Unlike other crafts, such as knitting, crocheting, and drawing, sewing and quilting require a few more basic tools to get started, and these tools do not come cheap. Sewing/quilting is a craft that requires a bit of an upfront investment. Unless you are planning on doing everything by hand, you will absolutely need a sewing machine. Even the most basic home sewing machine can cost upwards of $400.00, making this craft one of the most expensive to start. Once you make the leap, you will not be sorry, and there will come a point during your first quilt that you realize, “Hmmmmm. There has to be a better way of doing this, how are all of these people making 2-3 quilts a month?!”
You are absolutely right! There are tools out there designed specifically for sewists and quilters to make the job easier, and speed up some of the more tedious aspects of the craft.
In yesterday’s post, 5 Tips for Chain Piecing Success, I talked about simple changes that you can make in your chain piecing to make it more efficient. One of those steps was to make sure that you are using the correct tools for the job. As an example, I wrote:
The small rulers specifically made for drawing lines on fabric are much lighter and more manageable than the rulers you use for cutting. It may not seem like much, but if you are marking lines on (300) 2.5″ squares and your gigantic ruler is knocking over your tidy piles or causing your fabric to shift when you are drawing, you are going to recognize by the 10th line or so that there has to be a better way, or a better tool to use, to get the job done!
Today we are going to talk a little bit more about rulers, one of the most important tools of any sewist or quilter.
What are sewing and quilting rulers, and how are they different than regular rulers?
Sewing and quilting rulers are straight edged rulers that are typically made out of acrylic. They are made specifically to be used with rotary cutters, such as Fiskars 45mm Easy Change Ergo Control Rotary Cutter, and self healing mats like the Dritz Omnigrid Double Sided Mat. These rulers come in a variety of shapes and sizes; some are used for more generalized sewing and quilting, others are made for very specific techniques and can be used almost like templates. Some of these more specific rulers are being manufactured by small businesses and are usually sold in conjunction with books or patterns that use the technique that the ruler is intended for.
Why are sewing and quilting rulers important? Can’t I just use scissors?
Quilting is a craft that can require very specific measurements, sometimes within 1/8 of an inch! The use of a rotary cutter and the correct ruler can help your cuts be accurate and precise. While it is possible to cut fabric with scissors, and fabric scissors have a place in every quilter’s sewing box, one of the easiest things to do to improve your sewing and quilting is to start using a rotary cutter, mat, and acrylic rulers.
What rulers are out there, and what are they used for?
Basic Quilters’ Rulers for cutting
The Omnigrid 2 1/2″ x 18″ No-Slip Ruler – I’m going to tell it to you straight, this ruler is not going to work well on bigger cuts of fabric. That being said, this is my go-to ruler. I use this ruler more than any other ruler I own, I use it so much in fact, that I really should buy myself a backup. It is like my lovey. If I misplaced this ruler, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night until I found it (or at least until my UPS guy brought me another one from Amazon). I absolutely would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat. Its length works to its advantage for the busy crafter who is making many cuts at once. Due to its smaller size, it is light weight and easily manageable in smaller work spaces. It is easier to store, and most likely could be tucked into a drawer for storage. It is easy to pick up and move with one hand, and it is lightweight. These things may not seem like a big deal, but as I said earlier in this post, if you are making hundreds of cuts, you need to find a ruler that works the best with your cutting and organization system. I love this ruler so much, that I rarely use any other rulers. This ruler could easily be the only ruler you buy, but I do need to mention that due to its smaller size, it just can’t do some of the things that longer rulers can. It doesn’t make sense to use this ruler when I am squaring up a quilt, for example. I have come up with a folding system to use when cutting strips that allows me to use this ruler, but if you prefer not to make folds in your fabric before you cut, then read on.
The Omnigrid 6″ by 24″ Quilters’ Ruler – If you are going to buy just one ruler, this is a great one to go for. It is long enough that it can work with larger cuts of fabric, and versatile enough to be used when cutting strips, blocks, and other various cuts. It is not terribly expensive, but it is durable. I have used mine for the past 5 years, and I imagine that I will use it for many many more to come. I don’t use this ruler often (remember, my love affair with my scrappy little 2.5″ ruler?), but it does have a specific role in my sewing studio, and I would consider it one of my required rulers. I use this ruler primarily for cutting longer strips of sashing, and for squaring up quilts.
Square rulers like the Omnigrid 4 1/2″ Square Ruler or 12 1/2″ Square Ruler – Square rulers are a great addition to any sewing studio. They are great for squaring up blocks such as Half Square Triangles and Flying Geese, and trimming finished blocks before sewing them up into a quilt. To me, these rulers are more of a convenience, but they are certainly useful. If you are an adventurous beginner looking to take your quilting to the next level, buying a set of Omnigrid square rulers will help your accuracy on the previously mentioned blocks. I also use my my teeny tiny 2 1/2″ square ruler by my sewing machine and ironing board to double check my 1/4″ seams!
More Specialized Rulers
Add-A-Quarter – The add-a-quarter ruler is an acrylic ruler designed with a raised 1/4″ lip allowing you to very easily identify your seam allowance. Although I am not sure that this ruler was made specifically for paper piecing, and it is possible to do the technique without it, I can’t think of why you would try without it! In conjunction with a bit of stiff card stock and a rotary cutter and mat, it is absolutely essential in creating accurate 1/4″ seams with ease when paper piecing. It will, without a doubt bring, your foundation paper piecing to the next level. As a matter of fact, I just couldn’t “get” paper piecing until I purchased this ruler. The ruler can also be used to accurately draw a 1/4″ seam allowance if you are drawing/designing your own blocks.
Shaped rulers such as the Pyramid Ruler, the Diamond Ruler, the Hexagon Ruler, etc. – These rulers are made for for convenience, and it is possible to make the cuts that these rulers make with just a straight ruler if you needed to. That being said, if you are working on a quilt that requires a lot of these shapes to be made, it may be beneficial to purchase the related ruler to make subcutting and trimming up more efficient. These rulers may not be something that is required to get you started in sewing or quilting, but I am not going to undervalue something that will, without a doubt, make you more efficient at a time consuming task!
Bloc-loc Ruler (non affiliate) – Similar to, but not affiliated with, the Add-A-Quarter ruler, the Bloc-Loc ruler is an acrylic ruler that is designed with a lip. When you press the seams of the block you are making to the side, the ruler will “lock” into the seam. This keeps the ruler from slipping and allows you to trim up your block with incredible accuracy. There are now 10+ varieties of these rulers on their website, and for each variety they have a whole range of sizes. I personally love their rulers that are designed for Half-Square Triangles and Flying Geese. My only complaint about these rulers is that you have to press the seams to the side to use them. I prefer pressing my seams open, which makes it impossible to use the ruler to its potential. When I use these rulers, I make sure that I am making my units big enough to trim down, and when I am pressing the blocks before I cut, I am sure to use a lot of steam and heat to get those seams as flat as possible.
Quick Curve Ruler (non affiliate) – This ruler is an acrylic ruler specifically for cutting curves. It comes in both the full size and mini version, and has a variety of uses including subcutting, cutting curves, and squaring up. There are a ton of patterns that have been designed to work in conjunction with the ruler, and this is the ruler that I have used multiple times to create the Starburst Quilt. I love this ruler. I only have the full size, but I am interested in investing in the mini version. It is a great tool if you are interested in learning how to cut and sew curves!
The Perfect Piecing Seam Guide – this nifty little ruler is also made out of acrylic, but is intended for use with your sewing machine. Many sewing machines come with a 1/4″ foot, but that doesn’t mean that where your fabric hits the foot will create a 1/4″ seam. Also, sometimes patterns or blocks will call for you to make a scant 1/4″ seam, which is not the same as a 1/4″ seam! By adjusting your needle and slowly lowering it into the ruler, you will be able to use it in conjunction with the markings on your needle plate to sew the perfect seam. If your markings are not clear, you can simply follow the directions on the ruler, and then lay down a piece of painters tape or washi tape on your machine as a guide.
Rulers Designed for Marking
The Omnigrid Marking Ruler – These rulers are hard to find, but in my opinion they are worth the effort to hunt down. These rulers are not meant for cutting! They are acrylic and durable like all of Omnigrid’s rulers, but they are very light weight and only 1/2″ wide (read: MUCH too narrow to even consider using a rotary cutter with!). If you are making large amount of Half Square Triangles, Flying Geese, or any other block that requires you to draw a line on the wrong side of your fabric, then this is the ruler for you. It allows you to quickly and accurately draw a line from corner to corner on your block without the trouble of other bulky or awkwardly shaped rulers. There is a solid line running down the middle of the ruler length wise, so you can also use this ruler to check the accuracy of your 1/4″ seam before you begin cutting.
A final note about rulers and safety!
I would be doing you a disservice by presenting you with this comprehensive article on rulers without mentioning safety. Remember, you are working with a sharp instrument! Follow basic cutting safety whenever using rotary cutters and acrylic rulers.
- Don’t cut if you are under the influence of anything other than caffeine and chocolate. Really.
- Always use a sharp blade. Dull blades are more dangerous than sharp ones.
- Always cut away from your body with your dominant hand, on the side of your dominant hand.
- Before you cut, check to make sure there is nothing obstructing the path of the blade (you know, like a finger or arm).
- When you line up your ruler, be sure to use pressure on the ruler with your non-cutting hand. If you need to, splay out your fingers and push down creating even pressure so that your ruler doesn’t slip. You need to make sure that your fingers are away from the cutting edge of the ruler. If your ruler is narrow enough, you can use your pinky finger off of the back of the non-cutting edge to help keep the ruler firmly in place.
- Make sure that your ruler is longer than the fabric that you are cutting. It needs to extend past the fabric at both the bottom and top.
- When you are ready to cut, make sure your rotary cutter is touching the edge of your acrylic ruler, and you are applying even pressure into the side of the ruler and down into the cutting mat. Make sure that you are starting your cut on the mat, not on the fabric. Keeping the pressure nice and even, cut away from your body in one fluid motion.
- Be sure to close your blade before you place it down. Not only for your safety, but also to avoid any accidents with your newly cut fabric. Coming from someone who bobbles things like phones, spatulas, rulers, milk cartons, car keys, water bottles, and rotary cutters on a daily basis. Not that I’ve dropped an open rotary cutter with a brand new blade into a freshly piece cut of fabric or anything (I have).
Have any other tips to add? Any other rulers that you love to use? As always, if you let me know of any other rulers that you use regularly (in the comments here, on FB, or on IG), I will add them to the list! I will be happy to give you credit for your schmancy-pants ruler knowledge!
*Please note, this article contains affiliate links to Amazon. These links allow me keep you informed on tools and strategies I love, while simultaneously giving me a way to support my small business. Thank you so much for your continued support, it means so much to me that I am able to bring you quality content on our shared passion!