How to tie a HeartStrings Quilt

At the Nebraska sew-in on May 2nd Jay showed me how to tie a quilt as he was taught by his grandmother. As with all quilting, we know there is more than one way to do things but I hope these photos and links at the end will help YOU on your way to tying a HeartStrings quilt of your own!

First, Jay trimmed an old cotton blanket to size for us to use as a batting for our quilt.


We started in the center of the quilt (no basting!), taped the backing down to the table and layered the blanket and quilt on top.


Here you can see all 3 layers are in place and ready to be tied.

(Don’t worry about that blanket edge — when we pulled that part of the quilt up on the table and smoothed the layers it was outside of our *quilt sandwich*.)


For this quilt, we used Perle Cotton in size 3. You may also use perle cotton size 5, crochet thread size 10, or wool yarn (it will felt with washing and the ties won’t come undone). Make sure that whatever fiber you use for tying WON’T come undone…no slippery ones!

My favorite is Crochet Thread in size 10 and it comes in lots of fun colors.


Jay starts with a doubled piece of perle cotton about 2 yards total (stretch the thread out both arms length twice) and uses a sharp Yarn Darner needle. Needle size doesn’t really matter — just make sure your thread you’ve chosen will go through the eye and that the needle is sharp so it passes through all your layers without too much effort.

Curved needles would work well too but remember — if your surface can be damaged by the needle, protect it with something (a rotary cutting mat would work).


We started in the center of a block and took a *bite*  or stitch through through all 3 layers. I noticed that Jay’s stitches were about a 1/4 of an inch in case you’re wondering how big a stitch to make.


Jay *tied* (made a knot) in that first stitch as taught by his grandmother .

To make the tie — you’ll pass the thread once  right over left and pull down, then right over left and pull down, and a third time that goes left over right and pull tight.

I’ve been researching and experimenting with knots as I tie more quilts and my current favorite is a surgeon’s knot which is similar to the square knot above only it starts with a double twist. Here’s an example (page down for photo) and I do add that 3rd throw they mention.

Without cutting the thread, Jay moved over about 4.5 inches and took another stitch through all layers and continued on down the line until he was out of thread.


Cut midway between the stitches and tie off all sections in that same knot described above — trim the tails to about 1 inch after tying them off.


Can you see our progress here?  We’re placing our ties about a fist width apart which on a HeartStrings quilt means the center of the block and all 4 corners …make sure if you’re using batting that you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for how close the ties need to be.

Another thing to note is that along the edges of the quilt where the binding would be sewn, we did NOT place ties.

When all the ties were placed on the center section of the quilt, we moved on to the sides –  readjusting the layers and taping down the backing to keep it smooth.


In this photo you can see we’ve done the center, and the side showing at the front of the table….just that last side to go!


Once your quilt is completely tied, it’s time to bind it. You can always use a regular binding but we decided to bring the backing around to the front and stitch it down. Jay led me through the steps.

First with scissors, we trimmed our blanket even with the edge of the top.


Then we used a ruler and a pen to mark a cutting line 1.5 inches beyond the edge of the quilt on the backing and trimmed the backing with scissors on that line.


Jay folded the edge in half, and then turned it up over the top and pinned in place.


We squared off the edges rather than mitering them.


For this quilt, we used a straight stitch just inside the folded edge but a decorative stitch works even better if your machine has one. A simple wavy line or zig zag with matching thread is invisible but holds the binding well.

I’ll admit I had a hard time keeping that straight stitch even so next time, I’ll try one of the above options.


Here’s the finished quilt all ready to launder and donate.


Julia and Sheree tested the cuddle factor for us.

I’m not sure if it was the tying or the blanket but this quilt was one of the most cuddly quilts I’d ever helped make and I loved it!


A quick Google search turned up a few links you might want to check out.

How to tie a surgeon’s knot – video

How to make a square knot – diagram

Finish your Quilt by Tying by Penny Halgren

27 thoughts on “How to tie a HeartStrings Quilt”

  1. I love everything about this. The gorgeous quilt and the clever way you tied it. Thanks for posting this.

  2. For those who don’t have a really large surface to lay their quilt on, and use a bed…..Get one of those science fair board that the middle schoolers use (preferably the foam core type). Try your local craft store. It works really great to keep things flat and especially to keep from pinning your quilt to the bedspread !

  3. i tie all my quilts i cant afford to have them sent off to . be done..but i find it fun to do the tying… if you dont have a big table like that i found putting it together on a large bed and then pinning it.. and then i fold it and bring it out to my ironing board. and start at one end and work my way around it.. the ironing board.. lays it flat enough to do it .. and then inch it up as i get some done…

  4. Thank you for making life so much easier,for those of us which enjoy quilting,but can’t aford to have the quilt sandwiched by those that have the quilting table. Hand tieing taks me back to when my grandmother made our quilts. She used whatever string she had, actually sometimes fishing strings. I am 75 years old,so that was along time ago. I have learned to quilt in the last few years and have wondered why it took me so long to get started! Thank you Jay for your wonderful and easy to follow instruction. Marty

  5. Thanks! I made a jelly roll quilt with my granddaughter and I wanted to tie it the way my mother always tied a quilt. But, I couldn’t remember. Jay did it. We followed the steps and had very nice results. Now we are making one for my grandson, her brother!

  6. Thank you Mary for this wonderful, instructive page. I am a beginner at quilting
    and have made many appliqued quilts and love it. But, have lots of left over
    fabric. I plan to make scrap quilts for the young adult grandchildren. (Nine)
    You are super — keep the ideas flowing!

  7. Thanks, this gives me good ideas for finally using up the blocks I’ve collected in swaps & lottos. I can’t afford to send my quilts to a Longarmer anymore.

  8. This is such a huge help. Thank you. I am just about finished piecing a rail fence quilt for a work colleague’s new baby and didn’t want to have to hand sew the binding. I think I will use the feather stitch on my machine. It just seems so easy and obviously quicker than hand sewing the binding.

  9. i was tickled to see an old blanket used as the batting. that is what i use too. Quilting was about using up materials instead of throwing them out, and I enjoy that sense of thrift and frugality. That’s the beauty of quilting.

  10. I was trying to find out about the thread for tying a quilt. This is a beautiful quilt and I believe I will have to make one. Thank you for sharing the directions and including pictures they really help! Judy

  11. Amazing Website !!! thank you so much for sharing all your work and talent. I was searching how to use the scraps in quilts , that is when I found you. I am so glad that I found you. I love quilting. My new passion and hobby it is. You explain the designs so clearly and make it sound so simple, even a newbie like me can understand. !! XOXO 🙂

  12. Pingback: Tying quilts
  13. Thanks for the instructions! I’m a beginner and found these to be great! We still use my great-great-grandmothers quilt on our bed (over a 100 years old) and she had knots on it like these and I couldn’t figure out how she did it but these instructions worked! Thanks!

  14. Thanks so very much for such great instructions!! I am a beginner quilter and I decided to make some children quilts for Christmas and I was wondering how I was going to get them done. You came to the rescue!!

  15. I am so glad to see a blanket recycled as the innards of a quilt! The first quilt I ever made, while I was a poor college student in 1970 had remnants of left over fabric from clothing I had made, or things I found at the Goodwill, and the “batting” was composed of towels and a mattress pad! The quilt is still in use for lounging about on the beach at the summer cabin on Puget Sound (Washington state).

    Thank you for all the wonderful patterns on here. I sew quilts for charity and I’m always looking for quick and colorful new pattern ideas.

  16. Thank you so much for putting this together! It is so informative and very well done. I just finished tying (I usually quilt with my machine) my first string quilt and I loved the process. I plan to tie my string quilts now so I can finish them faster.

  17. this is great. I can see that tying quilts is going to be the less time consuming way to quilt the quilts we are going to make at the heartstring sew in I am organising for the local childrens hospice.

  18. Doing a heartstring quilt has always been on my to do list. Everybody that has done one always have looked nice. Tying a quilt is somthing I’ve also wanted to learn. This has been the best site I have found. Jay has made it seem so simple and easy to do. The best part is understanding exactly what he is doing. I’m placing this in my favorites for safe keeping and going to try this. Thank you all for having this on your site. I know I can do this. lol Thanks

  19. mary – this is exactly what my grandma did on the farm in the northwoods back..well lets just 40plus plus yrs ago 🙂 So Thanks for the reminder.
    ***I have a super big new savalation army in our wee village, so I will keep a watch for blankets for you.

  20. OK… I get it! (MARY CAN TELL i AM ALL OVER HER WEBSITE HERE…LEARNING ALOT. I think this is one of the better sites for learning…again, thanks. Getting all the pix uploaded, and writing out all the instructions, I cannot even begin to imagine such a thing,

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