Friday, November 6, 2015

Tied Quilts

This blurry picture shows the tied quilt I just finished for my granddaughter.  The reason it's blurry?  My adorable four year old granddaughter is under it.  She is in constant motion.
You can almost see her fingers here, holding on to the edge.  She was in a silly mood, and didn't want to have her picture taken.

Here's what the quilt looks like on a queen sized bed.  It is huge.  Which is one of the reasons I decided to tie it instead of trying to machine quilt it.
I used baby yarn (pink of course) for the ties.  Each flannel "brick" is tied in the center.
The batting is Mountain Mist 100% polyester, and the backing is more flannel, white with tiny pink dots.  This will be WARM this winter.  The binding is a pink solid flannel.

In my volunteer work with the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts (click here to go to the museum's web page) I have seen a lot of tied quilts.  There have been several names for this kind of quilt in the past, including comfortables and slumber robes.  In our time period, we usually call them comforters.
In the Quilt Index (click here) comforters are considered finished quilts.  In the section on the quilting, we indicate that the quilt is tied or tufted, not quilted.  After doing data entry at the Quilt Index for years, the vocabulary they use is always in my head.

Here's a tied bricks quilt from the early 1900s.  It's very common to see scrap quilts from this time period finished by tying.

Some of the most commonly tied quilts are log cabins and crazies.  They are frequently foundation pieced on cloth (usually old clothes) and may not have any batting.  The backing is simply tied to the foundation.  Sometimes the ties only show on the back of the quilt.
This is a tied cotton crazy quilt made in the 1960s.
Just about any quilt top can be finished as a tied quilt, like this pretty star.

As with any other technique, there are advantages and disadvantages of tying your tops.  On the plus side, it's fast, and takes very little skill.  Tying can be done as a group, and even older kids can help.  You can use thicker battings than you might normally choose for machine or hand quilting, which can make for lovely warm covers.

On the negative side, tying is not as sturdy as quilting.  Tied quilts will not hold up as well to use and washing in the long run.  This is not a finish you want for your best quilts, and tied quilts are rarely included in judged shows and competitions.

When I tie a quilt, I work on my kitchen table.  My set up for tying is the same as my set up for pin basting; the backing is centered wrong side up on the table, and clamped with binders clamps.  Then the batting is laid over it, and the quilt top centered over all.

Some tips for tying a quilt:

1.  Choose your batting wisely.  The best choices are poly, cotton/poly blends, and needle-punched cotton.  Wool was often used in the past, but you may need to be careful when washing it.
2.  Check your batting label for how close together the ties need to be.  If the ties are too far apart, the batting will shift and/or lump.
3.  You can tie with yarn (which is used most often) or thicker threads like embroidery floss, or even string.  Choose something fairly thin.  Heavier threads and yarns will untie and pull out more easily.  They will also need a bigger needle, which will make a bigger hole.  Wool yarn will felt in the wash.
4.  Use a metal needle with a large eye and a sharp point.  I use the same needle for tying quilts as I use to weave in the loose ends in my knitting.
5.  Starting in the center, make the stitches in a line across or down the quilt, leaving yarn between the stitches.  Don't cut it until you've got a whole line done.  Then cut and tie.  You can even do this as a team, with one person stitching and another person tying.  This is where kids can be very helpful!
6.  Tie a very secure knot.  I wrap the yarn three times and then tie, and repeat.
7.  Trim the knots.  You don't want to leave long tails all over the quilt to catch in the wash.  Just make sure not to trim too closely, which will make it easier for the knots to come undone.

I want to end with something my grandmother once told me.  Gran was born in 1912, and lived in rural Indiana.  Every spring, her family took the tied quilts apart, washed the top and backing, aired the batting, and put them back together.  An amazing amount of work.  This way, they could use inexpensive cotton batting inside the quilts and not worry about how it would hold up in the wash.  But of course, this means the quilts were only washed once a year!  Thankfully, times have changed.

I wish you great comfort this week, and lots of stitching.

I'm linking up with Crazy Mom Quilts today.  She is so inspiring!
Back to Crazy Mom Quilts


  1. Very Pretty! I have tied a few of my quilts.

    1. Thanks! I was starting to wonder if tying quilts was becoming a lost art.


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