Monday, January 12, 2015

All Tied Up

You really don't want to have thread tails sticking out of your quilt.  In my early machine quilting classes I was told to stitch about five stitches very close together at the start and the end, pull up the bottom thread and cut the tails off close to the quilt top.  I was assured that the tiny ends would bury themselves in the batting.  I changed my method when one of my quilts came back from a show with the ominous evaluation, "Starts and Stops."  That means that the judge located some of my snipped off threads and found them distasteful.

Today I don't bother with the tiny start and stop stitches.  I start by bringing a long bobbin thread to the top, hold both threads out of the way, and get busy quilting.  When I stop I cut the top and bottom threads long and pull the bobbin one to the top.  I work on a domestic machine and find it easiest to tie off the tails immediately before I start the next line of stitching.  This way I never catch the old thread in the new sewing.  This also avoids accidentally leaving some loose ends.  I suppose you can still do the tiny stitches, but don't snip.  Bury your threads instead.

What do you do when that bobbin thread won't pull to the top?  Thread it on a needle and pull it through.  You can also pull the top thread to the back.  It makes no difference as long as you can tie a knot and bury the threads.

TIP:  Please don't leave loose ends.  They look really sloppy and if you show your quilt the judges will nail you every time.  If children find them they absolutely must pull on them - it is genetically impossible to avoid doing so.

There are three ways that I use to tie knots.  Knot #1 is what I think is called an overhand knot, which I use when my threads tails are nice and long.  You wrap the threads around two or three fingers, bring the ends through so that the intersection is at the same place where the thread comes out of the fabric.  Hold your thumbnail on the intersection where the needle hole is and gently pull the ends so the knot pulls tight right at the hole in the fabric.  (For the purpose of visualization I used string for these photos, but the process is the same)
Overhand Knot - pull the threads to finish the knot.
Knot #2 is the square knot, and I use that when I am dealing with shorter threads that are hard to wrap around my fingers.  Remember Girl or Boy Scouts?  Make one knot with the right thread over the left (1) and a second knot with the left thread over the right (2).
Square Knot
Knot #3 I call a desperation knot (it is actually a surgical knot).  The thread broke or the bobbin ran out or I have had to rip some quilting out and just can't get a long tail.  One of your threads has to be long enough to make a small circle.  Make a loop around a pair of tweezers with the longer thread, grab the short one with the tweezers, and pull it through.  Now do it again.

Desperation Knot
Once you have succeeded in tying a knot you thread a needle with the tails, pass it through the hole where the thread comes up, and then into the batting about one inch.  Pull gently until you hear the knot pop through the fabric and pull it a tiny bit tight before cutting the tails so they will slip out of sight when released.

TIP:  Be careful you don't go all the way through.  You don't want threads to show on the back of the quilt.

Getting the ends through the eye of a needle can be a trial sometimes.  I know you have all done it, but quilting offers unique challenges for this normally simple task.  Hang on, I will post about my methods and needles next week.


  1. I'm trying different methods of starting and ending right now. I want something quick (don't we all) and on this last quilt did the tiny stitches style and the back stitch style. I have to say I don't like the look of either one of them, but I also dread having to bury the threads when there are a lot of them. I use the surgical knot most of the time. I'm looking forward to more on this subject.

    1. I don't love burying the threads either, but if you do them at the end of each line of stitching (ie. start and stop of that line), you only have two at a time and are sure to get them all. It is far less boring than doing them all at once. It also forces a change of body position, which I see as beneficial.

  2. I found your post on Sew Cute Tuesday. I love these types of posts from experienced sewers (sewists?). My Mom used to sew but she past away a long time ago. These are the kinds of practical things that get lost and I make sure to pass them on to my daughter. Thank you!