Let the left foot drive

When I purchased my HandiQuilter Sweet16, the salesclerk at one of the shops was rather insistent that I purchase their $1k stitch regulator. I insisted I didn’t need it and today I still agree. Want to know why?

Somewhere along my journey, I was taught to sew with my left foot and without shoes. Most everyone drives a car using their right foot on the gas and I am right-handed, so you’d think using my right foot would be the most comfortable way to control the foot pedal. And barefoot, why would that better?

First, let me explain the sewing process. The secret to consistent stitch length is to move the fabric in sync with the needle. The more “gas” you give the machine with the foot pedal, the faster the needle moves up and down. The faster the needle moves, the faster the fabric needs to move to keep in sync with the needle. When sewing pieces of fabrics together, it is the machine’s feed dogs that move the fabric. In free-motion quilting, however, the feed dogs are not engaged. The only thing moving the fabric is the sewist.

Free motion quilting becomes much like a dance, where your hands and feet need to work in harmony to keep the stitch length consistent. For people who have the extra $1k to buy a stitch regulator, they are paying for the luxury of having the machine control the process (much like a self-driving car). These regulators can sense movement of the fabric. The faster the fabric moves, the faster the needle goes…it doesn’t matter what you’re doing with the pedal.

Since I’ve sewn and driven right-footed for several decades, you would think my right foot could handle the job. In reality, my right foot knew too much. Piecing fabric and driving a car is different from free motion quilting. While I was learning to quilt, I literally had to re-train myself to sync my hands with my feet. It was a struggle. My right foot had strong muscle memory and knew “pedal to the metal”; my hands couldn’t keep up. In contrast, my left foot never had this kind of responsibility and didn’t “know” how to sew. By switching to my left foot, I no longer had to fight my old habits and I trained my left foot to control the gas. Sure it was awkward at first, but I quickly got the hang of it.

And why am I bare footed? In general, we wear shoes to protect our feet from sharp objects. The thicker the shoe, the less our feet “feel” the surface we’re walking on. When I’m shoe-less I have greater control of the pedal, because I can sense how much pressure I’m applying. Shoes barricade this sensation.

So, if you want to gain more control of your sewing, I suggest getting comfy, take off those shoes, and let the left foot drive.






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