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3 methods to tie off quilting threads

by Jennifer Houlden

With the quilt top all pieced it’s now time to do some quilting. I find that many quilters aren’t quite sure on how to finish off the thread ends when quilting. Today I’ll highlight 3 methods to tie off quilting threads.

Yesterday I pieced the quilt top together and am looking at thread for quilting. It will have to be a neutral color as the background of the quilt is cream. I have a couple of choices from my thread stash – a Sulky rayon thread which will give a shine and a Sulky Blendables which is cotton and will give a matt finish. I’m going to go with the cotton thread.

3 spools of cream colored thread on cream fabric

Auditioning thread for background fabric

After sandwiching the quilt with curved safety pins I’m ready to do some quilting. Safety pins are my favorite method of basting a quilt together but there are other just as effective methods such as basting with thread and basting with a spray adhesive.

Basting the three layers with curved safety pins

Basting the layers

Before I start quilting I have to decide which method of tie off I’m going to use for my loose thread ends since I’ll be starting and stopping each vertical quilt line in the center of the quilt. There are 3 different methods I could use.

Method 1 Stitch 4 or 5 tiny stitches virtually on top of each other at the beginning and end of each line of stitching to lock in the stitches. Thread ends will have to be clipped afterwards. This isn’t my favorite method as I have found with experience the threads don’t always stay locked in place and unravel.

Method 2 Use the tie of knot on the machine. The downside to this method is that the knot is often quite noticeable and can leave a bit of a hole in the fabric depending on the sewing machine. And even though it clips the threads there are still tiny ends that need to be snipped off afterwards.

Method 3 Pull all ends to the back of the quilt, tie a knot and bury under the backing and clip off extra thread. I find this method the best looking method but it’s time consuming. Using self-threading needles makes the job go a lot faster and easier.

The first time I ever used this method of burying threads I used a regular needle and had to thread it every time – it was very hard to get those small ends through the eye and then I discovered the self-threading needles which made life wonderful. The owner of the quilt shop had a real good chuckle when I had told her what I had been doing.

A self-threading needle doesn’t have an eye but rather an opening at the top that the threads slide down into and thus the needle is threaded. When threading the needle you kind of feel a little pop which indicates the thread is seated properly in the needle.

a package of unique brand self threading needles on a blue cutting mat

Self-threading needles

Onwards and forwards to the quilting.

I decided to just do straight line quilting as much of it will end up being covered up with the applique that I’ll add to the quilt tomorrow. Since the sashing is only an inch wide I’ve decided to echo that width in the quilting. The centerpiece will be vertical lines and the borders horizontal lines.

Because I just can’t eye ball the right width and sew a completely straight line I used a chalk line to mark the vertical lines. I used the white chalk which is really hard to see on the cream background but it showed up just enough to keep my lines relatively even and straight. For the horizontal lines, I used a piece of 1″ masking tape to mark where I need to stitch.

A roll of masking tape and tube of chalk liner lying on a partially quilted piece with a piece of masking tape along the bottom border

Marking tools – masking tape and chalk liner

The vertical lines and horizontal lines look great and the 30 weight cotton variegated thread looks great. It blends it but yet stands out just enough that the quilting can be seen.

Vertical and horizontal quilting lines in cream thread on a cream background

Vertical and horizontal quilting lines look good

Now that the quilting is done the thread tails can be dealt with and having the option of 3 methods to tie off quilting threads I’m all set to use method 3 and get rid of the dangling threads.

This is part 3 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 2:  3 essential tips for adding borders to a quilt

Go to part 4: Mini templates create perfect applique shapes



Julie R December 18, 2016 - 10:36 pm

I’m just learning so I need any help I can get. Thanks!

Heather D December 18, 2016 - 4:16 pm

I’m a beginner so this is useful information.

Kd Brown December 17, 2016 - 9:11 am

I’m always looking for hints about tricks like this. Thank you so much!

Karen Propes December 17, 2016 - 5:16 am

Thanks for all the detail, I have more confidence now that I have read this part. I was always curious on how to tie-off threads when hand quilting. I can try this method now.

Cathie Scanlon December 17, 2016 - 12:41 am

I use #3 most of the time and am usually very pleased with the results. Good info on the pros and cons of the other methods.

Kathy E. December 15, 2016 - 10:13 pm

Lots of helpful information here! I’ve never heard of self-threading needles…I need to find some!

Brenda Skinner December 15, 2016 - 8:04 am

So good to learn about methods I haven’t tried before. Thanks.

Kate December 14, 2016 - 4:04 pm

Now that’s Intetesting, I had always used #1, but I’m going to try the other two

Anita Jackson December 14, 2016 - 3:26 pm

I prefer the knot and bury method as well, thanks for the tips!

Kimberly Smith December 14, 2016 - 12:40 am

I’ve never heard of method 2. I always use method 3, but I need to start using a self-threading needle! Thanks!

Chris December 14, 2016 - 12:39 am

Great article. Thank-you


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