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Quilting Terms and Definitions

4-Patch is the division of a quilt block into four equal squares.

9-Patch  is the division of a quilt block into 9 equal squares

Acrylic (quilting) ruler is a special, thick, acrylic ruler used with a cutting mat, and rotary cutter to cut even strips and squares of fabric, in multiple layers.

Appliqué is a technique in which pieces of fabric are sewn onto a foundation piece of fabric to create designs. "Dresden Plate" and "Sunbonnet Sue" are just two examples of well-known quilt blocks that use both patchwork and appliqué to construct.

Assembly line stitching/sewing - see Chain stitching.

Asymmetrical refers to a design element in which there is balance but the elements are not duplicated on each side. Any block divided down the middle by a diagonal line, such as Log Cabin, is asymmetrical.

Background is the lighter or receding color fabrics in patchwork. It may also refer to the base fabric onto which appliqué shapes are sewn.

Backing is the fabric used for the bottom layer or backside of a quilt.

Bargello is the name of a quilt design which resembles the needlepoint Flame stitch pattern which is formed by staggering colors up and down within vertical rows, often forming a design which resembles flames.

Baste is a means of loosely securing layers together temporarily usually completed by long running stitch.

Batik is a method in which fabric is treated with a resist (usually wax) and then dyed to create interesting patterns. The resist keeps the dye from penetrating to that portion of the fabric allowing the underlying color to remain un-dyed. Interesting patterns and effects are created when the fabric is treated several times with this method and several colors of dye.

Batting is a layer of insulation between a top layer of patchwork and a layer of backing material., which provides puffiness and warmth. Also called “filling”.

Bearding is the process in which the batting fibers (usually polyester fibers) of a quilt migrate through the top, or bottom, of the quilt via the holes produced from the quilting process resulting in fussiness on the quilt.

Beeswax is a tough wax formed from a mixture of several compounds secreted by honeybees. Used by quilters to strengthen thread and reduce tangling and fraying of thread

Betweens refers to small, thin needles, with small eyes, used in hand quilting. Normal size ranges from 8 - 12. The higher the number, the finer the needle.

Bias is a diagonal of a piece of fabric. A true bias is at a 45 degree angle to both the lengthwise and crosswise fabric grain lines.

Bias binding is binding made of bias cut fabric versus lengthwise or cross-cut fabric. It is used when binding curved or irregular shaped edges and is usually the same as French Double Fold binding.

Binding refers to the strip of fabric used to enclose the edges of a quilt.

Bleeding refers to what happens when there is excess dye in fabric or dye that has not been properly set. The wash water will take on the color of the dye  This excess dye can then settle on other fabric.

Block is a square unit, usually made up of pieces of fabric sewn together in a patchwork design. Blocks are sewn together to form a quilt top.

Blocking refers to the act of bringing a quilt block back to square. This is usually done by pinning the square to a gridded pressing board and steam iron. Blocking also refers to “squaring up” (the act of using a square acrylic ruler to trim excess fabric from block, thus, making it square) a quilt block.

Border is strips of fabric forming a frame around the quilt top that may be either plain or patchwork pieced.

Broadcloth is a cotton fabric with thicker warp and weft strands and usually comes in solid colors only.

Calico is a 100% cotton fabric with any small repeated pattern (usually flowers) printed on it. Calico is used for "traditionally" themed quilts. (In the United Kingdom, calico refers to what Americans call a muslin.)

Chain piecing is also called “assembly-line-sewing”, refers to a method of sewing blocks/pieces in one, continuous, stream, one right after another. The pieces are then snipped apart and pressed.

Chain stitching refers to sewing several blocks together without breaking the thread between. Also called chaining or assembly line sewing/stitching.

Cheater's panel/cloth/fabric is a pre-printed fabric with a quilt design printed on the fabric that may be sandwiched and quilted.

Cornerstones refers to the square patches of fabric that form the corner connection when two pieces of border fabric meet at the corner. The cornerstones is inserted instead of having the borders butt or miter together.

Crocking refers to action of one fabric color rubbing off on another fabric. This most often happens with very dark colors.

Cross hatching is a quilting pattern used to fill in a background or void space. Diagonal lines, equidistant apart, are hand or machine quilted in one direction, and then in the opposite direction, to form diamond or squares.

Curved piecing refers to the process of sewing a convex edge of fabric to a concave seam of fabric.

Cutting mat is a thick, durable gridded mat used with an acrylic ruler and rotary cutter to cut multiple layers of fabric in strips and squares.

Darning foot is a sewing machine foot that can be used for free motion quilting which holds the fabric down only when the needle is coming out of the fabric.

Directional print is a piece of fabric that has an obvious directional (horizontal/vertical) print (i.e. stripes, gingham, etc.).

Dye magnet is a piece of untreated, bleached terry cotton (old white towels make great magnets) that can be bleached as re-used. It is used in wash water to collect loose dyes.

Ease refers to the sewing method of fitting two irregular pieces, or two different length pieces, together while sewing (to "ease" together) and is commonly used when piecing curved pieces together.

Fat eighth is a quarter-yard of fabric, cut down the middle to measure 9" x 22" that is the equivalent of an eighth- yard of fabric.

Fat quarter is a half-yard of fabric, cut down the middle to measure 18" x 22" that is the equivalent of a quarter-yard of fabric.

Feed dogs refers to the mechanical teeth under the presser foot area of a sewing machine, which move to pull the fabric through the machine. When free motion quilting, the feed dogs should be lowered or covered.

Feed sacks are fabric bags that were once used to hold flour or corn in the early 1900's and quilt where commonly made of the sack fabric.

Filler quilting is a method of filling in large, open spaces on a quilt top (either by machine or hand quilting) and is usually done in a cross hatch pattern.

Filling see "batting".

Finger pressing refers to pressing a seam allowance open using finger tips, or a small wooden tool called a hera.

Finished size refers to the final sewn measurement or dimensions of a completed block without seam allowances.

Foundation piecing refers to a method of assembling a quilt block by sewing pieces to a muslin/fabric foundation. This method adds stability to delicate fabrics as well as stabilizing bias and may be called ”Crazy quilting.”

Foundation paper piecing is a method of using a paper pattern as a guide for constructing a quilt block. The fabric pieces are sewn right onto the paper using the drawn lines as a guide. It is also know as just "paper piecing."

Freehand or free motion quilting is the technique of guiding the quilt through the sewing machine by using your hands, rather than pressure from the feed dogs and presser foot.

French double fold binding is a binding that is made with one wider strip, folded in half, wrong sides together. The raw edges of the strip are aligned and sewn to the raw edges of the quilt top, mitering the corners, and then the folded edge is rolled to the back and either machine, or hand stitched down. This double layer of fabric creates a more durable binding on the edges where the quilt may take a lot of abuse. Fabric strip may be cut on the bias for curves, or on the cross grain for straight edges. It may also be called “double fold French binding”.

Freezer paper appliqué refers to a method of appliqué in which a pattern/piece is drawn onto the dull side of freezer paper, and then ironed onto the wrong side of the fabric. The freezer paper is then removed after the pieces are sewn together, or to its background foundation.

Fusible refers to various webbing/interfacing materials which can be ironed onto (adhered to) a fabric for easier appliqué or to support the fabric.

Glazed finish is a thin resin finish which can be applied to a batting to prevent bearding and shifting of the fibers in the finished quilt. It may also be called “bonded finish”.

Grain is the lengthwise and crosswise threads of a woven fabric used in its construction by the warp and weft threads on a loom. The lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvage edges of the fabric and it strong and has the lease amount of stretch. The crosswise grain runs perpendicular to the selvage edges.

Griege goods is fabric straight from the loom that has not been printed, dyed or treated. It is pronounced "gray goods".

Guild is an organization of quilters in a community who meet on a regular basis (usually monthly) to discuss quilting and swap techniques. Guilds are also known for creating charity quilts to give to their local communities. Also called “guilt guilds”.

Half square triangle is a square that is made up of two different triangles of fabric. The most common method of making these squares is to take two fabric squares, right sides together, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner on the lightest fabric, and stitch a seam 1/4" away from that diagonal line. The blocks are then cut apart on the diagonal line, pressed, and squared up. The result is two half square triangle blocks. See How-To Make Quick and Easy Quilt Triangles.

Hand dyed is fabric that has been hand dyed using a process that creates soft, subtle color gradations in the fabric.

Hand quilting stitch is a small, even, running stitch sewn through all 3 layers of the quilt sandwich in the quilting process.

Hanging sleeve is a tube or sleeve sewn on the back top of the quilt in order to hang the quilt for display.

Hera refers to a small wooden/plastic tool used (instead of using fingers) for pressing seam allowances open when “finger pressing”.

Homespun refers to fabric that is either hand woven, or made to appear as hand woven, with larger, thicker diameter threads used. The weave tends to be looser.

Hoop is a pair of large wooden or plastic rings sized so that one fits inside the other, which is sometimes used instead of a quilting frame to keep the layers of a quilt taut and even during the quilting process. It is similar to an embroidery hoop, although larger. The rings are also called “quilting hoops”.

In the Ditch see “stitch in the ditch ”.

Invisible stitch is a hand-sewn stitch used most commonly for appliqué and binding. The needle slides in 1/8" to 1/4" through the folded edge of fabric, then takes two or three threads of the base fabric.

Invisible thread is also called "transparent thread" and is a very fine nylon thread often used for affixing appliqué pieces or quilting.

Label is a piece of fabric that has been signed with permanent ink, to document the origins (maker, recipient, quilt name, date completed and care instructions) of a quilt and is usually sewn to the lower left corner of the back of a quilt. Labels are normally required for any quilt entered into a contest.

Lap quilting refers to a method of completing all three layers of a quilt by quilting one block or section at a time and then assembling the pre-quilted blocks into a finished quilt. Blocks are quilted in small a lap frames or held in the hands rather than in a large quilting frame.

Lattice strips see “sashing”.

Layout refers to the arrangement of blocks into a quilt. A layout may be horizontal, which means the blocks are lined up in rows, with all the blocks parallel to the edges. Or it may be on point, which rotates the block so that the points are at 0/360, 90, 180, and 270 degrees as it related to the bottom edge of the quilt. A medallion layout uses a single center square surrounded by multiple borders.

Lining refers to the backside or bottom layer of a quilt and is also called “backing”. Backings are traditionally plain, that is, not pieced blocks. Linings may be one large piece, or several pieces sewn together.

Loft refers to the thickness and springiness of the batting. High loft batting is thicker and fluffier, usually polyester and used more often for tied quilts. Low loft batting is thinner and shows off the quilting stitches, such as cotton batting.

Long arm quilting refers to machine quilting done by a commercial long armed machine.

Machine quilt refers to the method of quilting a quilt sandwich using a sewing machine and walking foot instead of the traditional method of hand quilting with needle and thread.

Machine-(guided) quilting is the technique of guiding the quilt through the sewing machine using pressure from the feed dogs and presser foot.

Meander quilting refers to a style of free-form quilting that is done with the sewing machine feed dogs down or covered, and the quilt sandwich guided through the machine with hands, in lose motions but without any lines crossing over each other.

Medallion quilt refers to a quilt top with a central motif and is usually framed by multiple borders.

Mercerized cotton is a commercial treatment (method discovered by John Mercer in 1844) of cotton thread, which consists of immersing the yarn in a solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) for short periods of time, while held under tension. The yarn is then stronger and more lustrous and takes the dye well.

Miniature quilts refer to very small quilts made of 2”-3” blocks.

Miter refers to the technique of joining fabric at a 45 degree angle forming a square corner.

Motif is a design element, image or drawing used on a quilt block or for an appliqué. Motif may also refer to the quilting method/design used.

Muslin is an un-dyed woven fabric that is often used for quilt backings, background fabric for appliqué, or foundation fabric for crazy quilting. It is available unbleached or bleached.

Needle is a piece of metal with an eye in one end, in which thread is guided, and a sharp point on the other end that is used for joining/sewing patchwork pieces together. It also refers to how ease a needle glides through fabric or a quilt sandwich. If a fabric "needles" well, that means it is easy to glide a needle into.

Needle-punched batting is the manufacturing processes used to make some types of quilt batting of cotton or wool. Thousands of barbed needles are punched through the carded fibers to lock them into position to help prevent bearding and shifting of the batting in the finished quilt. A needle punched batting allows quilting to be placed further apart than with un-treated batting.

Needle turn (appliqué) is a method of appliqué in which the seam allowance of the piece is "turned under" by the needle as the piece is stitched to the background fabric.

On-point setting refers to an arrangement of blocks where each one is turned at a 45° angle to the horizontal and vertical edges of the quilt.

Pieced block refers to a quilt block that is made up of individual pieces of cut fabric that have been re-sewn together into a specific design.

Piecing is the process of stitching together pieces of fabric to create a larger unit.

Pillow tuck is the extra length added to a quilt's design to accommodate the thickness of pillows under the quilt. Standard pillow tuck measures 8 to 11".

Pin basting refers to the process of basting the quilt sandwich using safety pins to hold the layers of the sandwich together during the quilting process. Pins are removed after the quilting process.

Prairie points are squares of fabric that are folded into triangles and are often used as an edging or sewn into other seams.

Pre-washing refers to the practice of pre-washing fabric before cutting and sewing it into a quilt top. Pre-washing is a good idea to prevent one fabric color from bleeding onto another, and for pre-shrinking the fabric. see Before You Sew, Knit, Crochet, or Quilt - Fabric and Yarn Preparation.

Pressing is the motion of lifting an iron up and down on a pieced block to flatten the seam. Pressing is not the same as "ironing" in which the iron is moved back and forth across fabric.

Quillow refers to a lap quilt that folds into a square pocket to form a pillow.

Quilt is a bed covering composed of two layers of fabric and a layer of batting in between, generally made by the technique of quilting. It may also refer to a quilted or patched wall hanging.

Quilting refers to the technique of sewing through three layers of fabric (top, batting, and backing) in a design to add texture and to hold layers together.

Quilt as you go is a method of assembling a quilt by which each square is pieced, sandwiched, and quilted before it is attached to the next square in the quilt. It is similar to “lap quilting”.

Quilt guild see “Guild”

Quilt frame is a large, free standing device, made of wood or plastic piping, that holds a quilt in place in order to enable easy hand quilting.

Quilt top is the completed top portion of the quilt after all squares have been pieced together and the borders have been added.

Quilting is a method of sewing two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating batting in between.

Raw-edge is the un-sewn edge of a piece of fabric used in a quilt block or appliqué block.

Repeat refers to the number of inches between a repeated pattern/motif in a piece of fabric.

Reverse appliqué is an appliqué method in which the top piece of fabric is cut away to reveal the background fabric underneath. The raw edges are turned under and finished as in any appliqué method.

Rotary cutter is a cutting device with a round razor-sharp blade used with a cutting mat and an acrylic ruler to cut even strips and squares of fabric.

Rotary ruler see “Acrylic (quilting) ruler”.

Round robin is a popular quilters groups swap where a small piece of a quilt is started by each, then sent to the next quilter who adds to it, then it moved to the next and so on. When the Swap is complete each group member has back the original piece with the additions of everyone else in the group.

Ruching is a process where a fabric piece is tucked and gathered before it is appliquéd onto a background fabric.

Running stitch is a hand-sewing technique in which the needle accumulates several stitches on it before needle and thread are drawn through the cloth. The running stitch is used in both piecing and quilting.

Sampler quilt is a pieced/patchwork quilt made up of many different block designs, rather than a single, repeated block design.

Sandwich is a commonly used term and refers to placement of the quilt top, the batting, and the backing.

Sashiko is a quilting method where large stitches are made on the top of the quilt top, with small stitches on the back, using embroidery or crewel style thread. The stitches usually create intricate patterns. Originating in Japan as a form of mending clothing, sashiko is usually done with white thread on indigo blue fabric.

Sashing refers to the strips of fabric, plain or pieced, that divide the blocks in a quilt. It may also be referred to as “lattice”.

Satin stitching is a very short, closely stitched, zigzag stitches commonly used to affix the raw edges of appliqué pieces.

Seam allowance refers to the measurement of fabric between the stitched seam line and the raw edge of the joined pieces. In patchwork quilt making, the standard seam allowance is 1/4”.

Secret tacking is a quilting technique in which the needle and thread travel through the filler between stitches. Secret tacking forms stitches that are farther apart than those produced by a running stitch, but closer together and less visible than the knots produced by tacking.

Self Healing Mat is used with a rotary cutter to protects your table surface during cutting.

Selvage is the lengthwise finished/bound edge of a woven fabric.

Seminole refers to a patchwork technique invented by the Florida Seminole Indians where strips of fabric are sewn together, then cut into segments and re-sewn to create intricate geometric designs. This technique is often used for quilt borders or quilted clothing.

Set refers to the manner in which quilt blocks are positioned in a quilt. They may be arranged in straight or diagonal rows.

Setting is the arrangement of completed blocks forming the quilt top. Blocks can be set side by side, on point (like diamonds), or with sashing.

Shadowing is when a dark fabric shows through a lighter color.

Sharps are another type of needle that is short, thin, with a very sharp tip and used primarily for hand piecing.

Sheeting is a very finely woven piece of cotton fabric used in bed linens.

Shibori is a method of resist dyeing in which fabric is folded, twisted, tied, or otherwise managed, in order to create a resist pattern. The portions of fabrics concealed will "resist" the dye and remain the original color of the fabric, while the dye penetrates to other areas of the fabric. This process creates original, one of a kind pieces of fabric art.

Shirred border is a border, usually inserted between two inner borders, of a quilt where the fabric has been gathered to create a more 3-dimensional appearance and also may be found in Heirloom quilts.

Signature block(s) are quilt block(s) that are signed by many different individuals. Each person signs his/her block with something special and the blocks are then combined, either on their own or with other pieced blocks, to form a special “signature” quilt.

Sleeves see “hanging sleeve”.

Slip stitch is another style of stitching used in appliqué in which small, evenly spaced stitches are sewn between the piece and the background. This stitch is the most common method of hand-stitching down binding to the back of a quilt sandwich.

Squaring up refers to the process of trimming patchwork blocks, or quilt tops, so that each corner forms a 90° angle.

Stash is a common term for a quilter's fabric collection.

Stay stitching refers to stitching done 1/8" inside of a seam allowance used to help stabilize a stretchy edge. The stay stitching can remain in the quilt for added stability and since it is done within the seam allowance, it will not be visible on the quilt top.

Stencils are shapes cut out of template plastic or cardboard/paper used to mark a quilt top with quilting designs. 

Stitch in the ditch (also called ditch quilting) refers to the technique of stitching (quilting) in the seam line formed when two fabric pieces are joined together. The resulting quilting pattern is that of the block pattern.

Straight stitch foot is the name for the standard presser foot on most sewing machines.

Strip is an evenly cut/sized piece of fabric usually cut the width of the fabric.

Strip-piecing refers to a process of creating pieced designs from long strips of fabric by stitching the strips together, cutting them crosswise, and then stitching the pieces together to form the design rather than piecing each block individually.

Strip set is a name given to the pieces that make up strip piecing.

Swaps is an exchange of fabric or pieced squares, by a group of quilters.

Symmetry is a design element where one side exactly duplicates the other.

Tacking is another name for tying a quilt.

Template is a pattern made of plastic or cardboard used to trace cutting and/or stitching lines onto fabric.

Template-free refers to a method for cutting pieces using a ruler as a guide, instead of a template guide.

Thimble is a small dimpled cap, usually made of aluminum, steel, or copper, that has grooves in the dimple to first, and is used to protect the finger from injury from a needle when hand quilting.

Thread basting is the process of basting the quilt sandwich by means of using long, hand sewn stitches. These stitches are then removed after the final quilting has been completed.

Tied quilt is a quilt that is held together with ribbon or yarn, rather than sewn quilting stitches.

Tone-on-tone refers to fabrics that have a print in a different shade or tint of the background fabric. These fabrics tend to read as a "solid" when implemented in the quilt top. Tone-on-tone is also referred to as "tonal fabrics".

Trapunto refers to a dimensional design in a quilt by which closely sewn lines of stitching are stuffed with batting to make them appear 3-dimensional, or raised from the surface and is commonly used in Whole Cloth quilts.

Tufting see “tying”.

Wadding see “batting”.

Walking foot is also known as “Dual Feed Foot” or a “Even-Feed Foot”. It is a sewing machine attachment that guides the top fabric and the bottom fabric of the quilt sandwich evenly through the sewing machine.

Whole cloth refers to a quilt top that is one whole piece of fabric elaborately quilted using various quilting styles, such as trapunto.

Yo-Yo refers to fabric circles that are gathered, flattened, and joined to make a lightweight, un-backed coverlet. Single yo-yos can be used for appliqué.

Zinger is a small border added just outside the finished and assembled quilt top and is used to draw attention to the quilt center (add "zing").

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