Mar 06 17

Ruler Work Questions and Answers



It’s so exciting to see ruler work really taking off for folks using home sewing machines and for sit down quilters using mid arm and long arm sit down machines.  In some ways, I almost feel like this is easier to do sitting down as opposed to on a frame system, and I find myself scratching my head wondering why it took us decades to figure out how to do this!  Oh well, what matters is that we ARE doing it now!

I get a lot of ruler work questions, so I’m going to touch on some of them here.


Question #1:  I’m a free motion quilter on my home machine and I’m just starting out.  What exactly do I need to have in order to do ruler work on my home machine?

Excellent question!  You need 3 things:

a.  A true ruler foot that will work on your machine.  If your machine manufacturer does not offer a proprietary foot, the 2 most common ruler feet that are available are the Westalee Ruler feet shown below:



…and the Clarity ruler foot by Accents in Design shown below:

Clarity Ruler Feet

b.  The 2nd thing you need is an expanse of level surface upon which you can easily move the quilt and ruler simultaneously.  This means you will either need to sink your machine into a cabinet or obtain an extension table for your machine.  You don’t need a giant extension table, but the throat of your machine simply won’t be a large enough expanse to support the rulers and quilt as you work.  Here’s a shot of an extension table set up with a sewing machine:



(Note that there’s a moon light under the table in this photo.  You don’t need that for ruler work, but know that you can throw a battery operated moon light under a plexiglass extension table and you have a light tracing table!)


c.  You need rulers that were devised for use as machine quilting rulers, not rotary cutting rulers.  There are millions of rulers available, in all shapes and sizes.  Here’s a photo of a smattering of them:



Rulers are expensive and just like fabric, you’ll find yourself sucked into buying rulers because you like shapes and feel drawn to them.  In reality, you don’t need special shapes for every shape you’ll want to make, and you’ll be surprised what you’ll be able to create using more basic shapes.  I have many rulers I’ve never used and probably never will, but I have other rulers that I use all the time.  Grow your ruler stash slowly over time and I would recommend starting out with a good straight line ruler and a few different arc rulers.  Honestly, we came up with our ruler starter packs just because I couldn’t find a set of basic “bread and butter” rulers.  Here a shot of our starter set:



Question #2:  I have the low shank Clarity Ruler foot and there is not enough space behind the low shank foot to place a 1/4 inch thick ruler/template.  Can I use the 3mm Westalee templates/rulers with my low shank Clarity foot so that I can then place ruler/templates on all 4 sides of my Clarity foot?


Answer:  Yes, and no!  The makers of the clarity foot do not recommend using anything other than a 1/4 inch thick ruler/template with all of their feet for the following reasons:

1.  They developed the foot for use with traditional 1/4 inch thick templates and when they tested it before release to the public, it was only tested with 1/4 inch thick templates.  Without extensive data on use with thinner templates, they cannot recommend using it with these thinner templates.

2.  Sewing machines today come with all kinds of options for adjusting presser foot height, presser foot pressure, etc, and battings come in all kinds of lofts and compressibilities.  If a machine were set up with a low presser foot pressure and the quilt had a very compressible batting, it would be very easy for a 3mm thick ruler/template to slip underneath the ruler foot and it could then be struck by the needle.  Accents in Design, (the makers of the Clarity ruler foot), are giving recommendations to ensure quilters have successful and safe quilting experiences with the Clarity foot.  In order to avoid the outcome above, they aren’t recommending the use of 3mm thick rulers/templates with the low shank Clarity foot.

In reality, that same happenstance that is mentioned above (i.e. that situations could arise with various settings where a thin 3mm Westalee ruler could slip underneath the ruler foot where it could be struck by the needle), has happened to me when using my Westalee low shank foot.  It’s only happened a few times (and I machine quilt a LOT), but it’s a risk you need to be aware of when using any brand of ruler foot and any thin 3mm rulers.  It’s up to YOU, THE QUILTER, to pay attention and stop immediately if you see this occurring.  If you are careful, you can use any 3mm ruler/template with the low shank Clarity foot.  The good news in this is that if you have a low shank Clarity foot, you can use all the wonderful Westalee templates that require the ability for the template to rotate around all 360 degrees of the ruler foot (i.e. their beautiful wreaths and spin-e-fex templates, etc), just pay attention to what you are doing!


Question #3:  Knowing what was said in question #2 above, can I use the Westalee echo guides with my Clarity foot?  I ask because the echo guide would touch all 4 sides of the Clarity ruler foot, including the back side.


Yes, you can!  The photo below shows one of the echo guides mounted to a low shank Clarity foot:



If you have more ruler work questions, shoot me an email and I’ll try to answer them!


  1. QuiltShop Gal Says:

    Great post Patsy. I love all your insights on FMQ and ruler work.


  2. Julie Hertel Says:

    This is fabulous. Thank you for walking us thru all of thus. Is your Ruler Work 103 something you will translate to a Craftsy class too?