Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ruler Work on a Domestic Sewing Machine: Rulers

Rulers are pricey.

Once you've tried free motion quilting with rulers, you can quickly develop a desire to buy more and more rulers and templates. This can add up to a good chunk of money. As the technique gains more interest from quilters, it seems the offerings of rulers on the market is growing as well. This is great as I think it's always great to have more "tools" in our toolbox to allow us to achieve our creative visions. But I am not a huge advocate of overbuying gadgets if they won't actually get used.

Buying rulers for ruler work on a sewing machine

The first ruler I bought was 4 years ago at the same show where I found the Janome Frame Quilting Foot Set after picking up Karen McTavish's Custom Curves book and thought, "Surely it's worth a try to see if the foot will work on my Janome Convertible FMQ set?" I didn't even get a simple ruler to start with, but Rhonda Beyer's Double S ruler as Karen used them in her book! I was not about to mark every stinking line and then quilt with a walking foot if I could use rulers like the big girls.

These are the very first rulers I bought. (Never did like the pink one, the 4-in-1 needed more markings, and that straight one reminds me of something...)

First, let's talk about why these rulers and templates have the price they have. Cutting rulers and templates is a pretty complicated process to get a quality product. I have definitely seen enough variability in rulers to know not all manufacturers are equal. Most ruler sellers do not cut their own rulers but send their designs to a manufacturer to be not only cut, but marked.

The least expensive rulers have little to no markings. The more markings they have, the more useful the ruler will be. Markings are usually achieved either with etching or cutting into the acrylic or they are printed/screen painted. For simple rulers like straight edges and and curves used for parallel lines, markings for 1/4 and 1/2 inch away from the edge is a must in my opinion. Centering and other reference lines are also very useful. At this point, I don't have a huge preference for printed over etched markings, as long as the etched lines are well done.

Here you can see the different thicknesses of a l/4 inch thick LA ruler (bottom), the high-shank domestic ruler from Westalee (middle), and the thinnest Westalee ruler for Low Shank domestic sewing machines.

The material and thickness of material is a factor in the price as well. The industry standard is acrylic, though I've seen plastic used as well. Acrylic gives a clearer view through the ruler. There are some rulers that are thinner as well, and in my book, that ought to mean they are cheaper to produce. I've always recommended the 1/4 inch thick ones, but Westalee has come out with thinner rulers. With a non-hopping foot, it's probably fine to use their thinner ruler, but I have reservations regarding the thinnest ruler available as I want to make sure to keep the risk of running a ruler over or under the foot at a minimum. I am looking forward to doing some ruler work under my smaller machine, a Janome 3160, to see if there is added benefit to using the thinner ruler on a low shank machine for better clearance around the foot. (My regular machine is a high shank.) I haven't had any issue with any 1/4 inch ruler on my high shank machines, other than the prongs on the 6600's accufeed system would tap on them. I have used the 1/4 inch LA rulers on my low shank machine, but not much.

I just moved my Janome 8200 to the side and set up my low-shank Janome 3160 so I can do a more thorough test of the low shank ruler feet (Janome's and Westalee's) and the different thicknesses of rulers.

The type of cut and the complexity of the cut is a big factor to the cost. I'm no expert, but it looks as if some of my rulers were 'cut' with some sort of a router-type blade or band saw. These edges are not nice and smooth and the corners seem a bit brittle and sharp. They are mostly usable, but smoother is better. Other rulers/templates I have are  precisely laser cut and are so perfectly smooth.

The complexity is probably the biggest factor. Not only does a complex cut take more skill and computer programming, but it can waste a larger amount of the ruler material in the process. If the ruler design nests or tessellates well, there is little waste. If there are interior cuts for various shapes, having an opening of some sort is important for moving the ruler away without having to cut your threads.


Then there are extra features like special fabric grips on the bottom of the ruler, or handles of various sorts on the top of the ruler. I haven't tried the ones with the sticky stuff on the bottom yet. I don't think I like the idea of having to peel the template off every time I move it. My favorite grip to date is just good placement of my Machinger glove-covered hands both on and off the ruler. I really like the pegs on the Fine Line Rulers, but they are too tall for my machine in some positions. The lower grip like handles on the Westalee rulers show promise, but I haven't used them enough for a final verdict. Any handles on rulers make them a bear to store unless they've got a hanging hole. A hanging hole on each ruler would be wonderful!

The wonderful Fine Line rulers from Accents In Design.

I want to be clear and tell you that I have not paid for all of the rulers that I use. I am on a tiny budget for my quilting related purchases and blogging expenses. My first rulers were my own purchases and I'm always on the look out for new and useful ones. But I have received several from 3 very different companies, in the hopes that I would write positively about them and in one case in exchange for some advertising on my blog's sidebar. I have never accepted a ruler or other product in a "here's our free product, now give us a great review" manner. I am not in the business of selling my integrity or pushing product I don't love. But I am a fan of fair reviews and promoting products that are really of use.

A few of the specialty templates from TopAnchor Quilting Tools.

Top Anchor Quilting Tools had in fact sent me their whole entire line of specialty templates. Their intent was to see if their tools which were created for use on a long arm system, would be usable for domestic machine and sit-down long arm quilters. I was nearly sick when I realized how much the rulers cost altogether and was worried that I would be pressured to promote them. But I have never been pressured to promote their products, and what I do is what I truly think my readers and followers will find useful.

One thing I have learned through my free motion quilting adventures is that people have different ways of thinking about various aspects of quilting, whether it be style, skill level, personality, space, budget constraints, or even lack there-of. This will affect their choices of rulers and templates.

For me, I am so glad to have these specialty templates on hand to experiment with. I would not have bought more than one or two of them on my own as they are expensive (see complexity of the cut in the above paragraphs), but they are fabulous for quilters who want a little more guidance for their free motion quilting. Cool shapes without marking? Yay! But this post really isn't about their templates.

So if you are just getting started with rulers with your free motion quilting and you have a proper ruler foot, my recommendation is to buy a straight long arm ruler with at least two lines of markings at 1/4 inch intervals from the edge. An 8 inch length is handy. Then a curved ruler. If you find a ruler with a straight edge on one side and a curve on the other, you will have a good start. I do like the ruler that comes with the Westalee high shank ruler foot, and I'm sure you can buy it separately from the foot. (Again, I'm not sure I like the idea of using the thinnest version of this ruler that comes with the low shank version.) But you will quickly find one curve will not be enough!

The newest set of rulers I have bought from Linda Hrcka at the Quilted Pineapple. Her work features pretty prominently on my "Quilting with Rulers" board on Pinterest for inspiration.

From there, the sky is the limit, or perhaps your budget. A good range of curves and smaller circles are very handy. Specialty templates are great if you want a little more guidance for your free motion and/or you desire a more complex shape without marking.  But you can have a lot of fun with just a straight ruler.

I hope this helps clear up some questions about the pricing of rulers. I didn't touch on shipping, though I'm sure that's an issue depending on where you live and how many rulers you may get at a time. The weight can add up! Also, A quality product should earn its make/seller a decent profit for time and materials. As quilters, we see quilts being underpriced a lot, and that's a whole different blog post, but the race to the cheapest price can be a very sad thing.


30 comments:

  1. Are you going to evaulate the Westalee rulers in more depth? Video?
    Thanks

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  2. Thanks, Amy. This is very helpful. I am waiting for the Bernina ruler foot to come out and then plan to buy a ruler or two and try ruler work on my domestic machine. It is good to understand the different choices.

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    1. I am hoping the Bernina foot is available soon as I know many folks are wanting it.

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  3. Great post Amy and a reminder to really evaluate cost vs value when buying rulers (or any quilt tool really). Good news -- looks like Westalee has partnered with a US manufacturer/distributor which should help lower shipping time and cost if not the cost of the rulers themselves.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, cost vs. value is important. And I am glad that Westalee has a states based distributer now, that will help for sure.

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  4. Amy this is a fantastic post! I've just started playing around with rulers and I have a long way to go. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!

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  5. What a great in-depth evaluation of the various rulers. You really explained what to look for and what to avoid. I am STILL waiting for the Bernina ruler foot to use with my 880 ( just didn't like the look of all the adjustable gadgets on the market), and can't wait to get all my UFOs quilted.

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  6. Are you going to give us more of an evaluation on the Westlee rulers and foot? I have a low shank Pfaff and would love to try ruler work.

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    1. Oh yes! I certainly have got plans regarding the Westalee feet and rulers. I want to make sure I am doing a thorough job, which is why I've set up my low-shank machine.

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  7. Will you have more posts about the top anchor rulers, and which rulers you like the best, and what would be the best "starter set" of rulers to buy. Which set of curves gives you a good variety of options. One for feather spines? Your favorites? Thanks, love your posts

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    1. Ann, you bet! It's such a huge field though, it's hard to narrow it down. The best sizes and shapes change depending on the size of your quilt blocks or design. Everybody needs a good straight ruler though.

      As far as the TopAnchor rulers, my favorites there are easy- I love the simple 5 pointed stars, the smaller Dahlia, and then there's one that they are getting ready to release that I love, but can't talk about yet! Their feather wreath is amazing if you want a formal feather wreath without marking.

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  8. Will you have more posts about the top anchor rulers, and which rulers you like the best, and what would be the best "starter set" of rulers to buy. Which set of curves gives you a good variety of options. One for feather spines? Your favorites? Thanks, love your posts

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  9. I only have two rulers so far and love working with them ... I lust after the set of curves from Linda Hrcka. FYI, the link under the photo of those says it's for your pinterest board (which I'd love to check out), but goes to an article on Craftsy (Leah Day on ruler work).

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    1. Eek! Thanks for telling me. Link is fixed now.

      I can't wait to work with her rulers. It's funny how we quilters get started with our 'needs'. First it's fabric, then if you get into FMQ, there's a need for threads (wonderful, yummy, pretty threads....) then if you get into ruler work, it's a need for rulers!

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  10. Great post - I'm excited to try ruler work- and you sure fixed that link fast! Thanks for trying out the options and steering us in the right direction.

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  11. Awesome post, Amy! Very informative. Tackling the issue of price is not always easy, so I really appreciate your post. I really wanted to keep my prices competitive yet as affordable as I could manage for Quilters. I totally understand how costs add up all too quickly especially for new quilters. I hope to have some tutorials up as Market draws to a close. Karen from Red Bird Quilt Co made some great You Tube videos using them on her domestic. :-)

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    1. Linda,

      I’m glad you liked it. Your rulers are nicely done and I thank you for the hanging holes. I’m looking forward to giving them a workout soon. I loved that zig-zag sashing you’ve done with the BFF, and have admired your work for some time. Thanks for commenting.

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  12. hi Amy, I have yet to use the new QP rulers but trying to get back in my lab. I also have a A-1 ruler I got from the green fairy and at the quilt show I lusted over ( quilters apothecary ) rulers they have several all in different sizes with video and a raised side for holding I would love the swag rulers in all sizes ahh... maybe later ill try
    Diana young

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    1. Diana, are you a long armer or a sit down quilter/domestic sewing machine user? I've seen the rulers with the raised side before, and see where they'd be helpful if you move the machine vs. move the quilt. But I've never thought that I could use them with moving the quilt.

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  13. Great information Amy - I have in the past bought too many things that I couldn't use when I got home so I'm much more careful now when making those decisions. blessings, marlene

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  14. Great post Amy. I just got my Westalee low shank for my Janome. I also received 3 rulers, 2 feather and 1 straight with curve. Tomorrow I am going to get started with these.

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  16. Thanks for your post - very interesting. I bought Westlee rulers and a foot and the first time I used it the foot broke in two and sprang off my machine. I sent it back to the company I bought it from (UK) and they immediately sent me another. I have only used it a little bit but found it interesting but it's one of those things that I've lost my get up and go with.

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  17. Very interesting, good to compare before buying.

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  18. I use the tape on the bottom of my Westalee rulers. You don't have to "peel" them off the fabric as they are only sticky to the ruler side. They move well. I have not tried handles on the top of the ruler but have been thinking about it.

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  19. I just stumbled across you sight. I have been looking at the rulers and the feet. I have a Janome Skyline 7. I was looking at the Janome ruler foot and it looks like you have to get the convertible free motion quilting foot in order to use it. Is that the same for the Westalee foot?

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    1. The Westalee attaches with a simple screw to the presser foot bar. This means it takes a screwdriver to change the foot's height. Using the Convertible free motion foot set allows easy height adjustment, but Janome doesn't recommend using it of Janome;s with automatic presser foot lift (nor Westalee). They are working on a ruler foot that will be easier/safer to use on machines with the auto presser foot lift.

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    2. Thank you for you response. Hopefully they will come up with something soon!

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