Have you ever gone into an antique store in a small town? What is one item that is bound to be at every antique store — no matter where you go? A hand-tied quilt!
Tying a quilt by hand was a popular way of quilting in days gone by, but it seems quilt tying is a lost art, especially in the modern quilt era.
I love the look of a tied quilt. The ties add such a sweet finish to a quilt top and a fun 3D texture. Plus, once you have the knot tying figured out, it can be much quicker and easier than hand or machine quilting. Sounds like a win-win to me!
What is the best thing to tie a quilt with?
If you are going to tie a quilt that will be used and washed frequently, I would recommend using wool yarn. It’s a bit more expensive and harder to come by. However, the great thing about wool yard is that unlike acrylic yarn, the knots get tighter the more you use and wash the quilt.
Acrylic is a lot easier to find and less expensive. So if you are making a wall hanging, pillowcases, a table runner, or anything else that won’t get used daily, that would be a better, cheaper choice.
The only downside to acrylic yarn is that when you wash the quilt, the ties could come undone. So be prepared to do a quick look-over of your quilt and tighten any ties that may have loosened. If one comes out, don’t worry. You can just replace it with a new tie, and no one will know the difference.
Typically, when you think of a traditional tied quilt, you think of tying a quilt with yarn. That’s often what I see with vintage quilts at antique stores or online, but there are other alternatives out there if you don’t want such a bulky knot.
Many quilters like tying quilts with embroidery floss. Using embroidery floss gives you the ability to choose from, literally, any color you can imagine. You can also choose how many strands from the floss you want to use for your knots. So if you want a tiny delicate knot, you could use 2-3 strands instead of the full six strands.
Other options for tying are: Perle cotton, ribbon, t-shirt “yarn,” and crochet thread.
Supplies You’ll Need to Tie a Quilt
- Yarn (or another tying medium) — I used acrylic yarn for this example.
- Sharp embroidery or tapestry needle (the bigger the eye, the better). I am using a size 20 tapestry needle.
- School glue (I used Elmer’s)
- Thimble (optional)
- Basted quilt sandwich — finished quilt top, batting, and backing fabric.
How to Hand-Tie a Quilt
Step 1: Figure out where you will tie your knots.
Check your batting and see how far apart they recommend you quilt. Use this as a guide.
For my example table centerpiece, I tie a knot every 4 ½”. If you would like, you could use a ruler for this step, eyeball the knot placement, or use a washable marking pen.
You will also need to decide if you want the knots on the top or the back of the quilt.
Step 2: Thread your needle.
When cutting your yarn, measure from the middle of your collarbone to the tips of your fingers of one of your hands. That should give you a good length to work with (about a yard).
You don’t want the piece to be too long, or it will be frustrating pulling all that yarn through your quilt top. But you don’t want it so short that you have to replace the yarn every 3-4 knots.
You’ll figure out a length that works best for you, but that measurement should be a good starting point.
So here is my trick: take a teeny, tiny amount of Elmer’s school glue and rub it over one of the ends of your yarn. This will make the end flat and stiff, so it will fit through the eye of your needle MUCH easier than trying to thread it without any help. You could also use a needle threader if you prefer.
Step 3: Time to stitch!
Begin inserting your needle into your quilt top. The side you insert the needle into first will be the side on which you finish the knot. Pull through until you have about a 2” tail. If you need more length for tying, then give yourself some extra length.
From the back of the quilt, insert the needle about ¼” away from where you brought it through first. You’ve created your first stitch!
Repeat inserting the needle through the top and then back up through the back right next to your original stitch. This ensures the stitch is held in place in case your knot comes undone. Cut your length of yarn so you have a tail the same length as your first tail.
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Step 4: Make your knot.
I will be demonstrating a square knot, aka “reef knot” or “Hercules knot.”
- First, take the right tail and place it over the left tail.
- Then take the right tail and point it down and through the loop. (Just like tying a shoelace.)
- Now you will do a mirror image of what you just did. So take the tail on the left and place it over the right tail.
- Take the left tail and point it down and push it through the loop.
There you have your square knot! Now cut the tails to the length you would like. I usually leave ½” tail.
Step 5: Repeat the process.
Repeat the stitch and knot steps all over your quilt top until it is complete. Finish off your quilt as desired and enjoy your beautiful new quilt with a vintage touch!
Now you know how to hand tie a quilt!
This is such a fun way to add some texture and interest to any quilt top.
You could even do the majority of your quilting with your sewing machine and then add a few knots here and there for extra cuteness! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Let’s bring back the hand-tied quilt!
About the author: Miriam Ronne is a lover of all things quilting and sewing. She is a self- taught quilter and is constantly learning and broadening her skill set to create one-of-a-kind quilts! When she's not behind her sewing machine you can find her playing with her fur babies or trying her hand at other crafty things.