January 2018 Ruler Work Winter Course Part VI

January 19th, 2018

Welcome to lesson #6!  I’m glad you’ve made it this far, as today’s lesson will hopefully take the skills you have learned and place them into the realm of practical use.  You can do today’s lesson on paper or on fabric, but  I will be demonstrating it on paper because that is how I would handle the situation in “real life.”  My goal here is to show you how to solve these problems when you are dealing with a “real quilt” and trying to figure out dimensions.  Do not be put off by the mundane/boring nature of today’s lesson as this is the info that will allow you to use the skills you’ve been learning.  Sometimes, it pays off to read through “dry material” and I’m hoping you will find this worth your time.

You really do need to know what’s been covered so far in order to reap the rewards of today’s lesson, as all of these lessons build on preceding lessons.  Clicking on any of the links below will take you to the earlier lessons:

Lesson #1

Lesson #2

Lesson #3

Lesson #4

Lesson #5

OK, let’s get right to it!  To date, you have been creating various ruler work border designs because I’ve been feeding you specific dimensions that determine placement of your tick marks, and those tick marks determine the proportions of the final design.  One of the most wonderful things about ruler work is that it gives you the ability to customize a given design to fit exactly on your quilt.  If you really like that design and decide you want to use it again on a different quilt, you can easily “adapt” that design so it has been customized to fit exactly on that second quilt.  You will discover that this versatility is extremely useful.

Let’s look at a typical border that needs to be filled.  Let’s say that you have a 2 1/2 inch wide x 34 1/2 inch long border on a quilt that you want to fill with a ruler work design.  Let’s pretend that we want to fill that border with the design we learned in lesson #1.  To trigger your memory, the photo below shows this design made with the original proportions:



Recall that the dimensions for each “unit” of this design were 2 inch by 5 inches. If we were to keep the length of each unit at 5 inches, then we would have room for 34.5 divided by 5 = 6.9 units.  Well, we can’t have 6.9 repetitions of that design can we?  So, this means I could either have 7 repetitions of a 4.93 long unit (I got this number by taking 34.5 and dividing by 7), OR we could have 6 repetitions of a 5.75 inch long unit (I arrived at that by dividing 34.5 by 6.)   To see if either of these would be aesthetically pleasing, we need to test this on a piece of scrap paper.   First, I would  create an empty 2 1/2 inch wide border zone on that paper.  I have created 2 separate zones below as my paper isn’t wide enough to hold both options inside the same line:



Next, I am placing a tick mark at my “zero position,” then another tick mark at just slightly greater than 4 7/8 inches for option #1.  On my second border, I have another zero tick mark and then a tick mark at 5.75 inches.  This allows me to create a sample of a unit of the border design at each of the 2 lengths discussed above.  Next, I place a vertical line at the midpoint of each of those units, and my paper appears as below:



Draw that first parent triangle for each sample and then look at what you’ve drawn.  Recall that this design is a series of triangles with tapered straight line channels, but our original border was 2 inches wide and this new border on your real quilt is 2 1/2 inches wide, so these new triangles are 25% wider than the earlier design.  If we stick with “inner triangles” of the original height, they won’t look quite right, so we need to play with the proportions of these new “inner triangles.”  For me, the easiest (and fastest) way to do this is to lay my ruler next to that center vertical line and just kind of “eyeball” what might look good.  For this size, I am choosing to place a tick mark at 3/4 inches, 1 1/2 inches, and 2 inches below the apex of the parent triangle.  Do I know this will look good?  No, but I’m pretty sure it will.  (At some point, you need to learn to take chances and trust your instincts.  Remember, if this drawn sample looks awful, you will learn something from that, and over time, it’s these successes and failures that will build your confidence in making these kinds of guesses.  This is also just a piece of paper, so if it looks awful, you’ll try again on another piece of paper!)  This is what my paper looks like before I draw any more triangles:



…and here is the paper after both samples have been drawn:



I believe that either one of these would be fine, but I’m going to choose the 5.75 version for 2 reasons:

  1.  I like the proportions a little bit better, AND

      2.  This size will be less work for me since it has less repeats, so I know I can stitch it out        faster.

So, after my little “experiment,” I have determined that my new prototype unit will be 2 1/2 inches high and 5.75 inches long.  We’re almost done, but once I’ve determined my “prototype” proportions, there is one more step to take before marking the border zone.  You must measure each of the 4 sides of the border individually and then mark them individually.  The likelihood that all 4 sides will be the exact same length is very low, (for me, it would be 0%), so go into the process assuming they are all just a bit different.  You will then need to calculate the width of each repeat for each of the 4 sides.  (You would do this by taking the measured length and dividing by 6, since we have determined above that we will be having 6 repeats.)  It may well work out that the differences in the size of the units will be inconsequential, but sometimes they are not.  It’s always safest to work in a way that will cover you in situations where those differences are consequential!  What you are really doing here is avoiding the trap of using the measurements from side #1 on side #2, and finding out that a difference of 1/8 of an inch added up 5 times (0ver 5 repeats) might leave you with a final triangle unit that is 5/8 inch longer or shorter than every other triangle unit in that side of the border.  This additive effect creates enough of a difference that it would be noticeable, but if you spread out that difference among each unit in a given side, the world will believe that each unit on all 4 sides of the border is the same length.  That is the rationale for measuring each side individually and calculating the length of each unit for each side individually.

Now, let’s say that we were working on filling this border with a swag ruler work design, would this be as fast and easy?  No, but it wouldn’t be hard.  Remember that when you are working with arc rulers, you will alter the depth of the curve’s plunge into the border space every time you alter the length of each swag.  To illustrate this, take an 8 1/2 x 11 in piece of scrap paper and orient the paper in portrait orientation.  Beginning 1/2 inches above the bottom of the paper, draw a horizontal line across from the left side to the right side.  Next, mark a parallel line 2.25 in above that line, then 1.5 inches above the 2nd line, then 1 inch above the 3rd line, and lastly 2.25 inches above the 4th line.  (We have just created a series of border spaces of different widths.)

Now, beginning at your lowest line and then working upward, make a tick mark at 0 and 6 in; 0 and 5 inches; 0 and 4 inches.  On your next line up, mark a tick mark at 1, 2.5, and 4.5 inches. Your paper should now look like this:



Now, I am using my PTD 6.5 arc for this exercise and I’ve chosen it because it has the most dramatic curve of the 3 arc rulers in the PTD starter pack.  Using the tick marks on each line, I am tracing my swags and this is what I get:


What I’m trying to show you is what happens with the depth of the plunge of the curve as you alter the length of a given swag.  Remember, you will need to play around with lengths of swags as you determine the ideal swag length for that special border on your real quilt.  Is there a way to work around this?  I know of two ways:

1.  Begin building your stash of arc rulers

2.  Switch to a border composed of arched swags instead of pure swags.  This will resolve these issues completely since you have complete control of how deep of a plunge your arched swag will make by virtue of where you place your tick marks.

In the photo below, you can see how I’ve made a very “plunging” arched swag using a 4 inch long unit.  If you compare this to the depth of the swag we were able to make using a 4 inch long unit earlier, there is a huge difference.



OK, that’s it for today and that’s it for the “dry/mundane/boring posts!”  The final 3 posts will have you stitching again but using your skills in a very different way.  Prepare to have a ton of fun and to realize you have skills that will take you to very fun places and to beautiful design work!


January 2018 Ruler Work Winter Course Part V

January 15th, 2018


Today we hit the halfway point on this ruler work journey together!  This will be the last lesson where I’m laying down basic ruler work skills, so know that the lessons will be different after today.  (They will still be great, but they will force you to use the skills we’ve covered thus far in ways you might not think of, so it will be fun !)  These first 5 lessons really are the basis of pretty much everything I do in the world of ruler work, so if you see me doing something down the road and can’t understand how I did it, come back to these first 5 lessons as the info will be here.  Know that each lesson builds on the preceding lessons, so it’s to your benefit to complete them in order.  Your time and my time are valuable, so I won’t keep repeating the same information in each post.  You can find the earlier lessons by clicking on the links below:

Lesson #1

Lesson #2

Lesson #3

Lesson #4

In our last 2 lessons, you learned how to create tapered channels using an arc ruler and today, you’ll learn how to create parallel channels using an arc ruler.  This is very similar to creating parallel channels with a straight line ruler, so this should prove pretty easy for you.  I will be using my PTD 12 arc ruler for this, but use whatever arc ruler you have lying around.  We will be working inside the lower 4 inch wide border on the sandwich you made earlier.

Below is a photo of the ruler work framework we will be completing today:


…and here is a shot of what it might look like once filled:



Each of these arched swag “units” is 5 inches wide and 4 inches tall.  I am using my PTD 12 arc ruler for this, but use whatever arc ruler you have available.  As always, we’ll begin by marking some tick marks to guide our stitching.  Using a temporary marker, place one tick mark at the base of the border zone at least 1 inch to the left of the fabric’s edge.  Place a similar tick mark every 5 inches thereafter.  Next, mark a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left-most tick mark, then repeat that line every 5 inches.  Your sandwich should now appear as follows:



The first run will be identical to our last exercise.  Pierce your needle at the base of the border on the first tick mark, then position your ruler to stitch to the apex of the neighboring vertical line.  Now, re-position your ruler and stitch the next curve that will take you back to the baseline, then stitch the remaining parent arched swags in this border.  Once done, your sandwich should appear as below:



We’ll place a 1/4 inch parallel channel inside each parent arched swag.  Remember there is no need for further marking as we can rely on the etched lines on the ruler to guide us in creating parallel channels.  To create a 1/4 in parallel channel, you’ll simply place your arch ruler edge right up against the stitched line you just stitched, and this will give you a 1/4 inch wide channel.  Here is a shot of my setup just before I began stitching:


Once your stitching reaches the vertical soap line, stop stitching and re-adjust your ruler, then keep going.  Complete those 1/4 inch channels for the entire border and your sandwich should appear as below:


Next up, we’ll add a 1/2 inch wide channel inside each arched swag.  You’ll need to enter 1/2 inch inside the innermost arched swag at the end, then place the first etched line on your ruler directly over that stitched line.  Here is a shot of my setup before I began stitching:


Stitch those out and your sandwich should appear as below:



Throw in your final 1/4 inch wide channel, and your framework is complete:


Now we are ready to fill in some channels.  Remember that the 1/4 inch channels are too narrow to hold anything, so those 2 channels will remain empty.  I added a single row of pearls into the 1/2 inch channel and a featherette into the bottom triangular area.  Here is a shot of these filled in:


Do you see the mauve-colored structures in the base of each arched swag?  Those are called featherettes.  We’ll talk more about them below, but before we get to that topic, this last shot shows the border design after the featherettes have been hyperquilted with gold polyester thread:



When you hyperquilt a quilted design, it adds a bit of flair, or a highlight, especially if it’s stitched in a high contrast thread.  For feathers and featherettes, it always creates areas that are almost “electrified” if you use a gold or silver rayon or polyester thread.   This is because you have to repeatedly bring your stitching line back to the spine (in a feather), or back to a center base (in a featherette.)  Having these areas where there is increased density of thread being laid down is what causes the highlighting.  In general, if you have a border design that you like but you think it’s a bit ho-hum, think of hyperquilting a section of it because it will almost always bring that design newfound life!

Of course, there are many ways these channels and spaces could be filled, so choose something else that appeals to you if you are turned off by the thought of a featherette.  I am betting that many of you are intimidated by the thought of a featherette, but this is something that’s really worth trying because it will add a sophistication to your ruler work.  Many people find a basic featherette easier to stitch than a feather, so many people learn to stitch feathers because they’ve mastered a featherette.  I’m going to give you the basics of featherettes below, but spend some time looking at the photo of a basic featherette above as you try to understand these concepts:

  1.  There is a difference between a featherette and a feather.   In a feather, the plumes all flow from a spine.  In a featherette, the plumes all flow from a single point, OR the plumes flow from a structure that is not a spine.  Can you see that the plumes in the photo above all flow from a point at the center base of the triangular zone? (They do, and this makes featherettes easy to stitch, because you are repeatedly bringing your thread line back to that same point.)
  2. A featherette is nearly always highly symmetric, either from side to side or top to bottom or all of the above.  In the featherette above, there is a central plume and then the side plumes on either side are roughly symmetric.  How in the world can you do that kind of freehand work??????  See below, and play with this by drawing on scrap paper.  Drawing will teach you a lot about proportion and shapes of plumes.  (I know, I can hear you groaning “but I can’t draw!”  Trust me, I couldn’t draw before either.  The more you do it, the better you get!)

For me, the easiest way to build “featherette skills” is to draw a few isoscoles triangles on a piece of scrap paper.  (An isosceles triangle has 2 sides that are equal.)  If you look at the space created with ruler work that holds each featherette above, can you see that the space is actually is a triangle?  If you go intro the challenge of drawing a freehand featherette with the goal of filling the entire space inside the triangle with plumes, it’s not so hard to do this.  Begin by drawing a teardrop whose base is in the dead center of the triangle and stretch that teardrop/plume so it reaches the top of the center of that space, then carry the pencil all the way back to the center base again.  Now swing up and out and to the right and draw a “hook” shape that eventually meets up w/that center plume.  Carefully backtrack just a bit over the “tip” of the hook you’ve just stitched, then swing out to the right and down to that center base point again, and you’ve just added another plume. If you are working inside a triangle that is roughly the same size as the triangle inside the ruler work arched swag you should have space for 1 more plume on that first side.  I would sneak out, creeping along then next to the baseline, then swing up and stitch the final hook shape.  Now you can carefully backtrack down your already stitched line to arrive back at the center point.  Once there, you can repeat the same process on the opposite side.

*****The key to this coming out and appearing symmetric is that you are filling the exact same shape on either side of that center plume.  So, if you hold yourself “accountable” to stretching/contracting your plumes so they fill the entire space, you should end up with a featherette that is symmetric!  If there is a part of you wondering if this is using the bumpback feather technique, you are correct!

I’m not going to repeat previous posts here, but if you’re wanting to learn how to quilt various featherettes, you can find an old post by clicking here.

There’s a lot of info in this post and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, skip the featherette part and stitch with creating the ruler work framework.  Patience, grasshopper!

January 2018 Ruler Work Winter Course Part IV

January 12th, 2018

We meet yet again!   This is the 4th ruler work lesson and if you missed lesson #1,  lesson #2, or lesson #3, you’ll want to go back and read those lessons and also complete the ruler work exercises that go with each lesson.  Know that each lesson builds on the preceding lessons, so it’s to your benefit to complete them in order.  Your time and my time are valuable, so I won’t keep repeating the same information in each post.  You can find the earlier lessons by clicking on the links below:

Lesson #1
Lesson #2

Lesson #3

If you find yourself struggling with these lessons, or just want to start truly at the basics of ruler work, you may find our ruler work DVD helpful.  It’s called “Ruler Work for the Sit Down Quilter Volume I, ”  and you can find it by clicking here.   These ruler work lessons are quite different than what is on that DVD.  This blog-based ruler work course presumes you already know some basic ruler work info, so if you are feeling a little lost, this really might help you.

In our last lesson, you learned how to create tapered channels using an arc ruler and today, you’ll learn how to create a different type of tapered channel using an arc ruler.   I will be using my PTD 12 arc ruler for this lesson, but use whatever arc ruler you have lying around.  We will be working inside the 4 inch wide border that lies just below the 1 3/4 inch wide border we filled during our last exercise.

Below is a photo of the ruler work framework we will be completing today:




Know that this is what I call an arched swag border.  It’s very similar to a swag border, but each swag comes to a point at its apex.  (Compare this to the last swag border we did where there was no central apex.  Those were just tiers of pleasing curves that never came to a “point.”)

This is a very easy type of design to stitch and learning to stitched arched swags will help you accomplish a lot of work more easily and quickly.  I say this because we have, in essence, made the ruler work framework much easier to stitch because it has been broken into 2 short curves instead of 1 plunging curve that must be repeated in 2 directions.  If this doesn’t seem intuitive to you, find yourself a true swag ruler with a  similar plunge and try stitching with it and not moving that ruler’s position against the quilt  from start to finish.  This is much harder to do as a sit-down quilter (because remember, you’re moving a big quilt as well), so arched swag designs have really become my go-to designs.  They will deliver “big time” as far as a design punch, yet they are easier to stitch than a true plunging swag design that is stitched as one continuous line per swag.

To begin, let’s place some markings inside this border to guide our stitching.  Place a tick mark 1 inch inside the left side of the base of the border, then place a tick mark every 5 inches.  Next, place a vertical line that is perpendicular to the baseline at 2.5 inches from the first tick mark, then repeat this vertical line every 5 inches.  Your sandwich should now look like this:


Hopefully, stitching this series of “parent arched swags” looks familiar from prior markings.  You’ll pierce your needle at the base of the border at the first tick mark, then stitch to the intersection of the apex of the soap line, change your ruler position, then stitch back to the next tick mark that falls on the baseline.  Repeat that for all 4 arched swag “units” on your border, and your sandwich should look like the photo below:


Check that your perpendicular lines really do hit the apex of each arched swag and create a new perpendicular line if they do not.  Add a small tick mark at 1 inch, 1 3/4 inch, and 2 1/4 inches along the vertical lines below the stitching at the apex.  Do this for each arched swag “unit,” and recall that you are merely establishing new starting and stopping points for your stitching.  Your marked sandwich should now look like the photo below:



(Hopefully, you are having a bit of a deja-vu back to when we marked a design for tapered channels using a straight line ruler in lesson 1.)

Pierce your needle at the very beginning  of of your current border design at its base, and this is what my set up looked like as I was preparing to stitch this next round of tapered channels:


Go ahead and stitch each of these, re-positioning your ruler, (and pivoting your quilt if you’d like), each time you hit the next tick mark.  Once the border has been stitched, your sandwich should look something like this:



Go ahead and finish stitching the remaining 2 lines that will create even more channels and when you are done, your sandwich should look like this:



If we examine it, there are 3 tapered channels and a triangle at the base.  Could we fill some or all of these channels?  Yes.  Know, however, that it is usually more impactful to fill only some of the channels.  By deliberately leaving every other channel empty, you create more textural/design interest, and it also saves you time.  This leads us to Patsy’s golden rule #3:

Avoid the temptation to fill all channels inside a given design.  The juxtaposition of a filled channel next to an unfilled channel is a subtle way of making your quilted design more interesting and drawing the viewer’s attention to it.

Let’s talk a bit about arched swag designs in general because this is a particularly useful quilting design.  Remember that you can always alter the “look” or “feel” of a given design by playing with scale.  Arched swag border designs become far more impactful as they increase in size, and this is mainly because you can “subdivide the real estate” underneath the arched swag in so many different ways.  I make a lot of quilts that have 4 1/2- 5 inch wide borders, so I play around a lot with arched swag designs that would fit those border widths.  By increasing the length of each arched border swag “unit,” I dramatically increase the “real estate” underneath the parent arched swag, and this means there is much more room to play with.  Here’s an example of what I mean:



That first arched swag border design is composed of a series of parallel channels underneath the parent arched swag “unit.”(coming up in the next lesson).  Contrast that idea with the arched swag border design below that merges parallel channels and tapered channels within the same ached swag border:




…and this one is the same ruler work framework as the last arched swag border design, but it’s filled differently:


I hope this is giving you a sense of how much fun it is to play around with arched swag designs.  The examples I’ve shown you today are all used in border designs, but you’ll see that arched swags can be used for much more than that.  Rest up over the next few days because I’m going to really push you in the next lesson…



January 2018 Ruler Work Winter Course Part III

January 8th, 2018

Welcome back!  This is the 3rd ruler work lesson and if you missed lesson #1,  or lesson #2, you’ll want to go back and read those lessons and also complete the ruler work exercises that go with each lesson.  Know that each lesson builds on the preceding lessons, so it’s to your benefit to complete them in order.  Your time and my time are valuable, so I won’t keep repeating the same information in each post.  You can find the earlier lessons by clicking on the links below:

Lesson #1

Lesson #2

Before we get to today’s lesson, know that there really is a logical order to what I’m presenting here.  I’m actually spending several hours preparing for each of these lessons, and I’m not counting the time I’m spending thinking about the info and the best way to present it to an audience filled with quilters with wide-ranging skill levels.  I’m telling you this because I’m receiving some questions about how to take these designs and use them in a customized fashion on your quilt.  That info is coming, but I need to lay a solid foundation before we get there.  So, I’m asking you to trust me for a little while longer.  If you read what I wrote at the end of the last lesson, then you know that my goal is to give you the wings to create all kinds of designs once this is over, so know that your desire to use this info in a “customized way” is very much my goal as well!

You’ve learned how to create tapered channels and parallel channels using straight line rulers, and now we will embark on creating these same types of channels using curved rulers.  For the next 3 lessons, we will be using arc rulers and I should tell you up front that arc rulers are by far my favorite and most used rulers.  I would recommend building your ruler arsenal by investing in and  gathering as many different arc or curve rulers as you can afford, because your quilting life becomes very easy (and very fun!) when you have a nice stash of curves available to you.  I say this because we are using these rulers to create designs to fill-in all kinds of “empty spaces” on our quilts, and the more different curves you can create, the easier and faster you’ll be able to do that.

The picture below shows you some different arc rulers:



These are all similar to one another, yet all different from one another.  Remember that arcs are formed by either “cutting away” the outside edge of part of a circle or the outside edge of part of an ellipse.  (Don’t freak out and tell yourself that you can’t understand this stuff because you sucked at math or hated math.  This is an easy concept and you need to know it, and frankly, math matters, so if you’ve managed to get through life trying to avoid math, you really do need to buck up and get over it!  I remember once watching something on PBS and one of the presenters said “Let’s just face it, MATH=POWER.”  That was one of the most profound comments I’ve ever heard and like it or not, it’s true!  Ok, I’m getting off my soapbox now…)  Just to remind you, an ellipse and a circle are both curved “structures,” but they are very different:


Imagine that we cut out a section of the perimeter of that circle to create an arc ruler…wouldn’t the curve on any part of that arc be the same as the curve on any other part of that arc?  Yes, it would.  Now, imagine that we cut out a portion of the perimeter of that ellipse.  The same would not be true since the curve on the edge of an ellipse is not constant.  When you pick up a given arc ruler, you don’t know whether it’s “parent” was an ellipse or a circle, so in general, assume it’s an ellipse and you will always be “safe.”  This means that if you make it a habit to try and roughly “center” the center of the arc ruler over the area you want to stitch, you should come out w/a symmetric curve.  I don’t want to belabor this point, so just know that this is a good habit to develop, and it won’t be hard to develop if you’re just starting out.

One more thing before we get started…you can ride along the convex or the concave side of an arc ruler (meaning you can ride along the inside or the outside curve.)  Most people develop a preference over time and when you have the ability to choose, always choose to stitch in the way that is easiest for you.  Sometimes you won’t have a choice, though, so learn to stitch on both the concave and convex sides of arc rulers.  Some rulers have the exact same curve on each side of the arc but others do not.  You need to know if the 2 sides are identical or you may end up with a design that was not what you intended!   (This is easy to determine:  trace along the concave part of your arc on paper, then move your arc and try to align the convex side along your traced curve.  If they line up, then both sides of your arc have the same curve.  If not, they are 2 different curves)

The photo below shows you the ruler work design we will make today; this is a series of swags with tapered channels:



I will be using the PTD 12, 8, and 6.5 arc rulers for today’s exercise.  These have the same curve on both sides, so feel free to ride along the inside or the outside curve.  You do NOT need to have these same 3 arc rulers to do today’s lesson, but you DO need at least 2 arc rulers whose curves are different enough from one another to be aesthetically pleasing in order to complete today’s exercise.  You will also need a 13 in x 24 inch quilt sandwich.  We are going to create 3 “border zones” across the width of your quilt sandwich that we will later fill with ruler work designs.  Using a temporary marker, draw a horizontal line across the 24 inch length of the fabric that rests 1-1 1/2 inches from the base of the top fabric.  Draw another horizontal line that falls 4 inches above the bottom line, then a second line that falls 4 inches above the first line, and then a 3rd horizontal line that falls 1 3/4 inches above the last line.  Next, go to your sewing machine and stitch these  horizontal lines and once you’re done, your quilt sandwich should look like this sandwich below:



For today’s lesson, we will only be working inside the 1 3/4 inch wide border zone, so we need to mark that zone for stitching.  (Note: just like before, the uppermost and lowermost fabric zones will remain empty as they exist only to save you from having to work right at the edge of your sandwich.)

First, mark a small tick mark at the base of the border 1 inch inward from the left side, then mark a tick mark every 5 1/2 inches thereafter.  This is all the marking we need to do for this design, so there is no need to mark a midpoint vertical line like before.  We are ready to begin stitching!   In case you are confused by how easy this is, the photo below is a closeup of some of the marking:



Mount your ruler foot, set your machine up for free motion mode, and see if you can find a  re-run of an old “Law and Order” TV episode to play  in the background.  (Don’t you still messy Lenny the cop?  I just never got over losing that actor…)

Pierce your needle in the first tick mark.  I’m going to be stitching with my 6.5 arc first because this arc will give me the most protuberant curve in this design.  Here is a shot of my set-up just before I begin stitching:



(Just like before, one edge of the ruler is against the ruler foot and the other is 1/4 inch away from my desired endpoint for the swag.  The only NEW thing here is that I have roughly centered the arc ruler across this space.)  Take a few short locking stitches, then follow the edge of the ruler until you arrive at the next tick mark, then stop with your needle down.

Sometimes when I teach “live,” I see some folks doing some twisting and turning with their shoulders/arms as they follow the curve of an arc ruler.  Avoid doing that as you will end up with very sore shoulders after a session of ruler work and it’s not necessary.  Just follow the edge of that ruler and the curve of the ruler will do all the work for you.  This really is much easier than one might think!  Your challenge here is to stitch that entire swag without allowing the ruler to move in the process, as this will cause a deflection of your stitched line.  You can make this easier on yourself by stopping partway through the swag with your needle down and leaving your hand on the ruler.  With your other hand, steady the ruler, then raise your “ruler hand” and place it in a new position where you’ll have better control to complete the swag’s stitching.  This is the only sure-fire way I have found to alter my ruler hand’s position when I need to re-position my hand part-way through a line of stitching.

Go ahead and pick up your ruler and align it to stitch the next swag, then go ahead and stitch the remaining swags in this short border.    Once done, your design should look like the photo below:



Starting with this lesson, I am going to illustrate this in a way that will mimic a “real quilt” situation.  Remember that on a “real quilt,” you would have stitched this first round of parent swags on all 4 sides of the quilt and your needle would have ended up exactly where you had begun.  In order to mimic that, end your thread line and pierce your needle where your first stitched line intersects the base of your border.  Swap to a different arc ruler that has a curve that’s different enough to be aesthetically pleasing, (I am using my PTD 12 arc ruler) and align it to stitch the tapered channel.  Here is my set up before I begin stitching:



Now go ahead and stitch each swag.  Remember that your target “end points” are the place where the stitched line meets the baseline; ignore those tick marks as they will be gone at the end, so you want to “honor” your stitched points, not the soon-to-be absent tick marks.  Once done, end your thread line and your sandwich should now appear as the photo below:



This is a 2-tiered tapered swag border design.  It is lovely and you could stop stitching now and have a lovely design.  If all you have available are the 2 arc rulers you used to stitch these 2 swag lines, you are done stitching for today.  I am going to go ahead and add one more tapered channel using my PTD 8arc ruler, and if you have a 3rd arc ruler whose curve is different enough from the other 2 arcs, please go ahead and use it to add a 3rd tier.  Once done, your border design should look something like the photo below:



There you have it-tapered channels using arc rulers to create tiered swag designs!  Could you fill some of these tapered channels?  Of course!  Could you throw in some kind of design at each of the “cleavage points” where 2 swags join at the baseline?  Yes!  Tapered channel swag designs are easy, fast, and fun and they look great all by themselves as well as “all dressed up.”  One word of caution about quilted swag designs in general though… pay attention to their orientation before you begin stitching.  It is very easy to orient them in a way that will not “make sense” on your quilt, and it’s a hard lesson to learn after you’ve finished stitching!

We have used this technique to create tapered channels in a border design, but know that these same tiered swags work great in framing large blocks as well as small blocks.  In fact, this basic skill you just learned will give you lots and lots of design mileage if you let yourself think about it:



More food for thought:



See you back here in another few days and we’ll take another step together.

January 2018 Ruler Work Winter Course – Part II

January 5th, 2018


Welcome back!  Thanks so much to all of you for returning, and a special thanks to all of you who’ve written comments to me about the class.  It is so wonderful to hear your thoughts and to know I’m helping you get hooked on this fun FMQing skill!

If you missed lesson #1, you’ll want to go back and read that lesson and also complete the ruler work exercises that go with lesson #1.  You can find lesson #1 by clicking here.  Know that each lesson builds on the preceding lessons, so it’s to your benefit to complete them in order.  Your time is valuable, so I won’t keep repeating the same information in each post.  Unless I state otherwise, assume that all stitching is to be done using a ruler foot, and we’ve already been through the drill of how to set up your sewing machine for ruler work. 

Hopefully, you are now appreciating the power of channels and how channels empower quilting designs.  In lesson #1, we worked with a straight line ruler to create a ruler work border design that featured tapered channels.  In this lesson, we’ll again work with a straight line ruler, but we’ll learn about creating parallel channels.  By the conclusion of this lesson, you should understand the difference between the two types of channels and you will have put that knowledge into action by creating both types of channels using a straight line ruler.  Let’s get down to business!

Pull out the small sandwich that you created last week.  Today, we will be working on a border design to fill the 4-inch wide border zone that lies just below the 2 inch wide border zone we filled earlier.  Again, use whatever straight line ruler you have lying around.  Below is a photo of the ruler work framework that we will create:



…and here’s what a framework like this might look like once filled:



Each of these “parent triangles” is 5 inches wide and 4 inches tall.  To begin, we again need to make some temporary tick marks to guide our ruler work.  Place a short tick mark at the base of the border about 1  inch from the left edge of your sandwich, then place tick marks every 5 inches across the border.  Next, draw a temporary vertical line (from the bottom of the border to the top of the border),  2.5 inches from your first tick mark, then repeat this vertical line every 5 inches.  (Know that you can easily throw in these vertical soap lines that are perpendicular to the border’s baseline by lining up a line on your marking ruler with your stitched baseline, then tracing along the edge of your marking ruler.)  At this point, your marked sandwich should look like this:



This is just like before; all of these temporary marks are merely stopping and starting points that will guide our stitching as we create this design.  We are ready to begin stitching.  Remember, marked lines are where you want your stitched line to fall; they are NOT where you want to place the ruler’s edge!

Always begin by piercing the needle at the tick mark where you want to begin stitching.  Next, align the ruler’s edge so it rests against the ruler foot, and then align the other edge of the ruler so that it falls 1/4 inch away from the desired endpoint for your stitched line.  Here is my “set-up” just before I begin stitching this design:



Take some short locking stitches and you are off!  Stitch this exactly like you did before, triangle after triangle, until you reach the final base of the 4th triangle.  Once there, stop with your needle down, and your sandwich should look like this:



A couple things before we proceed…remember that on a “real” quilt, you would have marked all 4 borders before starting, and you would have sewn all 4 of these 4 border sides and your needle would normally be right back where you started.  In our case, we will be working backward since we only have a short stretch of this border design.  What I want you to know, though, is that you want to always be efficient in your stitching.  This means that you would completely sew the ruler work framework for this design in one, continuous thread line.  We will do that here, but we’ll be doing this a bit backwards at times just to accommodate our quilt sandwich.

Just like yesterday, look over your vertical soap lines to ensure that your stitching at the apex of each triangle “hits” the soap line.  If you were off by a teeny bit, erase that soap line and mark a new perpendicular line before proceeding.  Know that you need to do this every time you stitch a design like this where we have marked a center line that we will use to “play off of.”  (Pardon that ending of a sentence w/TWO prepositions but it is what it is!)  I won’t repeat the need to do this in future lessons, so please remember to get into this habit.

Now, this is where today’s “new information” begins.  We are going to create a 1/4 inch parallel channel inside each of these triangles.  This is a different type of channel than the tapered channel we learned earlier, so we will create it in a very different way.  This will, however, be much easier than you think, and we don’t need to make any new marks!

Recall from lesson #1 that when the needle has been centered inside the ruler foot, the distance from the needle to the outside edge of the ruler foot is_____inches.  If you answered “1/4 inch,” congratulations!  If you didn’t know the correct answer, slap yourself in the head a couple times and then go back and re-read lesson #1!  This very basic fact is essential to all parallel channel ruler work, so commit it to memory.

To create a 1/4 inch parallel channel, I need to get my needle 1/4 inches to the inside of the triangle, right?  You bet we need to do that!  So, I am slowly and carefully backtracking over my baseline until my needle is 1/4 inch inside the triangle, still piercing the baseline (and by the way, the baseline, on a real quilt, would be the seam’s ditch.)  How do I know that I’ve backed up by 1/4 inch?  Since the distance from the needle to the outer edge of the ruler foot is 1/4 inch, if the edge of the ruler foot is just barely visible inside my stitched line, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.  I align the ruler’s edge so that one end is adjacent to the ruler foot, and then I line up the edge of the ruler with my already stitched line.  Here is a photo of my setup before I start stitching:



Stitch that line, ensuring that you keep that ruler edge on the already stitched line, and stop stitching when your needle hits the middle soap line.  Alter the position of the ruler so it abuts the other stitched side of the triangle, (and pivot your quilt if you wish), and stitch your way back to the triangle’s base.  Your first triangle is stitched!

You need to carefully inch your way 1/4 inch into the neighboring triangle, so feel free to use your straight line ruler to help you as below:


Once into the next triangle, repeat this process and then finish placing a 1/4 inch wide parallel channel into all 4 triangles on this sandwich.  Once you’re done, stop with your needle in the down position.

Now, that was easier than you thought, wasn’t it?  Next up, we are going to stitch a 1/2 inch parallel channel inside the “new” parent triangles.  If you are lucky and have markings etched on your straight line ruler, you can do this easily by aligning the first marked line on the ruler with the lines we just stitched.  Quiz question:  Since that first etched line on the ruler is 1/4 inch from the edge, how the heck will using it as a guide result in a 1/2 inch wide channel?  Answer:  Remember that the ruler foot will add another 1/4 inch, and since 1/4 in + 1/4 in = 1/2 inch, we are good to go!  (Again, if you couldn’t answer that question correctly, you really do need to go back and re-read lesson #1.  Hate to say it, but 3 strikes and you’re out!)  You will need to carefully stitch along the baseline so that your needle is 1/2 inches inside the innermost triangle.  You could place a little tick mark at 1/2 inches, but if you are lazy like me, you just “eyeball it,” then place the ruler do that the first marked line is directly above the stitched line, and then alter the position of the needle so it’s abutting the ruler foot’s edge.  This is what my set-up looks like just before I begin stitching:




Note that the etched line is directly above the stitched line.  Go ahead and stitch, but once your needle hits the middle soap line, stop stitching in needle down and re-position your ruler (and pivot your quilt if you wish), then stitch the opposite side that will take you back to the baseline.  Because you’ll need to sneak along that baseline a fair distance to arrive at 1/2 inch inside the neighboring triangle, definitely use your straight line ruler to help you stay neatly on that baseline.  Once you’re there, repeat the process and then finish stitching the 1/2 in parallel channel inside each of the remaining triangles.  Once done, stop with your needle down and your sandwich should look like the photo below:




We’re not going to do it here, but does anybody know what we’d do if we wanted to stitch a 3/4inch wide channel?  How about a 1 inch wide channel?  If you guessed that you would use the remaining etched lines on your ruler, you are correct!  Each of those etched lines will add an additional 1/4 inch, so it’s really pretty easy to stitch parallel channels using etched rulers and there is no marking needed.  Isn’t it great when things are easy like this?!

Back to our sandwich…we’re going to stitch one more 1/4 inch channel inside each triangle, so stitch inside the innermost triangle at one end by 1/4 inch and go for it!  You know how to do this and if you’ve forgotten, read the paragraphs above where it has been discussed.  Once done, end your thread line and know that your ruler work framework is complete!  It should appear like the sandwich below:


If we examine it, we have a 1/4 in parallel channel, a 1/2 in parallel channel, a 1/4 in parallel channel, and a small triangle at the base.  This is a good place to introduce Patsy’s Golden Rule #2:

Never fill a parallel channel that is 1/4 inch wide or less because it is so narrow that it will only look messy.

So, think of your 1/4 inch parallel channels as existing only to add intricacy and detail.  This also means that if you have plans to fill a given channel with a specific design, make sure you create a channel that is larger than 1/4 inch wide.

So, let’s start by filling that 1/2 inch wide channel.  Visibility with a ruler foot is always compromised, so feel free to swap to your favorite free motion foot for this part.  What I’ve stitched here is a design I call “fingertips.”  Take care to orient the design so the fingertips point away from the center triangle, and as you work, keep them perpendicular to the baseline.  I always work to have each side “end” at the center mark, and then I throw a tiny teardrop into the apex.  Here is what my sandwich looked like once I’d filled the 1/2 in channel on all 4 triangles:



For the bottom triangle, I stitched a short chain of loop-d-loop, stretching the tips of the loops to fill the space.  Notice that I made use of my center soap lines that we marked at the beginning to aim for a large loop right in the center:



If it’s helpful to you, here is a closeup shot of a completely filled triangle:


Hopefully, some questions are racing through your head, like:

*Could we have filled this framework with different designs?  Yes!

*Could we do the same thing on the opposite side of the border that is now empty?  Yes! 

*Could we have filled the opposite side of the border with a different design?  Yes!

The photo below is of a different design, but the red middle border gives you an idea of how dramatically this changes the border aesthetic.


One more thing before you leave today’s lesson…know that your goals and my goals for all these lessons may not quite be the same.  When I teach in any setting, my goal is to teach your broad skills and concepts that will help you spread your wings so you can apply those concepts/skills in a wide range of applications.  The specific designs we stitch out as you are learning this are nice in and of themselves, but to me, they are merely practical examples to help you learn something.  You will grow much more from this experience if you can allow yourself to think about what we’re doing in a larger context.  (i.e. “What else can I do with tapered channels/parallel channels outside of just today’s border design?”)  If you approach this class with a very literal black and white attitude, you will learn how to stitch some nice designs but you won’t be able to fly.  I know you’re scared, but sometimes it pays to take that leap!

This table runner below is a nice example of how simple straight line parallel channels can add an architectural “feel” to the overall design and really make a simple applique design rock:


Here’s another table runner with straight line parallel channel work whose overall design is really heightened by the graphic nature of the ruler work background:


Lots to think about and we’ve just gotten started…