The last couple of posts covered fabric facts, including choosing it, pre-washing and squaring it up. Now I want to move on to different tips that I feel every beginner should know. If you are experienced in quilting, it never hurts to brush up on some of these tips too! This week I will cover rulers and next week, accurate piecing tips. Your quilt begins with accurately cut pieces and accurately pieced units. Without that, making a block and a quilt will become a frustrating experience. Let’s get started.
Rulers & Cutting
You’ve heard it said countless times, not only in quilting but in a lot of situations, “measure twice, cut once”. Times when I have been in a hurry, I’ve ended up with 2 1/4″ strips instead of 2 1/2″ strips. Not only is that a waste of fabric, it’s also frustrating to have to start all over again. Here are tips to make sure this error doesn’t happen to you”
Tip#1: Always line up the ruler with the edge of your fabric and double check that your ruler is placed correctly. If you need to, mark the line on your ruler you are using with painter’s tape (we covered this as one of my favorite tools awhile back):
This line helps you to quickly cut strips the same size from a piece of fabric. It has the advantage of being reusable several times because you can reposition the tape. Also, painter’s tape doesn’t leave any residue on the ruler.
Tip #2: Make sure your ruler is not crooked or doesn’t move while you are cutting. Especially when cutting long strips. If you are not using the tape method above, I like using rulers with numbers marked at several intervals so I know I am lined up correctly. My favorite brand is Creative Grids rulers.
These rulers a great because they can be used from the right and from the left. The white numbers go in one direction and the black numbers in the other.
To keep the ruler from shifting while you cut, use even pressure with your hand, not too heavy and not too light. Also make sure your hand is in the center of the ruler. Even if your ruler has gripper dots on the underside (which the Creative Grid ruler does), it can still shift if you are not holding it down correctly. “Tent” your hand as shown in the photo below with your pinkie on the edge to keep the ruler from moving. If you place your hand flat on the ruler, you may inadvertently push the ruler forward. Tenting your hand makes the pressure your are exerting go down instead of forward.
If you lay your hand flat on the ruler like in the photo on the right, you can push the ruler out of alignment without knowing it. Tenting your hand makes the pressure go downward to keep the ruler stationary. If you are cutting a long strip, you may want to stop cutting, lift your hand and move it up the ruler to continue cutting.
Tip #3: Make sure your rotary cutter is straight and hugging the edge of your ruler all the way through the cut you are making. You want your rotary cutter straight and not angled like in the photo on the right (below).
A few years ago, I cut off a little tip of my finger while rotary cutting so I like to share cutting safety periodically.
- Make sure your rotary blade is not dull. You know your blade is dull if you have to press down too hard to cut the fabric. Pressing down makes it easier to lose control of the cutter and cause accidents. A good rule of thumb is to replace your blade before it gets dull. I advise testing your blade on scrap fabric before you begin to cut out a project.
- Do not ever leave the blade open when you put the cutter down.
Get in the habit of locking the cutter when you close it and put it down. Even a closed blade can cause damage if it’s not locked. If you drop the cutter, the blade can pop open. If it’s locked, it won’t.
- I now use a “klutz” glove and have rotary cutter safety shields (see below) on my rulers. These, of course, are optional but I would not work without them. The ruler guard is great because it prevents the blade from hitting you if the cutter happens to skip over the ruler’s edge. Also, the shield is clear so you can still see the ruler markings.
The safety shields only come in 24″ length for the long rulers, however, I ordered extras and had my husband cut them down to fit smaller rulers too.
Random Ruler Tips
- While cutting out a project, it’s a good idea to use the same brand of ruler for all the pieces. Different brands of rulers can have lines of different thickness. Even if they are off by 1/16 of an inch, it could cause a problem when you are piecing.
- You can use the ruler to find the center of a piece of fabric or block by using the markings on the ruler. Those intersecting white lines and the circle where they meet is the exact center of the ruler in the photo below. This comes in handy when squaring up blocks or when you are fussy cutting a piece of fabric.
- The 45 degree line comes in handy when you are trimming a half-square or quarter-square triangle square. Place the diagonal line on the diagonal seam of your square to guarantee that you are trimming the square evenly on all sides!
- Finally, to quickly identify where to place your ruler, notice the lines between the inches are different lengths. Early on in my quilting I never paid attention to this. The 1/8″ lines are slightly shorter than the 1/4″ lines and the 1/2″ line is longer that both of those. This helps you find measurements like 2 3/8″ and 3 3/4″ quickly on the ruler.
Alright, I hope this information is helpful! Come back next week for accurate piecing tips. Comment below or ask questions and be entered into a drawing for a copy of each of the two magazines I have new quilt projects in this month. American Patchwork & Quilting and Primitive Quilts & Projects!
Drawing will be on Monday, February 28th, so you have 2 weeks to enter! ***We have a winner! Congrats, Carol!***
Thanks for the safety reminders. It’s so easy to get sloppy.
Those safety shields would help a lot against nasty cuts!! I have never seen them before!
Donna S says
Great tip about tenting your hand when holding ruler, especially for beginner quilters.
Thanks for the great tips. How far from the edge of your ruler do you place the safety shields? Please and thanks!
I lined up the safety shield with the 1/4″ line on my ruler. You can put it right on the edge if you like.
Larine Dunham says
Very helpful! I’ve been quilting for quite a few years now but found several good tips in you post that I wasn’t aware of. Looking forward to your next blog post on piecing tips. Thank you!
Patti Howard says
This information was helpful, thank you. Looking forward to the information about your piecing tips.
Sandra D, Jol_Il says
I love Creative Grid Rulers. I tip I got and love from a You Tube channel is to put a heavy weight at the far end of your 24 inch ruler to help weigh it down. I have an old cast iron iron I bought for decoration many years ago but I use it to weigh my ruler down, it’s very heavy. I remember making my first quilt in the 70’s when we didn’t have rotary cutters. I never wanted to make another quilt until the revolutionary invention of the rotary cutter! Love them. I have an older one set aside and I use it with duller blades to cut paper with.
Weighing down the long ruler is a good idea. That keeps it from shifting off your measurement.
I learned to quilt in a class that did not use rotary cutters. Luckily it was 1988 and rotary cutters were available and starting to be used for quite a bit by quilters. I have never hand cut any pieces again, except for appliqués.
Great tips for using rotary cutters safely, most importantly always close the blade! Very helpful ruler information and reminders for all quilters. Thank you for great tips!
Great tips-especially the idea often ting your hand-I have trouble with longer rulers slipping when cutting long strips-so next time will pay close attention to my hand position-Thanks for all the great information- Happy Quilting
Christine Prager says
Thank you for these wonderful hints. It’s so easy to fall into bad habits and these reminders are very helpful.
Carmen N says
Great advice. After helping sone beginners at our quilting group I found that somewhere along the line they were taught to use the lines on the cutting mat to measure the cuts in the fabric. I had them turn the mat over so there was a blank slate for them to learn how to cut properly using the ruler to make accurate cuts.
Good idea to have them turn over the mat to teach them cutting. Unless their ruler matches up perfectly to the lines on the mat (which it most often never will!) they should not use those lines for cutting.
Cristina Romero says
Muy buenos consejos! Siempre es bueno recordarlos y tenerlos presente. Muchas gracias
I love to use painters tape for marking when I sew or quilt. I once saw Donna Jordan of Jordan Quilts us a small hand-help weight to keep the far end of her ruler from moving when cutting long lengths. I have used this tip ever since, and find it keeps my ruler from slipping and spinning. I had wondered about interchanging ruler brands when cutting since I have specialty rulers from one company and straight rulers from another. Now I know not to interchange them. Thanks for the tips.
I like the small weight idea on the end of the ruler. Really good tip from Donna Jordan!
I always make sure my rotary cutter is closed and locked each time I put it down. I’m so much in that habit now that while doing a project with a friend and taking turns at the cutting table she kept asking me why I kept locking the cutter when we’re still using it!
I also use painters tape on my ruler to mark my cutting measurement even if I’m doing just a few strips or blocks at the same size and especially if it’s not on a full inch or half inch because I’d rather just find that little mark once and then roll with my cutting. It’s really a foolproof way to make sure you don’t cut wrong.