Quilting with Rulers

Using rulers to guide free motion quilting on a domestic machine is my signature technique. I didn't create the concept, rather I adapted what long arm quilters were doing with rulers, allowing them to create straight lines and smooth curves.

Edited September 25, 2015 to add: I am excited to let you know that Amy's Quilting Adventures now carries a wide variety of quilting rulers and the feet needed to use them safely. My recommendations and descriptions are detailed and informative, service is fast, and shipping is reasonable.

ruler work sampler quilt
Every single bit of this quilt in progress was quilted with rulers.
The Foot Comes First

I first experimented with a Janome ruler foot that was intended for use with a machine in a frame system, instead moving the ruler and quilt along the foot as a unit. It took some practice, but is totally doable! After some research, other feet were found (and some created by others) to use with this technique.

Sit down long arm systems have become popular in the last few years and these machines use the same "move the quilt" method of quilting as those who quilt on a sewing machine. These machines usually have a ruler foot available and the content I provide here is applicable to these machines.


Using a "ruler foot" is highly important with this technique. Without the sturdy, high edge around the needle, you run the risk of having a ruler slip over or under the foot and breaking the needle and possibly throwing the machine out of timing. A machine 'out of time' will have trouble forming stitches.

Additionally, the high edge of a ruler foot reduces the clearance between the needle bar and the foot on a domestic sewing machine. This means that the clamp and bar that holds the needle in position can run into the top of the foot if the needle is lowered while the foot is in the raised position. This also has potential to damage your machine. The very simple habit of lowering the ruler foot into the stitching position before lowering the needle and not raising the foot when the needle is down solves this issue. Many quilters tend to bring up the bobbin thread with the foot in the up position and then lowering it for sewing. When using a ruler foot, always lower the foot before lowering the needle. A knee-lift makes this an easy task.



Using rulers on a stationary machine when free motion quilting is still a bit of an out-of-the-box technique and if you don't have a proper ruler foot, you may need to try some out-of-the-box thinking about the feet that are available; try different brands' feet, a different needle position to use with a different brand's foot, etc. There are 3 ruler feet now made by ruler companies for a wide variety of machines. You just need to match the shank type of your machine to the foot.

A ruler foot made to be used on the Janome 1600P when mounted on a frame system is what got me started with rulers. It hadn't been designed with the idea that someone would hold a ruler along with moving the quilt, but that's what I did.

The Janome 'ruler toe' is part of the Frame Quilting Foot Set and fits on the Janome Convertible Free Motion Foot Set for high shank machines, low shank machines, and special versions for specific models like the 8200/8900 (9mm machines) and the 1600P. Many machines other than Janome can use the Janome ruler foot when fitted with the proper convertible free motion foot set.

See my article on how to tell what shank type you have on your sewing machine.

Ruler foot for auto-lift Janome machines


While the Janome Convertible foot set and ruler toe was a great, easily adjusted ruler foot early on, it wasn't approved for its bigger machines that had an automatic presser foot lift system like the 15000, 12000, S7 and S9 and similar machines. The have now come out with a ruler foot for these machines and I absolutely love it! The visibility is improved, both at the needle and around the back of the foot. First available for the 15000, it will take some time for the other machines to have the software update ready to go with this foot.

Sit-down long arm systems

Most long arm machines, whether frame mounted or sit down style have this type of foot available.

Many of my students and blog readers have asked about a ruler foot for the HandiQuilter sit down style long arm and the other brand versions of this machine. It does have a ruler foot that comes standard with it, but apparently it was thought to be on the thin side for working with rulers. Many found that it was still pretty easy for the ruler to slip over this foot. I am happy to tell you that there is a new option available for many of you. Called the Sure Foot, it's got a higher edge to keep the ruler safely where it belongs. You can learn more about it at the HandiQuilter site or from your dealer.

Other Options

In my shop I carry the Janome parts needed for the Janome ruler foot combination which is still my favorite, but I also carry the Westalee ruler foot. The feet from non-sewing machine companies are more affordable, but less adjustible and not quite as nice as those carried by Janome and now, BERNINA. There are some other versions available that look very similar to the Westalee foot but are made of an acrylic material, giving many a better view at the needle area. Their price is very reasonable if you just want to dabble in the technique to see if you really want to do it, but I prefer the solidity or a metal foot.


Westalee Ruler Foot Review

Foot Questions for Doing Free Motion Ruler Work 


BERNINA:

The info on this page has recently been updated as there is now a ruler foot made by Bernina for the domestic Bernina machines.

The Adjustable Ruler Foot #72 is compatible with their current line of machines; the 3 Series, 4 and 5 Series, and 7 and 8 Series. It is not compatible with previous generations of machines with four digits in the model number or earlier. This foot is separate from the BERNINA Stitch Regulator, and is not compatible with BSR. Please check in with your local BERNINA store to find out more about the Adjustable Ruler foot #72 and ruler sets, if the foot is compatible with your model BERNINA, price and availability.

Machines that can't use the new #72 foot can use other brand ruler feet but it requires the use of the Bernina Adapter shank (#77) and have had good reports.

Bernina has also come out with a long arm machine which can use regular Bernina free motion feet. Before the #72 foot became available, some were using the #96 foot on their Berninas. The new #72 foot is now the foot to get for your Bernina if it is one of their newer machines.

Bernina is not giving its blessing on the #96 ruler foot (for their long arm) or for the other brands' feet for use with their regular sewing machines because the needle clamp can run into the foot IF the foot is in the raised position when the needle is lowered. (This happens with all ruler feet BTW, just make sure the foot is down before lowering the needle.) I also have several Bernina users tell me they are using the #96 ruler foot anyway with good results. Be prepared to run into some resistance from most Bernina dealers if you try to buy the #96 foot for your regular Bernina machine. This could void your warranty.

Remember: the high edge of a ruler foot reduces the clearance between the needle bar and the foot on a domestic sewing machine. This means that the clamp and bar that holds the needle in position can run into the top of the foot if the needle is lowered while the foot is in the raised position. This also has potential to damage your machine. The very simple habit of lowering the ruler foot into the stitching position before lowering the needle and not raising the foot when the needle is down solves this issue. Many quilters tend to bring up the bobbin thread with the foot in the up position and then lowering it for sewing. When using a ruler foot, always lower the foot before lowering the needle.

Elna:

I’m not sure about older Elnas, but they have been made by Janome for quite some time now and can use all the same feet from what I understand, plus Elna has the same feet for their newer Elna machines as Janome. So you could do which ever Covertible FMQ foot set that fits your machine, plus the frame quilting foot set and have the same ruler foot that I adore. OR you could use the Westalee foot, which is good and typically more economical if you don’t have the convertible fmq foot set already, since it comes with some rulers. I assume that the newly released ruler foot for the Janome15000 has an Elna equivalent.

BabyLock

Babylock has just rolled out its new ruler feet in two options for its low shank and high shank machines. You'll have to check with your dealer on this one as I haven't had a chance to play with it. It looks similar to the Westalee foot, but with a groove cut down the front.

Other Machines:

Just match up the shank type. See my article on how to tell what shank type you have on your sewing machine.

 See this post and the links within on using the Janome Ruler Foot on some Pfaffs, Babylock and Brother machines.

Juki:

There is another ruler foot for a Juki, though I know nothing about the company.

There’s this hopping style ruler foot on ebay.



There is also a hopping style ruler foot available for low shank machines that I can only find by searching ebay for "ruler foot".

A Word About Rulers

The main thing to know about rulers is that there are 3 thicknesses available and a myriad of shapes and designs. Any hopping style ruler foot should use a thick (usually 1/4 inch) ruler so the ruler doesn't slide under the foot when the foot hops. Low shank machines using a non-hopping style foot (Janome, Clarity and Westalee) will find thinner rulers helpful. It is possible for a foot to be set too high and allow the thinner rulers to slide under the foot so I recommend the 1/4 inch (6mm) most of the time, but I also like the 4.5mm rulers made by Westalee. They are sturdier and have a better fit in the hand for holding in place.

See link immediately below
This is a good article about rulers: Ruler Work on a Domestic Sewing Machine: Rulers

I am so excited about the design potential of using free motion ruler work! I have even set up a shop to make it easy to purchase a variety of the most useful rulers in one convenient place as well as ruler feet from Janome and Westelee. Visit Amy's Quilting Adventures.

I have even set up a Pinterest board for ruler work and design inspiration.

Click to see all posts regarding ruler work chronologically from newest to oldest. Some of the oldest may no longer be relevant as the technique has grown in popularity and new options have become available.



There are also my classes on this very technique at Craftsy! (That link can get you my classes for up to 50% off) Over 25,000 students have already signed up for this class, the reviews have been wonderful, and they agree that it builds upon the information found here.

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