How do you properly use rulers when you quilt?
Ruler work is a quick way to make a quilt spectacular but it can be intimidating. The most important thing to remember is safety. The last thing you want is to hear the heart sickening sound of the hopping foot crunching on Plexiglas while using your APQS longarm quilting machine.
The first step to properly using rulers is to make sure you have an extended base mounted to your quilting machine. An extended base is a small plexiglass table that attaches to your longarm machine’s throat. It provides a large surface area under the quilt to support your rulers so they do not make unwanted contact with the needle. It also helps to add small gripping devices like adhesive sandpaper dots or rubber dots to the underside of your ruler to reduce slipping.
The next step is to consistently practice the proper grip. For a moment, let’s think about how you cut fabric with your rotary cutter and a long ruler. As you move your rotary cutter up your favorite piecing ruler you walk your hand up the ruler like a spider to provide even resistance so the ruler doesn’t drift away from your desired cutting line. The motion of moving your hand along the ruler to keep it stable for the rotary cutter is exactly the same thing you’ll do with a ruler and a longarm machine.
When using a longarm ruler, splay out your thumb and forefinger of your non-dominant hand and lay them on the longarm ruler. Use the other fingers of your hand to hold onto the edge of the ruler with as many points of contact as you can manage. The area between your thumb and forefinger is the sweet spot. Keep your hopping foot along the ruler between these two fingers where you have the most control. For utmost control and safety, try to keep these two fingers pointing toward the hopping foot. Sometimes this may mean switching your hands around, holding with your dominant hand and driving the machine with the other hand.
If you are working with a shorter ruler you can slide the ruler as you go to keep your hopping foot in the sweet spot between your two fingers. If you are working with a longer ruler, you’ll need to ‘walk’ your fingers down the ruler to reposition this sweet spot so your ruler doesn’t dangerously start to tip as you move the hopping foot along the edge of the ruler.
Press down with the ruler only hard enough to keep things stable. To check how much pressure you need to put on the ruler, lay it on top of a piece of paper on a table and press down. Find the amount of pressure it takes to prevent the paper from being removed from under the ruler and how much pressure it takes to be able to move the paper. Right where those two levels of pressure meet is the pressure you should use to hold the ruler on your longarm machine. You want stability but you don’t want to press so hard you prevent the machine from moving freely.
There are many, many different rulers and templates out there. Have fun exploring all they can do but remember to hold them correctly and practice good ruler safety. Make sure you post some photos of the quilts you finish with rulers over in our forums or on our Facebook page. We’d love to see what you are working on!
Angela Huffman is an APQS dealer and the owner of Quilted Joy Studio in Louisville, Kentucky.