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Trend Alert — Free-Motion Quilting Rulers Are on The Rise!

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 by Deloa Jones
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 tool linda may diny
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.

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westalee ruler footWestalee 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:

quilting rulers with sticky tapeFrom 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:

block created with ruler workThis 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!

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45 Comments

Ferne

I have been quilting on my Janome 6600 for a few years now thanks to inspiration from you and many other quilters on line. I have been following Amy’s blog (name I don’t remember) and she has been using rulers with the 6600…so I got the rulers and foot and now I am waiting for the insert for my new larger table so I can give it a go. Part of my frustration with FMQ is not reaching perfection…I know it is crazy, but it seems like rulers might help a bit with that. I can’t wait to try and then I will be collecting rulers I just know it!

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Neva muffitt

Where did u buy ur rulers? I’m in Canada and having trouble finding stores that sells the rulers. Neva

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nulagh

http://www.stitchintheditch.com in Canada are carrying the Westalee ruler foot in four sizes – low, medium, high and special high shank.
they are also carrying the Westalee ruler templates for free motion quilting.
many new items being added in November and they are great quality

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Bernice

For all the Canadians reading this who would like to order
Westalee rulers, I would recommend Stitch in the Ditch. The service is excellant and quick, prices are good with occasional sales and a reasonable cost for shipping. I have ordered from them a few times and have always been pleased. They also answer questions via email promptly.

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NancyC

Happy dance!! I’ve been wondering how a ruler could help with FMQ on a domestic machine, and now here is your blog on it!! Thanks, Leah, and I will definitely be following this!

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Amy's FMQ Adventures

I’ve been teaching this technique for a few years now and doing it for a few more. Janome has a wonderful ruler foot for use with nearly all of their machines and many quilters have been using it with other brands with much success, including Berninas. Guess this is one of the times I am ahead of the trend! (Sigh, never happened in high school!lol)

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Marion

And you’re one of my favourite sites for inspiration!

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jansmusingagain

I think these types of rulers would be fine on a domestic as long as it has a large throat space, no good on the small ones like mine, which is a shame as I would love to do some ruler work. Think we would need to have some form of anchorage, sticky backs maybe????

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Jeanie Battersby

With the new Westalee Foot and Rulers I can use them on my little Janome DC3050. You just have to practice how to move the rulers around when you get close to the inside of the machine throat. Can’t wait to get more rulers.

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Linda Leslie

I have a Bernina Aurora 440 which has a small throat space and I am able to use these rulers to perfection. Give it a go, it is a great investment and so much fun.

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Sandy Suhrie

Linda,nowhere did you get your foot for your Bernina?
Sandy in MD

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sarah did it!

Hi Linda – I have an Aurora 430 so I’m wondering which foot you decided to go with? Bernina #96, Janome or Westalee? Thanks!!

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Marge Keeney

I have the Aurora 440 as well. I did order a Sew Steady Table to enlarge the space away from the needle. I have been practicing and love the Westalee Ruler Foot and various templates. I agree with you totally.

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Marge

I have the Aurora 440 as well. I bought the Sew Steady Table to enlarge the area of sewing away from the needle. Westalee suggested the Low Shank Ruler and Low Shank Rulers. I LOVE this method of Domestic Machine Quilting. Happy Quilting All.

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Lori Kirtley

What foot are you using on your Bernina I have the 440 QE and have been wanting a ruler foot for it????

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Daniel Becker

I have a Bernina 740 and use the Janome FMQ Convertible foot WITH the 1/4 toe attachment. You will need the #77 Bernina attachment foot to attach the Janome FMQ foot, but it can be done. The secret is to set you presser foot setting on your Bernina to (-25) and it will raise your presser foot just high enough for it to work. Also, the Janome FMQ foot does NOT hop, which is helpful on a domestic machine. I know Westalee has a foot along with Bernina but they all hop. I’ve been using the Janome FMQ for weeks now and it works fantastic. Also you can order this Janome foot with the 1/4 toe almost anywhere. I would recommend Pocono Sew & Vac, as they have all the Janome accessories..

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Daniel Becker

UDATE 5/2017 – I just got Bernina’s #72 which is a 1/4″ ruler foot strickly made for its machines. It has a very slight hop, but hardly noticeable. Its a superior foot and fits on all of its machines without any special adjustments. The #72 foot is superior and there is no danger of damage due to needle down and foot up, as was an issue in the past with off market 1/4 ruler feet. Its designed so you can use 1/4″ longarm rulers all the way around the 1/4″ foot as there is 360 degree clearance all the way around. Also, there is a divit in the front of the foot to better see the needle. This foot was designed from a long arm foot and has the quality and performance u would expect from Bernina. In fact, I am finding the slight hop from it to actually quilt better as it glides over the quilt sandwich smoothly, yet keeps the sandwich firmly in place resulting in better accuracy. A lot more machines are now offering a 1/4″ ruler foot made for that machine. I would recommend the machine’s 1/4″ foot over any 3rd party hack.

Jan

The best the thing about working with rulers is you don’t require huge throat space as all the work is done by turning fabric.

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Marion

http://www.accentsindesign.com/fineline.html have been making rulers for domestic machines for several years. They have a strip of a Velcro like material for anti slip and a couple of pegs on the top to keep them steady. You shouldn’t have any problem using these with the smaller machines, as long as you can get a ruler foot.

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Janet Collins

I have been using the Westalee Ruler Foot and Rulers since it was developed. I love them. The Westalee Rulers for the foot are made in different thicknesses for domestic machines depending whether they are high, medium or low shank. Don’t use the thick 6mm ones. Handi Quilter are correct by telling you to contact the dealer of your sewing machine or contact Westalee Designs directly and they will help you. So exciting. Time to play again……

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Elsa Toerien

I have an HQ Sweet Sixteen and have used HQ rulers as well as some my son cut for me from 6mm perpex with great success. Like everything it takes some practice.

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Emmy

This intrigues me! I have the babylock TIARA. Are these rulers made for specific machines? Or is it “one fits all”?

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Susan Ertel

I am a longarmer and have used rulers for years, I work some on my reg sewing machine . Now I need a video to see how it is done . It takes a little to move back and forth, from moving machine to moving fabric, but I like rulers!

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Mary Robertson

I just completed a table runner using a ruler to stitch about half of the blocks. I was very happy with the results and am looking forward to trying other projects. It was so nice to see (almost) perfect lines on my blocks, as opposed to being frustrated about bobbles and dips that would happen no matter how hard I tried!

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Sylvia Earl

I was inspired by Amy Johnson to try ruler work. And a timely mention on Facebook of an online course on Westalee rulers has me really entrenched with ruler work. So happy to see your post, Leah, as you have really given me the confidence to fmq. Westalee rulers are now available from Sew Steady in the USA.

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WalleyGirl

Thanks for a great article, Leah. I credit you for getting me started with quilting, and this topic is very interesting as I look to expand my skill set. Please keep us posted as this technology develops!

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Valli

Finishing Touches Studio modified my existing Juki free motion foot into a ruler foot and I LOVE it for ruler work on my TL98e. http://www.finishingtouchesquiltingstudio.com/apps/webstore/products/show/3134568

I agree that the main challenge for doing ruler work on a domestic machine is in keeping templates/rulers from sliding. I’m excited to learn that sew-tacky tape may be available in the future. I’ve had pretty good success from coating my templates with Scotch Restickable glue stick (rinsing off and reapplying when necessary). Also considering using spray basting glue on bottom side of templates, but haven’t tried it yet.

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Debbie@thequiltjournal

Ruler work on a sit down machine adds so much crisp, smooth ,professional lines…this has been around for awhile now, If you haven’t tried it you need to give it a go!!
If you are looking for a TON of info / videos on Ruler Work with a DMS go to Amy’s free motion quilting adventures !!!

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Joy

I have not long ago purchased the Westalee products for my domestic machine. Fantastic! You only need a couple of small, 1-2cm, pieces of the stable tape on your rulers. So you can clearly see all the lines. And if you watch Leonie West on You Tube she doesn’t even use any! I am certainly not brave enough for that! lol

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Brenda Walczewski

just wondering where these rulers can be purchased at? Would love to get them..

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Leah Day

I’ve linked several companies within this article Brenda where you can find rulers for longarm or domestic machines. Just click on the links to learn more about each company and ruler creator.

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Dorothy Smith

Where can I purchase the 3 rulers shown in this article.

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Dotty

I have been quilting with my Kenmore sewing machine. I have a quilt I need to finish. I stopped quilting mid way through the quilt. I feel like I lost confidence and just can’t seem to get back to it. I have a free motion foot, but the stitches are not coming out right.

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Judi Jordan

Thanks I’ve been wondering how they work when your moving the fabric with both hands.

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Sally Becker

I was a sucker for these rulers – I purchased at a show – took them out of the bag, put the free motion foot on & the first thing is my thread broke – never did use them – I think they are a waste of money but mostly time – the time it takes to use them is NOT worth it!

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Kath

Sorry to hear that your thread broke? I have been using the the Ruler foot and templates since February with fantastic results. The reason your thread broke has nothing to do with the foot or templates. I would suggest that your tension is too tight or your thread has caught some where.

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Lisa Huckins

At MQX in Nashua NH I purchased the full set of Westalee Foot and Rulers. They are awesome! I had received an email from one of the many quilt shops/blogs/sites about it before hand. Luckily the new Elna Excellence I bought was also a long shank like my old Singer 🙂

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atefeh

How to machin quilting?

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Emily Keele

I purchased my rulers from Nancy’Notions (Nancy Zeman) at a very reasonable price for the foot adapter and 6 rulers. On the bottom of the rulers I use a thin, almost clear acrylic cushiony material out of which the round acrylic dots for the bottom of rotary rulers are sold. It is a VERY stable, sure grip that really holds the fabrics so that all I have to think about is moving the fabric. I had immediate success in using the rulers and they do not inhibit vision through the rulers. I have enjoyed free motion quilting his some time, but theses rulers have opened up a NEW world to me! I use a Juki 2010 Quilter with its own table, large harp space and no tension problems and use all types of threads with a top stitch needle. My rulers are from Westalee and they have excellent tutorials on YouTube. Thank you Angela for your books which have been my inspiration.

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Daniel Becker

Along with using the Janome FMQ foot, you can get started with all your FMQ ruler work at Pineapplequilts. They have all the curved ruler sizes that can be bought separately or in a set. I have one of the smaller curved Pinneapplequilt rulers and it works perfect with the Janome FMQ foot with the 1/4 toe attachment. Both can be purchased online and are reasonably priced. Also, the FMQ person everyone is referring to is Amy Johnson. She has numerous YT videos on quilting with rulers along with classes on Craftsy. She was the one who uses the Janome FMQ foot with the Pineapplequilt rulers. Patsy Thompson is another person who has YT videos on how to use the Janome FMQ foot on almost ANY machine, including the Bernina. Hope this info helps. Westalee has great products (especially her rulers) but there are other options out there when it comes to getting FMQ 1/4 foot.

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Kathy Lay

I have a Bernina 820 QE and am starting to research the ruler foot for free motion quilting. I have done several quilts with standard free motion meandering/stippling. I would appreciate advice on what foot to try because I have also heard that Bernina has its own ruler foot, #96. Also, does the ruler work only work well if you do quilt-as-you-go?

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Dot

Bernina is now producing a. ruler foot for their domestic machines which fits the Series 7 &8 machines. It is #72. I was given one as a Christmas gift but am still trying to source rulers

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Alma

Kathy or Dot, I have the Bernina 830 produced in around 2010 or 2011. I just received the ruler Foot #72. I’m going to purchase some of the westalee rulers, as Bernina doesn’t have all the shapes I want. But the order form asks whether my machine had a long or short shank. Do either of you know the answer to that?
Thanks in advance.

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