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7 excellent tips for a productive sewing marathon

by Elaine Theriault

Welcome to another fun and very productive week. This week we’re exploring the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q. This is a computerized sewing machine that packs a lot of punch.

I’ve previously reviewed the Opal 690Q. Take a peek at my post, Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q Sewing Machine Parts, to start with then browse through some of my previous posts and what I made with this sewing machine.

There’s a lot more to share with you this week about the Opal 690Q. I’ll also share some of my best quilting/sewing tips to make us all more productive and get the job done right.

Come on – what are we waiting for?

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

I have a large sewing studio for which I’m very thankful. This isn’t necessarily the best thing if you’re constantly losing stuff or your tools are not where they’re needed. This used to happen to me all the time and I was very frustrated.

Here are some great tips on how I get set up for a marathon day of sewing. I find that if something goes wrong or I have to stop and search for a tool, that’s enough for me to take a break while I contemplate what I’m looking for. And sometimes, I don’t get back to the machine.

You’ll be very surprised if you follow these steps and see how much more productive you can be.

1. The Extension Table

The extension table is an add-on accessory, but one that’s worth its weight in gold. While the bed of the sewing machine is sufficient to sew, the extension table adds that much more room. I don’t use a fancy sewing table – a wooden banquet table works fine.

I’ve put my sewing machine accessory skirt (what is that thing called anyway?) under the sewing machine to have room to put my tools so they don’t fall off the table.

Another good tip – make sure the entire surface of your sewing table is clear. Then there’s no danger of bits and pieces flying off the table as you work.

I know this sounds simple, but trust me – it’s extremely helpful to becoming a super productive quilter. Doesn’t matter how big your space is – clear it off in preparation for your marathon sewing day.

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q with extension table

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q with extension table

2. Read the User’s Guide

If you’re not familiar with your sewing machine, you should have the User’s Guide handy. If you’re going to a class and you’re not familiar with your sewing machine, do yourself (and the teacher) a favor and take the User’s Guide.

Don’t forget to read the User’s Guide. I can’t stress this enough. There’s very USEFUL information in the book. Yes – it’s great to take a class on your machine, but you can’t absorb all that information in a couple of hours. By going through the User’s Guide a section at a time and playing with all the buttons, bells and whistles, you’ll learn and remember what button does what. Don’t be afraid – you can’t kill the machine just by playing with the buttons. If you’ve messed something up and no idea how to go back, turn the machine off and all the settings will go back to the default settings.

User's Guide for the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

User’s Guide for the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

3. Gather your tools

I have THREE tools that I use all the time when I’m quilting or sewing. A good seam ripper is a must. Get one that fits nicely in your hand and change it from time to time as they get dull!

The quilter’s awl is a must. Whether you’re piecing, putting the binding on, stitching applique, the quilter’s awl is a small pointy object that can keep your fabrics under control right up to the needle where your finger can’t reach. A must-have!

Lastly, you need a pair of snips. SNIPS, not scissors. Snips are easy to grasp when you want to cut threads. They also get dull and it’s not worth the cost or hassle to get them sharpened. Get yourself a new pair if the old ones are no longer cutting properly.

Seriously! I’m amazed at how much we put up with old and worn tools because we’re too lazy to get a new one. I would bet that most of us already have a new seam ripper or a new pair of snips sitting in the drawer waiting to be used. Well, now is the time to bring them out and use them.

A seam ripper, a quilter's awl and a pair of snipsA seam ripper, a quilter's awl and a pair of snips

A seam ripper, a quilter’s awl and a pair of snips

I’m not into pinning my work, but if the project I’m working on calls for pins (like a border on a quilt), I get the pin cushion out. Matter of fact, I have several pin cushions. One stays by the sewing machine so I have a place to put the pins and the other one is on the cutting table so the pins are handy when I need to pin the fabrics together. When the one on the cutting table is empty, I switch them and then I have a newly filled pincushion ready to work with. I’ll be chatting about pinning techniques tomorrow.

Another very important item is the trash can for the threads. Someone found this cute little container for me. It even has a lid. Whether you make your own or use a purchased container, it’s important to have a container for your threads. Even more important is to clip the threads as you sew. There’s nothing like completing a quilt top and then spending several hours clipping threads.

I like to work on an ender/leader project when I’m sewing so I can continue the chain piecing process. If you’re an ender/leader person, get the items prepared and sitting by the sewing machine so they’re handy. I try to have enough sitting there for the day. Then I don’t have to look for something else if I run out.

These might seem like silly things, but trust me – if you’re not prepped, it’s an excuse to take a break. And when everything is prepped, you can get a lot done in one day.

A container for threads, a pin cushion, and an ender/leader project

A container for threads, a pin cushion, and an ender/leader project

4. Clear off the work surfaces

We cleared off the sewing machine table. It’s also critical to have space on the cutting mat. My cutting table did not look like this for a long, long time. Matter of fact, there was barely any room to cut on the darn thing. Many years ago, I got wise and found that if the cutting mat was clear, I actually felt like cutting something and it was way easier to trim projects. The mess on the cutting table got put away and I’m a very happy sewist.

Yes, there are times when it gets a few things dumped on it, but I try every day to leave it looking as in the photo below unless I’m in the middle of cutting something.

It takes a few minutes to clean up at the end of the day, but the time gained in the long run is huge. Definitely, time well spent.

Keep your cutting mat clear.

Keep your cutting mat clear.

The same thing goes for the ironing board. If your ironing surface is covered with stuff, it’s pretty hard to press seams correctly, especially when you’re working on borders. I try to keep the ironing board clear. Yes, from time to time a few things will get placed on it, but again, I try at the end of the day to put away everything that accumulated there.

I’ve come downstairs to my studio when it’s been a huge mess. I don’t feel like sewing because it means I have to clean up first. I get distracted and then no sewing happens. But when I come downstairs and see those open (and very inviting) clear work surfaces? I dive into my sewing projects and I could sew all day.

Do yourself a favor and clear the surfaces off. How to get rid of the stuff? Find a home for it. That means finding a spot on the shelf or giving it away. But do something about it!

Ironing surface is cleared and ready to press quilt projects.

Ironing surface is cleared and ready to press quilt projects.

5. Machine maintenance

We’re about to set off on a sewing marathon so we better do some prep work on the sewing machine. Start off by cleaning out the bobbin area. We won’t go into the stories of what I’ve seen in people’s bobbin cases, but suffice it to say that you’re sewing with thread and fabric. Both thread and fabric are very linty. The more you sew, the more the lint will accumulate and it loves to hide in that bobbin case.

One of the things I love about the Opal 690Q is how easy it is to get the bobbin out and clean beneath it. I pop off the Stitch Plate and pull out the two pieces inside. Using a brush, it’s easy to clean all the lint out.

Did you know that having lint in the bobbin case can affect the tension of the sewing machine?

The bobbin area of the machine is now super clean and ready for some intense sewing.

If you can’t remember how those pieces fit back into the sewing machine, take a picture of the parts before you remove them so you can refer to the pictures when replacing them.

Remove the bobbin case and clean the lint out of that area.

Remove the bobbin case and clean the lint out of that area.

Don’t forget to remove the lint from between the raised sections on the feed teeth. In the photo below, you can see a long row of teeth, then a hollow section, then a short row of feed teeth. It’s these hollow sections that you want to remove the lint from. There’s currently no lint in there, but I’ll show you towards the end of the week how much accumulated. I use my quilter’s awl to poke the lint from out of this area.

Make sure you clean the lint from the feed teeth.

Make sure you clean the lint from the feed teeth.

It’s a good idea to clean this area on a regular basis. I know what you’re thinking. What’s a regular basis? If you sew a lot, this could be once a day. If you don’t sew often, it could be once a month or even longer. So how can you easily keep track of when to maintain the sewing machine?

I like to wind five bobbins. When the five bobbins are empty, it’s time to clean out the bobbin case. Make sure you don’t borrow those bobbins for your second machine (I’ve been known to do that in the past, but I don’t anymore). Each machine now has its own five bobbins.

But what about changing the thread color? No need – I use a basic shade of gray for all my piecing, whether the fabrics are light or dark. If the tension is properly set, you should NOT see the stitches from the top of the quilt. More on that tomorrow.

I’m not very good at focusing on a single project and I might work on that project using several different sewing machines. It’s important that I don’t have to worry about the thread color.

Five bobbins are wound and ready to sew.

Five bobbins are wound and ready to sew.

One other very important part of the sewing machine maintenance is the needle. It’s a very good idea to change the needle every time you clean out the bobbin case. So wind those five bobbins and when they run out, clean out the bobbin case and change the needle.

This maintenance part isn’t even optional – it’s a MUST if you want the end result to look great. Bad tension, broken or damaged needles can very quickly turn a project into a huge mess. Don’t waste your time or your money by avoiding this step.

Change your needles regularly.

Change your needles regularly.

Once you’re ready to thread that new needle, use the built-in needle threader to make the job easier. Sometimes, I’m like the old dog – the one to which you can’t teach new tricks. However, I’m happy to report that I almost always use the needle threader now. It’s just habit and I had gotten out of the habit of using the needle threader, but it really does make life easier for you.

Use the needle threader to thread the needle

Use the needle threader to thread the needle

6. The presser foot

The presser feet are easy to change. Just give the presser foot a gentle pull and the foot comes off. It’s easy to line up the foot and snap it in place.

If you’re piecing, I can’t emphasize enough how critical the presser foot is to the success of your ¼” seam allowance.

Previously, you had to move the needle to the left or the right or you lined it up with a flange or some other mark on your sewing machine. This foot, which is called the Quilter’s ¼” Piecing Foot, has made getting that ¼” perfect every time.

Now you should do the test to get an accurate ¼” seam allowance to find out exactly where you need to place your fabric when you’re piecing, but once you have that, you’re good. I sew on multiple machines that all use this same foot. Each machine has this foot. Yep – that means if I’ve taken one machine to a sew day or a sewing retreat and then finish the project on another sewing machine (remember how they told you NOT to do that?), I’ll always have the same seam allowance. Think about it – if the foot is the indicator of the seam allowance, I can sew on whatever machine I want knowing that my seam allowance will always be the same.

This has been a HUGE time saver for me. No need to plan things out that I could only sew on this machine or only that machine. Gosh, I’m just finishing a project from 15 years ago — now what machine was I working on then? You see – it’s a great time saver.

If you change the thickness of the thread you’re using, you should redo the test. I know you’re thinking – it’s a ¼” seam. Trust me, in my twenty years of teaching, I’ve seen ½” seams that the student thought was a ¼”. It’s important to spend some time on this.

Notice how the presser foot is narrow at the front and wider at the back. The width at the back allows the foot to make contact with the feed teeth for smoother feeding of your project. I love this fact because the ¼” presser feet were not always like this. It’s nice to see that the engineers at the factory have listened to the feedback from the sewists that use their product and are making changes.

Quilter's ¼" Piecing Foot

Quilter’s ¼” Piecing Foot

7. The machine settings

We’ve done all the technical stuff – maintenance, new needle, etc. but what about the settings on the sewing machine?

This screen is what we see when we turn on the Opal 690Q. There’s a lot of information on this screen.

  • The Exclusive Sewing Advisor is set to Woven Light. It has selected 2.0 as my stitch length (more on that tomorrow) and has set the tension to 4.0.
  • The stitch number (01) and the stitch menu (1) are indicated and there’s a picture of the stitch in the middle of the screen. In this case, it’s a straight line.
  •  The recommended foot is A which is an all-purpose foot, but since I’m piecing, I want that ¼” foot which comes standard with the sewing machine.
  • The recommended needle size is 80.
  • The speed is set to maximum.

I can override any of these settings if I want or need to. They’re simply guidelines set by the Exclusive Sewing Advisor. Changes can be made to any of the settings by the functions that appear on the lower and right-hand sides of the screen.

The screen on the Opal 690Q sewing machine

The screen on the Opal 690Q sewing machine

OK – are you ready? You’ve got until tomorrow morning to get those spaces cleared off, do some machine maintenance and get ready to sew. It’s a marathon – we’re going to see just how far we can get on those five bobbins.

I can’t wait to take the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q with me on my marathon. It’s a great machine and I’ve got a lot of sewing to do.

Have a great day!


This is part 1 of 5 in this series.

Go to part 2: 10 tips for sewing a variety of quilt seams

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Judy August 2, 2018 - 10:52 am

Great tips

GloryB August 2, 2018 - 3:33 am

I have to do a marathon sew-in to make some napkins for a party. I read your tips and the one i think I would have forgotten was to fill enough bobbins. Too many is better than too few. And I like the idea about cleaning after every five bobbins – easy to remember.

Carla A. Canonico August 3, 2018 - 10:32 am

Gloria, isn’t it the truth, how we think it’s an exaggeration to fill 5 bobbins, and yet, we’ll make use of these in a brief amount of time! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. – Carla

Lori Morton August 1, 2018 - 9:30 pm

Thank you for sharing all this info! Very helpful advice! Love the using 5 threaded bobbins & when out..clean bobbin case! Also about the Walking foot! Love your Blog for all I have learned 🙂

Debra Campbell July 30, 2018 - 11:42 am

Great tips. I also use canned air to clean around my bobbin case and places I can’t reach with the brush. Are leader enders the same as what some people call chargers? What is a leader/ender project? Thanks for sharing these great tips.


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