Saturday, May 28, 2016

Your Eyes Won't Believe What Your Sewing Machine Has Done: Adult Version

If you're like me, you love the look of free-motion quilting (henceforth referred to as FMQ) but are abysmal at achieving anything approaching a neat result. I have practiced and practiced, bought a special bobbin case for my machine, read up on the subject, watched videos (going for learning by osmosis)--nothing. I decided that my quilting life would consist of straight lines (which I also love, but FMQ just has a little bit of pizzazz to it). Then I received an email from Nancy's Notions letting me know they might have solved all of my problems (OK, it wasn't that personal, but it felt that way). It was a product simply titled 'Ruler Foot and Template Set.' I had never heard of ruler work. What was this mysterious thing? I watched a few videos and I was visually smitten. I strongly hinted at my mother regarding birthday wanties, and set about waiting. Question: why does Christmas take forever but birthdays arrive at the speed of light?

I gave this thing a good long play-with, and I'm now ready to share my thoughts with you. Out of the package, this is what you get (wrinkly gray fabric for contrast only):

Contents: ruler foot, pins, gripper tape, gauge, instructions, and the following templates--spiral, circle, clam shells, large and small arc, and two types of petals (or other designs depending on how you use them).

If you're wondering why there is tape on three of the templates, it's because there is a little puzzle piece taped in there that you can remove. As you sew on the inside of these templates, if you want to make a continuous pattern you'd simply remove the key, stitch over to your next starting point, and replace the key so that you again have a nice smooth edge to sew along.

First things first--fresh needle, lower the feed dogs, make a sandwich (a quilt sandwich, that is--you'll want to practice so if you've got that pile of scraps you don't know what to do with but are too big to toss, now you know what to do with them). I applied the gripper tape to the templates (you don't need much--it's just to keep things from skidding all around--and trust me, you want to use it). Final step is to put the ruler foot on your machine. This looks very similar to a free motion (or darning) foot, but is made to go with this template system. The screw hole is more of a slit instead of a hole, making this adjustable.

So you put it on, but don't tighten it, as you need to lower the foot to see how it greets your sandwich--you want it to glide effortlessly over the top of it without putting too much pressure on it (everything is explained in detail in the instructions). Then tighten the screw up.

Choose your template, and get going. I started with the clam shell template--the technique is the same for each size. There are markings on the templates and it might be helpful to draw a very light line in disappearing ink so you have a visual guide. Put the foot in the notch, and sew, keeping the foot lined up with the edge (this is where the gripper tape comes in very handy--ask me how I know).

In the photo above I've already stitched a pass along the template and moved it into the next position, ready to go again.

You then stitch up the side to get yourself into position to go again  (using the lines to square up). This is what that looks like when finished:

Of course, AFTER doing this I decided to watch the videos they made, and they are very helpful in determining how to line up the shells so they are appropriately staggered. I just wanted to give you a general idea of that to do. If I was using this on a quilt, I think I'd find it simpler to sew end to end, cut, and restart without sewing that straight line up the edge. As is true with most things you have to find what works best for you--sometimes our hands will only go so far in agreeing with our brains.

Next I decided to try one of the spinning petal templates. For this one you find your center point, and place the pin (which looks like a metal thumb tack, really) coming up through that point, and through the little hole in the template.

You start at point A, and stitch around, coming to a rest at point B. 

With the needle down, you then rotate the template on the pin so that one of those little leaf shapes overlaps the leaf you just sewed (look to the left of the foot in the photo below):

Then you stitch around again. Repeat this until the whole thing is finished.

I had a few little fits and starts, as you can see, but you get the general idea of the thing. The pin doesn't cut the fabric, so the little hole it makes should rub away easily enough.

I then gave the other templates a whirl--most of them don't spin on a pin, but you do reposition them, so it helps to have some visuals on where to line things up.

This one here is the other petal shape that creates a nifty flower (this was my first crack, hence a few wiggles in the placement). It's quite satisfying to end up dead center.

This one is the circle template--I love the way this one comes out. I did this one with eight overlaps--it makes for some fairly dense quilting.

And this one is for the arc template--probably the easiest of the bunch, but you can end up with some nifty stitching just by moving the curved template along.

After giving this several hours of play, this is definitely something I'd recommend. I do have a few bits of advice, though:
  1. Practice. If you've got a fair hand at regular free motion, this should be easy for you. However, if you've struggled with it as I have, then practice is absolutely necessary to get the feel of the tools. It feels a little bit odd at first, but the more you play the easier it is to move along.
  2. I don't know if I'd use these for a large quilt (large being bigger than a throw). I feel like an Olympic wrestler getting a quilt through my machine for simple straight lines. I hesitate to imagine what my poor back and shoulders would feel like doing this on a queen sized quilt. But imagine the adorable baby quilts and table runners you could stitch up!!
  3. Tension (on the under-side). This goes along with number one, but can also be its own point. I've played with this a fair bit, and I am still working to find just the right speed to get just the right tension. Now mind you, my  tension with this method is light years better than with regular FMQ--I somehow break needles and manage to have big loose loops all over the back at the same time (this seems counter-intuitive, but I obviously have no idea how these things work, soooo.....). I still need some work this way, but at least you can see that I'm getting there (sometimes):

Part of my problem is that there is a definite height difference between my machine bed and the extension bed--things seem to get a little hung up there, and that's where the teeny stitches jumping into big stitches come into play (things get stuck and go slow, and then pop free and take off like greased lightning). I should be able to easily fix this with some masking tape to help smooth that gap out. 

So other than needing to get my sea legs, I can honestly say I love this product as I am already better than how I usually FMQ, and that's just playing with it for a few hours. The shapes are very nifty (and they have even more), there are videos available to help out, and it can pretty much work with any machine. I'd love to know your thoughts if you use this system or something similar for your quilts!


  1. I love ruler work. Yes it takes some practice but the results are worth it. I can recommend a Craftsy class by Amy's Freemotion Quilting, she does amazing work.

  2. That is really cool! I can't do FMQ on my current machine, but when I'm back to a machine where I can drop the feed dogs I'd like to try ruler work!

  3. What a fun activity for the long weekend. Enjoy yourself.

  4. Wow thanks for this, i had no idea you could use rulers other than on a long arm!

  5. I just bought this a few weeks ago and have not had a chance to play with it! You know things get in the way... :)



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