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How to Start and Stop Quilting

February 7, 2022


It’s a bit late, but Happy New Year!  I hope you’ve had a good start to the year, and that you’ve had a break to rest and refresh, and you’re now well into 2022, and hopefully a bunch of fun new projects too.

It’s been all ‘go’ here so far, and I’m just a teensy (read LOT) bit excited that I’m flying up to Annette’s next week for a full-on week’s sewing retreat.  I’m going prepared, and I’m hoping that between us we can make 5 or 6 new quilt tops in the 5 days.  As long as Dad cooks, we’ll be sewing up a non-stop storm!! I’ll let you know how we go….

In the meantime, I thought I’d share an article from our magazine regular contributor Leah Day that was printed in our Premium magazine last year.  I think its a good thing to refresh some ideas and info on a fairly regular basis, as it seems to be getting easier to forget things these days… 🙁

Here’s Leah’s article:


“How to Start and Stop Quilting

Specifically – how do we secure our threads as we start quilting and as we end the line so our quilting stitches don’t come out?

Here’s the way I do this:

1. Start quilting by pulling the bobbin thread up to the top of the quilt. Using the handwheel on the right of your machine, rotate towards yourself to drop the needle down, then keep rotating until it comes ALL the way up and is even starting to dip back down again. This ensures the top thread has made a full rotation through the bobbin case and has caught the bobbin thread.

(Alternative – if you have a needle up / down button, just hit that button 2 times to drop the needle and bring it up)

Now give the top thread a tug and a loop should pop up – that is the bobbin thread. Give that loop a tug and tuck both threads under your darning foot so they are out of your way.

Note: This set of steps sounds very simple and I can certainly fly through these steps because I have done them thousands of times. Josh has fits with it every time, so if you struggle with it too, don’t worry, it takes some practice to get the hang of bringing the bobbin thread up!

Why do you need to do this?

If you leave your bobbin thread on the bottom, where you can’t see it, there’s a very good chance you will stitch through it as you quilt the block and it will become embedded in the stitching. Short answer – it looks terrible!

So – bringing the bobbin thread up ensures there’s no nasty surprises left for us on the back of the quilt, and tucking both threads under the foot makes it far less likely they will be sucked into the machine or become unthreaded as we get started.
2. Start quilting – Don’t build up thread. Don’t stitch in place. Don’t backstitch. Don’t overlock. Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200.

Just start quilting!

Why? Because if you do any of those things, you will end up with a very noticeable glob of thread on the top and back of your quilt. You can not only see it, you can feel it too – it will be a hard lump sitting on the surface.

Many quilters have been taught to build up thread this way to “secure” the thread and clip off the thread tails immediately after. Personally, I don’t think this is secure because with wear and washing those knots come out and the thread will start unraveling.

So don’t build up thread, just start quilting and we will return to those thread tails after the block is complete.


3.Stop quilting – Just STOP. Don’t build up thread. Don’t stitch in place. Don’t backstitch. Don’t overlock…you get the idea!

We don’t build up thread at the end for the same reason we don’t build up thread at the beginning.

When you finish a line of quilting just stop, rotate your handwheel to bring your needle all the way up, lift your foot, and pull the block off your machine.

NOW cut your threads leaving thread tails at least 4 – 6 inches long. You will have a single thread on the top of your quilt and a single thread on the back. Give one of these threads a tug (doesn’t matter which side) to bring up a loop, which will be the other thread. Pull both to one side.


4.Tie, bury, and clip – You should now have your starting 2 threads and your ending 2 threads together on one side of the quilt.

Watch this video to see how this works step by step:

To recap: Tie 2 threads together in a knot about 1/8″ from the surface of the quilt, then grab a cheater needle (or regular big hole needle if you don’t have a cheater), pop the threads into the eye, run the needle through the middle layer of the quilt about 1-2 inches.

Pull the needle through, give the threads a tug and the knot should pop down into the middle layer of the quilt. Clip off the tails where the needle came out of the quilt.

Repeat these steps with the 2 ending threads. When you have a situation where 4 threads come together in one spot, tie off 2 at a time rather than all 4 together. (4 threads tends to make a huge knot that doesn’t bury easily).

Is this the ONLY way to do this?!

No! As with all things in quilting, there are hundreds of ways to start and stop quilting and deal with the loose threads that result. I hear a lot of whining (sorry, no better word for it!) about this method because it’s a bit time consuming and tedious.

However, this is the only method I use, so it’s the only method I teach! I personally find it to be far faster, easier, and less frustrating than the build-a-glob-and-clip method. I figure if I take the time to put these quilting lines in the quilt, I want to make sure they are secure and will stay put and not come unraveled eventually with wear.

The method you use to deal with your thread tails is entirely up to you, so I’d suggest trying a lot of different methods from different teachers and find what works best for you!”

Let’s go quilt,

Leah Day

About the Author:  Leah Day is the author of the Free Motion Quilting Project, a blog project dedicated to creating new free motion quilting designs each week and sharing them all for FREE! Leah is also the author of From Daisy to Paisley – 50 Beginner Free Motion Quilting Designs, a spiral bound book featuring 50 designs from the project, and she now has three Free Motion Quilting classes available through . 


Enjoy your week, and I hope you can enjoy some quality sewing time too!




2 responses to “How to Start and Stop Quilting”

  1. Charlene Cairn says:

    I definitely prefer this method to any other. Doesn’t take long, and doesn’t leave tiny thread ends or knots to interfere with the smooth feel of the quilt.

  2. Fred Austgen says:

    At first I thought “why would anyone WANT to stop quilting!” Then I looked at the article and saw that it is about the best ways to make your quilting look more professional!
    Mary Fons, said “there are three ways to finish a quilt–by hand, by machine or by cheque.” I am a “check person!” I have a wonderful long arm person who does my quilting and is very professional in her work and results. I enjoy your articles and the monthly newsletters, keep up the good work!

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