Thursday, February 9, 2017

Five Tips for Successful Domestic Ruler Quilting

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.

1. Rulers

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.)

3.  Ergonomics

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.

4.  Pressure

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!

* This post contains affiliate links

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


  1. Hi Cheryl,
    I would have wrote everything the same like you. I also use the Queen Size Surpreme Slider, so my quilt is sliding very gently under the needle. Otherwise my stitches don't become evenly.
    Greetings from Germany, Rike

  2. Thanks for all the ruler tips. I have some rulers and the foot for my machine I've practiced with them, but haven't used them to quilt yet. Hopefully you've given me the push to get going! Thanks!

  3. This is all new to me! I've never tried ruler quilting, but have been curious about it. I'm not sure my machine has a ruler foot available. I may have to check it out!

    1. Jayne - there is a 'generic' ruler foot by Westalee available that firs most machines. If you order from amy's quilting adventures, if you'll leave a note with your machine model, they'll make sure you ordered the correct foot (they sell low, mid, and high shank ruler feet) I'm not affiliated with AQA at all, I just recently ordered a ruler myself, so thought I'd pass along the info. (That said, I found her craftsy class to be a mix of repetition of info available for free on her blog and advertising for the many rulers she sells, so I can't recommend it.)
      happy quilting ~ Tracy

  4. These are fabulous tips, Cheryl. I can relate to the pressure topic when using a ruler on a longarm, as well. And the tip about pausing and switching which hand is holding the ruler when you were quilting the clamshells is a fantastic insight. I also like that your last photo shows what the ruler foot looks like on the Bernina.

  5. Thank you for the great tips!

  6. haven't tried this but you have certainly piqued my interest. Thanks for this post.

  7. I haven't used the Handi Grip strips, but I can vouch for True Grips. With my Bernina 350PE, the thinner rulers work nicely, and I seldom use the Handi Quilter one. The thickness seems to throw me off when I try to line up the ruler. I did have trouble with the thinner rulers when I was using the table that came with the machine, since it slopes. No problems now that I have a Sew Steady. The new Bernina ruler foot is great.

  8. Thanks for the tips. I have been very curious about looking into getting a ruler foot and giving this a try. It looks like so much fun.

  9. These are great, Cheryl! I've never used a ruler but I'd like to try someday. I love the clamshells (they are really hard to do freehand, I think)

  10. Some very useful tips. One day I'm going to get over my fear of quilting something and just do it!

  11. Thanks for the mention Cheryl. My quilting with rulers improved so much after I put on the grip strips - my rulers just don't move! I agree that it doesn't take as much pressure to hold the ruler in place as one might think. I tend to push my ruler against my ruler foot a bit too much. I can always tell when I'm using too much pressure because my shoulders start aching!

  12. I've never tried ruler quilting but it does look very tempting to get such beautiful smooth clamshells - I think I'd worry I was going to sew the ruler to the quilt!!

  13. Thank you for the great tips, Cheryl. I still haven't attached my Bernina ruler foot to my machine, but once I do, I'll be re-reading this blog post. It's great to know about the adhesive strips and hand pressure.

  14. I'm not a free-motion quilting girl (at least not yet, anyway), but it's good to know of different options out there for quilting on my domestic. Thanks!

  15. Have tried free motion quilting but ended up with loads of eyelashes on the reverse and have since shied away just doing stitch in the ditch, I would really like to try again but must get over my nerves first lol the tips on rulers are great and perhaps with these I will have more success xx

  16. I've been curious about ruler quilting on my domestic machine. I even bought a set of rulers before realizing I'd also need to buy a special foot...oops! I've looked at the Westalee ruler foot, but it's pretty pricey so I haven't ordered it yet. Thanks for the tips...once I do get around the buying the foot I'll have to reread all of these :)

    1. Try Accents in design ruler foot. They have a website with a $25. foot. Great rulers already fitted with non slip too.

  17. oh my goodness - Yes about the pressure!! I am super new to ruler quilting, and I find myself pressing SO hard. Will try to let up a bit; thanks for the 'permission' ;-)
    Have you used the grab-a-roo gloves? I love them, but everyone recommends machingers, so I don't know if they are better? or simply more well-known...
    I really like the star quilting in the plus block!

  18. Thanks for sharing this Cheryl. I've bookmarked it so I can read it more thoroughly later.

  19. Thanks for sharing this Cheryl. I've bookmarked it so I can read it more thoroughly later.

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  21. I really like that clam shell. I just bought the Bernina foot and rulers. I'll use them as soon as my baby quilt is done. I think I'll start with something like your clam shells! I'm not ready for heavy quilting. Your quilt looks soft and very pretty!!


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