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The when, why, and how to use your sewing machine foot pedal

The when, why, and how to use your sewing machine foot pedal

by Elaine Theriault

Welcome back. Did you make any string pieced blocks from yesterday’s post?

Today’s post is all about control. I’ll be using the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q to discuss a very unusual situation which came to my attention a couple of months ago. I’ve also got the most amazing tip to share with you. Let’s say that this issue has bugged me for years and I’ve at last found a solution, much to my dog’s dismay!

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

A couple of months ago, I was at a sewing retreat. One of the quilters was having trouble sewing a seam with a lot of bias edges. I offered to show her how to sew the troublesome seam on her sewing machine. I sat down, arranged the start of the seam and reached my foot out for the foot pedal. WAIT A MINUTE! Where’s the foot pedal? She replied that she never sews with the foot pedal. When she purchased her sewing machine, she was shown how to sew with the stop/start function and she never used the foot pedal. I don’t think she even had the foot pedal with her.

Hmm, that was an interesting concept. I couldn’t imagine sewing a seam without the foot pedal. In all my years of teaching, I’ve only once before seen someone sew without the foot pedal.

Today,  I’m going to explore the issue of sewing with and without the foot pedal.

START/STOP function

The Opal 690Q has a START/STOP function button right above the needle, so it’s handy for you to reach a finger out and start or stop the sewing machine. There’s also a speed control function on the Opal 690Q with five different speeds so you’re bound to find a speed that is appropriate for the project at hand. But can you use these functions for regular sewing?

START/STOP function is located right above the needle for easy access

START/STOP function is located right above the needle for easy access

Speed controls located on the function panel of the Opal 690Q

Speed controls on the Opal 690Q

After helping Pat with her issue, I went back to sewing my own projects and I thought about sewing without the foot pedal. It didn’t take long for me to determine that I couldn’t sew accurately without the foot pedal. Why is that?

I equate operating a sewing machine using only the START/STOP function to driving a car using only the cruise control. The cruise control buttons on my car are within easy reach, as are the START/STOP functions on the Opal 690Q. But ask yourself this question – would you use cruise control in the city? I love my cruise control on the highway and I love using the START/STOP feature on the sewing machine in certain instances, but for everyday sewing? No way!

I think the biggest issue is not being able to vary the speed at the exact moment that I need to vary the speed. While a mere tap on the gas pedal (or brake) of the car will vary the speed, it’s not quite the same with the sewing machine when you’re using the START/STOP feature.

Here are some scenarios where I want to be 100 percent in control and be able to vary the speed while I’m sewing:

  • The speed with which I start and end a seam is not the same speed I use once I get the seam started.
  • The speed may vary on a curved seam or a bias seam depending if the fabrics are lining up or need to be nudged into place.
  • I don’t pin my work (except borders) so I stop frequently to match seams.
  • I may need to adjust the fabrics if they’re not lining up.
  • Tote bags have many different kinds of seams (zippers, piping, etc), and I need to vary the speed on various sections of the seams.
  • Free motion quilting where I need to vary my speed depending on the level of detail that I’m stitching.
  • Machine applique where I need to vary my speed on the corner or the points and then go faster on the straight parts.
  • In some of the instances above, I need to stitch one stitch at a time, especially in machine applique. A slight tap on the foot pedal will take one stitch. Tricky parts of applique absolutely require the foot pedal.

I can vary the speed while I’m operating the sewing machine, but it’s harder to use your hands to adjust the speed when you’re sewing as your hands are usually controlling your project. It’s like trying to text while you’re driving. You’re not going to be happy with the results. I find the control I get with the foot pedal is exceptional and well, I just won’t sew without it.

The foot pedal for the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

The foot pedal for the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

I know, you’re asking if there are any circumstances where you’d actually sew without using the foot pedal. I can think of several.

For me, the most practical place to use the START/STOP function on the Opal 690Q is in sewing long rows of decorative stitching.

Let’s say you’re making a handle for a tote bag. You have the handle together but would like to add some decorative stitching to the handle. I would choose my decorative stitch, place the handle under the foot and hit START/STOP to let the sewing machine stitch without manual control. You get an even speed, there’s no need to match seams and the handles or other item is easy to control. It’s a perfect place to use the START/STOP.

Same scenario if I were doing some decorating stitching on any other item. I can use the FIX button to secure the stitching at the beginning (more on that tomorrow) and then use the START/STOP to let the sewing machine stitch without the foot control.

While you would be able to use the START/STOP on some quilting, I wouldn’t use it in an instance where my quilt is large and I’m going to have to re position the quilt periodically. I would prefer to use the foot pedal so I can stop and start without having to remove my hands from my work.

Traveling foot pedal

Now here’s an issue that I’ve had with my foot pedal for years. The floor of my studio is laminate and it can be slippery. As a result, that darn foot pedal travels.

The foot pedal positioned close to the chair, where it's supposed to be

The foot pedal positioned close to the chair, where it’s supposed to be

How many of us find ourselves perched on the edge of our chairs as our right leg is fully extended because the foot pedal has travelled several feet from the chair?  Come on – admit it – your foot pedal travels!

Sewing machine foot pedal in its usual spot - several feet away from the chair

Sewing machine foot pedal in its usual spot – several feet away from the chair

I tried several commercial products designed to solve this problem. I’ve tried shelf liner and in all cases, my foot pedal still travelled. I decided that I needed something fairly heavy but that wouldn’t damage the foot pedal or the floor. The hardware store came to mind and then I thought of the welcome mat at my front door.

Then I realized that I also have a mat at the back door that technically isn’t being used. Well, not by the humans in our house. My Husky loves the outdoors and while she is an inside dog, she loves to lie on that rubber mat at the back door. I borrowed the mat and placed it under my foot pedal.

Rubber mat prevents the foot pedal from moving

Rubber mat prevents the foot pedal from moving

Oh my goodnes – it worked PERFECTLY. I sewed all day and that foot pedal didn’t move one inch. In fact, I had to remind myself that the foot pedal was in fact close to the chair instead of the usual gradual inching away from the chair. It was weird, but I’m in love with that mat.

In order to keep my Husky happy, I did stop at the hardware store and bought her a new, slightly bigger mat. Now we’re both happy!

Rag quilt revisited

Before I close off today, I thought I would share with you a project that I was working on a while ago. Remember the rag quilt? You got to see the almost finished quilt, but I hadn’t had a chance to clip all the exposed seams. This version of the rag quilt is huge with a lot of seams. I carried it around for months in a bag with the clippers. I clipped and I clipped and at last, I was done.

The next step was to take it to the laundromat to wash the quilt to help those clipped seams fray. I did feel a bit guilty taking it to the laundromat as I didn’t want to deal with all those threads in my own washer.

Before washing the quilt, I decided to lay it on the floor to get a picture of the clipped seams and look who claimed it for her own!

A husky dog laying on a rag quilt

Lexi has claimed the rag quilt as hers.

Lexi, my Husky, decided this was a very comfy spot to sleep. I think she was miffed that I had stolen her mat from the back door.

After a bit of cajoling, I managed to get her off the quilt and was able to take this photo so you can see the clipped seams.

The exposed seams on the rag quilt are clipped

The exposed seams on the rag quilt are clipped

Now that the quilt has been washed, the seams have frayed a bit which creates a nice soft texture. This quilt is going to keep someone very warm and comfy this winter. And it won’t be Lexi!

Seams on the rag quilt have frayed for a nice soft texture

Seams on the rag quilt have frayed for a nice soft texture

There you have it, when and why to use your foot pedal and how to prevent the foot pedal from moving. And I provided proof that I, in fact, do finish projects.

Tomorrow, I’ll be using the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q to show you some techniques for anchoring seams.

Have a great day!


This is part 3 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 2:  3 key steps to string quilting an eclectic beauty

Go to part 4: Anchoring seams on your quilts using the FIX function on the Opal 690Q



Josh December 8, 2017 - 3:48 am

I glad coming across this great post. thanks

Linda Webster November 26, 2016 - 10:34 pm

Thanks for all the tips. Lots of very useful ideas.

Elaine Theriault November 27, 2016 - 8:37 am

Linda – you’re very welcome. Thanks for following QUILTsocial. Elaine

Nancy Giese November 26, 2016 - 11:21 am

How interesting! I have a start/stop feature, but I rarely use it. Actually, I only used it once in order to see how it worked. I almost always use my foot pedal – I feel I have greater control. thanks for sharing!

Lori Morton November 25, 2016 - 9:29 pm

Love Love Loooove the Info you shared here!! I plan to get a door mat to solve my traveling pedal too!! I laughed so hard…as I read you describing me at the machine!!! giggle… Love your Rag Quilt too! Beautiful! They DO take alot of clipping..whew!! 🙂

Elaine Theriault November 26, 2016 - 8:32 am

Lori – so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s amazing how much we put up with at the sewing machine before we find a fix. Hope the floor map works! Elaine


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