Sometimes tying a quilt seems like the very last resort to getting a quilt finished.
While hand quilters love the look of a skillfully hand quilted quilt, and machine quilters appreciate the beauty and complexity of fine machine quilting, tying a quilt can be equally rewarding. And those ties don’t need to be simple yarn knots with tails tied every 6 inches.
For example, take a look at some of the particularly ornate Crazy Quilts from more than 100 years ago. These gorgeous Crezy Quilts were tied, but it isn’t obvious how they were tied, since you can’t see the ties on the front; thus didn’t distract from the exquisite embroidery stitches.
On the back side of these quilts there are simple double thread tacks holding the quilt together. To achieve this, the patchwork quilt top was sewn to a foundation fabric, securing the top to the inner layer.
The backing layer is also attached to the foundation fabric in the center of the quilt, but the ties do not come through to the quilt top. By carefully pulling the needle and thread through only the backing and the foundation, the double threads could be tied on the back.
Extra work, to be certain, but clearly worth the effort in order to preserve the quality and beauty of the Crazy Quilt top.
But, What About the Patchwork Quilts of Today?
Everyone agrees that tying a quilt is much faster and generally easier than either machine or hand quilting.
Basically anyone who can hold a needle can tie a quilt and get a sense of accomplishment. All members of a congregation are invited to tie a knot in the prayer quilt, no sewing ability needed. Yarn, perle cotton or embroidery thread tied in a simple knot is perfect for that kind of quilt. When the quilts are made, the quilters place the ties in the quilts, and then the members of the congregation finish the quilts by tying the knots.
Other quilts would be ruined by either hand or machine quilting. Anyone who has seen a moderately heavily quilted quilt understands that the quilting tends to reduce the puffiness in a quilt.
If you want a puffy, fluffy quilt, using thick batting will give you that look. And tying the quilt will keep the layers together while maintaining the puffiness you want. Hand or machine quilting this type of quilt would significantly reduce the puffiness, and completely change the look of your quilt.
Many tied quilts are simply tied in the corners between the blocks, leaving the blocks as open space. Other quilts are tied in the center of each block with either yarn or perle cotton.
But, tying a quilt doesn’t need to be boring!
The best ties are washable, won’t unravel, will stay tied, and are strong enough to hold together when they are tied. Even with those considerations, why not add a little flair? Using embroidery floss or cording might be a possibility. And instead of using yarn or perle cotton, try a ribbon.
And what about adding something interesting in the tie? Sew a cute shaped button – say a train or fire truck – onto your quilt, and then tie the knot on the back of the quilt. Simply pull your thread from the back of the quilt, attach the button, and knot the thread, just as you would sew a button on a shirt.
Another possibility is a bow. Instead of just knotting your quilt tie, finish it off with a bow. Add a large button under the bow for an even more interesting look. As added safety against the bow coming untied, double knot it.
And speaking of trains, trucks and other things with wheels, make double-sided circles of fabric and sew them on to your quilt as wheels of your vehicle, attaching them just in the center. You might even add a button on top, and make the fabric circle wheel able to spin around.
If you have a lattice on your quilt top, maybe you could lay down a narrow ribbon and tie it in place with ribbon ties every few inches along the way. If you will wash the quilt or wall hanging, the ribbon strips might need additional stitching to secure them to the quilt top.
Where you place the ties on your quilt can be interesting, too. Just as quilters stitch their quilting to make a design, your ties can add to the design of your quilt.
If your quilt has an ocean flavor, your ties can be like birds in the sky or whiskers on a seal. A basket quilt might have bows along the handles of the baskets. And your Sunbonnet Sue might have ribbons on her hat.
Have fun with every aspect of your quilt – from sewing the blocks together to quilting the top – whether you hand quilt, machine quilt or tie your quilt, finish it so someone you love can enjoy using it.
Penny Halgren is a quilter of more than 26 years who seeks to interest new quilters and provide them with the resources necessary to create beautiful family heirloom quilts.