The following list of quilting terms and definitions will help you to speak and understand the quilter’s language. Quilting is a great hobby and you can start with smaller projects and simple square blocks. If you are new to quilting, read my article on quilting for beginners for an overview of this amazing craft.
A-C Quilting Terms
Applique is a technique where fabric is cut into various shapes and then either machine or hand-stitched to the main fabric. It is commonly used on quilts to embellish and add pictures and patterns to the surface.
The backing is the reverse side of the quilt, the back. It is usually sewn with one large piece of fabric. It is possible to use old sheets for this job if you have old ones to use up.
Backstitch has 2 meanings. It is a type of hand stitch used to sew strong seams and it is also the process of taking a few stitches backward with your sewing machine. When done with a machine its purpose is the strengthen the ends and stop them from unraveling.
Basting stitch is used to temporarily join pieces together. It is used in quilting terms when the batting and backing are added to the top of the quilt and it temporarily holds all the layers together before machine stitching. The most common basting stitch is a long running stitch.
Basting spray is a glue spray which joins the layers of your quilt before sewing. It is an alternative to using pins or a basting stitch. Quilters consider it easy to use although you do need to spray in well ventilated areas as the fumes are toxic.
Batting is the soft filling or inner part of the quilt. There are different types of batting depending on the finished look you want for your quilt. Batting has some quilting terms of its own. The manufacturer’s label should tell you what the batting is made of and the thickness or loft of the batting. Cotton is probably the most popular choice but batting can be made of wool, bamboo, polyester and cotton blends. Some batting has a layer of ‘scrim’ which is a stabilizer used to prevent the batting from coming apart. Scrim allows you to place the machine rows of the final quilting further apart as the scrim holds the batting together. The thickness of the batting is purely a choice of your own depending on the finished quilt you are making. Light and fluffy or thick and warm. Feel the batting and the drape of the batting to get an idea of how it will make up once it is sewn together.
The bias of fabric is its fabric grain when cut on the diagonal. Fabric cut on the bias has a small amount of stretch.
Bias tape is strips of fabric that are cut on the diagonal. Due to the diagonal bias cut of the grain, bias tape has stretch and is suitable for applying to curves. You can make your own bias tape or purchase it from fabric and quilting shops. The most common bias tape used for quilting is 1/2 inch double fold bias.
Here are the quilting terms articles on bias tape:
- How to Make Bias Tape
- Types of Bias Tape
- How to Sew Bias Tape
- How to Sew Double Fold Bias Tape
- Sewing Bias Tape
- How to Make Continuous Bias Tape
- How to Sew Bias Tape Corners
- Bias Bound Seam
- Hong Kong Finish
- How to Sew a V Neck with Bias Tape
- How to Make Piping
- Sewing Piping
- How to Bind a Quilt
A binder foot can be used to quickly add double fold bias tape to quilt edges. It is best used on straight edges rather than curved edges or corners.
The edge of the quilt is bound with binding tape. You can buy this or make your own. The binding of the quilt is what finishes it beautifully and the binding does not have to be cut on the bias. There is a special section devoted to binding the quilt in this article. The binding needs to be wide enough to encase all three layers of the quilt to neaten the edge. Read all about how to bind a quilt.
The squares made up of other squares or shapes to build your pattern are known as blocks. The different parts to the pattern you decide on are stitched together to make the blocks of fabric. Then the blocks are stitched together to make the quilt.
Borders are strips of fabric added to the quilt top in order to decorate and to add width or length to the quilt.
Chain piecing is a quilting technique designed to save time where you sew pieces together in one continuous length. You line them up on your machine so you don’t need to stop between pieces. They are cut apart at a later date before being added to the quilt.
A charm square is a quilting term for a pre-cut bundle of fabric all of which are 5 x 5 inches in size. They are produced by most major quilting fabric producers. The average number of squares in a charm pack is 42 with an assortment or matching and contrasting prints and colors. They are perfect for making easy quilts like my baby quilt pattern which used square patches.
The color wheel is a representation of colors around a wheel arranged into primary, secondary and tertiary colors. It helps quilters determine which colors look complimentary on their quilts.
Cutting mats are used frequently in quilting in conjunction with a rotary cutter. They are a special type of mat which will self-heal after the rotary cutter has cut through your fabric. Cutting mats protect your tables and stop the blade of the cutter from becoming blunt. These mats typically have grids and measurements to aid your cutting of accurate patchwork squares.
D-H Quilting Terms
Design walls are blank walls in your house where you can arrange your quilting blocks before you sew them together. It allows you to move blocks around to get the most pleasing configuration.
After sewing half square triangles or even diamonds, the dog ears are the little points of fabric that stick out at the ends of joins. They are typically trimmed to create perfect squares.
Fabric drape refers to the way the fabric hangs. Quilting fabrics can be stiffer as they don’t need to hug the body like clothing fabrics.
Fabric embellishment is adding designs and texture to your quilt after it is finished. Typical quilting embellishments include applique and embroidery. Pintucks can also be added to blocks for texture and interest.
English Paper Piecing
Paper piecing is a quilting technique where paper is used to make small hexagons. These hexagons are sewn together into geometric patterns to form a quilt. Hexagon templates may be purchased in acrylic or you can make your own from cardboard.
Fat eight are quilting terms for a pre-cut piece of fabric that is cut from a 1/4 yard piece of fabric. It is usually 9×22 inches in size. Fat eighth fabrics are great for quilting as you can numerous pieces from each fabric.
One of the most popular cuts of fabric that is the basic cut or size to other sizes and shapes is known as a ‘fat quarter.’ It is worth having a chart of the different sizes of fabric cuts, and their names, while you get familiar with quilting patterns.
Further Reading: What is a Fat Quarter
Finger pressing refers to opening seams and pressing them flat with your fingers. In certain occasions it is used where ironing may damage the seam or fabric.
Flying Geese Block
Flying geese is a quilting pattern where half square triangles are arranged in square blocks in differing directions.
Four block or four patch patterns are extremely popular in quilt designs. It refers to designs made in four patches. These patches may be further broken down into smaller elements.
Free Motion Quilting
Free motion is a method of sewing quilting where the foot can move in any direction. It is usually done with a specialized foot and only certain sewing machines can do this type of sewing. The resultant sewing is wavy and intersecting random lines going over your quilt.
Fusible web is a non woven interfacing fabric that holds two pieces of fabric together. When heated with an iron, the glue is activated and the fabric that it is between will fuse. It is commonly used for applique and holds fabric shapes to the main fabric before sewing.
Fussy cutting is a fabric cutting method in order to preserve a desired part of the print. It does use more fabric, but fussy cutting means that if you have a bird in your pattern, the bird will be complete and not have its head chopped off.
Grid quilting is the method of quilting over the layers of the quilt in a geometric square grid. The grids may be quite small or larger to match the size of your squares. Grids may be formed by using the quilting foot on your machine or by marking with a removable pen or chalk.
Half Square Triangle
Half square triangles are quilting terms for small units used in quilting blocks that are comprised of two triangles. There are several methods where you can use a square piece of fabric to produce 2, 4 or even 8 of these units at a time.
I-M Quilting Terms
Jelly rolls are a pre-cut type of fabric that is cut into strips of 2.5 inches and then rolled up. They are produced by many of the major quilting designers and are a fast way to make strip quilts or to use as borders. Jelly rolls have contrasting and matching prints and colors which are perfect for quilting.
Layer cakes in quilting fabrics are stacks of 10 by 10 inch squares. Most designers bring out cakes of 42 pieces of fabric in contrasting and matching patterns. They are perfect for quilting as you will have a large selection of pre-cut squares to construct your quilt with.
The quilting term loft is used to describe batting or wadding used inside quilts. Low loft means thin while high loft means thick. For warmer quilts use high loft and for summer quilts, use a low loft batting.
Log cabin is a quilting block where long strips radiate out from a central square.
Long Arm Quilting Machine
Long arm quilting machines are expensive professional machines designed to easily quilt through all layers of a quilt. They are significantly faster and easier to use for quilting.
Mitered corners in quilting are created by borders which meet at 45 degrees.
Batting is needle punched where the fibers are felted using tiny needles. Needle punched batting is stronger and denser and is especially important in low lofts.
N-S Quilting Terms
This is the stitching together of the different shapes known as the pieces that lead to making a block. The design of the pieces depends on your chosen pattern and there are many to choose from. Remember the mantra ‘keep it simple’ if you are starting out.
This refers to the three fabrics pinned together and sewn to make the quilt. The batting is in the middle with the top made of patches sewn together and the backing on the underside. These three pieces are basted together before the sewing of the quilt takes place.
A basic quilt has three layers and this is known as a sandwich. It is made up of the top layer, where most of the work takes place, the middle layer made of batting and the bottom layer. The bottom layer is the outside or backing of the quilt.
Each quilt, when basted together, is ready to sew with a unique pattern of machine stitches. These stitches keep the quilt together and give it a texture on the top. This stitching may or may not follow a pattern. The stitches could simply meander over the top of the quilt. Some quilters prefer to have their quilt professionally quilted. The quilting can be hand or machine stitched.
Reverse applique is formed when the main fabric is cut away to reveal a patch of fabric underneath.
Rotary cutters look a little like a pizza slicer and are used to cut through fabric. When used with a quilting ruler and cutting mat, these cutters can create perfectly symmetrical squares for quilting patches.
Running stitch is used for quilting to baste or temporarily hold all the layers together before sewing. It is a simple up and down hand stitch. Smaller running stitches may also be used for hand quilting through all layers.
Sampler quilts are quilts where the blocks are all different. They are useful for using up extra blocks and as a reference tool for quilters. They can be sewn in matching or completely contrasting colors and patterns.
Scrap quilts or scrappy quilting are a great way for quilters to use up smaller pieces of scrap fabric. The scraps can be arranged randomly in irregular pieces.
This is the coveted collection of material you have. You will continually add to this collection if you become hooked on quilting.
Stitch in the Ditch
Stitch in the ditch is a method of sewing in the seam lines so that the stitching is nearly invisible when done in a matching thread color. It is commonly done in a foot with a guide or walking foot.
T-Z Quilting Terms
Tack stitch or tacking stitch are used to hold layers of fabric and batting together for quilting. Running stitch is often used as a tacking stitch. The stitches may be long and short, diagonal or even tied in knots. Tack stitch can also be done on your sewing machine with the longest length stitch which is usually a 4.0
Quilting templates are plastic or cardboard shapes that you can use to draw multiple patches the same size. They can be purchased in acrylic from quilting stores or you can make your own from cardboard. Typical shapes include squares, triangles and hexagons.
A thimble is a small device worn on your thumb or finger in order to protect you from getting stabbed with a needle in hand sewing. Quilts typically need to be tacked or basted by hand to hold the layers together before sewing. This means your finger needs protecting. Read what is a thimble.
Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch. Quilting fabrics tend to have high thread counts.
A walking foot is perfect for quilting as it releases thick layers and prevents puckering. Although bulky, these specialty feet are very easy to use and produce great results.
Quilting Terms – In Conclusion
I hope this list will help you identify some of the many quilting terms used.