Quilt Terminology

There are a few terms that constantly come up on quilting blogs, magazine articles and quilting patterns.  To help you navigate this, here is a list of commonly used terms.

Appliqué

Pieces of fabric are attached to a background fabric to create a picture.  They are often cut using a template, and there are speciality papers available to help attach them to the background fabric.  Some quilters prefer to attach the pieces with hand stitching, while others use a blanket stitch on their sewing machine.

Backing

The fabric on the underside or the back of a quilt.  Usually a single cut of fabric, but pieced backings are becoming popular. 

Basting

Joining the three layers of a quilt sandwich using large stitches.  Essentially it stabilises the quilt and is especially useful when doing micro quilting.  The stitches are temporary and are removed after permanent stitching.

Batik 

A type of fabric that is dyed in some areas with colours and then multi-layered with another pattern and colour to create multi-layered patterns and colours; Indonesia is considered the best source for batik fabric. 

Bias

A 45-degree diagonal direction on a piece of fabric.

Binding

To finish a quilt, strips of fabric are sewn to the quilt to close the raw edges of the quilt top, batting and backing.  It is made from strips of fabric sewn together, either on the bias (bias binding) or on the straight weave.

Block

A designed unit that is made up of patchwork and/or appliqué and combined with other blocks to comprise a quilt top. 

Bolt

A long piece of fabric that is wound around a flat piece of cardboard, usually 44″ wide when we use this in the quilting fabric context. 

BOM, Block-of-the-month

A series of block designs that is shared with subscribers or a club on a monthly basis.  The idea is that you have a month to complete the block, and in combination with all the blocks over the duration of the series you will have a finished quilt top. 

Border

A frame of patchwork, or solid pieces of fabric that acts as a frame around the blocks of the quilt top.  Not to be confused with sashing that is in between blocks and acts as a frame around individual accent areas of a quilt.

Cornerstone

Decorative features of a quilt top. They’re the squares that sit at the corners of sashing or borders and can be pieced in coordinating or contrasting coloured fabric.

Dessert roll

Also known as a “fat roll”, this is a bundle of 20 pre-cut fabric strips that are 5″ wide and as long as the width of the fabric bolt.

Fat Quarter

A piece of fabric measuring 18″ x 21″. This size allows for cutting larger pieces than cannot be achieved from a regular quarter yard cut, without adding additional fabric requirements.

Echo quilting

This type of quilting follows the stitching, seams and shapes in the patchwork to echo the design in the quilting.

EPP, English paper piecing

A method of hand pieced patchworking in which templates for every piece are cut out of paper. Fabric is then sewn around each paper template before the shapes are joined together into a larger design. The paper templates are removed once the shapes have all been sewn together.

Fat Eighth

An eighth-yard of fabric cut to measure 9″ x 21″, rather than the typical one-eighth yard cut of 4.5″ x 40″.  For small blocks, or appliqué. 

Finger pressing

The process of using your finger to press a seam by rubbing your finger over the stitched seam instead of your iron when you’re piecing.

Finished size

The size of a completed block without seam allowances. 

Finishing

Refers to the piece or pieces that complete a quilt, usually including the binding.  Used in pattern instructions to indicate what the final steps will be to finish your quilt.

Fusible web

A material that has been treated with an adhesive that fuses fabric pieces together when pressed with a warm iron.

Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP)

A precise way to piece blocks by sewing pieces of fabric to a printed and numbered paper template.

Free-motion quilting

This is a style of machine quilting in which a darning foot is used instead of the usual foot of the sewing machine so that the quilting stitches can be drawn freehand in any direction, rather than in straight lines.

Fussy cut

To cut specifically around a motif on a patterned piece of fabric to show off the printed design.

Grain

The lengthwise and crosswise threads of a woven fabric.

Grain

The lengthwise and crosswise threads of a woven fabric.

Half Square Triangle

Square units that are made from two fabrics. May be made using two triangles, or by a quick method using two squares, right sides together and stitched 1/4″ on either side of a diagonal line. The square is then cut on the drawn line and gives you two half-square triangles.

Hanging sleeve

A tube of fabric blind stitched to the top edge of the quilt back through which a hanging rod or dowel can be inserted.

Interfacing

A reinforcing material that’s sewn or ironed to the back of fabric to make it stronger or more rigid; used in neck tie quilts, bags, t-shirt quilts

Jelly Roll

A bundle of 40 or so strips (usually the collection) of fabric that each measure 2½” x 44″ Jelly Rolls are produced by Moda Fabrics, but other companies make similar bundles with different names such as Bali Pops, Stone Strips and Roll Ups.

Layer Cake

Produced by fabric company Moda, a layer cake is a pre-cut bundle of 10″ squares.

Loft

A term for describing the thickness and weight of batting.  “High loft” batting will be thicker than “low loft”, although low loft batting can be just as warm as high loft batting – useful if you want a warm quilt that isn’t too bulky.

Longarm quilting

Quilting is done on an industrial-level machine that has a frame that the quilt is loaded onto and then free-motion quilted. Professional quilters use longarm quilt machines and you can pay to have your quilt stitched. 

Medallion

A medallion is a centrepiece block in a quilt, designed to be the focal point and different from the surrounding blocks. The rest of the quilt is built up in borders.

Mitred corner

This produces a diagonal seam at 45° to the edges of a square where two pieces of fabric meet at a corner.  It is recommended to mitre binding corners.

Needle turn

An appliqué method where the needle is used to sweep under the raw edge of the shape and stitch in place.

Notions

A general term for any tools and accessories used for quilting, patchwork and other crafts.  Quilting notions include rotary cutters, scissors, needles, pins and more.

Panel

A piece of fabric printed with an image or multiple images, oftentimes used as a quilt’s centrepiece, known as a panel quilt.  Also sometimes used for wall hanging, or an easy piece that doesn’t require additional patchwork blocks. 

Piece, piecing, pieced

A technique in which pieces of fabric are joined by a seam.  There are different methods being English paper piecing, foundation paper piecing or cutting templates and joining the pieces with a seam.

Press

Pressing fabric with an iron removes unwanted creases but also sets necessary ones along seams and edges.  Pressing is different from regular ironing as the iron is lifted between each press rather than run backwards and forwards across the grain of the fabric.  The latter will stretch the fabric.

Quarter Square Triangle

A square made from four triangles.

Quilt

To quilt is to sew together layers of fabric and batting to make an item such as a bedspread.  Quilting refers to the stitching that holds the three quilt layers together.

Quilt-as-you-go

This method means the piecing and quilting are done at the same time.  Reducing the quilt making steps, thus making it a fast method.

Quilt Kits

A product that contains the pattern and fabric required to make a quilt.  In most cases it will not include the batting, backing or binding.

Quilt Sandwich

A product that contains the pattern and fabric required to make a quilt.  In most cases it will not The three layers of material that make up a finished quilt – the backing, the batting and the top – are collectively referred to as a quilt sandwich.

Quilt Top

The top or front of a quilt.  Sometimes a panel but usually multiple patchwork blocks.

Raw edge

The edge of a fabric where it’s been cut.  Many fabrics will fray at the raw edges if they’re not hemmed or bound.

Reverse appliqué

The opposite of standard appliqué, reverse appliqué involves sewing several layers of fabric together and then cutting down through one or more of the layers to create a design.

Running quarter; long quarter

A quarter of a yard of fabric measuring 18″ x 44″ (the standard width of quilters’ cotton is 44″) 

Sampler Quilt

A type of quilt top where no block repeats in pattern and typically varies in size.  Like a sample book of blocks in your arsenal, but in the form of a quilt! 

Sashing 

Strips of fabric sewn between blocks and/or rows of blocks to frame areas of a quilt. Not to be confused with the border. 

Scrappy 

A scrappy quilt is one that uses a wide range of different fabrics, that are not necessarily part of one collection or matching colours/designs.  Often these are small cuts left over from previous projects.

Seam allowance 

The distance that you need to leave between your stitching and the raw edge of the fabric. This is usually ¼” for patchwork and quilting, but each pattern should specify the amount. When cutting our fabric from a template, the seam allowance should be added around all sides, unless the pattern says otherwise.

Selvage, selvedge 

The edge of the fabric, printed with information to identify the collection it belongs to and the manufacturer.  This information helps you to select coordinating fabric from the same collection.  It is also a handy part of the fabric to choose coordinating colours, as sometimes the colour swatch is included here.  

Setting

The process of arranging all the elements of a quilt top – blocks, sashing etc.  For example, a diagonal setting has the blocks turned at 45° to the internal edges of a square quilt.  

Set-in seam (y-seam, inset seam)

This occurs when three or more pieces meet at a seam intersection with angles other than 90°, e.g. when sewing hexagons together. 

Speciality Cuts 

Yardage that is precut to specific sizes.  Some of these cuts are trademarked to Moda and are known as layer cakes, charm packs, jelly rolls and many more.

Stitch-in-the-ditch

A process that involves sewing quilting stitches that are either very close to, or actually lie within, the seams between blocks and other sewn-together elements of a quilt top.

Template 

A shape used as a pattern for tracing shapes for applique or piecing. 

Unfinished Size

The unfinished size of a complete unit or block with seam allowances.  

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