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9 Tips for Machine Quilting with Rulers

Angela Walters and Jennifer Keltner provide helpful tips on when and how to use rulers with machine quilting.

Hi, I'm Jennifer, here at the American Patchwork & Quilting
sewing studio with Handi Quilter ambassador Angela Walters. We're talking
about ruler work. And ruler work, Angela, as I understand
it, is really more about working on the long-arm machine.
On a mid-range or home sewing machine, they would have
guides that you can use on the bed of your
machine. But when you're working on a long arm, you
don't really have those spaces, but you need to make
straight lines sometimes in your quilting, so you're going to
share with us the tips for that." "Yes. Well, a
long-arm machine runs with two sets of wheels: one's running
this way, so getting those straight lines is a little
tricky. It definitely comes down to practice. I remember the
first time that I stared quilting straight lines and it
looked so bad that my husband told me I should
stick to allover quilting designs. So, being the wife I
am, I took that as a personal challenge. Now I
like quilting straight lines." "Game on." "It's really not as
hard as it looks." "Alright. Well, we've got a sample
here. How long of a line do you normally have
to be sewing before you want to use a ruler?"
"Well, normally I don't like to use rulers, especially for
shorter lines, but anytime I'm working within a seam (like
stitching in the ditch) or if I'm quilting a line
that's longer than 6" or so, I'll definitely pull out
the ruler since it gets a little tricky keeping it
straight." "Right. You do have to have a steady hand
if you're doing it freehand, but there are some tools
you can use." "Yes. Let me show you what will
help your ruler quilting. First, let's talk about the kind
of ruler you would use. A long-arm quilting ruler isn't
the same as a rotary cutting ruler or anything like
that. You actually have a thicker ruler. It's usually about
a quarter-inch thick. And what that does is it keeps
the hopping foot on the long arm from actually hopping
over and breaking the ruler. This is a good size
to use (this is the one that I usually use).
It's 2x12". It's very versatile and works in a lot
of different ways." "And it's manageable in the space you
have on the machine bed." "You can find a number
of different kinds of templates and rulers out there. I
mean, the choices are just overwhelming. Another thing that will
help is this handy do-dad here. This is an extended
base place. And this actually hooks on to the bottom
of the machine. And what it does is provide a
flat surface. If you imagine that your quilt is over
it, it helps to give you a flat surface to
really keep your ruler steady. So this would come with
whatever machine you had." "Right, because there is a little
bit of play in the bed of the machine because
it's held up with the tension of the roller." "Exactly,
it's not super stable. I would only use an extended
base plate if most of your quilt is straight-line quilting,
because once you start getting into the free-motion quilting, it
does add a little bit of a drag, so you
kind of need to weigh whether this will be beneficial
or not. I actually don't use one too incredible often,
because I've just learned how to do it without it,
but if you're struggling, this is definitely the way to
go." "Or a great place for beginners who are just
starting to work with rulers. I sometimes say that it's
kind of like chewing gum and riding a bike --
at first, you have to do one or the other,
but once you get the hang of it, you can
get into the swing of things." "Well, another important thing
is how to hold it. That is probably the most
important thing. The way to hold it is not to
have a death grip on it." "Right, the death grip
where you have your fingers all tensed up." "Or your
hand is contorted and you're hurting by the time you're
done. Instead, you just want to have a nice, light
grip. I'm going to start quilting now. I just want
to demonstrate how you might hold it. If you think
of it, instead of using it as something still that
you're pushing your machine against, it's more of a guide.
It's just kind of there to keep your machine from
going over there. So a nice, light hold and a
smooth movement. Now if you get too much down here
and you push down, well what happens is that goes
up, and the line isn't straight, and what can happen
is you can actually jump over that and break your
ruler." "I have Exhibit A here." "Yes, this is my
old ruler, and you can tell it has some war
wounds, of course, and that's from not holding it properly.
And nothing will scare you faster than breaking your needle
and your ruler, and all the stuff that goes with
that. The nice, light hold, and just being careful with
that will keep you out of trouble." "So even the
professionals had a learning curve. Remember that." "Absolutely. And this
is not an old ruler, so this has been around.
I still make mistakes from time to time. So, let's
quilt a couple lines and I'll show you a little
bit about that." "Terrific." "Again, whether you're stitching in the
ditch or stitching straight lines, I feel like everyone has
their on days and their off days, you know, days
where they're doing better. If it's not really working, then
you're probably stressing out too much, so just relax and
have fun with it. So I'm just going to hold
it gently. Now since I'm going to do a horizontal
line, I'm going to hold it in front of the
machine. I don't usually hold it back there like that,
because it's just kind of a weird arm angle to
be in. Keeping it in front will just help keep
it a little bit more stable." "And if you were
sewing a vertical line, I noticed that you had it
behind the foot. Is that normally where you would keep
it?" "Yes. I'll show you that actually. So, I'm just
going to hold it still and follow along. Again, I'm
not clenching, I'm not distorting the quilt -- it's more
there as a guide. And I'm also going to make
sure that I'm moving the ruler as I go. I
don't want to be holding down the end of it
and having this part come up." "Now, do some people
mark on their quilt tops?" "Yes, if you're quilting long
straight lines like cross-hatching across the whole quilt, you probably
would want to mark that because once you start going,
it's hard to keep that parallel line going." "And because
you can't see the entire quilt top when you're working
on a long arm, (cross-hatching especially where you have really
long diagonal lines) is a great place to use a
combination of rulers and marking." "Yes, but if you're stitching
in the ditch or just doing shorter lines, then marking
is not so necessary. And again, like we talked about,
if you're doing a vertical line, just hold your hand
there and run it along like that. Now what I'll
do is actually stop, reposition the ruler, and continue on.
I find that it's kind of hard to reposition the
ruler and keep quilting, and then next thing you know,
I've quilted over my finger, so I try to stop.
If you have a stitch regulator this is a good
place to maybe consider using it, because it will allow
you to get the hang of the ruler before you
move along." "Thanks for sharing those tips for straight-line quilting
and ruler work, Angela. Ruler work is a little more
effort, but adding that to your machine-quilting techniques that you've
mastered is definitely worth the effort. So spend some time
practicing your ruler work today and enjoy your quilting time.


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