On a domestic sewing machine, starting or ending quilting can be as easy as doing a couple back stitches. Honestly, most people (besides quilters) wont even notice the little ends that can unwind. But if you’re looking to take your quilting to that next level (or enter your quilt in a quilt show), invisibly tying off your quilting adds a level of sleek professionalism. The technique is very easy, only take a few seconds, and holds stronger than doing a couple back stitches. Here’s how to tie off thread when machine quilting
Starting quilting from an edge
Invisibly tying off thread when machine quilting can still sometimes mean using a back stitch. You just have to be smart about when you use it. And the only time you should do that is when you’re starting the quilting from the edge of the quilt. The trick is to hide that back stitch where the binding will be.
The first step in this is to determine how wide you want your binding to be. I used to like a 3/8″, but I’m into the chunky binding now and dig a 1/2″. What you choose is up to your personal preference and the quilts design–you don’t want to cover part of your quilt!
When I start quilting from the edge, I always start in a few stitch-lengths from the edge.
This way, I can back stitch first, then begin my quilting forward. This ensures my back stitches don’t extend into the visible part of the quilt. It’s not a big deal if they do, because you can always pluck them out. This just saves time. Then trim your thread ends and sew on!
You may be thinking: but Emily, you don’t need to back stitch here, because the binding will secure the sewing in place.
While, yes, that’s true, the binding will be there eventually to hold everything secure, you have a lot of quilting ahead of you. Quilting on a domestic sewing machine means shoving your quilt through the machine’s neck. Things that aren’t secure will find a way to come undone. Trust me. I’ve been down this road before. Even within the few minutes between trimming the quilt to size after quilting and sewing on the binding I’ve had some not-so-happy accidents of my quilting coming apart just a little too far. Secure what you can!
But what happens if your thread breaks? Or when your bobbin runs our in the middle of the quilt? Or if you just need jump around the quilt top to make your design. Tying off thread when starting machine quilting in the middle of the quilt is nearly just as easy!
Starting quilting from in the middle of the quilt
There are two ways to start quilting from the middle of the quilt. The first is if you are starting a new line of quilting. The second is if you needed to stop a quilting line (ran out of bobbin thread or you had machine troubles). Let’s begin with starting a new line.
Starting a new line
First, line your needle up with where you’d like to start your quilting. Then, holding on to the top thread taunt, make one stitch. This pulls up the bottom thread. Pull it out completely–a seam ripper is a good helper here!
Next, slide your two threads (the top and bottom threads) under the presser foot and then sew as desired.
Now, you can either wait until you’ve done all your quilting to tie the end off, or you can do it once you’re presser foot has cleared enough space. I sometimes like to do them right away to prevent the tails of thread from getting caught up in my quilting. But other times, I think its faster to do it all at once at the end.
To tie off the thread, I make three knots with the two threads (top and bottom threads).
Then, with the threads together, I’ll make a small loop and thread the loop through a hand needle. I find this easier than trying to thread the ends, but do what works for you.
Then insert the needle where you made the last stitch, only going through the quilt top and maybe some batting. Not through the back!
Pull the needle out, and while keeping some tension on the threads, cut the threads right next to the quilt top so they pop back into the quilt. And now you’ve got an invisible start to your quilting!
Fixing a line/starting a new bobbin
But what if you last thread tails are too short to properly tie off the end of the threads from your last line of quilting? Then this is how you should start your new line of quilting to prevent the old line from coming undone
It’s exactly the same as the instruction above, but instead of starting your line of quilting where you want to begin (ie where the old line ends). Start ~ 1/2″ back down the line of quilting. Then quilt over the line of quilting (this will lock the threads in) and then continue on with your quilting design. Don’t forget to pull up the bottom bread and tie off/bury your threads as you did above.
Ending a thread
Now that we’ve started the quilting, we need to end it. Of course, if you end off the side of the quilt, you can end it with a couple back stitches but make sure to stay with in where the binding will be. If you end your quilt with in the quilt top here’s what you need to do.
Quilt down to where you want the quilting to end. Then make one back stitch. Cut the top and bottom threads off with ~5″ tails.
Pull the tail of the top stitch so that the bottom stitch pops out from the back.
Lastly, tie and bury the thread as shown above (three knots and then using a hand needle to pull the tails under the quilt top. Sew easy!
Results vs Time
Tying off threads when machine quilting can be a little more time consuming, or at least tedious, then just doing a couple back stitches. However, it’s a really easy way to give you quilt an extra clean look. If you’re looking to improve look of your quilts or get show-ready this is the technique for you!