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How do I secure machine quilting stitches?

I am using the internet as an information source to learn how to machine quilt. All instructions begin by saying, "Pull up the bobbin thread to knot". I cannot figure out how to pull the thread up in order to knot it. And do you just tie a knot or do you bury the knot in the quilt as in hand quilting?


Excellent question!

If a line of quilting begins and/or ends within the borders of your quilt, secure those thread tails so they don't come undone either during the use or washing of the quilt. You have the choice of either hand knotting or micro-stitching.

The First Step... to pull the bobbin thread to the top to keep it out of the way of your first machine quilting stitches.

With your quilt sandwich under the needle of your sewing machine, put the presser foot in the down position, grasp the needle thread tail and take one complete stitch.

With some machines, like my Viking D1, you can tap the foot pedal once to drive the needle down through the fabric, then tap once more to bring it to the highest position. For other machines, you'll need to 'hand walk' the machine through a stitch - starting and ending with the needle in it's highest position.

Now look at your needle thread. There should be a loop of bobbin thread around it. Give a tug on the needle thread and the bobbin thread loop gets a little bit bigger and easier to get hold of. Pull the bobbin thread to the top of your quilt sandwich.

Micro-Stitching to Secure a Line of Quilting

Reposition your quilt under the needle. (Sometimes you move it out of place to get a hold of that pesky bobbin thread.) Ideally your first stitch will be in the hole both thread tails are coming out of.

Grasp the thread tails—both needle and bobbin. On many machines, holding onto them prevents the machine from making a 'birds nest' or 'thread throw-up' on the back side of your quilt. (A real mess to pick out!)

For the first quarter inch of quilting your stitches should be 'micro'--that is, 25-30 stitches to the inch. These tiny stitches take the place of an actual knot in the thread. I've successfully used this technique with cotton, monofilament and silk threads.

Just remember that you'll do this micro-stitching at both the beginning and/or ending of any line of quilting that starts within the outside edge of the quilt. (Lines of quilting that begin or end at the outside edge of the quilt sandwich will be secured by the stitches used to attach the binding.)

Once you've created enough quilting stitches, then go back and clip these thread tails close to the top of the quilt.

Hand Knotting

The other alternative is to hand knot and bury the thread tails, exactly like you'd do if you were hand quilting. This is the method I use with shiny threads (metallic or rayon). Micro-stitching with these luscious threads obliterates the shine in my opinion. There'll be a nice line of sparkly quilting and then it disappears for a 1/4" of micro-stitching. I don't like that effect, so I hand knot.

There are self-threading needles out on the market. These make the process so much easier, because the tails slide through the top of the needle, making the job not quite as tedious.

So why not backtack or backstitch or even
use the 'fix' stitch on my sewing machine?

Backtacking and backstitching are sewing techniques that are used on the inside of garments. Using them in quilts can create thread build-up, especially if you've used a thicker thread.

The fix stitch on today's sewing machines is essentially sewing in place for several stitches. This creates a little knob of thread on the backside of your quilt that acts as a knot. In my opinion, those knobs are unsightly and I'm not convinced they'll hold up to wear and tear.

Since I don't care for the results from these methods, micro-stitching and hand-knotting are my go-to methods for securing thread tails.

I hope this information has helped. The best advice I can give you is to practice this technique every time you quilt...even if you're just working on a practice quilt sandwich. That way you'll create a habit, thus avoiding the frustration of picking out sewn-over thread tails on the backside of your quilt.


Julie Baird

Comments for How do I secure machine quilting stitches?

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by: Marla Dawn

Thank you very much for this article. I am working on my first quilt & appreciate your helpful tips.

These little things make all the difference and for a newbie I am learning most from the experience of other quilters & their treasures of knowledge.

From the Editor: Quilting is all about sharing. And welcoming new quilters to the 'obsession'.



Julie Baird

Great explanation
by: Anonymous

At the end do I do micro stitching and then pull up the bobbin thread and bury them?

From the Editor:

With the microstitching, you can cut your thread tails off even with the quilt top if you wish.

Personally, I'm a bit more persnickety in my work, and I'll either pull the thread tails to the back of the quilt and trim off or pull them into the quilt and trim them—leaving a bit a tail between the layers of the batting.



Thread Tails
by: Anonymous

You've written an excellent article on how and why you pull the bobbin thread up on the first stitch in machine quilting. I also like your info on the micro stitching at the beginning and end of stitching, I have always pulled the threads thru like in hand quilting, but this can be quite a job. So thank you for your good instructions.

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