Using rulers to help you with free motion quilting – it really IS still FMQ!
After my start in free motion quilting (FMQ) (see my first blog on FMQ), while I was encouraged at what I’d done, I still felt very limited by my artistic skills to what I’d like to be able to do. I spent quite a lot of time looking at what others were doing and it was during this time, I discovered that those who use longarm machines had the availability of using ‘rulers’ (not the 12 inch ones we used in schools NOR the quilting cutting rulers) to guide them in their stitching to produce the most glorious designs. My immediate thoughts were ‘why can’t I do this on my domestic machine?’ That set me off searching again and I was thrilled and delighted when I discovered that there ARE products available out there. Parrs rulers was the first I found and saw demonstrated but at the same time I found Westalee, an Australian company, who had a vast amount of experience producing a variety of products for quilters with expertise in producing rulers for Longarmers, and who were now also producing a fantastic range of rulers for domestic machines.
Well, that was all I needed. The fact that Westalee were in Australia didn’t matter as when I went to their website, they shipped to the UK. At that time (over two years ago now), there was no-one in the UK selling them (since then, Cotton Patch have started selling them and the revolution has begun!) so I contacted Westalee and asked about my machine – at that time a Bernina – and was told what I’d require to be able to use the Westalee foot (Bernina now produce their own ruler foot as do many machines). I ordered the foot and template set from Australia, and waited for them to arrive.
Meanwhile, I started watching all the available Westalee videos on YouTube – there were a lot then but now there are loads and loads!
Finally the ruler foot and template set arrived and I excitedly fitted it to my machine, following all the clear instructions. Having watched some videos (and I do recommend watching them before you start) I started simply by just using the straight ruler but by lowering the feed dogs, just as I had for FMQ, and using the edge of the ruler up against the foot as a guide, found that I was able to move the fabric not just forward but in any direction I chose to point the ruler. I was doing FMQ but being guided by the ruler. It was an absolute revelation to me and my mind was racing with ideas.
Of course I didn’t just want to do straight lines – I could do those with a walking foot or simple straight stitch sewing, but I quickly realised the fact that I could begin to quilt in any direction without turning the quilt round and how that was going to give me such freedom. Even just doing straight lines to begin with added such opportunities to my quilting. The first real quilt I used the rulers on was a quilt for my daughter that was based on a pattern I found in an issue of Today’s Quilter. I decided to simply echo the lines of the pattern, but the beauty was that I was able to go in any direction and it made quilting so much easier.
I was so encouraged by being able to do this echoing, but I was really excited to move into creating some of the curved and circular designs. The template set provides 6 rulers which can inspire you to endless opportunities for design, but I knew I needed to walk before I could run, so I watched the videos, tried the rulers out on practice quilt sandwich samples and then when I felt confident, I started using the designs on quilts. I make a lot of quilts for the Linus project and this has given me the opportunity to ‘play’ as when I’ve made a simple quilt, I can choose how I quilt it and this has given me such opportunities to develop all my quilting skills and particularly those using the rulers.
I was eager to learn more so I signed up to an online class where each month I was given instructions how to use a specific ruler to create a block and ultimately put together a quilt, and I learned an enormous amount from that. I’ve since accessed another online class to create a quilt using only the starter set of rulers, which has given me lots of ideas for the future.
Recently, as I mentioned in my last blog on fmq, I have been following the fmqchallenge with Angela Walters, and some of those blocks lent themselves to combining the use of rulers with ‘pure’ fmq.
I’ve also started to use some or the Artisan rulers from Westalee allowing me to create my own mandala designs – and I’ve even started using fabric paints to enhance these.
There are so many resources out there now, and the sky is my limit. I just don’t have enough time in the day!
If you want to start using rulers, you will need a special ruler foot which is different from a normal fmq foot as it has a higher edge to it to prevent the ruler sliding underneath the foot and causing problems with needle breakages or timing of your machine, so it is important to check that you have the correct foot and then the correct size of ruler (there are generally two sizes depending on whether you have a low shank or high shank machine). You can always obtain advice from the manufacturer.
They DO take some practice to get used to, but practice is needed for developing any new skill, and these rulers have really taken my quilting to a much higher level. I have a vision for using FMQ to quilt some tops I made a while ago – two designs created by Jaqueline de Jonge, one called Enchanting Stars and the other called Infinity – and I know that I will be using a combination of all the skills I have been learning to complete this. I feel almost ready to start, and when I do, I hope to blog about my progress – watch this space.
As I mentioned, Westalee rulers can be purchased in the UK via Cotton Patch. There are other rulers out there, such as Silesian which were reviewed on this website a few months ago, and Parrs as I mentioned earlier, and of course Angela Walters (I mentioned her first fmqchallenge in my first blog on fmq) also now produces rulers.
So, while someone once said that using rulers was not FMQ, I would absolutely disagree because it is YOU moving the quilt around to do the stitching – not the feed dogs on the machine, and the rulers are simply a tool to help create fmq designs. Tools are there to help us, and these rulers are a tool I would not now be without.
If you’ve been wondering about using them to help you develop your fmq skills, then GO FOR IT. You won’t regret it!