The Free Motion Quilting Project: Color Play and Ruler Rant

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Color Play and Ruler Rant

It's Wednesday and I'm still playing with pretty colors!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Hmm...I don't think I have enough red here. I must have more RED! Lol.

This week I also received a rather timely question about rotary cutting rulers. Since I'm busy cutting up a storm it was easy to shoot some pics and share the goods with everyone! Here's the question:

"Hi Leah, You said something on one of your videos about using the same kind of rulers. What is the brand that you use? I'm just starting out with quilting and would like to be on the right track with my measurements."

This is a great question, especially for someone just starting out. The quilting world has really blown up in the last 3 years especially with more tools, rulers, gizmos, and gadgets than ever before. What is really necessary to get started?

The short answer is not much. You will need a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and some rulers. This quilter's question was specifically about rulers so let's focus on that specifically.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

The key to rulers is finding something that works for YOU. And yes, you should pick just one brand of rulers and stick with it exclusively.


All rulers are marked differently. In fact, some companies have even patented the way they mark their rulers (ridiculous!) so some rulers are marked more clearly than others. And because rulers are marked so specifically, switching from one brand to another might be a recipe for cutting disaster.

For example, if you get a 12.5" ruler, how is the extra 1/2 inch marked out? It's really easy to flip your ruler around while cutting and accidentally cut 1/2 inch bigger or smaller without meaning to. If you switch from one brand to another, are they marked the same or different?

The marks on a ruler itself can also be thick or thin and this changes with every manufacturer. When you line up your ruler on your fabric, you need to INCLUDE the line you are measuring to. Yes, measuring to include or exclude just the marking line can make a difference in how accurate your cut is.

But some rulers have super wide lines that are meant for the fabric to line up through the middle of the line. These I find flat out confusing and refuse to use them. Still, some quilters swear by them.

The trick again is to have ONE method of measuring, one type of line to line up with, so you have the greatest chance of cutting properly and the least chance of accidently cutting a piece or strip too small.

Personally I got started with Optima brand rulers back in 2005 and I still have my original set - 12.5" square, 6" x 24" rectangle, and 6" x 12.5" rectangle. Unfortunately Optima rulers are no longer being made even though they were some of the most clear and easy to use rulers of all the different brands.

Yes, this really is what I started quilting with - just 3 rulers - and these served me for more than 4 years before I needed different shapes. I really don't think you need much more than a 12.5" square and a long rectangular ruler to cut 99% of the things you'll want to cut in your first years quilting.

So when is it time to buy different rulers?

I've invested in a handful of special rulers that do really specific things. These rulers have been investments for particular quilts or projects and they're definitely fun to have around, but...I haven't used them much after the project they were intended for.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

So understand that special rulers definitely help for really special projects, but after it's all over, you might not ever use it again. It's really easy to amass a lot of junk as a quilter, so take it from a serious junkie - resist the temptation to cover your wall with rulers as long as you can!

Now that is the minimalists approach to ruler buying - get two shapes of the same brand and cut away!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I cut 4 off center snowflakes in my Winter Wonderland before I realized how my 12.5" ruler was marked. I hate that stupid ruler.

  2. I'm a ruler fanatic and believe that they can seriously improve your quilting accuracy. I totally believe in buying every ruler that a certain company makes. I have them all! (and use them quite frequently)

  3. Using the same ruler per quilt you make is important just like using the same sewing machine. A 1/4 of an inch is not always equal. If you take a school ruler and a quilters ruler they can be different. Like wise the needle position and a 1/4inch seam allowance from each machine can vary. Chris

  4. When I first started buying stuff as a new quilter I was lucky the first book I picked up stressed the importance of using one brand. It was a tiny bit too late because I had already purchased an inexpensive three pack from Wal-Mart. Oh well.. I got caught before I started purchasing a ton of different kinds only to find I couldn't use them. After that first purchase I decided on Creative Grids and I've been really happy with them. I have a 6.5", 12.5" and 18.5" square, and a 2.5" x 18", a 6.5" x 12.5" and a 6.5" x 24". I feel I'm pretty much set for any project with those.

  5. Something I often wonder about rulers: does anyone else seem to wind up with a bow in the centre of your longer rulers? I use my 6x24 ruler A LOT and I've gone through a couple over the last 8ish years because eventually I wind up losing a few millimetres of the acrylic, usually towards the middle of the ruler, and I can't get properly straight cuts any more. (The most recent one, if I stand it on its side on something flat, I can pass pins under the middle.)

    I feel like I must be cutting wrong because I've never heard anyone else complain about the middle of their rulers being shaved away! (But for all the million times I've seen people cutting on videos or in person, I've never noticed anything different from what I do when I cut.)

  6. I started with Omnigrid because that was what was on sale locally, and that's what I've stayed with. I have the 6 x 24 workhorse, a smaller version (I think its 3.5 x 18) which I also use a lot, and a 12.5 and 6.5 square. I also have a tiny 1 x 6 which I love for measuring small distances as it's so easy to read.

    I use two tools to make my rulers easier to use: the Invisigrip nonslip backing and the suction cup knobs (I have two knobs).

    I also use two drafting triangles I've had for decades--for squaring or setting an angle, not for cutting.

    Having done woodworking, I can underscore the importance of knowing how you're going to index (begin your measurement from a fixed point) and always indexing the same way. And if you're marking, keep your marks as small as possible.

    Because I'm working on a free motion project in non standard dimensions, I also have 24" and 28" plexiglas templates which I had cut by an online plexiglas dealer.

  7. To wipgirl, I bought a new ruler after I was having trouble with my cuts not being straight with my old 24 inch ruler. The old one had seen a lot of use. I still use it for measuring but not cutting. The corners got rounded off too from cutting and being dropped on the floor. I have a square ruler that I have to be careful with as it isn't quite square on one corner (bad purchase).


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