Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ruler Work--the Basics


I call this "X Marks the Spot". There are a few blog posts I've done about this quilt, like this one and I did a tutorial on now to make it, here. This is a great block for a swap group because the recipient will trim their own blocks to whatever size they want. My blocks here came from a swap with 6 other quilters in 2012.

The top was finished in 2013 and I machine-stitched in the ditch on all the black sashing seams on my domestic machine, with a walking foot. I hand-quilted a simple design across the top row, so I could add the sleeve and binding and use it as a class sample. I also hand-quilted a few center blocks, fully intending to get back to it "later" to finish all the hand-quilting. Well, life goes on, hands get older, new quilting machines get bought, and this became a good piece to practice Ruler Work Free Motion Quilting with my Bernina Q20.

A more accurate term for rulers is "templates". Rulers are used to measure things. Templates are shapes we trace/stitch around. Don't think your regular rotary cutting rulers will work. These templates come in at least 3 thicknesses--my Bernina Q20 Sit-Down Long Arm machine requires the 1/4" "longarm" style templates.

You also must have a "Ruler Foot" that works specifically on YOUR machine. The Q20 has #96 and there is #72 for domestic Berninas. The 72 will work on the Q20, the 96 will NOT work on the Bernina domestics. Do your research for your machine before you buy. All of these gadgets are costly so you want to get the ones you need for your machine. Expensive machine repairs are not what you want as you learn how to use templates--be sure you have the right foot/templates before you begin.

RULER WORK LESSONS LEARNED--these will sound like common sense to most of you:

1. Figure out the design you want on paper first.You can also use Press n Seal plastic wrap or a large piece of plexiglass with a wash-off marker to audition designs directly on the quilt. It takes practice to figure out the needle is 1/4" away from the template edge. Eventually, you will know where the stitches will hit, especially at corners/intersections.

2. Use some form of gripper on the bottom of the templates: I like Stable Tape by Westalee, or Handi Grip from HandiQuilter. You could try double-stick tape and some people like to spray 606 Spray and Fix--that will make your templates tacky and eventually you'll need to wash it off and reapply.

3. Hold Tight! Put enough pressure on the template to hold it in place. This is easier than it sounds.

4. Stop, before you reposition the template. Don't stitch and move the template at the same time, this could spell disaster. Stop, with the needle down, then move the template as you need to.

5. Check your thread tension/stitches on a quilt sandwich made from the same top and back fabrics and batt used in the quilt. I'm learning to make a "sandwich" for machine quilting from any quilt I make that I plan to Free Motion machine quilt--it's a lot easier to make this right as I finish the quilt than to go searching some time later for that fabric and what batt was that again? Nothing fancy, just a few of the top fabrics quickly sewn together, a scrap of back and the same batt--mine are usually about 8" x 10".

6. Use good quality batt and thread. I really like Quilter's Dream 100% cotton batt, Request weight, and use it most often, but not always... The thread here is King Tut for the top and Bottom Line for the bobbin, both by Superior Threads--great thread and a wonderful US company. My machine loves it--there is no tension adjustment needed at all for me with these two threads--the default is perfect.

7. Use a good chair, with good support for your back. If you don't have a cabinet or table to drop your machine in, be sure you are sitting up high enough to relax your shoulders. Stop every 20-30 minutes, even if just to stand for a second and work out the kinks in your arms/back/neck. Good ergonomics will keep you healthy and quilting longer.

8. Learn from the experts. I took two excellent Craftsy classes, both by Amy Johnson, to learn the basics, particularly how to operate the machine safely when working with templates and the basics of design. Many free videos are available from the likes of Kim Brunner,  Jamie Wallen, Lisa Calle, and many others, all of whom teach at quilt shows. They make it look easy. Look for videos from template companies too, like Westalee. These will give you confidence and knowledge on how to do this relatively new technique on your sit down machine.

Some photos for illustration:

I love the Line Tamer Ruler from Four Paws Quilting. It has a channel that is the perfect size for my Ruler Foot, #96. As long as your ditch is straight, this is an easy way to Stitch in the Ditch (SITD). Above shows the way I started, STID around the X on the block.

I didn't rotate the quilt, I simply changed the direction I stitched using the Line Tamer. Here I am coming down, back to where I started.

After the X was completely STID, it was time to do a little curvy stuff:

This is the Westalee 12" Arc, a great little template. It's about 7" long, which is perfect for most of what I quilt. Longer is not necessarily  better--longer templates move more easily and need more pressure to keep them stable and in position.

Above I am preparing to stitch the 3rd arc in this design. The template edge is 1/4" away from the bottom corner so that the stitches will meet right at that intersection. Most of the time, anyway--perfect is NOT my middle name when it comes to free motion quilting, at least not yet.

Here you can see where the template was placed--the stitches are 1/4" away from the edge of the template. This takes practice but most times I got the corners where they were supposed to be.

This quilt is not going to be entered in International competition, it just is one I love for the wonderful reproduction fabrics and the great friends who helped me make it. The fact that it has some hand-quilting and some machine quilting is fine with me--I call it the "hybrid method". Even on quilts I will mostly hand-quilt, I often choose to STID by machine--no one sees those stitches if you do it right, and I'm trying to save my hands for the showy quilting. I usually hand-quilt with wool batt--it is so easy to needle and feels great to sleep under.

Here you can clearly see the machine quilting on the left and hand-quilting on the right. It is not as noticeable when looking at the entire quilt:


 Since this quilt was "finished" in 2013 it was bound then and had a label in place. Today I added "2017" to the label:

Detail of the back and label
So, this one is now officially "done" and it's time to get back to Stella's Splendid Sampler--50 of those 100 blocks still need to be quilted.

Let's Quilt!



  1. What a bunch of great helpful hints you have shared with us! I'm hoping to get better at machine quilting - especially with using rulers/templates. I always wonder how to choose a thread color for the top when I almost always make scrap quilts with darks & lights & everything in between?

    1. I like a medium, like dark tan, medium gray, or a grayed "yucky" green, that seems to blend with everything.

  2. I love this quilt. Thanks for sharing your quilting tips. BTW...Sharon's book "Layer em Up" #1 is available on her website I just ordered it. Hugs

    1. Thanks, it is a great book. The last time I taught this class my shop said the book was out of print.

  3. I've been wanting to play with rulers and this was very helpful. Lots of info I would never have thought of. Thank you once again Barbara!

  4. I ordered the Line Tamer after you shared it recently. I admit that I haven't tried it yet, but I am anxious to have a chance to play with it.
    Thanks for all the tips, Barbara!

  5. Thanks for your many posts on the Q20. I'm just choosing the options mine will have and your posts are giving me ideas for placement in my sewing room.

    1. Recently a reader got her Q20 and was overwhelmed with how much space it took up in her small room. I suggested she only keep one extension leaf in, making it smaller. Add the second leaf when needed for a larger quilt. I keep the left one in, using the right drawer underneath the table to store all the items I use frequently. To access the drawer on the left I have to remove the leaf so I only store things there I don't need often.