What quilting can you do if you can’t do Free Motion Stitching ?
I’m talking here about quilting using a ‘domestic’ sewing machine, not long-arm quilting.
In everyday sewing on a domestic machine, the machine’s feed dogs move the fabric under the needle.
For free motion stitching, the feed dogs are out of action and you move the fabric under the needle yourself. On many machines you can lower the feed dogs, on some you need to use a special cover so the feed dogs don’t touch the fabric.
There are several problems with this, including :
– your ability to move the fabric to get the pattern you want. It’s like the opposite of drawing – instead of moving the drawing tool over the drawing surface, you’re moving the drawing surface (the fabric) under the drawing tool (the needle).
– the length of the stitches depends on the speed you move your hands – quicker movements get longer stitches.
The varying stitch length problem can be solved by using something like the Bernina Stitch Regulator, which evens out the length of the stitches.
An extremely expensive tool unless you use it a lot.
But what if you have a difficulties with moving the fabric in the right shapes. A BSR does not help with this.
For example, I have shaky hands, so my free motion stipple quilting is not elegant !
Free motion stitching is used in both free motion embroidery and free motion quilting.
My notes here are specifically about quilting.
I thought I was condemned to a lifetime of quilting in parallel lines and simple grids, but there are more interesting possibilities.
I’ve found 2 aids to this : using a walking foot, and using a ruler presser foot with rulers.
(In case what you really want is to improve your free motion stitching – here’s a note on some sources of help.)
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Walking Foot quilting
The feed dogs move the fabric as usual, but there are ways of getting more interesting effects.
In her book she also teaches how to make various more curved shapes.
Best to have a knee-operated presser foot lift for these, so it’s easy to do many little pivots.
If your walking foot allows you to sew wider stitches, you can also add quilting interest by using decorative stitches instead of straight lines.
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Ruler Foot quilting
This is more controlled free motion stitching.
The feed dogs are down. You have to move the fabric yourself.
The ruler helps with getting a good position for the stitching, but you have to control the regular speed of movement of the fabric under the needle (though if the stitching lines are in matching thread and don’t wobble – variations in stitch length aren’t very obvious !)
(ruler foot and ruler/template, image from Cotton Patch booklet below)
You don’t just move the fabric under the presser foot, you’re also holding a ruler on the fabric and moving the fabric-ruler together under the presser foot so the foot stays next to the ruler. Actually not as difficult as it sounds.
The ring on the ruler foot means the stitching is 1/4″ from the edge of the ruler.
(Long-arm technique may be the opposite. On a long-arm machine on a frame – you move the needle over the fabric. On a domestic machine, and a sit-down long-arm machine – you move the fabric under the needle.)
If you can manage this basic movement then, even for short straight lines and grids – ruler work can be quicker and easier than walking foot quilting, as to change direction you just have to rotate the ruler, not the whole quilt.
Ruler work can vary from simple to challenging.
Basic ruler quilting using straight lines and gentle curves is quite easy.
But as an extreme example – producing beautiful quilted feathers is far from quick this way, as each curve is sewn individually with an accurately placed ruler. But at least if you can’t get feathers all the same size and shape by conventional methods, with care using some rulers you may find it possible.
Learning to do it
Here’s a general intro with video, from Leah Day (7 min.).
Here’s a more detailed intro video on ruler work from Bernina (43 min.) – gives a good idea of what’s involved. Of course it emphasises Bernina products, but there are similar presser feet and rulers from many other companies, see later.
There’s also a free 4-part quilt-along from Bernina for developing basic ruler work skills.
One tip is to use a ruler to draw shapes with a pencil on paper, so you get familiar with how a pattern is made before you try it out on your machine. For this you also need ’Stitching Line Discs’, such as from Westalee, to simulate the position of the needle in the ruler presser foot while you’re drawing.
update : Here are some new written tutorials from Bernina which include videos and .pdf handouts.
free motion quilting with rulers,
how to quilt feathers with free motion and rulers,
combining ruler work and couching.
There’s a class at Creative Bug. She too uses Bernina rulers, but you can of course use any with the same basic shapes.
There are many on-line courses about ruler work at Sew Steady University. Mainly Westalee rulers. Some classes are free.
There’s a Facebook group for more support.
Remember that people who make free motion demo videos have had a lot of practice with moving fabric at a steady speed. Also many videos just show the stitching area and the quilter’s hands. They don’t show the person’s body, so they don’t make it obvious that it’s the quilter moving the fabric.
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Rulers and ruler work presser feet
To do ruler work you need 2 types of special tool : the ruler/template, and the ‘ruler’ presser foot.
It’s important for the ruler/template depth and ruler presser foot to match in size, so the ruler can’t slip under or over the foot because it’s too thin, or get banged on because it’s too deep. There are several ruler and foot depths :
3mm – 1/8″ : usually for ‘low shank’ machines, many domestic sewing machines.
4.5mm – 3/16″ : usually for ‘medium shank’ machines.
5-6mm – 1/4″ : usually for long arm machines, but the ruler foot for my domestic machine is this depth.
9-10mm – 3/8″ : long arm machines only.
Ruler work presser feet
Most sewing machine companies produce their own ruler foot. There are also generic feet.
You need to find out what is right for your specific machine model, as different models from the same manufacturer may use different size feet and rulers.
There’s a useful free booklet from the Cotton Patch quilting company which explains more about this foot-ruler depth relation for different machines. That booklet is specifically about Westalee rulers and the presser feet to use with them.
Here’s a pdf list of machines and Accents in Design Clarity Foot sizing.
These lists show that, with machines from some companies, choosing the right foot for your machine may not be a simple matter and it may be worth getting specialist advice.
Some sewing machine companies produce their own ruler/templates, but you can use any rulers of the correct depth for your foot.
Bernina produce a basic ruler/template set.
Janome have ruler/template sets which appear to be Westalee rulers under the Janome name.
I don’t know which other machine companies produce their own rulers.
See below for generic feet and general rulers.
Holding the ruler in position
On a domestic machine, you press down on the ruler to move fabric and ruler together.
But the ruler can easily slide around on the fabric – not a way of getting an accurately placed smooth line. And most rulers don’t give any help with holding the ruler securely in place.
Several add-ons are useful.
gripper film :
There are also various ruler handles – they help with holding a ruler, so can be good for long-arm quilting, but they don’t help with moving ruler and fabric together, so they’re not much help on a domestic machine.
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Some machine-independent companies which supply rulers/templates and generic ruler presser feet
More and more people are producing rulers, so I’m not trying to list them all. And some companies offer generic ruler feet. These are just some that come up easily in the UK.
For long arm quilting (some also usable on some domestic machines) :
many rulers, suggested designs, videos
6mm-1/4″ rulers, some presser feet
For both long-arm and domestic machines :
3mm and 5mm rulers, some presser feet
For many domestic machines :
Angela Walters at Creative Grids
non slip rulers, videos
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Ruler collecting can get addictive and expensive, there are so many ingenious shape possibilities !
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