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Measure Twice. Cut Once.

Measure Twice. Cut Once.

Written by: 
Carrie Nelson

The question isn't whether you have a rotary cutting ruler - the question is how many do you have?  And how many do you actually use? 

Sample Room Rulers

We've written about rulers before - everything you needed to know, might want to know, and okay, probably a fair amount that was just trivia for the day it's a category on Jeopardy.  Alex, can I have Rotary Cutting Rulers for $600?

I'm happy to say that rulers today are much, much better than they were when I started quilting in about 1983.  There is also a lot more variety - in sizes, markings, and quality.  If you doubt me, the old rulers weren't acrylic, they were a hard plastic with corners that were easily "chunked" by dropping or aggressive cutting.  (Ask me how I know that.)

What I have learned in all these years is that we have our favorites - and some of our best friends use rulers we don't like.  Our preferences are based on a variety of factors, some of which might not be obvious.  The lighting on our cutting table, our eyesight, whether we're right-handed or left-handed.  I love using Layer Cakes so a 6" x 12" ruler is my go-to for that.  And since most of the pieces I cut are "smallish", I use a 4.5" x 4.5" square more frequently than I use a 6.5" x 6.5". 

So this isn't about which ruler is the best for you so much as this is why we love these - why they are our go-to rulers.

Let's start with Omnigrid.  They've been in the ruler business for many years and are always adapting to what quilters need and want, and improving with new technology.  You'll recognize their rulers because they have yellow or bright green markings to make the lines more easily visible, especially on dark and printed fabrics.  Omnigrid is also recognizable for having clear 1/4" and 1/8" markings.

Michele Skeene Omnigrid Rulers

Moda's Michele Skeene uses Omnigrid - this is her new sewing space.

Did you know about Omnigrip?  It looks just like a "regular" Omnigrid ruler but has a non-slip backing that grips the fabric while cutting - no slipping or sliding.  Just look for rulers that say "Omnigrip".

The company also leads the way with gridded rulers - rulers with 1/8" lines instead of just markings.  Why would you need that? 

Omnigrid R45G Gridded Square

Years ago, I made a Feathered Star quilt and the blocks used two sizes of half-triangle square, one of which trimmed to 2-3/8" x 2-3/8".  I bought and used an Omnigrid gridded ruler - this one.

That said, most of the rotary cutting rulers in my sewing room are Olfa Frosted.  I have all the sizes - of course - but the three that get the most use are 6" x 12", the 4.5" x 4.5" and 6.5" x 6.5".  (I might have multiples of each... in case of emergency.)

Olfa Frosted Rulers

What I like about these rulers is the thin lines and the almost-minimalist approach when it comes to logo size and markings.  I found that the thin lines give me a bit more accuracy and consistency with cutting pieces - even a 1/16" makes a difference when it's multiplied in a block.  I have also found that the frosted back makes it easier for me to see the lines.  And I'm sure that's the result of my eyesight and lighting.

There isn't nearly the variety in size options with Olfa Frosted as there are with Omnigrid but that's rarely a problem as most of use a handful of sizes for the majority of our cutting.

An informal office poll says that these are the most-used ruler sizes:

  • 6" x 24" or 6.5" x 24.5" - this is used for cutting fat quarters, fat eighths and yardage.
  • 6" x 12" or 6.5" x 12.5" - most used for sub-cutting strip sets and cutting Layer Cakes.
  • 6.5" x 6.5" - most used for sub-cutting squares and pieces from strips, and for trimming blocks.
  • 4.5" x 4.5" - most used for sub-cutting squares and for trimming half-triangle squares to size.

Larger squares are lovely to have, and depending on the kind of quilts you make, they might be on your must-have list.  I have and use the 9.5" x 9.5" square ruler but it doesn't get used as frequently as any of the others. 

The best thing you can do for your rulers is to take care of them so it's important that they be stored so they are flat and the corners are protected, and they kept are out of direct sunlight.  They should also be cleaned regularly with a little bit of cold water, a gentle dish soap that will remove oil - e.g., Dawn - and a soft, clean cotton cloth. 

While we don't think of Bloc-Loc rulers as being rulers per se, you can't use them without a rotary cutter and they are used for cutting the pieces for blocks and units, and for trimming.  (Though some of the rulers could be used for cutting squares, strips and rectangles.)

BlocLoc Kite Ruler Stitch Pink

This is a block we made using the Kite ruler - each of those units is called a "kite".

If you're not familiar wih Bloc-Loc rulers, they are designed so that pieced units can be trimmed exactly to size, and the units are precise and accurate with seam placement.  What sets Bloc-Loc apart from other trim-down rulers is the groove on the underside of the ruler that "locks" against the seams for super-accurate trimming without slipping.

BlocLoc Rulers Most Used

The 1/4" wide groove across the middle of the square ruler above has a ridge that bumps against the seam.

There are easily a dozen different types of Bloc-Loc rulers - half-triangle squares, flying geese, drunkard's path, triangle in a square, etc. - but the two most popular are the Flying Geese rulers and the half-triangle square ruler.  I will happily admit to taking a while to get onboard with the HTS ruler because I was already using a 4.5" x 4.5" ruler and it worked.  But after misplacing my small sqaure while on retreat and having a big stack of HTSs to trim, I borrowed a friend's Bloc-Loc and there was no looking back.  The 4.5" x 4.5" is the one I have - it's the one I think will get used the most.

I wasn't as slow with the Flying Geese rulers - I was all over those from the word GO.  (I might have multiples of my favorites - I take them to classes for demos and I've been known to misplace them.)

BlocLoc Flying Geese Rulers

I use the 1.5" x 3" finished and 2" x 4" finished the most - I use them when making 6" x and 8" finished stars.

The issue that some quilters have with Bloc-Loc rulers is that they can be pricey, and you need a separate ruler for each size unit.  True and true.  But for me - and for many quilters - the improved accuracy is worth the additional cost and the time.  Pieces are flat, square and the seams are where they need to be for clean, perfect joins of adjacent units and pieces.  Using them doesn't make me a better quilter, but they do make me a happier quilter because I am happier with my piecing. 

If you'd like to know "more things about rulers and templates", last year we shared "I've Got A Notion - Rulers."

To wrap this all up, we have a giveaway that includes a few rulers and enough fabric to practice with. 

Moda Ruler Giveaway

We've taken a Moda Zipper Bag from Market and filled it with an Olfa Ergonomic Rotary Cutter, a couple of designer charm packs, a Lollies dessert roll, sets of HTS rulers and Flying Geese rulers from Bloc-Loc, an Olfa Frosted 6.5" square ruler and I don't remember what else. 

Leave a comment by Midnight on Sunday, March 8 CST telling us which size ruler is your most-used, the one you simply can't live without.

Have a good week - a good cutting week! 

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