How to choose rulers and templates for quilting designs
Ruler quilting is fun and, in my opinion, easier to master than free motion quilting.
Today I am going to be talking about how to choose different rulers and templates for your quilting style. There is a lot of choice out there and I plan to help you narrow down that choice to templates that really suit you.
What makes a good quilting ruler?
With all that choice in the marketplace, it is a good idea to identify what makes for a good quilting ruler that is easy to use, accurate and versatile.
- Last time we discussed at length the importance of the right thickness of ruler, so I won’t be going over that again. Check the last blog post for that information. So, we will take it as a given that you have chosen the correct thickness of template for your machine set up.
- Good quality etched lines that are accurate and can be seen are very important. These are going to keep you on track with your line spacing.
- Reference lines that mean something. By that I mean that the reference lines are useful to keep your quilting lines evenly spaced. Look out for angle lines too that keep you honest with your piecing lines. Not all rulers are made equal. Take a good look at those reference lines before you make a purchase. If they are not clear to see and don’t make sense to you, get more information before you buy.
- Does it have more than one purpose? The more things I can do with a template the more ticks it gets from me. It can be a little pricey to get started so you want to get the most for your money.
- Is it a good fit for your hand? Not too big and not too small, just right!
- Does it feel well made and sturdy? There are a lot of inferior products on the market, often counterfeited goods. Do the right thing and purchase directly from the designer or ruler company.
So, now we get to pick some rulers
Step one - think about the style of quilting you want to do
Think about what your style is. For example, there is no value in heading out and purchasing a heap of flower templates if you only make very masculine quilts. Likewise, if you only like geometric quilting designs, then curvy templates will not see much use either.
Keep these thoughts in your mind as you build up a collection. Remember, the only template of value to you is the one that you will use, preferably in lots of quilting situations, too.
Step two - keep it simple, start with a straight ruler
Keep it simple and start with a straight ruler. You will be blown away with what you can do with it. It will be so much easier to do intricate straight-line designs using a ruler rather than a walking foot. You just turn your ruler, not the whole quilt, each time you want the design to take a new direction.
Size matters here. A straight ruler that fits comfortably in your hand will create much more accurate stitching lines than one that is too long and wobbles about off the edge of your extension table. It is often thought that a longer ruler will help with the longer straight lines. I think it can hinder accuracy as it is harder to handle. The important thing to remember is to check that the ruler is lined up behind the foot, alongside the stitching already done, and in front of the foot as you move it along to complete a line longer than the ruler itself.
My favourite straight ruler is the Westalee Design 12″ Arc Template from Sew Steady. It is actually 6″ long but the arc is part of a 12″ circle. One side is straight and the other the arc. It has a nice feel in the hand, and I use it every day and on every quilt I make. It ticks all the boxes for clear etched reference lines, too. Of course, there are others to choose from and I suggest you look at all options to see what suits you best.
Step two – choose a starter set of templates to explore your options
Often manufacturers will put out a small collection of templates, to allow you to try out several different styles of designs. Some templates rotate to create designs similar to the spirograph diagrams you may remember from childhood. Others create rows of clamshells and border designs.
These starter sets are very versatile and are a great option when you are beginning. With them, you can try out various templates on different areas of your quilt and decide which types of shapes you like working with for future purchases.
Step 3 – add circles
The next purchases that are going to give you great quilting value are circles. Circle templates come in all sizes and styles. You really cannot go wrong with them. Many manufacturers make them. The simple circle shape can be repeated and overlapped to make really complex and lovely designs, either using the whole shape or just a segment of it. Do remember it is much easier to stich a cut out inner circle than the outside edge of a solid circle. You have more room for your hands to hold the template and the accuracy is improved. As a longarmer I used to use solid circles and quilt the outside edges and that was fine. As a domestic machine user, I much prefer the cut-out circles so that I can hold the template easily on the edges as I stitch. There are also some great template options for quilting multiple size circles.
Many quilts have straight lines and geometric piecing, so the circle quilting often complements the piecing perfectly.
Step 4 – Spinning flower designs
Who doesn’t love flowers on a quilt? I love them, but if not your thing, keep reading, as you may be surprised what you can do with the shapes!
There are many templates that spin and make flower shapes. Very useful for your quilts, whether that is joining up a random placement of motifs with a meander to create an all over pattern, or detailed custom quilting.
The other great thing about this style of template is that they are often made up of different curves that you can use just part of. So, the quilting designs will not resemble flowers at all, but may end up as a geometric pattern of arcs and points.
I really like to buy sets of templates when I can, so that you get the same shapes but in different sizes. We can see a great example of this with flowers. When do you see a bunch of flowers with all the same size petals and buds? Nature can teach us a lot about design. The graduated shapes also allow for more intricate and layered design possibilities. Plus, there is always the fact that our pieced blocks vary so much in size, it is ideal to have a variety of shapes and sizes of templates to fit them.
There are so many options out there, so now you can go away and start to create your own quilting designs, using just a handful of rulers to create accurate, beautiful shapes you will be proud of. Pick your collection wisely and you will have many choices when it comes to finishing your own quilts. Most importantly, do be kind to yourself once you start using them; it takes a bit of time and practise, but the rewards are endless.