5 Safety Tips for Machine Quilting Rulers On a Long Arm Quilter or Sit Down Domestic Sewing Machine

Text reads "5 Safety Tips for Machine Quilting Rulers" with image of hand holding a machine quilting ruler against a longarm machine's hopping foot, preparing to quilt

Learning to use rulers when Machine Quilting is a great way to achieve spectacular results without a computer. It is important, however, to keep these 5 safety tips for machine quilting rulers in mind to protect your machine.

image of APQS Ruler Base on an APQS long arm machine

1. Support Is Critical

You MUST use a ruler base if working on a stand up machine or, if working on a sit down domestic, have a large flat work space that is flush with your machine’s throat. There is a lot happening when using a ruler. It is imperative that your ruler be supported so it doesn’t flip up while you are working with it. An unstable ruler can easily get crunched by your machine’s foot and it can damage your machine. So… pinky swear promise me you will use a ruler base or a work table. 🙂

On my APQS long arm machine the ruler base slides onto the throat of the machine easily. I do slide it off when I’m not doing ruler work just because I don’t want the bulk or weight of it there if I’m doing free motion quilting.

On my Pfaff Creative Icon I have an acrylic table that was made to nestle up the throat so I have a wide area that is flush with the needle plate. Not only does this support the ruler, it also supports the quilt! This makes it easier to maneuver the quilt and the ruler.

image of 4 different hopping feet for APQS longarm machines

2. Step Out With The Right Foot

You wouldn’t go hiking through the Rocky Mountain with flip flops, right? Well, choosing the right footwear extends to sewing as well. 🙂 On my APQS long arm I can choose from a variety of feet but when using rulers I prefer the standard ruler foot. This is the foot that ships with the machine by default. I likely use this foot for 90% of my ruler work.

The other foot I like is called the Clog foot by APQS but I like to call it the Ninja foot. I call it this because I don’t want you using it until you feel skilled with your machine. It has an open toe so you can see well going around applique but it has a high profile along the remaining three quarters of the foot so you can use rulers. Since the toe is open, it is possible to get the corner of a ruler caught by the opening so I recommend this foot only to those who feel more confident with their machine.

If you are using a sit down domestic machine it is critical that you have your manufacturer’s ruler foot mounted to the machine. This foot is made to hop and allows the fabric to more easily flow under the needle. A ruler foot has walls that prevent the ruler from getting to close to the needle.

image of hand holding a machine quilting ruler against a longarm machine's hopping foot, preparing to quilt

3. How High Do You Hop?

Machine quilting rulers are thicker than regular piecing rulers. They are 1/4″ thick acrylic so when a long arm foot hops down the edge of the ruler it is tall enough that the foot won’t hop OVER the ruler.

However, there are two kinds of sit down domestic machines- high shank and low shank. The shank refers to the knuckle on the foot. If you try to use a regular machine quilting ruler on a low shank machine it will crunch down on the ruler as it is too thick and you can damage your domestic sewing machine. If you have a low shank domestic machine, be sure to purchase low shank machine quilting rulers. Low shank rulers are labeled very clearly. You’ll know if you have a low shank ruler because it is the same thickness as the rulers you use to piece with.

My Pfaff is a high shank machine and I can interchangeably use my rulers for both my APQS long arms and my Pfaff Creative Icon. If you want to use rulers on your sit down machine, please contact your dealer or manufacturer and they’ll be able to tell you straight away what kind of shank you have.

image of hands showing how to use the center cutout of the SID machine quilting ruler
Click the image to watch Angela Huffman demonstrate how to use the center cutout of the SID machine quilting ruler

4. Grab Some Training Wheels

There is a LOT going on when quilting with rulers. You have to hold the ruler down, keep it in position, guide the machine AND think about the design you are trying to make! If you are new to rulers it can feel overwhelming. I recommend you add some grippy dots to the back of your rulers to help them stay where you place them. It is like adding a third arm into the mix and will give you better stability.

Another option would be to use a ruler that entraps your hopping foot. I really love the SID ruler for my new long arm quilters. To use the ruler, remove the machine’s foot, position the opening under the needle and then remount the ruler foot so it is now entrapped. Because your hopping foot can’t wander away, it makes it easier to control. Training Wheels engaged!

image of hand holding a machine quilting ruler against a longarm machine's hopping foot, preparing to quilt

5. Think About Spiders

No, not that kind of scary, hairy spider! I’m talking about splaying out your hand like a spider. You want as many parts of your hand stabilizing the ruler as possible but reserve a finger or two to ride on the fabric next to the edge of the ruler as well. Remember that the safest, most stable portion of your ruler is between your thumb and forefinger. Try to keep your ruler foot in the area of the ruler. If you are quilting a longer span and your ruler foot has to move outside this safety zone, stop the machine in the needle down position and walk your hand up the ruler like a spider.

Consider how you cut a swath of yardage when piecing a quilt with your big 24″ long ruler and your rotary cutter. You hold down the ruler and cut but if you don’t move your hand up the ruler and reposition it, your rotary cutter will push the ruler out of position. The same thing happens when using longer machine quilting rulers. You will need to reposition them to keep everything stabilized.

In general, I save my longer machine quilting rulers for specialty applications like long diagonal cross hatching and use rulers that aren’t much bigger than my hand for my day to day ruler work.

2 Responses

  1. such great words of wisdom for all of us who are new to the ruler world

    thanks for all of your advice and skills you pass all

    in Northern Michigan

  2. Dear Angela
    I’m excited to use the SID ruler…Never knew there was one until I read your safety tips. Thanks for all you do.
    Donna Babchuck
    Tallahassee FL

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Angela Huffman- Triplet Momma. Quilter. Teacher. Thread Bimbo

I’m Angela- Co-host of the Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting PBS show. APQS Long arm Dealer and Educator. Triplet Momma. Designer. Thread Bimbo.

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