Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Little Trick For Burying Hand Quilting Knots

Cotton sateen is my favorite fabric for handquilting and a solution to one of it's quirks has developed so I thought I'd see if it works for other quilters also.
This picture shows the texture of cotton sateen.
Quilting on sateen creates lusious texture on finished quilts and some quilters describe quilting through it as like "quilting through butter".  Now, I can assure you that it's very nice to quilt on but like butter?  I've never been able to quite figure out that word picture... but after years of quilting, one quirk that has always stood out as a nuisance is burying the knots properly.

When it's time to end a line of stitching, I make a small knot right against the surface of the quilt and then I pull on the thread gently to pull the knot out of the way and I attempt to stick the needle in the same opening created by the knotted thread as it comes up out of the fabic.  If all goes well, the needle slides between the layers of the quilt and is pulled back up through the quilt top fabric and with a gentle tug, the knot slips through the tiny opening made by the needle and thread and disapears inside the quilt layers.  The needle gets pushed  back up through the fabric nearby and the thread gets clipped... any remaining tail is pulled back between the layers or helped along by the point of the needle.

But, sometimes the knot burying doesn't go so well... the needle didn't quite get in the right little opening and the knot hangs up on an unseen thread and won't pop under the fabric.  The knot has to be carefully poked and prodded with the needle to pull it back up to try again.  Now it's possible I'm the only person this happens to or maybe it's the way I bury my knots... whatever, but it's really frustrating. 

The other night I was quilting on the red sample piece that I'm using for the tutorials and I spent about 20 minutes trying to get a knot back up so I could start over (this was a new world's record for me).  I was'nt able to get the knot up and out of the little hole but it wouldn't bury either... it was hung up on those little sateen fibers and the more I dug away at it, the more little threads of sateen I was causing damage to.  So, my little razor-sharp brain went to work and figured out a solution which is really simple. 

Now when I go to insert the needle to bury a knot, I do everything the same but just before pulling on the needle to pop the knot into the quilt, I take a piece of waste thread a couple inches long and I stick it through the loop of the thread that is being pulled down through the layers.  Now, as I pull on the thread, I can see the knot disappear into batting and I can pull the waste thread out and keep going.  But, if the thread won't pop down into the quilt, I can use the waste thread to gently pull the knot back up and do it again... no damage to the sateen.  It works, I've been using the technique for a couple days and while it takes a little longer, it has actually saved me time.  But more important than that, it's really reduced my frustration level.  I'm enjoying the quilting more and I don't have to have magnifying glasses and a bright light to see to bury those pesky knots. 

A great help to those of us with 'mature' eyes.
A sateen quilt at Beamish Museum, it appears to be different colors but it's all because of the way sateen reflects light when it's cut and turned 90 degrees.  The difference here is the result of the camera flash and the angle of the camera to the quilt.  For best results taking pictures of sateen quilts, shoot them almost straight on and if possible, without a flash.  Taken during a visit to N. England in 1997.

Happy quilting.


  1. Oh my! that does sound frustrating. I haven't tried hand quilting yet, but it's on my 'to do' list. I think I may need a visual. Do you know any good videos maybe on youtube that might demonstrate hiding the knot?

  2. Hello Marjorie, I do my knots a different way - After making the last quilting stitch with the needle right through to the back I then bring the needle up under this stitch just a tiny bit back from the end, then tie the knot 1/8th" to 1/4" from the surface then go back in and between the layers making a very small backstitch, travel the needle through about 1/2" pull and pop the knot and trim the thread. This usually works for me and if you're careful the little backstitch is not visible as it is hidden under the quilting stitch and the thread is fimly anchored. Love reading your blog, Liz

  3. Marjorie,
    Do you have some good sources for cotton sateen? It's really hard to find in my area. Thanks!