directly down the center, or switch to your regular foot.
Pin tucks have always been a more traditional and subtle way to add shaping, definition, and decoration to your projects. They are usually sewn as in these examples with a thread in a similar color to the underlying fabrics. For more definition or perhaps a more modern look, consider using contrasting threads, and maybe even a line of decorative beadwork on sequins to break up the tucks.
Bonus Tip – lost your zipper foot or invisible zipper foot? You could always use your pintuck foot in it's place!
Many readers have asked where they can get a good pintuck presser foot without buying a whole set. This one should work on most machines and is quite reasonably priced.