Quilting With Rulers

Dec 24, 2021

Blog Post Written by Carolina Moore

Did you know that you don’t need a longarm to create gorgeous rulerwork designs on your quilts? You can create all-over designs and do custom-quilting rulerwork on quilts at home using your domestic sewing machine. All you need is a few basic tools to get started!


Ruler Foot

Quilting rulers are made of plexiglass that, if they find their way under a running needle, can break a needle. That is why a ruler foot looks much different than a standard free-motion quilting foot. A ruler foot has a taller base that can stand up to the width of a plexiglass quilting ruler.

A ruler foot is also circular, and not oval. This circular shape is important because it allows the ruler to run along the edges of the foot. It also allows the ruler foot to nestle into crevices in various quilting rulers to create points in quilting designs.

To find the right ruler foot for your machine, your first step is to know the make and model of your machine. If you contact Stitchin Heaven with this information, we’ll be able to look up the specifics on your machine to make sure that you get a ruler foot that will work on your machine.


Quilting Rulers

Quilting rulers are generally twice a thick as cutting rulers are. This makes them sturdy enough for intricate designs. If you’re using a Creative Grids quilting ruler, it will come with non-slip grip patches already etched into the ruler. If your quilting ruler is from another brand, you’ll want to attach non-slip dots to the underside of the ruler to keep it from slipping while using it.

Quilting rulers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of these shapes are initially very odd looking! But, after you spend some time learning about these different shapes, you’ll see that simple curves or lines can actually unlock some very advanced-looking designs. For example, the Creative Grids “Shelly” ruler has two arcs – but these arcs can create a scallop, clamshell, or orange peel design on a quilt! And the Creative Grids “Sid” ruler has an odd-looking slot that helps to create an all-over star design on a quilt! Don’t judge a quilting ruler based on a first look.


Preparing your quilt top

Unlike using a longarm, you’ll need to baste together the layers of your quilt before quilting them on your domestic machine. When using a longarm, the layers are loaded onto the frame, and then the machine moves across the layers to stitch them together. When using a domestic sewing machine, the machine stays in place, and the fabric layers move under the needle. To make sure the layers stay flat while moving, they need to be basted (temporarily secured together) before quilting.

There are different options for basting your quilt. The two most popular options are pin basting and spray basting. Some people choose to use both these methods together.

Basting Spray is available at Stitchin’ Heaven, and the easy-to-follow instructions are on the can. You lay out your batting, and spray on the basting spray. Then press your quilt backing on this adhesive, making sure it lies smooth and flat. Flip the batting over so the backing is face down, then repeat the process to add the quilt top. For quilts larger than a small wall hanging, you’ll want to spray in sections and add the quilt top or backing as you go.

To pin baste a quilt, you’ll lay your backing fabric right-side-down, then layer your batting on top, and then add the quilt top. Smooth out all the layers, then add safety pins from the center of the quilt out. When you quilt a pin-basted quilt, you’ll want to make sure you remove the pins as you go – quilting over a safety pin does not end well.


Preparing the machine

Install your ruler foot on your machine. Adjust the height of the foot so it glides right over the top of the quilt. Thread your machine. You can use a coordinating or contrasting thread. For beginning quilters, a variegated thread is a great option. The variation in color will help to hide any quilting imperfections as you learn how to quilt with rulers.

There should be an option on your sewing machine to lower the feed dogs. This may be a switch on the front or back of the machine. For computerized machines, this may be a button on the touch screen. If you have an older machine that doesn’t allow you to lower your feed dogs, you can set the stitch length and width to 0. This will not lower the feed dogs, but it will keep them from moving your quilt as you are quilting.


Stitching with Rulers

 Once your machine is ready to go, it is time to start quilting! It is easiest to start on an edge of the quilt. Bring your needle down and then up, and then bring the presser foot up. Pull on the top thread, and this will bring the bobbin thread up. Pull on both threads giving yourself a 3-5” thread tail. You can hold on to these during the first few stitches to keep the thread tension at the beginning of your quilting. If you’re starting a design on the quilt, rather than from the edge, you’ll tie of these threads later and bury them in the quilt.

Place your ruler up against your ruler foot, and use the ruler to guide the quilt under the needle as you press down on the foot pedal. This will take some practice. Your hands need to guide the fabric under the needle at a rate that is relative to how fast the needle goes up and down. The faster you want to move the fabric, the faster the needle needs to go. Follow the edge of the ruler. When you reach the end of the ruler, stop. Re-position the ruler and then keep quilting. It will take a few tries to get the hang of using a ruler foot, but by the time you’ve completed a small quilt top you should be able to see progress in the evenness of your design, and the smooth look of your stitching.


Now that you’ve learned the basics of using quilting rulers on your domestic quilting machine, are you ready to give it a try? Have you tried quilting with rulers already?