Tie a Quilt


Want to redecorate your room, make an unforgettable present for a friend, or just explore folk traditions? Tie a quilt!

The first step is to determine how large your quilt will need to be. The average quilt size, 72 by 90 inches, fits a twin bed. Consider whether you want the quilt to act as a bedspread. If so, you will need to add length on the sides and bottom so the quilt will hang to the floor. Be sure to include enough at the top to tuck your pillow in.

Once you have determined how large the quilt will need to be, choose wash-and-wear fabrics of appropriate length and width. Be sure to look at the bottom and top materials together so you will have the kind of coordinated look you want. While both can be made out of the same material, just for fun mix and match plain and print or two complementary patterns. If this is your first quilt, it would be a good idea to use material such as a gingham check that eliminates all the guesswork when it comes to making sure the stitches are placed evenly. For a quilt of twin-bed size or larger, buy fabric at least 45 inches wide. You’ll want to get enough so you can cut the material in two and have each strip long enough to adequately cover the length of the bed.

Batting is the substance you lay between the top and bottom pieces of a quilt to make it full and fluffy. Get enough batting to put one layer inside the whole quilt. Be sure to choose a dacron bat that will wash in a machine. Wool batting has a tendency to ball up once it’s washed. Stock up on enough large, strong darning needles so all your friends can help you tie. You’ll need several pairs of scissors too. Choose good quality four-ply yarn. It’s a good idea to purchase the yarn when you choose your material so you can be sure the yarn will match.

To piece both strips together, cut one of them in half lengthwise so you can make a seam on both sides of your uncut piece. This makes a much prettier quilt bottom than simply making a seam up the middle. Follow the same procedure with the quilt top. Leave the edges alone.

There are several ways to make a frame on which to tie your quilt. If your ward or branch Relief Society has a frame, you might be able to borrow it for an evening. If you don’t have a frame, you can easily make one. Buy four pieces of soft wood, such as pine, into which you could easily put a thumbtack. Be sure to buy pieces long enough for any future quilts since you can always make the frame smaller by just moving the boards together. When you’re ready to set up the frame, put the side boards (the longest ones) on top. Prop up the entire frame on chairs or stands and clamp loosely with C-clamps the approximate size of your quilt. C-clamps can be purchased at most hardware or building supply stores.

Before you tack the bottom piece to the frame, decide whether you want the tufts of yarn where you’ve tied the knots to show on the top. If you have a very colorful print it may not matter if the ties show. On the other hand, if you have a lovely flower print or a pattern you want to see clearly, you may prefer to have only the small underneath stitch show. Put on the quilt frame first the piece on which you want the small stitches to show. The piece on top will have the knots. You can always use either side of the quilt as the top once you’ve completed it.

Next, measure the middle of each side of the top and bottom pieces and place a pin there. Measure the middle of each of the four parts of the frame. Lift the material you’re using for the bottom onto the frame and thumbtack the middle of one edge to the middle of the respective frame piece. Thumbtack approximately one inch from the inside edge of the frame so the material is tacked one inch onto the board. Be sure the side on which you’ve made your seams is facing up so it will be inside the quilt. Stretch the material good and tight on the frame. Once you’ve centered all four sides, you can go around the frame and thumbtack again every 10 inches or so. When you have squared the material, and check carefully that you have, see that the clamps are secured and the frame is steady. Tack around every five inches and closer if it seems necessary to keep the material stable and tight. Shake your bat gently, making it as nice and high as you can. Place it in the middle of your quilt bottom and unroll it the rest of the way. Fluff it up from underneath, stretching it carefully so it comes to the edges.

Lay the top over the bat and thumbtack it to the frame so the middle pin mark and middle of the frame side coincide. Place your thumbtacks directly adjacent to those you used on the bottom piece. Again, check that the side on which you made the seam is facing into the center of the quilt. Once you’ve followed the same thumbtacking procedure that you used for the bottom piece, you’re ready to go.

Thread the needle with a piece of yarn approximately three feet long and doubled. Doubling will guarantee the knots will be strong. Don’t knot the end. You’ll want to work in three-inch squares, tieing a knot at the corners of each square. If you are using a check or print with a regular geometric design, you can begin to stitch, skipping the same number of squares or following the print so the stitches are even. Start about three inches in from the outside edge of the quilt so you will have enough material to bind the quilt. Where the material itself can’t be your guide, measure the squares by using a time-saving pattern. Take a relatively large sheet of paper, fold it into three-inch squares, punch holes in every corner, lay it over the quilt top, and put a pencil mark on the quilt at every hole. Use a washable marking pencil that will not scar the fabric. It is important that you do this so the ties will not be uneven or throw off the look of your quilt.

As you begin tieing, be sure the needle goes through all three layers of material. Make a very small stitch underneath, approximately 1/8 inch. Bring the needle up through all three layers again and then over to the next three-inch mark. Repeat the stitch, continuing across the length of the side on which you are working. To speed the process another person can follow the seamstress and clip the pieces of yarn between stitches. She or someone else can then tie a square knot with the four ends. It must be a square knot and a tight one so it will not come undone. (Right over left and left over right makes a square knot neat and tight.) Many people can work around the entire frame. As you finish the edges and need to get closer to the center, untack the lengths and roll the quilt over itself toward the center. Slide the frame’s side boards toward the center at the same time; reclamp securely.

Once you’ve finished the tieing, you can finish the ends off several ways. One is to fold the ends toward the inside of the quilt and simply machine stitch them. This could work well for a very colorful print where the stitching wouldn’t show. On less colorful prints, however, you will probably want to blind stitch the edges of the quilt.

You’re through! Simple, wasn’t it? With a little ingenuity and the help of books and/or more knowledgeable quilters, you can make pointed, scalloped, or laced edges on your next quilt. You may also want to increase your quilting skills by learning to stitch quilt or by making a complicated pioneer patchwork top. Make some doll quilts for your little sister’s birthday or Christmas present, or how about a masculine nap quilt for your dad to use in that easy chair. Try appliquéing the top of a plain quilt and then tieing it. The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination.

[photos] Photos by Jed Clark

[photo] Spread the batting evenly over the bottom layer of quilt

[photo] Top layer of quilt is placed over the batting

[photo] Mark at even intervals where knots are to be tied

[photo] Knots are tied with a double thickness of washable yarn