How To Hand-Tie A Quilt In 5 Easy Steps

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.
  • Scissors
  • 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.
  • Tighten.

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!

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.

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.

16 thoughts on “How To Hand-Tie A Quilt In 5 Easy Steps”

    • Yes, that’s right, Sonia! You bring the yarn down through all the layers, then back up to complete the knot on the top of the quilt. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  1. Best instructions I have found so far on the web and books. I am not big on video so I really enjoyed your photos and directions.

    Reply
    • Wool yarn is a great choice, Fran! Whenever your quilt is washed the knots will tighten and be even more secure. I love wool yarn, good luck!

      Reply
  2. Has anyone devised a way to make your knots evenly spaced over the whole area of the quilt?
    We are considering getting a piece of plexiglass and drilling holes evenly in a grid pattern. Your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Shirley, hello! You certainly could purchase a piece of plexiglass and create your own template, or you could use any acrylic ruler that has inches marked on it and make a small mark with a water-soluble ink pen where you want to make your knots. The ruler will work as a straight edge as well as a measuring device. Good luck and have fun!

      Reply
      • In my quilt group, we have several methods of getting knots evenly spaced. One is we place a knot at all corners and in center of any larger blocks… we try to make knots about 5 inches apart. If the quilt does not have a design that lends itself well to that, we use the “palm method” Starting in the middle of the quilt we make our 1st knot. the next knot is slightly more than the width of our palm from that, to the left and to the right until we get to the edge of the quilt. Then we measure a palm above and below for the next rows and continue on that way. To make life easier, you could use a ruler and a disappearing ink pen to draw a line where the next row will be. That way all your rows will be fairly evenly spaced up and down your quilt. Because our quilts go to a specific charity (Lutheran World Relief) we follow their recommendations and use doubled size 10 crochet cotton for our quilts. We do add one little bit of extra, we make the basic square knot then add one more tie so the knot is tied 3 times.. and we say a little blessing.. Father Son and Holy Spirit… our quilts can’t SHOW anything religious or patriotic or camouflage because it could make the recipients in foreign countries targets… so we add a lot of little invisible blessings.

        Reply
  3. Love the instructions. I saw somewhere after they tied the knots they put some kind of glue to seal the knot so it would not come untied. Do you recommend this and if so what is used?

    Reply
    • Hi, Debbie! I’ve actually never heard of this technique so I can’t say what type of glue would work best. Definitely not Elmer’s glue since that would just wash out the first time you wash the quilt. If you do the knots correctly, they shouldn’t come on done so I don’t see a need for an extra step of adding glue. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  4. I have always measured the quilt, then divided by “not more than 5” to make my “grid”. Then I use the quilting safety pins to Mark each tack point. Once that is done I just run cotton yarn from left to right next row right to left, then L to R again, until I reach the bottom. Then I go back and cut the yarn apart, and tie them off, then trim them. That way I’m not cutting a piece for EACH tack point. It takes a LITTLE more yarn, but saves a LOT of labor – so it’s worth it. I have always used cotton yarn, and I have always tied THREE TIMES!
    None of mine have ever come loose. I tie them very tightly. And I pray over my quilt and the tiny human it’s going to as I am sewing. They end up so full of love and peace that they put a baby right to sleep. I make them slightly oversized so they can use them well into their teenage years if they want to. And sometimes mom uses them too!

    Reply

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