Glossary of Quilting Words and Terms
By: Jessica Nichols, Editor, FaveQuilts.com
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Whether you're a first-time seamstress or a confident quilter, you can always use a reference guide to confusing quilting terminology. This Glossary of Quilting Words and Terms explains all of the quilting terms that you'll come across. It also provides links to relevant projects for a given technique or pattern. Don't start a project without this guide!
Glossary of Quilting Words & Terms
- Applique - A piece of fabric sewn on top of a background piece of fabric, usually in a fun shape or design.
- Art Quilt - A quilt intended to be viewed as art. Art quilts may combine many different fiber art techniques, including piecework, applique, fabric painting, and embroidery.
- Attic Window Quilt Pattern - A quilt pattern that uses an optical illusion to make it seem as if you're looking at each quilt block through a "window."
- Backing - The bottom layer of fabric in a quilt. Quilt backing is usually one piece of fabric, but it can also be pieced or embellished. You can find charts to determine how much fabric you will need for your quilt backing here.
- Bargello Quilt Pattern - A quilt pattern using many tiny strips or squares of different-colored fabric to create a wavy design.
- Basket Quilt Pattern - A traditional quilt block pattern that looks like a basket.
- Basting - Securing the quilt sandwich of backing, batting, and top together before quilting the quilt. Basting can be done using quilting pins, a running stitch, or spray starch.
- Batting - Cotton pressed into a flat sheet. Batting is used as the middle layer of a quilt. Buy batting online on CutRateCrafts.com.
- Binding - A method of finishing a quilt by sewing a thin strip of fabric around the entire circumference of the quilt. Bindings can be stitched onto a quilt by hand, machine, or a combination.
- Block - One unit of a quilt top. Quilt blocks are generally square and measure about one square foot, but they can vary greatly. Traditional quilt block patterns make up the foundations of many quilt patterns. You can check out some of our favorite quilt blocks in our list of 23 Fantastic Free Quilt Block Patterns.
- BOM (Block of the Month) - A type of quilt pattern in which the quilter makes a new quilt block each month. After several months to a year, the quilter will have made enough blocks to create an entire quilt top. Pattern designers and publishers often publish only one block per month until the pattern is completed. In this situation, BOM patterns are also considered mystery quilt patterns because the final quilt is a mystery.
- Border - Strips of fabric, usually in one color or fabric, running along all four sides of a quilt. Borders are usually solid, but can sometimes be pieced to add interest.
- Bow Tie Quilt Pattern - A classic quilt block pattern that looks like a bow tie.
- Cathedral Window Quilt Pattern - A complicated traditional quilt pattern in which fabric is folded and stitched into intricate designs to create three-dimensional look. There are many ways to achieve a similar look without using the complicated folding technique.
- Charm Pack - A package of coordinated pre-cut fabrics, generally from the same fabric collection, cut in 5" squares.
- Chain Piecing - A method of stitching pieces of fabric together for a quilt. The seamstress stitches pieces in a continuous chain, without stopping the sewing machine. Once the "chain" has been pieced, the quilter clips threads between each unit. This piecing method saves time and thread. Watch a video on chain piecing for patchwork quilts.
- Coin Quilt - A classic quilt pattern, sometimes referred to as a Chinese coin quilt, consisting of rectangular pieces of fabric arranged in "stacks."
- Crazy Quilt - A patchwork quilt made from various sizes, colors, and types of fabric in a somewhat haphazard way. Crazy quilting first became popular in the Victorian era. They are often embellished with elaborate and colorful embroidery along the seams.
- Design Wall - A wall or folding screen covered with batting or felt that is used to lay out fabrics and blocks for a quilt, before stitching them together. The fabrics will either temporarily stick to the batting or can be pinned to the batting. Design walls are used to try different layouts.
- Disappearing Nine Patch Quilt Pattern - A common quilt block pattern made by cutting up a nine patch into four quarters, shuffling them into different positions, and then re-piecing them into blocks. This can also be referred to as a magic nine patch.
- Double Wedding Ring Quilt Pattern - A vintage quilt pattern of interlocking rings that was popular in the 1930s.
- Dresden Plate - Dresden plates are circular appliques, made by piecing together a ring of petal shapes. You then applique a circle to the center.
- Drunkard's Path Quilt Pattern - A classic quilt block pattern with curved piecing. The basic unit of a drunkard's path quilt pattern consists of a quarter circle, set inside a square. These units can be arranged differently to create several designs and layouts.
- English Paper Piecing - A distinct type of paper piecing (not to be confused with regular paper piecing or foundation piecing). Using this method, templates are cut to the desired size of the finished piece and then traced onto the fabric, adding a small seam allowance. Once the fabric is cut out, the template is placed in the center of the fabric, and the fabric is stitched around the template, with the seam allowances folded over the template. The shape is then pressed with an iron to set the folds, and the template is removed and reused.
- Fat Quarter (FQ) - A quarter of a yard of fabric. This yields a piece of fabric that measures 18" x 22."
- Flying Geese - A common unit of patchwork made by piecing two triangles onto the sides of a larger triangle to create a rectangular piece of patchwork.
- Foundation Piecing - A method of piecing in which pieces of fabric are sewn directly onto a piece of foundation fabric.
- Four Patch - A simple quilt block made by piecing together four squares of fabric.
- Free-Motion Quilting - Quilting done with a domestic sewing machine. It is referred to as free-motion quilting because the quilter uses a darning foot and leaves the feed dogs down on the machine, so that she can move the quilt in any direction with her hands to create different stitch patterns.
- Friendship Star Quilt Pattern - A quilt block pattern that looks like a four-pointed star. See some examples of friendship stars and friendship star variations here:
- Fusible Applique - A method of applique using fusible interfacing to adhere the applique to the background fabric. Fusible applique is also referred to as iron-on applique.
- Fusible Web - A paper-backed adhesive used to fuse two pieces of fabric together. Common brands include Steam-a-Seam and Heat n' Bond.
- Fussy Cut - To cut a printed fabric so that you get a specific image from the print centered on the shape you cut out.
- Hand Applique - A method of applique that involves stitching the applique to the background fabric by hand. Hand applique is often done with embroidery floss, when using heavier fabrics like felt. Needleturn applique is a specific method of hand applique in which the quilter turns the edges of the applique under with each stitch.
- Honey Bun - A coordinated bundle of fabric strips, each of which measures 1.5" x 44." Honey buns are sold by Moda Fabrics and often contain fabrics from the same collection.
- Hourglass Quilt Pattern - A simple patchwork quilt pattern in which each unit looks like an hourglass. The hourglass units are typically pieced together using quarter-square triangles. Double hourglass blocks are also common.
- Half-Square Triangle (HST) - A quilt block pattern or quilt pattern that is made by stitching together two triangle pieces. This is one of the most common shapes used in patchwork.
- Irish Chain Quilt Pattern - A classic quilt pattern, characterized by diagonal "chains" of squares that match up only at the corner points. Double Irish chain quilts, involving two parallel chains of squares, are also common.
- Jelly Roll - A coordinated bundle of fabric strips, each of which measures 2.5" x 44." Jelly rolls are sold by Moda Fabrics and often contain fabrics from the same collection. Check out our list of 15 Free Jelly Roll Quilt Patterns for ideas of ways to use jelly rolls.
- Label - A small square of fabric sewn to the back of the quilt that lists the quilter's name and the date the quilt was made. The label can also include a name for the quilt, the pattern name, or the recipient of the quilt.
- Landscape Quilt - An art quilt depicting a natural scene.
- Layer Cake - A coordinated package of fabric squares, measuring 10" x 10". Fabrics in a layer cake are often from the same collection. These pre-cut packages may also be referred to as 10" charm packs.
- Layout - The arrangement of blocks or pieced units in a quilt top. The same blocks can be laid out in different arrangements for completely different looks.
- LeMoyne Star Quilt Pattern - A distinctive, eight-pointed star block, also known as a star flower.
- Log Cabin Quilt Pattern - One of the most common and popular types of quilt blocks, made by arranging strips of fabric concentrically around a square. Log cabin blocks are traditionally made with all dark strips in one half of the block and all light strips in the other half. Some common log cabin quilt layouts, or settings, are Sunshine & Shadows, Barn Raising, and Furrows.
- Longarm Quilting - Quilting done by a professional quilter with a special, longarm quilting machine.
- Medallion Quilt - A quilt layout that does not involve a grid of blocks, but instead a series of decorative borders around a central block or panel. Here are some examples of medallion quilts:
- Mug Rug - A small quilt, usually less than 12" x 12," which is somewhere between a coaster and a placemat. These decorative quilts are generally meant to be used with a mug of coffee or tea. Check out our list of 22 Marvelous Mug Rug Patterns for project ideas.
- Nine Patch Quilt Pattern - A simple quilt block or quilt pattern made from nine squares, arranged in a 3 x 3 grid.
- Panel Quilt - A quilt made primarily with a pre-printed fabric panel. Generally fabric panels are large pieces of fabric printed with an image, picture, or scene. They are intended to be used whole and not cut up for patchwork.
- Paper Piecing - A method of patchwork quilting in which small pieces of fabric are sewn to a paper template. After the pieced block is finished, the paper is ripped away from the seams. This method allows for very precise angles and corners, and it is similar to foundation piecing.
- Photo Quilt - A quilt made with squares of fabric that have had photographs printed or transferred onto them.
- Piecework - A method of sewing small pieces of fabric together to create geometric designs. This method is used in creating the majority of quilt tops and is also known as patchwork. This method differs from applique in that the pieces of fabric are sewn together with seams on the back side, rather than being sewn on top of each other.
- Pinwheel Quilt Pattern - A common quilt block pattern in which triangles are arranged in a pinwheel pattern.
- Prairie Points - Strips of small folded triangles that are used as quilt borders or embellishments on seams within a quilt. Prairie points are made by using a unique method of cutting and folding a strip of fabric.
- Prewash - A practice of washing your fabrics before using them in a quilt project. Prewashing ensures that dyes will not bleed in later washings. It also preshrinks the fabric so that it does not shrink and distort the design once the fabrics are sewn into the quilt.
- Primitive Quilt Pattern - A style of quilt pattern that is characterized by a rustic, unsophisticated feel and muted colors.
- Quilt Sandwich - The layering of quilt backing, batting, and quilt top that is quilted together as one in the last steps of making a quilt.
- Rag Quilt Pattern - A method of piecework that involves exposed seams to produce a "ragged" effect. Rag quilts are made by quilting individual blocks of backing, batting, and top fabric together and then sewing the individual blocks together with seams turned towards the tops of the blocks. Check out our list of 17 Snuggly Free Rag Quilt Patterns.
- Rail Fence Quilt Pattern - A common quilt pattern made with striped blocks oriented in different directions. Each striped block generally has a specific order of colors. The blocks can be arranged to create zigzag patterns, basketweave patterns, and more.
- Reverse Applique - A method of applique in which the applique fabric is sewn to the back of the background fabric. The background fabric is then cut out inside the applique shape to reveal the fabric underneath.
- Rotary Cutter - A cutting tool commonly used to cut fabric for quilting. A rotary cutter consists of a circular blade attached to a handle.
- Quilt as You Go - Any method of quilting which involves sandwiching pieces of the backing, batting, and top individually, rather than making the whole quilt top and then sandwiching it in with the batting and backing. Common quilt-as-you-go methods include rag quilting and strip quilting.
- Sampler Quilt - A block quilt that uses a different block pattern in each block.
- Sashing - Strips of fabric sewn between the blocks and rows of a quilt.
- Self-Healing Mat - A rubber mat used with a rotary cutter to protect cutting surfaces. Self-healing mats are often printed with gridlines for easy measuring and cutting.
- Selvage - The edge of a piece of fabric. Generally selvages are white and printed with the name of the fabric and other information.
- Seminole Patchwork - A method of patchwork in which thin rows of pieced fabric are sewn together on the diagonal to create a patterned strip.
- Scrap Quilt Pattern - A quilt pattern that can be made with leftover scraps of fabric from other quilts and sewing projects. Scrap quilt patterns do not require quilters to purchase new fabric in any specific yardage.
- Snowball Quilt Block - A quilt block pattern in which a triangle is sewn to each of the four corners of a fabric square to create an octagon that resembles a "snowball."
- Spool Quilt Block Pattern - A quilt block pattern that looks like a spool of thread.
- Star Quilt Pattern - Any quilt pattern that involves star shapes.
- Stitch in the Ditch - Stitching in the existing patchwork seams of a quilt top when quilting a quilt. Stitching in the ditch is used to emphasize patchwork patterns by making the seams stand out more.
- String Quilting - A method of scrap quilting in which small strips of fabric, or "strings," are sewn diagonally into a square. Because of the direction of the diagonal strings, string blocks can be sewn together to create interesting layouts.
- Table Topper - A small square quilt used to decorate a table. Table toppers are similar to table runners, but they are better suited to square or round tables.
- Tied Quilt - A quilt that is quilted together using small, square knots at regular intervals, as opposed to being quilted. Tying is a traditional method of securing a quilt sandwich. The resulting quilts are sometimes referred to as comforters rather than quilts because of the lack of actual quilting.
- Top - The top layer of a quilt. The quilt top is generally pieced. It is the side meant to be displayed rather than turned towards a wall or mattress.
- Trapunto - An Italian method of quilting in which specific shapes are delineated on a quilt with stitching. Thick yarn or cotton is then stuffed into the shape between the top and the batting using a needle. This puffs up the shape, giving the quilt a three-dimensional texture.
- T-Shirt Quilt - A patchwork quilt made by sewing squares of old t-shirts together. This type of quilt is also referred to as a memory quilt because it preserves the memories from old t-shirts. T-shirt quilts are often made from a collection of t-shirts from a specific school or sports team.
- Tumbler Quilt Pattern - A quilt pattern pieced with trapezoid-shaped fabric.
- Twister Quilt Pattern - A quilt pattern in which the quilter pieces four patches and then "twists" a square ruler or template to cut a square out of the four patch. The resulting square is then used as a block in a twister quilt.
- Whole Cloth Quilt - A quilt in which the top is neither pieced nor appliqued, but rather a whole, unaltered piece of fabric. Whole quilts primarily showcase elaborate free motion designs.
- WOF (Width of Fabric) - An abbreviation used in quilt patterns that means "width of fabric." Generally fabric is sold at a 44" width or, less commonly, a 60" width.
- Wonky - A style of patchwork in which fabrics are cut at imprecise angles and sewn together at unusual angles. The resulting block is simply trimmed to the requisite size to be included in a quilt. This style of quilting is also referred to as liberated piecing or improvisational piecing.
- Yo - yo - A fabric embellishment made by cutting a circle of fabric, stitching around the edges with a running stitch, and then pulling the threads so that the fabric gathers in. The yo-yo is then pressed to set the flat, circular shape. Yo-yos can be used to embellish quilting and sewing projects, or they can be stitched together to create an interesting bedspread or coverlet.
- Y-Seams - Seams in which three different seams and three different fabrics meet at one point. The seams will run in a Y-shape. These seams are difficult to make and take special care.
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