Designing for Ruler Guided Quilting

This will be the last post before taking my annual summer break. I wanted to do a few posts on Ruler-Guided quilting, but life gets in the way of writing instructions, making samples, taking pictures and sitting in front of the computer.

So, this post is about designing with rulers. There are some tips to get you started with your own designs, and pictures of designs recent students came up with. Over the summer, I want to play with some of the newer rulers I purchased and then in September I plan to go past my Ruler Quilting 101 series with some more complex designs – combining rulers, or combining rulers with FMQ.

Design is where it all starts. It is easy to look at finished designs and decide whether you like it or not, but coming up with a design is another story. Some of us get the equivalent of Writer’s Block. We draw a blank.

You can repeat what someone else does, but your quilts are unique. That’s wonderful! You need to be able to come up with your own designs and then be confident that you will like it once it is stitched out.

Here is my simple approach to designing with rulers.

  1. Start collecting simple sketches of designs you like. The designs are everywhere, and your sketches don’t have to be fancy. Just jot them down so that you have easy reference material the next time you want to do some quilting. simple designs
  2. Sort your sketches by rulers you already own. You will start seeing similarities. If you don’t have a particular ruler but have a lot of designs that require that ruler it will help you decide whether the purchase is worthwhile. designs simple
  3. Complete the following exercise:
    1. Draw a 12” square on a large piece of paper (in pen). Add 3” to all four sides. Treat this as one large quilt block, four borders and four corners. design square
    2. Using just one ruler, draw a different design in each of the 9 spaces. Continue to draw and erase until you are happy with your designs.
      • Note how the ruler feels in your hands. Is it big and clumsy? Is it too small to hold properly? The more you work with it the more natural it will become – but it also helps you decide what size you like to work with.
      • Take note of the ‘seam lines’ and how the markings on the ruler help you center or position your design. This will help you once you start stitching with the ruler.
      • Note how the ruler interacts with the different space sizes. What size of space does it work best for? If the ruler is too big for the space, can you use just a small section of the ruler to make it work? If your ruler is too small for the space, what can you do to ‘stretch’ it?
    3. Once you are done drawing designs, pretend to stitch them out by doing a finger run of the stitching lines. Is there a critical point (such as the centre) that you would need to mark? Try to figure out the best way to stitch out the design with the fewest stops, starts and over-stitching.
  4. Repeat the previous exercise using another ruler. Restricting it to just one ruler will force you to explore the many possibilities that exist for that particular ruler.
  5. Build your Toolkit. Consciously continue to add designs to your repertoire. Keep your paper copies (even the ones you don’t like) for reference. It will make choosing one easier the next time you need one for a quilt.

I taught this class recently, and the participants graciously agreed to let me post some of their pictures. This was the straight ruler exercise


After one of the finger stitching runs, the design was revised so that it would be easier to stitch-out. That is one of the benefits of doing this exercise before an actual project.design8

It was fun to see the different designs that each person comes up with using the same ruler. Here are pictures using a ruler that was in their kit, but no one really liked. oval ruler

Just look at the variations for borders, and how one person ‘stretched’ the ruler to make a large center design. I am pretty sure all of them will now use that ruler. 

If you don’t want to miss the ruler series coming in the fall, make sure you have subscribed to my blog. You will then receive an email whenever I post (usually once per week). You can unsubscribe at any time.

I hope you will give this a try. In any case, have a great summer with family, friends and wherever your travels might take you. Visit Quilt Shops, continue quilting and have pleasant quilting dreams!


About Judy's Quilting Studio

Creator of all things quilted
This entry was posted in 2019, FMQ, Highlighting others, Inspirational, ruler quilting, Skill Builders, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Designing for Ruler Guided Quilting

  1. Kathy Stephen says:

    I love your method. Looking forward to your next series.

    • thanks! I was always frustrated by doing it one way and then trying to apply it to a quilt that didn’t look anything like the practice piece. This forces you to think about 12″ blocks, sashing, border and corner shapes right from the start.

  2. Constance says:

    Awesome! Looking forward to this! If I got this email I’m assuming I am subscribed? Have a great summer and see you in September

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