Five days that changed my straight line ruler quilting
Frustration, tension issues, thread breaking, skipped stitches ... Do these symptoms sound familiar when you work with a straight edge ruler on a domestic machine? How come something that easy looking can be so difficult to achieve? I know the feeling well. In this post I would like to share my experience in dealing with those problems. I decided to challenge myself and find the best way to use a straight ruler on Pfaff Quilt expression 720.
It took only 5 days and lots of practice to figure out how to do that. I decided to reflect on these days and what I have learnt.
Day 1. Patience
I have been very anxious to try the new long arm straight edge ruler. It is longer (9 inches) and twice as thick (1/4 inch) as the 6 inch long one I used before. It is transparent with perfect markings which are visible on the white background.
The epp quilt I have been working on over a year has been my practice piece. I quilted all rosettes using various rulers, and a straight ruler for the crosshatch design, so I am not a beginner at ruler work. I was absolutely sure that with a 9 inch ruler I would quilt much faster. Silly me!
I spent couple of hours in complete frustration - the thread kept breaking and splitting and I had many skipped stitches. I used Aurifil 40 wt with Titanium needle 90/14. I decreased the upper tension from 4.6 to 2.6 but it didn´t help much. The problem persisted. Then I changed the thread for Glide and replaced the needle. At least the thread stopped breaking and I managed to quilt a small area but wasn´t happy with quality of my stitching. I had to use my seam ripper a lot!
I started to realize that it would take much longer than I expected.
What have I learnt that day? You have to be patient and don´t expect immediate results. Experiment first with thread tension, if decreasing it doesn´t help, change the thread and/or needle, try to re-attach the ruler foot. I noticed that my sewing machine doesn´t like Aurifil for ruler work but works well with that thread in free motion.
If you got skipped stitches - stop right away. It saves you a lot of time to undo just few stitches than rip your quilting.
Day 2. Marking
I usually mark my quilts with water soluble marker. Most of it disappears when you spray water but it completely washes away. I try to do minimum marking and this time I marked vertical reference lines 6 inches apart. My quilting lines are only 1/2 inch apart. I tried hard to keep the lines parallel but in vain.
So, here is the lesson I learnt - mark reference lines for your straight line quilting 2 or 2 1/2 inches apart. It would be much easier to notice where you are going and adjust the position of the ruler if necessary.
Day 3. Direction of quilting
I noticed that quilting in different directions affected the quality of my stitching. Every other line had still some skipped stitches and I noticed the pattern. When I was quilting from top to bottom everything went well, in opposite direction from bottom to top I would get the skipped stitches. In my opinion it is caused by the way you move the quilt sandwich when you are quilting in different directions. It might be something I need to practice on a separate sandwich but not on this quilt. So my solution to this problem was simply moving the quilt around so I always stitch from top to bottom. I certain position I would even quilt with almost whole quilt on my laps.
Day 4. How to hold the ruler
As I mentioned earlier the long arm ruler is heavier than the one I am used to. The general rule is the smaller the ruler is the easier it is to handle. With the heavy ruler, especially in the beginning of my straight line quilting I used to hold on it so tight to prevent from slipping that my muscles hurt. But it didn´t help and the ruler kept slipping.
It made me think that perhaps it is not right to hold on it so tight. So I tested different ways and finally found what worked perfectly for me. Actually this is one of the most important things and as soon as I discovered it, the quilting went much easier and faster.
I hold the ruler with my left hand - the bottom edge of the ruler with a thumb, index and middle fingers are on the ruler, ring finger and little finger are on the fabric. You can even take the quilting glove off the left hand to get better grip on the ruler. Also make sure that you have some grip underneath the ruler. I use either Westalee stable tape (it comes in strips). This time I ran out of it and used 2 pieces cut from a round piece of adhesive felt (usually used under furniture legs).
With that placement the ruler doesn´move - your thumb and fingers on the fabric prevent it from slipping. And I quilt only around 4 inches in one pass (between your index finger and thumb) even though it is very tempting to stitch longer. In this case you are in control of where and how you are stitching.
On that day once I finally figured how to hold the ruler and taking into account what I learnt during the previous days I managed almost to finish quilting the first corner.
Day 5 Accept your limitations
After yesterday´s success I was very eager to finish the quilting on the first corner. It was a small part and I thought it would take half an hour. Well, it took almost 1,5 hours. I just confirmed my observation from Day 3 about quilting in different directions. It also depends how much you are able to move the quilt around. The size of my beauty is 105 inches square and it makes it really hard to move it in certain positions to be able to quilt always from top to bottom. So, accept your limitations. After few attempts to quilt in both directions and effectively using the seam ripper I opted for quilting only from top to bottom even though it required much more thread burying.
So embrace the fact that your quilting is not going to be the same every day. But I hope you learn from your experience and listen to your sewing machine, what works the best for it and for you. The more your practice the better you know how to fix the issues you might encounter working with straight ruler.
There are still 3 corners for straight line quilting left on my quilt. I am not afraid to continue but rather curious and excited to see that with every line I am getting only better!
Happy straight line quilting and may you not need to use the seam ripper!