Don’t you feel smart when you discover new uses for items that are made for something else? I know I sure do! One of my past creative outlets was quilting. I’m not a particularly gifted seamstress, so as hard as I tried to cut and sew each piece perfectly, my quilts always came out wonky. Now my sewing machine is retired to dire-use-only status. I still have most of the special gadgets marketed to quilters and I’ve found new ways to use them for fine art applications.
The see-through rulers are one of the most useful tools. They allow you to see the item you are measuring underneath at the same time you are measuring and/or cutting. Most of them have gridlines every inch so you can easily square your paper for each new masterpiece. This cuts down on unpleasant surprises when it comes time to mat and frame!
For cutting paper, one of those self-healing mats and a rotary cutter gives you nice, straight edges. For those of us who are crooked with the scissors, it’s very handy and quick. Of course, if you are still wanting to use a cutter for fabric, you may want to have two cutters – one dedicated to each use. This will ensure that each blade lasts as long as possible before needing to be replaced.
I’ve enjoyed doing smaller pieces for studies, so the 6″ x 6″ Omnigrid has been fantastic. I just lay it down on the paper, draw around the edge, and voila! – a perfect 6″ square on which to create. I just remembered I also have a 12″x12″ somewhere in a box. I really need to drag that out as I know it will be handy as well.
Of course, everyone knows that a ruler is a straight edge! Since this kind is just smooth plastic, I don’t have to worry about getting paint on it when I use it as a guide to make a horizon line in a painting.
If I’m having a hard time getting correct proportions from a reference photo, I use the rulers to take exact measurements and check my work. Since it is transparent, I can see exactly where I need to measure over the photo. This has saved many an animal from “distorted presence” syndrome!
One of the most vital uses has been in matting and framing. My process is to order all of the parts pre-cut from my suppliers and put it together myself. It’s much more economical and I actually enjoy watching my creation come together into a finished piece.
When I started out in fine art, I wasn’t concerned about standard sizes. I drew and painted on anything with a four-sided shape. This caused me headaches when it came time to get those pieces finished.
One painting I had was 5 1/16″ x 9 15/16″ – definitely not even close to standard! Since it was already quite narrow, I was wanting as much of the image to show as possible so it wouldn’t be matted out of existence. This meant that I did not want the usual 1/4″ overlap between mat and image. I was able to successfully mat it with a 4 15/16″ x 9 13/16″ piece. A pain, yes, but well worth it. All of this to say that the Draft n’ Cut ruler by EZ Quilting was vital to making this work. It has marks in 1/16″ increments so I can get exact measurements of my paintings to know where I can fudge on a mat window size without harm.
When it’s time to put everything together, out come my rulers again. First I measure the inside dimension of the frame. Then I can accurately mark and cut the backing board to fit. I use the cutting mat with a box cutter for the backing boards.
After the contents are safely nestled in the frame, it’s time to insert the points. The recommended spacing is 3″ from each edge, then every 6″ in between. I lay a ruler next to the frame so I know where I’m aiming, place a scratch sheet of paper over the backing board (to keep scuffs off the board from the driver), then insert the point right where the trusty ruler is pointing.
I mentioned the scratch paper in the point driving procedure for a good reason. When I insert the first 2 points of a frame that are 3″ from the corner each way, I have nice little scuff marks on my scratch paper. Every other corner I do now needs no measuring. I just place the scratch paper in each corner and drive the point into the frame right over the scuff mark. If you’re doing a large batch of frames at once, it really saves time.
After the corner’s points are driven, I need to determine how many points should go on the sides. I hold up my ruler to each point that is 3″ away from each corner and see how much space is in between. It is recommended to have no more than 6″ between points on each side. Most of my frames do not have a 6″ space in between the two corner points, so I just measure the distance and cut it in half if they are 6.5″ or more apart.
The last step in assembling my framed art is installing the hanger. I like to use the coated wire hangers since they make it so easy to level a painting. I screw in the hanger hardware 1/4″ – 1/2″ from the inside edge of the frame (depending on the width of the molding) and approximately 1/3 of the way down from the upper inside edge. The ruler is used to measure all of these things, and it ensures every painting is finished in a consistent manner.
I have no desire to get into the quilting tools business, so I’m certainly not trying to sell them! Since mine were bought around 20 years ago, any of the brands and models I show may be no longer available. I’m sure there are equivalents sold these days, and probably even better ones. I’d love to hear any of your new-found uses for old tools!