Wander through the vendor aisles of any big quilt show, and it’s easy to see what’s popular right now. At the Machine Quilting Exposition (MQX) show, I noticed a cool trend right off the bat —longarm rulers.
These acrylic rulers are usually thicker than our rotary cutting rulers and designed for ruler work — a technique where you guide the foot along the edge of the ruler to produce a perfectly straight line, curved angle or circular shape.
Longarm rulers designed by Dave and Deloa Jones
This is definitely a popular longarm tool, but could this technique work for a home sewing machine? For a long time, I’ve been skeptical at the idea because the motion for free-motion quilting is so different. Instead of pulling the machine around and guiding it carefully along the edge of the ruler, we’re pushing the quilt AND the ruler against the foot on the machine. I just couldn’t see how this could work smoothly and was also turned off by the very great chance of the ruler slipping against the edge of my darning foot and crashing straight into the needle.
Ruler work quilting benefits
But if it could work, the ability to stitch using rulers would be revolutionary for free-motion quilting! We’d be able to stitch straight lines without marking and never once wobble out of the ditch. Tricky designs like ropes could be stitched without marking, greatly speeding up the quilting process as well.
Rope border demonstrated by Linda Mae Diny from The Calico Kitten
But does anyone think free-motion quilting rulers are a good idea on a home sewing machine? At MQX I met Leonie and Bill West from Westalee, manufacturers of generic ruler feet designed to fit high and low shank domestic machines. Westalee not only creates the feet, they have also designed a huge collection of rulers to produce hundreds of quilting designs in all shapes and sizes.
New Online Quilting Class
Westalee low shank ruler foot and ruler
But what about my fear of the ruler slipping? It seems most ruler manufacturers see this as a problem too and I found three different versions of tape designed to keep the ruler in place:
From the top, we have a Westalee ruler backed with a strip of Stable Tape created from squishy shelf liner backed with double-sided tape. It certainly does the job, but it also blocks the visibility through the clear ruler.
HandiQuilter uses Handi Grip Adhesive Tape, a one-inch wide tape that feels a bit like heavy grit sandpaper, but again, it’s slightly opaque and will limit your visibility. You can use this to your advantage in a way if you cut the tape carefully and place it within the marked lines as I've done with their Wave D ruler above.
The last ruler is Sew Very Smooth's Ideal Quilt Guide ruler backed with Sew-Tacky Technology Tape. This tape is nearly clear and created from a unique military-grade rubber that feels very sticky to the touch, but doesn't leave a residue of any kind on your fabric. This rubber grips the fabric much more firmly and appears nearly transparent on the back of the ruler.
This Sew-Tacky tape comes already installed on the Ideal Quilt Guide rulers, but Steve hinted they may begin packaging the tape separately so you can use it on all of your rulers. I played with this ruler for just five minutes at the Quilt Fest Savannah and it not only sold me on the ruler, it sold me on ruler foot quilting as well!
From longarm to domestic
I’m focusing so much on the gripping material because I think this is the ultimate key to using longarm rulers on a home sewing machine. The ruler MUST stick firmly so you can focus more on guiding the quilt through the machine and less on keeping the ruler in place. If the ruler slips you’ll either be ripping out stitches, replacing your needle or searching for a Band-Aid!
Another thing to keep in mind is how new this technique is for home machines. I spoke to many manufacturers and only Westalee was intentionally designing rulers and feet for domestic machines. The Calico Kitten, HandiQuilter and DeLoa’s Quilt Shop all manufacture rulers for longarm machines, and Beverly Burton and Susan Jugerheld from HandiQuilter both recommended quilter’s speak to their dealers before using longarm rulers on their home machines.
Obviously, these are the early days of this technique, but the allure of easy quilting and effortless straight lines definitely makes ruler work appealing, no matter what type of machine you use. I quilted this small square with perfectly spaced curves in less than 5 minutes with the Westalee low shank ruler set:
This type of quilting is time-consuming to mark and challenging to quilt perfectly on the lines. Using rulers feels very different, but with practice, it can obviously create stunning results. Definitely, keep your eyes peeled for new ruler shapes and ruler feet as this trend is clearly just getting started!
Let’s go quilt!