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6 Tips for Quilting with Rulers

6 Tips for Quilting with Rulers

The value of ruler quilting…rulers are a very personal thing. There are times in my life, when the quilt in front of me really needs some straight lines, or starts, or clam shells, or curves that I feel I can’t “hit” without a guide. For those of us who are perfectionists, a ruler can really help us feel in control of our work. An entire quilt can be “plotted out” with ruler work and give us a sense of uniformity we are looking for and can’t achieve with free motion quilting. Don’t fear the ruler. Rulers can be your friend!

1. Not all Rulers are the same

Rulers are expensive, so it would be great if we could just grab that ruler we use for rotary cutting and quilt our hearts out. Unfortunately, that could lead to cracked rulers and broken needles. Quilting rulers are thicker than rotary cutting rulers. When quilting with rulers, make sure that your ruler is at least a ¼” thick.

2. Not all feet are the same

Some domestic, and all long arm, machines have an option to purchase a “ruler foot.”   Like the ruler itself, the foot is thicker than a regular quilting foot. This too is to prevent the ruler from slipping under the foot and breaking needles and rulers.

3. Which ruler? Which Ruler?

Rulers are expensive. I am not even going to pretend they aren’t. Before purchasing a ruler, think about what you want to do and the type of machine you will be using. If you are using a long arm, the longer rulers will give you more distance to rest and keep moving. If your piecing is smaller, perhaps a smaller ruler will work.

Each of the images pictured here can be used for straight lines. If you can only choose one, or you want one to start with to see if you like it, look at the Handi Versa Tool. It is small and easy to hold. It also gives you two curve options and measurements for half square triangles and flying geese. It can be purchased directly from Handi Quilter.

If curves are your jam, look at the ones pictured below. One of my favorites is the 2 ½” HQ slice Template. I use it all the time!

4. Grip it like a Bar Bell…wait…don’t do that

Instinctively, when we first start quilting with rulers we “clamp down.” There is fear about the ruler slipping and making our quilt line veer across the quilt. There are a couple of steps you can take to prevent this, so you don’t feel like you just bench pressed 200 lbs after 10 minutes of quilting.

FIRST, be mindful of yourself. Are your shoulders tense? Are you gritting your teeth? Are you hunched over? If so, roll your shoulders. Suck on a piece of candy. Stand up and move around and “reset” your body.

SECOND, make sure you are sitting high enough at your machine to naturally use your hand weight instead of feeling the need to press down. Perhaps a cut pillow in your chair?

THIRD, purchase a package of Handi Grips from Handi Quilter. They will last forever, so it is a great investment. These little “sand paper” like stickers can be cut to size and placed on the back of your ruler. Make sure the ruler is clean before attaching. You only need a little bit in pressure point spots on the ruler. Note: Don’t stack your rulers on top of each other if they have Handi Grip on them. They will scratch. Wrap them something to store them.

FOURTH, quilting gloves are a must for me. You can tell mine are well used! I use Machingers Quilting Gloves, which are available all over. These gloves help you “grip” your quilt and ruler without straining. They help keep your hands and quilt clean. Personally, I believe they help make you “mindful” of your hands, which makes you more in tune with your body.

FIFTH, it is okay to stop and start. It isn’t necessary to complete an entire pass of a ruler before stopping the machine and resetting your hands. Example. On the long straight ruler called the HQ Skinny Ruler, which I use often, I only use a small section of it at a time. I have found that going the full length can cause it to slip out of place. I also find that my hands are playing “Twister” with the machine from one end to the other. Simply stop the machine, reset your hands and start again to finish the length of the line. What I normally use the longer ruler for is to make sure my line is straight across a larger block.

5. Line that baby up

You don’t need to draw lines to use rulers. Determine a “point” on the quilt or add fabric marker “dots” to set your points for where to stop and start. It is necessary to “eyeball” the distance between the needle and the ruler. This is something that will come with practice. Some rulers have “ruler stop” points to help with lining up for the next “swipe” with the ruler. Place your “dots” or identify your point based on where the needle should start and stop, not the ruler. Get that distance in your eye and then line the ruler up accordingly. The Handi Quilter rulers are great for this, as they have multiple lines across and diagonally to help you determine where to line up the ruler, so the needle hits your points. You may want to practice on a sample square to start with.

6. What to move. What to move.

Longarm: If you are quilting with rulers on a long arm, the ruler will be held in place with one hand and you will move the machine along side the ruler with the other. Hand choice is personal preference. The “rule of thumb” is that the ruler should be on the side of the needle that corresponds with the hand that will hold the ruler. If not to the side, it should be to the front of the machine for stability. For safety, do not hold the ruler by “wrapping” your arm around the needle. That is a no, no.


Domestic: On a domestic machine, your hands need to be evenly spaced across the ruler and the quilt, as they will be moving together. Like the “force” in Star Wars, you, the ruler and the quilt must “become one.” Again, as discussed above, there is no need to press until you hurt. With the grips on there, and your fingers spread evenly across, the quilt and ruler will move together.

Disclaimer. I purchased a new machine and still need to order the “ruler foot,” so the foot in this picture is WRONG! Just showing hand placement.

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