Quilting with Rulers: Measuring, Marking, Doodling, and Design

One of the things I loved as I learned to quilt with rulers, was that it was a great way to get straight lines and curves without doing any or much marking. I hate marking. Or rather, I hate doing a bunch of precise measuring and marking.

But as my skill grew, I found I was raising the bar for myself design-wise. My fills were denser and my lines and ruler work were more intricate. That meant if I made a mistake, it was harder to rip out the stitches.

I also was teaching the technique to others and many of my students found markings to be reassuring.

So I find myself doing more marking these days. I love my air-erase purple pen. I can mark stitch lines (or ruler placement lines) and tic marks quickly and they disappear without having to wet down the entire quilt. The typical air-erase pens are too thick for me though, so I use a nice thin pointed pen. (It's available in my shop here: Fine Purple Pen)

This is especially nice when making corners around a design or seam like the center of this star block. I've gotten pretty good at judging that quarter-inch spacing or multiples thereof, along side another line or seam, but when it's time to turn a corner, I've found it was easier and faster to go ahead and mark a turning point.

Not sure of my design, so I mark it.
I'm a big fan of doodling designs too and so it was a natural to doodle on my quilts at times to work out a plan for quilting. Sometimes I do it on a big piece of plexiglass, but lately, especially if it's ruler work, I find I like doing it directly on the fabric. If I don't like what I see, I can erase it with my eraser pen! (Many thanks to Karen McTavish who mentioned an eraser pen in one of her books.)

Clean up the marks with the eraser.
I also have a combination marker with purple on one end and eraser on the other. The eraser works on the blue and purple markers and I love it. It's not just water as some think, so it actually erases and it does it fast. I do find extra marks distracting as I quilt and it's hard to see how the stitching line looks with the marks right there, so erasing is fabulous. (What about dark fabrics? Chalk pencils are wonderful!)

ruler work-square within a square

I still wasn't sure about this design idea so I kept marking. Marking is so much easier than ripping out stitches. Especially on a project like this ruler work sampler I've been working on for what seems like ages. It calls for more precise and geometric work than my typical quilts.

quilting with rulers- square in a star

I thought 'floating' the center square looked more interesting and it made it easier to quilt continuously around it. Sometimes it's not just how the design looks but also about how it stitches out. The fewer thread tails to tie off or bits to travel stitch, the better. It would have been relatively easy to cross from one triangle to the next if I had extented the square to touch the inner star points, but it would have been harder to work the paisley design into those corners.

Maybe most 10-year-old boys reach this annoying stage, but my oldest was being a real wise guy today, "You're still working on that?! What year do you figure you'll finish?" he quipped today. I gave him the look, you know it if you're a mom. "It looks great," he quickly said.

Above, I had missed my mark, or the mark was off. Too close to bother figuring it out either way. Below, I erased the marks. Can you tell if it's off? Me neither. It stays.

paisley fill

See how I could work those paisleys into the areas around the inner points? If I hadn't tried drawing out the design, I probably wouldn't have thought to make it smaller.

Take advantage of the 1/4 inch markings on your rulers to develop designs too. You can offset the ruler from a center point or corner to create designs. Below, I really started playing with my design and doodling with my purple pen.

I was having a hard time deciding what to put in the sort-of 9 patch blocks. Especially as I don't want to stitch continuously across that orange with my turquoise thread.

Then there were these spots above the double star points. I like the echo around the piecing and this loopy L design. I'm really loving this L design anywhere lately as I've seen how it avoids backtracking. I need to practice it more, and marking helps me keep it in a vertical fashion instead of an Italic L!

So many ideas and I don't think I really love any of them. It's kind of an odd shaped area to fill. I could have put more paisleys in these areas, but I didn't want it too dense. And I felt like any random-ish fill ought to have the 1/4 inch echo in those L shaped corners and that was just looking too awkward. I also needed to bring some feathers into more areas of this quilt, so I feathered my star.

Not sure if I like it and haven't finished it yet, but it's a good start. Besides, I've got to make sure my son knows I can finish my projects!

If you are on Instagram, and post any pictures of work you've done with rulers, why don't you tag them with #rulerworkonadomestic so we can share design ideas? #rulerwork is good too if you're using a long arm or sit down machine.

If you missed my big flurry of excitement Friday and Saturday, you might not know that my online shop is now open at Amy's Quilting Adventures! We started off with a bang and it was amazing. I have run out of several items and they are on order, so I hope I can provide you with a great resource for both learning about ruler work, buying rulers and templates, and the supplies to make quilting easier.

If you've left one of the wonderful and encouraging, complimentary comments I've been getting here lately, know that I read them all, but I haven't been able to keep up with replying back. I'm really really thankful for them and you!

If you follow my facebook page, you'll know that I had a huge operator error with this blog Saturday. I accidentally deleted the entire "Quilting with Rulers" page! I got all the content, pictures, and links back thanks to a recent backup. But the URL is different, so any links that went to that page are sadly broken. I'm keeping an eye out for those links on my blog, but if you linked to that page or pinned pictures from it, they're land on my blog, but with an error message. Thankfully, the new "Quilting with Rulers" tab/button is easily visible on the error page. Linking to or pinning from the current page will be most helpful.


  1. I have a sheet of plexiglass and some dry erase markers and i've been using that to test designs.

    1. I do that too, except 1) I can be too lazy to pull out my plexiglass and 2) it's harder to work with ruler based designs on top of the plexiglass.

  2. So love all of your tips and techniques. Keep up all the great "ruler" work.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I'm scared of ink markers! So many stories about lines reappearing ages after the quilt is done. Are these stories just so much fiction? I would love to trade in my chalk for something that stays put.
    And congratulations on the huge success of your store opening! You've more than earned it.

    1. I will admit to being afraid of the Frixion pens, though I know some people love them. It may just be a knee jerk response to something that feels like marking with an ink pen. But I don't think they really go away well, though I haven't tried them.

      The water and air soluble markers both can wash right out of a quilt, or rather dissolve and rinse away. There should be some care to not heat set them. The blue is notorious for reappearing when it's just been spritzed. This carries the pigment into the batting and then it can reappear. I always plan on a good soaking when I use marker pen. I suppose some folks must have true issues with these pens, as a product has been developed called "Blue Line Eraser" which I hear does get the marks out. I've never had any trouble with them though.

  5. Good tips and info here, Amy! I've never seen the fine purple pen, nor the eraser! Who would have guessed?! You're doing such detailed quilting on this project. After working on a big piece like that, I find I'm happiest when the next quilt needs less detail. I'm doing an all over design now, and it's so refreshing!

    1. Thanks. These are great pens. Have to love an eraser.

      You are so right! My next project is a baby quilt for my niece! I'ts got to be soft and cuddly.