Quilting machine templates are used extensively when accuracy is important. They might be used exclusively (quilting the same design repeatedly) or to create an architecture for free motion quilting. Either way, there are some template design considerations which impact quilting accuracy.
Here is a list of features to look for in quilting machine templates, and why they are important.
1. Template Thickness: Quilting machines have a unique sewing foot called a hopping foot. It is cylindrical in shape, surrounds the needle, and actually guards against anything other than fabric getting close to the needle.
On a domestic sewing machine, the sewing foot is called a presser foot because it presses down against the feed dogs (which make the fabric move forward). Some smaller quilting systems use a walking foot or an embroidery foot. The foot moves down, compressing the layers together while the needle goes down, catches the bobbin thread and comes back up. Templates will not work with this type of a sewing foot because the foot will get caught above or below the template.
The issue is the height of the hop. Any template used with a quilting machine must be thick enough to prevent it from sliding under the hopping foot when it is taking a stitch. The ~¼” height works very well.
2. Template Contour: The hopping foot size and shape creates an offset. In most cases, there is ~ ¼” from the top of the needle to any point on the outer edge of a standard hopping foot. This means that as the sewing head is guided along the edge of the template, the stitch line is actually ¼” away from the template. This doesn’t sound very significant but it is a big deal, especially with shorter repeat sizes.
The issue is the offset of the stitch line. Quilting machine templates should adjust for this offset. That may make the cut edge look imperfect, but the stitch line will be perfect. Notice the cut edge in the picture below – the top and bottom arcs are different. Notice the marked stitch line on the template – each arc is exactly the same size and shape. The template adjusts for the offset caused by the hopping foot.
Offset Stitch Line
3. Template Registration Lines: Quilters use templates to improve their accuracy, so there needs to be registration lines! And, the lines need to be thick enough to see but not so thick that they are hard to position. Etched lines on acrylic templates are very accurate, but they can disappear very easily when placed on printed fabrics. Thick markings are confusing because – which side of the line should you align to?
Positioning the Template
The issue is accuracy. Quilting machine templates should have accurate markings especially for alignment (miter line and centerline) of the quilted design. It should also show where the stitch line will be. Remember that ¼” offset? It is hard to visualize that offset when quilting so markings really help.
4. Template Production and Materials: Positioning the template properly is critical, so quilters need to be able to see seams or markings through the template. The cut edges of the template should be smooth, so they edge making it far less likely to break if dropped. All outside corners are rounded slightly to avoid the possibility of scratching skin or fabric.
The issue is durability and visibility. Most quilters would not know that there are steps that can be taken to make the templates sturdier, so educating your customers about how the templates are made is important. The visibility issue is that feel like a nail file. The printing is easy to read, the lines are accurate and the gripper strips (or dots) prevent slipping. The differences are not obvious at first but when you look closely you will notice that the templates are thicker (~¼”) and most have at least two pieces that fit together snugly.
In a previous, article I mentioned that I am designing a line of quilting machine templates for Creative Grids® called Sweet Set™. These templates were introduced at Quilt Market in the fall of 2009 and are a great complement to the Creative Grids® rulers that many people love. They are made with the same attention to detail and high quality. Run your finger along the edges and you will notice a smooth, polished edge – unlike some that feel like a nail file. The printing is easy to read, the lines are accurate and the gripper strips (or dots) prevent slipping. The differences are not obvious at first but when you look closely you will notice that the templates are thicker (~¼”) and most have at least two pieces that fit together snugly.
You might also notice Patent # 7,383,640 on the Sweet Set™ Border Templates. This was granted because the template design and size chart enable people to find the right size template to fit the borders of a rectangular quilt and actually have four corners that match! I would be happy to send you more information about this system, just let me know.
I can’t wait to get to my first show and begin my demonstrations!
Always “checking” for a better way to quilt!