Big list of quilting terms- just in case you want to look smart in your next quilt group.
quilting Becky  

Quilting Terms

Share the love!

Learn what those quilting terms mean! Some are not so easy to remember or know.

This quilting term list will come in handy the next time you are clueless….which for me is quite a bit of the time!

In the quilting world there is a lot of words that get tossed about….most I know, some I have no idea what they mean!  Some of the sewing terms are pretty easy to catch on to the meaning, however there are a few that always get me.

To help out the situation and reduce the amount of blank stares into space in quilt groups, here is a handy little {ok, it’s fairly long- we quilters like to talk a lot} list on a few that I found helpful to know.

Feel free to use the list to make yourself look smarter when you go to your next sewing or quilt group.

quilting terms - this list is so helpful when I find things I don't know or understand.  Those moments when I'm clueless- this comes in so handy!

Quilting Terms

Album Quilt  A quilt made of many different blocks, often given as a memory or friendship quilt, family or friends sign blocks with either ink or embroidery. Also known as an Signature Quilt. (also see Baltimore Album Quilts)

Amish Quilt  Quilts made by or in the style of the Amish quilters of Pennsylvania or the Midwest (often Ohio or Indiana). The fabrics are unprinted, often in deep and rich jewel tones with much black and deep navy. Central medallion square-in-a-square with wide borders is a popular design.

Applique   Done by hand, machine or with fusible web – small pieces of fabric are sewn or fused to a background fabric to form designs. Applique may be combined with pieced blocks.

Assembly Piecing Sewing blocks or sections of blocks in an assembly line fashion, completing the same step for each unit in sequence. An efficient way to work for sewing many blocks that are the same. If the pieces are all run through the machine and cut apart later, also called “Chain Piecing”.

Autograph Quilt  A quilt with signatures from friends, community often for an important life event. Also called Memory Quilt, Signature Quilt or Album Quilt.

Background Fabric The fabric used as the background and upon which Applique pieces are placed.

Backing The back fabric of a quilt in the 3 layers: top, batting, backing.

Baltimore Album Quilts  An elegant form of intricate applique which was very popular in the 1800s in Baltimore, Maryland. The background of the traditional Baltimores is usually white with floral and garden imagery often in reds and greens.

Bargello   A style of quilt piecing in which strips fabric are first sewn in horizontal sets, then cut and arranged in vertical steps to produce interesting geometric designs which often have a wave or undulating look.

Basting  Long stitches used to hold fabric layers or seams in place temporarily and usually removed after final sewing. A quilt is often basted in the sandwich stage before final quilting. Pin basting of quilts is often done with safety pins. Other methods include the use of a too (see: tacking gun) or a Basting Spray Adhesive.

Batik  A method of dyeing fabric where some areas are covered with wax or pastes made of glues or starches to make designs by keeping dyes from penetrating in pattern areas. Multicolored and blended effects are obtained by repeating the dyeing process several times, with the initial pattern of wax boiled off and another design applied before dyeing again in a new color. Indonesia is famous for its batiks.

Batting The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the top pieced layer and the backing. Batting can be cotton, polyester, blends, silk, or wool. 

Bearding A term meaning the migration of fibers from the batting passing through the quilt top and forming a fuzz or halo on the surface of the quilt. Some synthetics, wool and silk batting are prone to this problem.  

Bias  The diagonal direction across the surface of a woven fabric at a 45 degree angle to the line of the warp and weft. Fabric cut on the bias stretches and must be handled with care. Bias binding allows binding to be turned and angled without pleating.

Binding The straight-grain or Bias strips of fabric which is often folded double and covers the raw edges and batting of a quilt.

Block The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.

Border A strip of fabric or pieced strip of fabric joined to the edges of the inner quilt and used to frame it.

Broadcloth  A cotton fabric popular in solid colors for quilting. It’s a plain weave with a slight weft ribbed effect. Poplin is a heavier version of the same weave.

Calico   A traditional plain weave cotton fabric popular for quilting which is printed with a small repeated design. The designs are often small florals or leaves. Calico originated in Calicut, India, by the 11th century, or perhaps earlier and in the 17th and 18th centuries calicoes were an important trade item between India and Europe.

Chain Piecing – see Assembly Piecing.

Charm Quilt   A quilt made of many, many small patches (traditionally 2″ or so) where each piece is a different fabric. The pattern is usually a one-patch design and often involves swaps and trades with friends to gather many fabrics.

Clamshell  A Filling Quilting pattern with overlapping circular shapes reminiscent of fish scales. The design is often done using a cup or glass to trace.

Conversation Prints – see novelty prints.

Crazy Block or Patch  A block made with irregular and/or scrap pieces. The block is made with no pre-determined pattern or design. If the blocks are grouped together they form a crazy quilt. Crazy quilts were popular in Victorian times and often made with silks and velvets and embellished with embroidery.

Crazy Quilt  A quilt made randomly from crazy blocks or patches. They are often heavily embellished.

Cross-Hatching  A Filling Pattern made of equidistant parallel quilting lines that run in two directions, forming either a grid of squares or of diamonds.

Echo Quilting   A type of quilting which consisting of  lines of quilting stitches that run around existing blocks or shapes and parallel to the edges of a shape. The result looks like rings about 1/4″ apart in water and “echo” the shape.

English Paper Piecing A method of hand piecing where paper templates are used inside the block elements to guide where the edges are turned under. Baby Blocks, Grandmother’s Flower Garden and other non-square shapes are often pieced this way.

EQ or EQ4 – Electric Quilt, a computer program for designing quilts.

Fat Quarter – cut piece of fabric which is made by cutting a half yard in half again vertically. The piece is therefore approximately 18″ x 22″. This allows for cutting larger blocks than a standard quarter yard which is 9″ x 44″.

Feed Dogs – the mechanical teeth under the area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine. For free motion quilting or embroidery or needle darning these feed dogs are lowered or covered.

Filling or Filler Pattern   The quilting design, stitched either by hand or machine, which covers the entire background area of a quilt. It can surround motifs of applique.

Finger Pressing A method for forming temporary guidelines for applique turned edges or seam allowances. Running a fingernail along the fold makes it lie flat. A “hera” (a Japanese term) tool can also be used in place of a finger to press the fold.

Finished Size  The final sewn measurement or dimensions of a completed block without seam allowances. Thus a 6″ sewn measurement block would be cut 6.5″ to allow for 1/4″ seam allowances.

Four-Patch Block   A block with two, four, or multiples of four units per row.

Foundation Piecing  Assembling a Block by sewing pieces to a foundation of Muslin or plain fabric, also for adding strength and stability to delicate or stretchy fabrics.

Free-Style Fillers A Filler Pattern that does not follow a specific grid or pattern.

Free-Motion Quilting or Embroidery A method of quilting or embroidering where the feed dogs of a sewing machine are lowered or covered and the quilter controls the movement of the fabric under the needle. Freeform designs can be done this way.

Friendship Quilt  A quilt made by a group of friends for one person, with each participant making and signing a block or more for the quilt top. Sometimes called a Signature Quilt.

Fusibles Various webs or interfacings which can be ironed onto a fabric for easier applique or to support the fabric. “Wonder Under” is an example.

Fussy Cut  The cutting out of specific areas of a fabric to use the image or motif on the fabric. Often used to isolate animals, flowers, etc. from a “conversation print” or novelty print fabric. A template may be used to cut out many images to be the same size for use in a block. The remaining fabric then looks like “Swiss cheese”. So, it’s wasteful of fabric, but a fun way to get images.

Glazed Finish  A thin resin finish which can be applied to a batting or another type which can be put on a fabric. For batting it helps to prevent bearding and shifting of the fibers in the finished quilt. Sometimes called a bonded finish.

Grain The lengthwise and crosswise threads (warp and weft directions) of a woven fabric.

Griege Goods  A fabric which has been removed from the loom, but has no further processing, bleaching or finish applied to it. It is pronounced “gray goods”. The term is from the same root as the French “grege” (raw silk) and the Italian “greggio” (grey). It is also seen spelled greige.

Hand-Quilting Stitch  A small, even running stitch that is made through all three layers of a quilt to hold them together and arranged to form the quilting pattern. 

Hanging Sleeve A tube or sleeve sewn to the back top of a quilt to allow it to be hung on a wall or at a quilt show. Shows request these to be 3-4″ wide.

Homespun Fabric  Fabric which looks handwoven, or if imported (often from India or SE Asia) may be handwoven. The weave is looser and the threads have a larger diameter than commercial cotton quilting fabrics. 

Improvisational Quilts  A term for art quilts made in a free form manner and usually made with freehand cutting either by rotary cutter or scissors, but without templates or ruler. The African-American quilter, Anna Williams, and the art quilter, Nancy Crow, are especially associated with this technique.

In-The-Ditch A style of quilting stitching which lies almost in the seams of a block or at the very edge of an applique area. 

Lap Quilting  or “quilt as you go” A method of completing all three layers by quilting one block or section at a time and then assembling the finished quilt from those pre-quilted squares. Squares are quilted in small lap frames or held in the hands rather than using a large quilting frame.

Loft  A descriptive term for the thickness, height and resilience of quilt 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.

Log Cabin  A quilt pattern in which narrow fabric strips, or logs, surround a center square to form a block. These may be pieced from strips or sewn onto a foundation of paper or fabric. The blocks have many variations including the pineapple block.

Long Arm Quilting   Quilting using a very long bed (often as long as 12 feet) commercial quilting machine to do the overall quilting. A popular cottage industry.

Matching points  Piecing so as to make sure that the corners of blocks or the points of stars match in piecing at the seam line so that the points are not cut off by the seam.

Medallion Quilt  A quilt with a central motif, surrounded by multiple Borders. The center is often a large square on point.

Memory Quilt  Antique Memory Quilts may have been made from a loved one’s clothes after death as a memorial. Some memory quilts may be a gift to a young adult, perhaps a going-to-college quilt which contains fabrics from their own baby and growing up garments.  Now, with the advent now of  transfer printing and direct printing a memory quilt may have photos on it.

Mercerized Cotton  A treatment 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 better with brighter, deeper colors. This effect of caustic soda on cotton was discovered in 1844 by John Mercer, an English calico printer and his name gave the process the name “mercerize”.

Miniature Quilts or Mini Quilts  A quilt made in miniature of a full sized quilt. Paper foundation piecing is often used to make the very small minis.

Mitered corners (also spelled mitred) Joining a border or corners at a 45 degree angle.

Motif  the design element, image or drawing used on a quilt block or for an applique. An example is a quilt using a “heart motif” or other theme image.

Muslin  A plain, usually undyed cotton fabric, available bleached or unbleached. Available in a wide range of qualities – a fine quality bleached muslin is often used in quilting as a neutral background for applique or as a foundation under thinner fabric. Muslin was first made in the city of Mosul (now in Iraq), from which it derived its name. Early Indian muslins were handwoven of amazingly fine handspun cotton yarns. They were imported into Europe from India in the 17th century and were later manufactured in Scotland and England.

Mystery Quilt A quilt pattern written in steps and revealed one part at a time to hide the final appearance of the finished quilt. See article here for more information and examples.

Needle-Punched Batting One of 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 beardingand shifting of the batting in the finished quilt. A needle punched batting allows quilting to be placed further apart than un-treated batting does.

Nine-Patch Block  A family of square block designs which has 3 x 3 units. Hundreds of quilt blocks are based on the Nine Patch design basis. 

Novelty Print  A fabric printed with small themed designs. These are popular for making quilts with a focus such as sea life, vegetables, toys, etc.  Also called “conversation” prints and “craft” prints.

One-Patch  Any quilt pattern that uses a single shaped patch for the pieced top. May be squares, triangles, hexagons, etc. repeated in color patterns or different fabrics.

On Point   A Block arrangement in which a block is placed with its corners up and down and to the sides.

Opportunity Quilt  A term used by Quilt Guilds and other groups to describe a quilt which is raffled off at a show or event.

Outline Quilting  Positioning quilting lines around a block or applique piece. Usually just a single stitching line. Multiple rows of outline quilting are called echo quilting.

Paper Foundation Piecing  A popular method of piecing using a block drawn or printed and sewn on paper for highly accurate details. A big help for complicated designs and for miniature blocks.

Paper Piecing  See English paper piecing

Patch An individual fabric shape joined with other patches to make a quilt block or sometimes a one patch style quilt. Also known as a piece. These may be cut from templates, rotary cut or free hand cut.

Patchwork  The basic method of making a quilt by sewing many small pieces of fabric together. In some countries also known as “piecework”.

Penny Squares  Small simple designs marked on muslin quilt block patterns for embroidery which were popular in the late 1800s and after. They cost one cent each, the look was similar to the redwork patterns popular later.

PFD Fabric  The initials mean: Prepared for Dyeing. This is a fabric with no surface finish and no treatment on it which allows the dyes to penetrate well.

Pieced Border  A long strip of fabric made up of pieced or patch units to be sewn to the inner quilt center section. Quilts may have several borders, either solid fabric or pieced.

Piecing / Pieced Quilt The most commonly seen quilt type which is made up of many small pieces of fabric sewn together by hand or machine. Often called Patchwork in some countries outside the USA.

Pima Cotton A type of cotton plant developed in the Southwestern USA from a cross between Egyptian and Uplands cotton which is longer in fiber length and more lustrous than most American cottons. It is used to weave some of the popular quilting fabrics which have a silk-like hand. Mercerizing brings out the best look in Pima.

Prairie Points  A simple folded fabric triangle made in multiples and attached as a decorative edge finish on quilts and garments. 

Press Use an iron to press seams and blocks – this means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.

Quick Cutting A term not used so much now in quilt books since rotary cutting is becoming the norm. Quick cutting means not tracing templates and cutting with scissors.

Quick Triangles  A variety of faster shortcut methods for making half and quarter square triangles where squares are sewn and then cut into finished units with no bias edges to sew.

Quillow – a specially designed quilt which is actually a cross between a sleeping bag and a quilt and also a pillow. A Quillow folds up into a carrying bag. A popular gift for children and teens. How to make quillow article is here.

Quilt As You Go – see Lap Quilting

Quilt Top  The top layer of a quilt Sandwich.

Quilting In general, the process of making a quilt. Specifically, the small running stitches that hold the three layers of a quilt together.

Quilting Foot – Most sewing machine companies now offer a special quilting foot for their machines, or a generic one can be purchased called “Little Foot”. Quilting feet measure exactly 1/4″ from needle point to inner edge of the foot to make sewing a perfect 1/4″ seam easier.

Quilting Frame  A large free-standing floor apparatus made from wood or plastic pipe that holds the layers of a quilt together during quilting.

Quilting Guild An organization of quilters which may provide opportunities to share projects, instruction and community service.

Quilting Hoop   A small circular or oval apparatus that is used to hold the layers of a quilt together during quilting.

Raw Edge  The unsewn edge of a piece of fabric or a quilt block. For applique, the edge which is cut, but not yet turned under with stitching.

Redwork  Simple embroidery designs worked in running stitch in either turkey red color or in blue (then called Bluework) and used for quilt blocks. These were popular in the 20s and 30s. See also Penny Squares.

Reverse Applique   Designs made by sewing on a patch to the underside of a Block and then cutting away and turning under the edge of the top fabric.

Rotary Cutter and Mat   A fabric cutting tool with a circular blade that cuts through several layers of fabric at once. A cutting mat is essential to protect the work surface and preserve the blade’s sharpness.

Round Robin Swap – a popular swap among a group of friends either online or not. 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 quilter has back the original piece with the additions of everyone else in the group.

Row Swap – a type of round robin swap, but each addition is a row of the quilt rather than blocks or other free form additions.

Sandwich  Traditional description of a quilt: a sandwich consisting of a Quilt Top, filling or Batting, and a Backing.

Sampler Quilt   A quilt constructed of a collection of Blocks in different patterns, usually with no pattern repeated. Blocks may be the uniform or varying sizes.

Sashing The fabric that separates the Blocks, framing them and making the quilt larger.

Satin Stitch A slanted, tightly packed (no spaces showing through of the fabric) outlining stitch. Often used around applique pieces. A machine satin stitch is made by setting a zig zag stitch very closely with the machine settings.

Scrap Quilt   A quilt, usually patchwork, made of many different fabrics, often left over from other projects.

Seam Allowance The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.

Selvage or Selvedge  The outer edge of both sides of a woven fabric where the weft turns to go back across and through the warp. This is a stiffer and denser woven area of about 1/3-1/2 inch and is usually trimmed off and not sewn into a quilt.

Seminole Patchwork   A method of cutting joined strips of fabric into sections and re-piecing them with either plain contrasting fabric strips in between, or in staggered rows similar to a checkerboard. Adapted from the bright patchwork of the Seminole Indians in Florida, this technique is often used in Borders and quilted clothing.

Setting  The arrangement of completed Blocks forming the Quilt Top. Blocks can be set side by side, or on point, like diamonds, with or without Sashing. Arrangements can also vary with certain asymmetrical block patterns.

Setting Square  a plain fabric square used with pieced or appliqued blocks in a quilt top.

Setting Triangle  the triangle blocks needed around the edge of a quilt if the blocks are set on point and the rows are thus diagonally arranged.

Signature Quilt – a quilt with many signatures collected and signed on individual blocks. Some are made as friendship gifts with each quilter giving a signed block or others may be made by a single quilter who collects the signatures by mailing or handing out the blocks for signing to others (family, famous people for raffle quilts, etc.) Sometimes also called Friendship Quilts.

Stack and Whack – A popular technique formulated by Bethany Reynolds for cutting out specific repeat sections from a large, overall print fabric and sewing them into kaleidoscope-like designs.

Stash The term “my stash” or “a stash” refers to a quilter’s collection of fabrics. Quilters love to do “stash building” at every opportunity.

Stippling  Very closely stitched background quilting that can be done by hand or machine to create surface texture.

Stitch in the Ditch  To sew your stitches in the “ditch” created by the joins of the pattern pieces.

Strip Piecing  A technique of sewing fabric cut in strips together and then cutting the resulting fabric strip sets into new blocks and designs. A classic version of this is Seminole Patchwork.

Sunbonnet Sue – an old time, still popular applique design which originated in the 1920s-30s of a girl with a big sunbonnet hiding her face. “Sue” is still made in both traditional and modern looks. 

Swaps – An exchange among a group of quilters of either fabric or blocks with some set ground rules as to theme, color, design, etc. Popular in Quilting Guilds, but also a very popular online activity on quilting forums and mailing lists. Also see Round Robin Swap.

Templates  A shape cut from cardboard or plastic used to make multiple units of a pattern for quilt blocks or applique. Templates may also be used to transfer quilting lines to a quilt top.

Transfer Printing Using a special paper with a coating to transfer a design printed by an ink jet printer or color copier to a fabric. The design is applied with a hot iron or a heat press.

Trapunto  A raised, dimensional surface created by putting additional batting or stuffing into areas to sculpt the surface. 

Tied Quilt  A quilt where instead of stitching in a quilting pattern to hold the 3 layers together a series of ties are used spaced evenly all over the body of the quilt. 

UFO  An abbreviation meaning UnFinished Projects. As in “How many UFO’s do you have in your studio?”

Utility Quilt   A plain, basic quilt meant to be used for everyday bedding. Often a simple design and older ones may be examples of rural folkart. May often be a tied quilt.

Walking Foot  A special foot which can be attached to a sewing machine which helps to feed the top layer of a quilt fabric sandwich evenly with the feed dogs feeding the bottom fabric. Pfaff sewing machines have this built into the machine, other machines have one that can be added. A Brother sewing machine walking foot is shown at right.

Wall Quilt  A quilt made with smaller dimensions and meant for hanging on a wall. It can be a traditional design or a contemporary “art quilt”.

Warp – the threads which are put on a loom under tension and raised and lowered to allow the weft to pass through. The warp direction (parallel to the selvages) is the most stable in the finished fabric. Some quilters always use this warp direction for cutting borders.

Watercolor Quilt  Using small squares of floral print fabrics to build up a subtle and diffused design. The overall look is similar to an Impressionist painting. Liberty Lawn fabrics are a popular fabric type. Technique developed by Dierdre Amsden and also called colourwash design.

Weft  The woven threads in a fabric which run across the width of the fabric during weaving and intersect with the warp threads. 

Whole Cloth Quilt  A quilt made from one large piece of fabric, historically a solid color, that is quilted in usually intricate patterns. There are no pieced blocks in these quilts. Nowadays art quilters may also make whole cloth quilts which are a single piece of fabric, but which has been painted or printed with an image or design.

Big list of quilting terms- just in case you want to look smart in your next quilt group.

Is there any quilting terms that should be listed?  Let me know in the comments– we only get smarter if we help each other out!

6 thoughts on “Quilting Terms

  1. Joey

    Thanks for the list. Gives me, a beginner a quick lookup at times when I need. Have bookmarked. 🙂

  2. Kathy

    Can’t forget – PhD – Project half Done
    As in I’m working on my PhD.

  3. Becky

    love that Kathy!

  4. Maria C.

    And my favorite: PIG. Project in Grocery Bag.

  5. Marie Ravening

    In Australia we have a few different names for some of the fabrics mentioned here.
    For example, muslin is a plain white and very open weave fabric that is often used for wrapping a leg of ham. Never would we dream of using it in a quilt.
    Calico is an unbleached plain cotton in several weights and qualities. It is probably what you refer to as Muslin.
    Printed cotton fabric is just that. We refer to any fabric that has a design printed on it as a “print”.
    E.G. I rarely use plains in my quilts and use mostly prints.
    Other than that we use mostly the same terms, except that a UFO is an unfinished object.

  6. Lily

    Marie, we’d call your muslin cheesecloth. I use it for straining soup stock and also sometimes when preserving food. I am curious about how calico there refers to an unprinted fabric, since we got it from the Brits who got it from India. But then, I’m always interested in how our language develops. 🙂

Leave A Comment