7 things to consider before buying quilting rulers
Updated: Jul 17, 2022
With variety of quilting rulers in the market it is hard to choose what you need, especially if you are a beginner. When I just started ruler work on my domestic Pfaff I was simply overwhelmed with all the information about rulers and thought the more rulers I had the more designs I could quilt. Now that I understand much more about rulers and ruler work I wish I had known what features to look for in rulers earlier as I ended up buying some I never use. In this blog post I would like to summarize what you need to consider before investing in quilting rulers.
1. Type of sewing machine
Depending on the type of your domestic sewing machine (low, medium or high shank) you may or may not be able to use long arm rulers.
What is the shank? It is a measure from the bed of the machine to the center of the presser foot holder screw when your presser foot in the down position.
High Shank (left) – about 1″ from the needle bed.
Low shank (right)– about ½” from the needle bed.
Some machines have a different shank fitting - Medium or High Shank special. Here is the list from the cottonpatch.co.uk (please, note it is not a complete one as new models of sewing machines appear in the market all the time )
Medium Shank (MS):
• Bernina 7 Series and 8 Series machines
• Pfaff Machines using the Spring Free
Motion Setting: Creative Sensation Pro, Creative Sensation, Creative Vision, Creative Performance, Creative 4.5, 4.0, 3.0, 2.0, Performance 5.0, Quilt Expression 4.2, 4.0, Expression 3.5, 3.2, 3.0, 2.0, Expression 150.
High Shank Special (HSS):
• Brother PQ1300 PQ1300 PQ1500S
• Babylock BLQP BL500A
• Janome 1600P 1600P-DB 1600-QC, 1600P-QC
• JUKI DDL-227 DDL-555 DDL-8700 TL-98E TL-98P TL-98QE TL2000Qi TL2010
• Pfaff 1200 Grand Quilter
• Husqvarna Mega Quilter
• Singer 2OU 31-15, 1191-D300A
If in doubt, you can always check with your sewing machine dealer.
Rules for rulers are simple:
High shank rulers (1/4" thick) for high shank and long arm machines.
Low shank rulers (1/8" thick) for low shank machines even though you can use thicker long arm rulers in certain positions ( to the front and the sides of the the foot ).
If your machine is high shank I wouldn't´t recommend a 3 mm (1/8") low shank ruler because they are very thin and there’s a good chance the ruler might slide under the foot while stitching as the foot hops.
All Westalee rulers I have for my Pfaff are 1/8" thick (low shank rulers). They are quite light because of the thickness. I also have few long arm rulers that work pretty well even though my Pfaff Quilt Expression 720 doesn´t have enough space behind the foot and under the presser foot shaft for the long arm rulers to be used behind the foot. But it is really a weird place to place the ruler. Long arm rulers work perfectly if you place them to the front of the foot of to the sides. But I must admit that there are certain positions where I can quilt only with the low shank ruler for better clearance around the foot. But it is possible to use long arm rulers for medium shank machines.
2. Ruler foot
You need to use special ruler foot suitable for your sewing machine to work with quilting rulers. In the photo below you can see Pfaff ruler foot.
The ruler foot has a round thick base with a high edge. That high edge is the key for the ruler work as it prevents the ruler from slipping over or under your foot. It is really important to use the ruler foot for the ruler work otherwise you risk to break the needle, destroy your ruler foot or even machine.
You need to check with your sewing machine dealer what kind of ruler foot is available for your sewing machine.
3. Clear or colored?
I personally prefer a clear ruler just because I can see through it easier and keep the accuracy while quilting. But they easily get lost in my white quilts.
I also have a couple of long arm rulers from Bethanne Nemesh (White Arbor Quilting) which are made from high quality compressed cast light emitting acrylic. They are a nearly clear pale green when viewed from above, but glow aquamarine when seen from the edge to prevent sneaky escapes and that ruler invisibility trick.
The more markings the ruler has, the more useful it will be. I always look for 1/4 inch (1/8" is a plus) markings in a straight edge ruler (both vertical and horizontal), 45 degree markings (as well as 30 and 60 degrees). Those are super helpful as they decrease the amount of markings you need to do on your quilt. Centering reference is also a great help. In the photo below you can see a straight edge long arm ruler Garden lines from Bethanne Nemesh. I think you should try few rulers to see which one you like the best.
If it is a curved ruler there should be parallel makings to the curves (photo below shows an 8" Arc from Arc Template Set by Sew Steady) in addition to the markings mentioned above.
5. Specialty templates
There are so many different specialty templates in the market - circles, feathers, curves, Spin-e-Fex etc. They are great for those who want more guidance for their free motion quilting. You can quilt all these incredible shapes without marking, but the only limit is your budget.
Here are few examples of the templates I have.
1) Circles on Quilts by Westalee Design (Sew Steady). These rotating templates come with a pin and they allow you to sew concentric circles 2-12" and 2 1/2 -11 1/2" .
All circles on my Coral reef quilt (2019) were quilted with those rotating templates.
2) Another great set is Between the lines by Westalee Design. You can quilt Lines of Circles between quilted lines and sashing 0,25"- 0,5" - 1" - 1,5" - 2".
I prefer using larger templates from this set because I can get perfect circles in larger sizes where they wouldn´t look nice quilted free hand. Here is a fragment of my new quilt Apples and Oranges that is currently in the works.
Usually when you buy a specialty template, it comes with the design what you can quilt with it. I always try to think outside those shapes: what else can you use these templates for and how will they complement the templates you already have (or would like to purchase) to create new designs.
For example, I have a set of templates by Inspira that was kindly provided by @pfaff_suomi
It includes a Heart 3,5", Continuous figure 8 - 2,5", Spin-e-fex 10 - 2,5" and Crosshair Ruler 8.5 x 8.5"
These are the designs you can quilt using these templates
Even though I am not big fan of quilted hearts, I think it is a great and versatile set that allows you to quilt not only those shapes but use the elements of those designs to create new designs.
I would like to show you how to create 2 new designs using these templates.
Cross hair ruler is perfect for marking 8-16 and 32 reference lines that allow you to space perfectly rotating quilting designs.
For the first design I used 1" and 1.5" inch circles from Between the lines set, spin-e-fex and heart templates.
First, I marked 8 reference lines on the paper, and 3 inches reference points from the center on each line using Cross hair ruler. To plan the design I use a drawing wheel that allows you to mimic the sewing line (it basically draws the line 1/4 inch from the edge of the template just like you sew 1/4 inch from the edge of the quilting ruler). Then I drew the circles in the center and traced spin-e-fex template at vertical and horizontal lines, placing the edge of the template at the 3 inch reference point.
In the photo below you can see that when I used the heart template I placed the bottom of the template at 3 inch mark (between horizontal and vertical lines)
Once I drew all the lines, I added some quilting designs inside some shapes - feathers, straight lines at 45 degrees and curves drawn with a 4" arc to show various quilting possibilities.
For the second design I used spin-e-fex and Continuous figure 8 templates. It is suitable for a 4" border.
First, I marked a horizontal line. Then using the part of the Continuous figure 8 template marked with arrows I drew this continuous curve (below).
Then I marked 2 lines at 2 inch distance from the central line and drew the leaves at the top and bottom of the continuous curve. As you can see I marked the reference lines on the template with a permanent marker to ensure the correct placement.
These quilting designs look quite different from what was suggested by the manufacturer. But this is exactly what I wanted to show - you can create many new designs by combining different templates.
6. Extra features
There are extra features like special grips on the bottom of the ruler, or various types of handles on the top of the ruler.
I mainly use The Stable Tape from Westalee that is a grip tape you apply to the bottom of your ruler.
It does its job but I wish I could get transparent silicone grips instead. I don´t use any handles on my rulers. You get the best grip from the good placement of your hands in quilting gloves.
A hanging hole on a ruler is a plus for storing.
7. Cost vs value
Good quilting rulers are expensive, buy the best one you can afford. Now you know what features a good ruler must have..
If you are new to ruler work and have a proper ruler foot, I would recommend you to start with a straight edge long arm ruler with good markings that is at least 8 inches long. You can´t imagine how versatile and fun that simple ruler is and how much you can do with it! Once you get comfortable with ruler work, then explore the curves and specialty templates!