I was so excited when Bernina finally released its Ruler Foot! I have been playing around with the foot with a few rulers and wanted to share five tips for successful ruler quilting that I have learned along the way.
You always want to use a ruler that is 1/4" thick (typically call longarm rulers) and always use a foot designed for ruler work. The ruler thickness and special foot prevent the ruler from slipping beneath the foot and being hit by the needle.
There are so many awesome longarm rulers out there but they are definitely not cheap. You do not need every specialty longarm ruler made. Just like regular rulers, you can get by and do most of the quilting designs you would like using just a couple of rulers. You want to pick a ruler that is easy to hold and not too large for your machine (for example, it might be very difficult to use a large 24" ruler on a smaller throat domestic machine).
I own only two rulers:
1. 12" ruler similar to this HQ Straight Edge Ruler 3in x 12in by Handi Quilter*. I think that the one foot size is a very nice size. It is long enough that I can draw most of the designs I come up with without re-positioning the ruler, but is small enough to be manageable. I quilted the stars in the plus signs using a straight 12" ruler.
2. The HQ Versa Tool from Handi Gadgets*. I find that it fits nicely in my hand and I have good control over it. Plus it has 4 shapes in one. I quilted the clam shells with this ruler.
2. Moving the ruler and the quilt together
In longarm quilting, you hold the ruler on the fabric and move the machine head. In domestic quilting, you have to move the ruler and fabric together against the stationery sewing machine head.
You want to make sure that your ruler and fabric do not slide relative to each other. The first ruler I purchased had a sticky/tacky strip in the middle which stuck the ruler and fabric together allowing them to move as one. This worked well for the first few passes, but after re-positioning the ruler a few times, the adhesive gets linty and does not stick as well (then you have to stop quilting, wash and dry the ruler and resume.
Beth from Cooking up Quilts gave me the tip of using Handi Grip Adhesive Grip Strips*. The adhesive comes in strips that you just cut and stick to the bottom of your ruler. The grip strips are kind of a combination between sand paper and the hook part of hook and loop Velcro. I have found this to be a great way to preventing the ruler from slipping on the fabric. They are pretty clear also (you can see them on the clamshell ruler above, those two little squares were all I needed for that ruler).
You also need to make sure that your hands do not slip on the ruler and/or the fabric. When ever I am doing ruler work I use my quilting gloves for extra grip. My favorite quilting gloves are Machingers Sewing Gloves* (I get mine at my LQS but they are available on Amazon too.)
I think that this might be one of the most important aspects of quilting on a domestic machine with a ruler. This is going to help prevent aches, stiffness, and fatigue.
When longarm quilting, you can move the longarm machine such that you are pressing down the ruler onto the fabric. You have good leverage in this position.
Many quilters' domestic machines (like mine) sit on a table and so the machine bed sits higher. When the bed of the machine is higher than your elbows, it is more difficult and less ergonomic to apply downwards pressure.
If at all possible, lower your machine or raise yourself up so the machine is lower than your elbows. I put a big pillow on my chair and it helps a lot.
How hard do you have to press the ruler against the fabric to make sure that they do not move relative to one another? How hard do you have to press the ruler against the ruler foot to make sure the foot follows the ruler? The answer to both of these is probably less than you think.
When I first started ruler work I was pressing super hard to make sure my lines would be perfect with no slipping. When quilting like this, I would have to stop quilting after 20 minutes because my wrists would start to hurt. I tested using lower and lower amounts of downward pressure until I found the point where the ruler started to slip against the fabric. It was surprising less than I thought was needed.
So when you are using your ruler foot, test out a variety of applied pressures on a test sandwich to find how much you really need to use (your wrists will thank you).
Also, you do not (typically) need two hands pressing down on the ruler and moving the fabric. I have found that it works better if you have one hand on the ruler, one hand on the fabric, move your hands together.
5. Hand position
Another thing I did when I started ruler work was to try to always quilt an entire shape without moving my hands off of the ruler. I was convinced that if I lifted my hands, the ruler would move and my quilting would be messed up. This caused some awkward movements, bad ergonomics, and sore wrists.
I have found that with the needle down on the sewing machine and the grip strips on the back of the ruler, I can lift and re-position my hands with little to no movement of the fabric and ruler relative to the needle.
For example, when I quilted the clamshell shapes, to start each hump I had my right hand on the ruler and my left on the fabric. Then I stopped at the top of the hump and rearranged my hands so that my left hand was on the ruler and my right was on the fabric. This made quilting easier and more accurate for me.
Do you have any tips and/or learnings about ruler work on a domestic machine? Please share your knowledge in a comment below, thanks!
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I am linking up with Let's Bee Social at Lorna @ Sew Fresh Quilts, Needle and Thread Thursday at Kelly @My Quilt Infatuation, and Tips and Tutorials Tuesday @ Quilting Jetgirl