Quilting Essentials

Quilting Terminology – Most Common Quilting Terms

Quilting terminology - common quilting terms and quilting words

No matter if you’re a beginner quilter or experienced in this amazing craft, there’s a lot of different quilting terms to keep track of. That’s why I made this quilting terminology knowledge base, so you can bookmark it for future use in case you want to look something up. Here you’ll find an overview of both common quilting words and some lesser known quilting definitions which can be nice to know.

The table of contents below shows you an overview of the quilting terminology found on this page, so that you can easily click on the quilting terms you want to know about to be taken to them.

Table Of Contents
  1. Acid-Free Tissue Paper
  2. Acrylic Ruler
  3. Album Quilts
  4. Alternate Set
  5. Applique
  6. Baltimore Album
  7. Baste
  8. Basting Spray
  9. Basting Stitches
  10. Batt
  11. Batting
  12. Bearding
  13. Beeswax
  14. Betweens
  15. Bias
  16. Bias Bars
  17. Bias Strips
  18. Binding
  19. Blanket Stitch
  20. Blocks
  21. Borders
  22. Calico
  23. Chain Piecing
  24. Chalk
  25. Charm Quilt
  26. Chintz
  27. Challenge
  28. Clamshell
  29. Colorfast Fabrics
  30. Colorway
  31. Color Wheel
  32. Comforter
  33. Complimentary Color
  34. Contrasting Color
  35. Corner Triangle
  36. Coverlet
  37. Crosshatch
  38. Crazy Quilt
  39. Crib Size
  40. Crosswise Grain (Cross Grain) 
  41. Cutting Board
  42. Cutting Lines
  43. Cutting Mat
  44. Darning Foot
  45. Design Wall
  46. Diagonal Set
  47. Diamond
  48. Dominant Color
  49. Echo Quilting
  50. English Piecing
  51. Even Feed Foot
  52. Fabric
  53. Fat Quarter
  54. Feed Dogs
  55. Filler
  56. Finger Cots
  57. Finger Pressing
  58. Focal Fabric
  59. Focus Fabric
  60. Foundation
  61. Foundation Piecing
  62. Four Patch
  63. Free Motion Quilting
  64. Freezer Paper
  65. French Fold Binding
  66. Full Size Quilts
  67. Fusible
  68. Fussy Cut
  69. Grain of Fabric
  70. Graph Paper
  71. Grids
  72. Half Square Triangle
  73. Hand Quilting
  74. Hanging Sleeve
  75. Hopper Foot
  76. Hue
  77. In The Ditch
  78. Invisible Stitch
  79. Invisible Thread
  80. Ironing
  81. Isosceles Triangle
  82. King Size
  83. Knot
  84. Label
  85. Lap Quilt
  86. Lap Quilting
  87. Lattice
  88. Layering
  89. Lengthwise Grain
  90. Loft
  91. Log Cabin
  92. Machine Piecing
  93. Machine Quilting
  94. Marking
  95. Masking Tape
  96. Meander
  97. Medallion
  98. Muslim
  99. Nap
  100. Needles
  101. Needle Turn Applique
  102. Nine – Patch
  103. One – Patch
  104. Orphan Blocks
  105. Outline Quilting
  106. Paper Piecing
  107. Patchwork
  108. Pattern
  109. Piecing
  110. Pillow Tuck
  111. Pins
  112. Pigma Pen
  113. Points
  114. Post
  115. Prairie Points
  116. Pressing
  117. Primary Colors
  118. Quarter Square Triangle
  119. Queen Size
  120. Quilting
  121. Quilting Frame
  122. Quilting Lines
  123. Quilting Needles
  124. Quilting Thread
  125. Quilt Top
  126. Reducing Glass
  127. Reproduction Fabric
  128. Reverse Applique
  129. Round Robin
  130. Rotary Cutting
  131. Ruby Beholder
  132. Ruching
  133. Safety Pins
  134. Sampler
  135. Sandpaper
  136. Sashing
  137. Satin Stitch
  138. Scale
  139. Seam
  140. Seam Allowance
  141. Seam Ripper
  142. Selvage
  143. Seminole Patchwork
  144. Set On Point
  145. Setting
  146. Sew and Flip
  147. Sew Order
  148. Shade
  149. Sharps
  150. Sizing
  151. Sleeve
  152. Stabilizer
  153. Stilleto
  154. Stippling
  155. Stitches
  156. Stitch in the Ditch
  157. Straight Of Grain
  158. Straight Pins
  159. Straight Stitch Foot
  160. String Piecing
  161. Strip Piecing
  162. Templates
  163. Thimbles
  164. Thread
  165. Tint
  166. Tissue Paper
  167. Tone-On-Tone
  168. Trapunto
  169. Triangles
  170. Twin Size
  171. Tying
  172. Value
  173. Walking Foot
  174. Whole Cloth Quilt
  175. WOF
  176. Y Seam
  177. Yard
  178. Yo-yo's
  179. Zigzag Stitches

Table of Contents

Acid-Free Tissue Paper

A type of paper that is used for safely storing quilts. Acid-free paper is made without the chemicals that can destroy fabric over time. This tissue paper is available at quilt stores and drycleaners.

When getting ready to store your quilt, place this tissue paper between the folds to soften the creasing marks. Quilts should be refolded every couple of months to ensure the fold lines are not permanently set into the fabric. The tissue paper should be changed every couple of years.

Acrylic Ruler

Acrylic rulers are used for rotary cutting. They come in many sizes and shapes. Probably the most popular size for beginners is the 6 inch by 12 inch rectangle (sometimes 6 ½ inch by 12 ½ inch). As you find your niche in quilting you will also find that certain sizes of rulers are best suited for your work. For example, when I did a lot of miniature quilts, I found a 4 inch by 4 inch ruler to be most helpful. Later, when I taught sampler classes based on 10 inch and 12 inch blocks, I often reach for a 12 ½ inch square ruler to trim blocks.

When purchasing a rotary ruler, make sure the grid is correct. Use other rulers or graph paper to check its accuracy. Most of the major brands (Omnigrid, Fiskars) have grid systems that are accurate. Look for a ruler that is marked in 1/8 inch increments. Also, having a 45 degree angle on your ruler comes in handy when rotary cutting diamond shapes and when working on mitered corners.

Album Quilts

An Album Quilt is a type of friendship quilt. Individual blocks are signed by friends and assembled into a quilt. The Album Quilt is then given to a friend, relative, pastor, or other public official. This gift often commemorates a special event in the recipient’s life.

Alternate Set

An alternate set refers to the layout design of a quilt. Pieced or appliquéd blocks alternate with plain fabric blocks to complete the design. This could be a straight set or a diagonal set.


Applique refers to the process by which one piece of fabric is “applied” to another. There are many different appliqué methods available to the quilter. No one method is better than the other. Appliques can be hand sewn, machine sewn or ironed on to the background. Some appliquers will turn under the raw edges on their appliqué piece and try to hide their stitching. Others will use contrasting thread to make the stitches stand out on top of the raw edged applique. Your choice of appliqué method should be based on the your skill level and the “look” desired for the finished project. See: bias strips, freezer paper, fusible, and reverse appliqué.

Baltimore Album

A Baltimore Album quilt is a type of quilt that was originally made in Baltimore in the 1800’s. These quilts are very grand. They often were made by groups of women who were used special fabrics and ribbons for their appliquéd blocks. The completed quilts were sometimes given as gifts.
Today there has been a revival of these quilts. Perhaps the most prolific Baltimore Album quiltmaker, teacher and author is Elly Sienkiewicz.


Basting is the process of temporarily sewing or pinning fabric together. This can be done by hand or by machine. Quilters use basting to temporarily position applique pieces. They also baste the top, batting, and backing together before hand quilting.

Basting Spray

The marvels of the 21st century! Basting spray is now available to use on your appliqué and for basting your quilt top. Before spraying your work, always practice on a small scrap. I have heard tales of some of the sprayed fabric clogging machines and being almost impossible to hand quilt through. On the other hand, I’ve heard nothing but praise for this time-saving concoction.

Basting Stitches

Long running stitches are basting stitches; nothing fancy here. These stitches should go in fast and they should be able to be removed quickly. BEWARE! Try to use white thread for basting. Some colored thread will bleed into the fabric; especially if the stitches stay put for a while. I once saw a beautiful heavily quilted light color quilt that had been basted with navy thread. When the owner removed the basting stitches, the quilt was covered with navy marks (dye from the thread). She washed the quilt a number of times but was never able to get rid of the marks.


Batt is short for batting.


This is the stuff that goes in the middle of the quilt “sandwich”. There are many types of batting to choose from; 100% cotton, 100% polyester, cotton/polyester blend, 100% wool, 100% silk – to name a few! Each type of batting is manufactured by different companies, all promising to give you the best fiber for your quilt.

So how do you decide which batting to use in your project? Your decision will be based on many factors. Think about how much more time you want to spend on your project. Is this the quilt you want heavily quilted so it will hold up to be passed down to your great grandchildren? (You could spend over a year hand quilting a project like this.) Or is this a throw to put in the family room? A throw could be machine quilted or tied in a few hours. Set your priorities.


When pilling occurs on a quilt the quilt is said to beard. Actually the synthetic batting is working its way through the fabric to the top of the quilt. No one knows exactly why this happens to certain quilts. Sometimes bearding is more noticable on dark quilts that have light battings. That is why it is sometimes better to use a colored batting (dark gray) when working with a dark quilt.


Thread is pulled through beeswax to strengthen it and to allow it to glide easily through the fabric.


Between what? This term still confuses me. Betweens are needles that quilters use for quilting the “sandwich” together. The shaft of the needle is shorter than most needles. Betweens come in different sizes based on the eye of the needle.. The higher the number the smaller the eye. Beginners might start with a size 8. Experts may use a 12 (and a good needle threader!).


The quilter’s four letter word. The bias of a piece of fabric is any diagonal across the fabric. The true bias is the diagonal that is at a 45 degree angle to the selvage. The bias of the fabric will stretch. This makes it more difficult to sew than fabric cut on the straight of grain. Once bias is stretched it does not want to go back to its original form. That’s why you have to be very careful when handling bias pieces.

Bias Bars

Bias bars are used to make bias applique. These bars are often made from metal or a heat tolerant plastic. After the bias strips are sewn together the bar is inserted into the tube. The fabric seams are hidden under the bar and pressed.

Bias Strips

Bias strips are useful when making leaf stems or vines. Any long thin curved line in your pattern can be achieved by making bias strips that have been cut on the bias and then sewn together to form a tube. Because the bias stretches, these tubes will lie flat when shaped in a curve. Fabric cut on the straight of grain will not stretch and will pucker if placed in a curved line.


Binding is the edging around most quilts. It is a long strip of fabric that is sometimes cut on the bias. Not all quilts have binding. Quilts that have binding will last longer (or at least the edges will) than quilts without binding.

Blanket Stitch

A blanket stitch is often used as a decorative edging around applique. This can be sewn by hand or by machine (newer machines have this stitch built in).


A unit of design often in a square shape. There are thousands of block patterns that can be put together to build a quilt. A quilt’s design can be made up of one block that is repeated or from a combination of blocks.


Borders do exactly as they say – border the quilt. Borders may be made of one fabric or they may be pieced.

A mitered border meets in the corners at 45 degree angles as opposed to a regular border that is made by sewing strips to the sides of the quilt.


A calico fabric is made from cotton and has a tiny print on its surface. In the 1960’s and 1970’s this was quite popular. Often it was the only printed cotton available to quilters at that time.

Chain Piecing

Chain piecing refers to a time-saving method for machine pieced quilts. Instead of stopping and clipping threads after sewing two pieces together, you can save time by “stringing together” a number of pieced units on your sewing machine. The threads are then clipped after all units have been sewn.

To begin chain piecing, place the first unit to be sewn in your machine and ?step on the gas?. Do not backstitch. Do not cut the thread. Put the second piece right behind the first and continue sewing. Then add the third, and so (sew) on…. At first this may feel awkward. After a few runs it will become second nature.

As an added bonus, your piecing will often become more accurate. Using traditional sewing techniques, you have the tendency to veer to the left or to the right each time you start and stop sewing a new piece. This will cause slight errors. With chain piecing we continue sewing in one long uninterrupted line – precision piecing!


Chalk is used at times to mark the quilt top for quilting. Most chalk will wipe off of the fabric but it is important to run a check on a scrap of fabric before using it on your quilt. I have used chalk (label said WASHABLE) that did not rub or wash out of the fabric, much to my dismay.

Charm Quilt

A charm quilt is made up of many pieces of fabric. No one fabric is repeated. Often charm quilts are one-patch quilts also.


Chintz refers to a type of cotton fabric that is patterned and glazed.


A challenge refers to making sense of this definition – ha, ha. A challenge refers to a “contest” that quilters enter. Sometimes there are prizes for the winners and sometimes there aren’t. Each challenge has different rules . Sometimes the challenge involves using a particular fabric or groups of fabric in your quilts. Often the fabric companies will use a challenge to introduce a new line. Other challenges revolve around a theme or a particular block.


The clamshell is a traditional pattern used for quilting.

Colorfast Fabrics

You definitely want to use fabrics that are colorfast in your quilt. If the dye in a fabric runs when you wash it your whole quilt could be ruined. I recommend washing all your fabrics before you begin (or at least soaking them in warm water to see if they run). If you notice color in the washing/soaking water then the fabric dye is not colorfast.

Sometimes you can correct this by placing the fabric and 2 cupfuls of white vinegar into a sink of hot water. After about 30 minutes rinse the fabric. Place the fabric into a sink of warm water and see if any dye is released. If the fabric continues to “bleed” (release dye) then don’t use it in your project.


A colorway refers to the color of the pattern in the fabric. Some fabric patterns will come in a few colorways. Other fabrics come in a dozen or more colorways.

Color Wheel

Some quilters use the color wheel to help them make color choices for their quilts.


Comforters are types of covers that have a high loft batting inside. It is almost impossible to machine quilt these on our home sewing machines (they can be commercially quilted). These quilts are often tyed.

Complimentary Color

A complimentary color is the color opposite a color on the color wheel. Blue and orange are complimentary colors as are red and green. Purple is the compliment to yellow.

Contrasting Color

To make sure the design of a quilt comes forward there must be a relationship between light to dark colors. We need both light and dark – contrasting colors – to be able to see the quilt design.

Corner Triangle

A corner triangle refers to a triangle that is placed in one of the four corners on a quilt. The triangle?s bias should be on the hypotenuse and the straight of grain should be on one of the triangle?s sides bordering the corner. It is cut differently than a side triangle (1/4 square triangle) because of the bias placement. Sometimes the corner triangle is referred to as a ½ square triangle.


A coverlet refers to a small cover.


Crosshatch is a traditional quilting pattern. Vertical and horizontal lines cross to form a grid on the quilt top. These lines may be spaced close together (heavy quilting) or further apart (moderately quilted).

Crazy Quilt

Crazy quilts are ….. crazy! They have no set pattern. Fabric is sewn wherever it fits. Crazy quilts were popular in the late 1800’s. Often quilters used silks, velvets and fancy stitches on these quilts.

Crib Size

A crib size quilt is made for a crib. The standard measurement is 40″ by 56″.

Crosswise Grain (Cross Grain) 

The grain that runs crosswise (at a right angle) to the selvage (straight of grain) is called the crosswise grain. Unlike the straight of grain where there is no stretch, there is a little stretch in the crosswise grain.

Cutting Board

In order to use a rotary cutter properly, you need to have a self-healing cutting mat or cutting board. See cutting mat for more info.

Cutting Lines

Often a pattern piece will have the sewing lines marked along with the cutting lines. These lines are where you cut out the pattern.

Cutting Mat

You must use a cutting mat with your rotary cutter. Cutting mats are available in a number of sizes from small 2 inch square key chain mats to 3 feet by 4 feet table-sized mats. Most mats come with an inch grid silkscreened over the top. These mats are “self-healing” meaning that after you cut on the mat the cut line will disappear. (Over time the “healing” will wear out.)

Make sure to store your cutting mat flat. Throwing your mat in your car trunk on a hot day will ruin it. Once the mat curls it will never lay flat again.

Darning Foot

A darning foot is an attachment for your sewing machine. It can be made from plastic or metal. Usually a small square or circle is at the base of this foot. Aside from mending socks, a darning foot is used for free-motion quilting.

How does this foot work? When using a darning foot, your feed dogs must be put out of commission. (On some machines they are lowered and on other machines a plate covers the feed dogs – consult your manual.) Because the feed dogs are no longer working, there is no machine control for the stitch length. Your hand moving the fabric and the speed of your machine will now determine stitch length. To keep stitching consistent while using a darning foot requires practice.

Design Wall

The design wall is where you lay out your quilt. It is much easier to see the overall design of your quilt when it is vertical and viewed from a distance. (Think of an art gallery – most people view art from a distance of about 10 to 15 feet.)

Most design walls are made by attaching large pieces of flannel, felt or batting to the wall. Some quilt shops carry design wall fabric with grid systems that can be fastened to the wall. An old flannel sheet pinned behind a door will also work. Cotton quilt blocks will ?stick? to a wall lined with one of these materials; thus eliminating the need for pins. You can move pieces quickly while ?playing? with your quilt layout.

Your design wall can be located anywhere you find space; behind a door, in a guest bedroom or on a movable screen. If space is at a premium, 2 large sheets of foamcore (4? by 8?) taped together and covered with flannel will make a temporary design wall. When company comes this design wall can be folded and stored under the bed.

Diagonal Set

“Set” refers to the way you set up the blocks in your quilt. A diagonal set means the blocks are turned “on point” (squares turned into diamonds).


The diamond shape is quite often used in quilt making. It is not a beginner?s shape. A true diamond will often need a y-seam in its construction. This is a more difficult seam to master. Also diamonds will always have at least 2 bias edges that need to be handled carefully.

Dominant Color

The dominant color of a quilt is the color that stands out the most when viewing.

Echo Quilting

Echo quilting refers to a pattern of stitching that is used to hold all the quilt layers together. This pattern “echos” the design in the quilt.

English Piecing

English piecing is the same as foundation piecing or paper piecing. It is a technique that was (and still is) quite popular in the UK.

Even Feed Foot

The even feed foot is another name for the walking foot. You need this foot for machine quilting. It helps to keep all the quilt layers from shifting. See walking foot for more info.


Any fabric can be used in a quilt. Just be aware of the fact that some fabrics won’t sew as easily as cotton. Quilters usually use 100% cotton fabric in their quilts because this is one of the easiest fibers to work with, it’s washable and will ?hold up? over the years.

Fat Quarter

A fat quarter refers to a cut of fabric that is a quarter of a yard in area. It differs from a regular quarter of a yard by its shape. A regular quarter of a yard of fabric looks like a long skinny rectangle – 9″ by 44/45″. A fat quarter is close to square in shape – 18″ by 22″.

Some quilters often prefer the fat quarter because they can use it to cut larger shapes. For example, if I need to cut a 10? square, a regular quarter of a yard would not work because it is only 9 ? wide. I would have to buy more material or ask for a fat quarter cut.

Feed Dogs

The feed dogs are located on your sewing machine under the machine foot. The feed dogs have little teeth that help to grab and pull the fabric through your machine. Their movement establishes the length of your stitch.


Batting is sometimes referred to as the filler; same thing, different words.

Finger Cots

Little rubber covers for your fingers will help you hold and move your fabric when machine quilting. These can be purchased at a medical supply store, drug store, or quilt shop. Some quilters use one on each finger. I only cover my thumbs and middle fingers because I like my index fingers free. Usually I use these a few times and then replace them with a new set.

Finger Pressing

You do not need an iron to finger press; only a finger! Sometimes you will not want to get up from your machine to press a little seam. So you put the piece on the table and using your fingernail, you press hard on the seam. Hand quilters can also use this method. It works quite well on small seams but shouldn’t be used for long seams like borders. Finger pressing can distort the fabric if not done properly.

Focal Fabric

A focal fabric is used to pick out other fabrics for your quilt. The focal fabric is usually a multi-colored patterned fabric. It sets the mood of your quilt. It’s a fabric that you love. Often quilters will use this fabric will end up in the border. Quilters may use all of the colors in the focal fabric or just a few.

Focus Fabric

Another name for focal fabric.


Quilters sometimes sew fabric on top of a foundation. Foundations are used when the fabric (fabric cut on the bias, knits, silks, velvets, and other specialty materials) in the quilt top is difficult to sew and keep straight. The foundation can be fabric or paper. Muslin works well as a foundation because it is cheap and does not have a pattern. Beginners like sewing on a foundation because this helps with accuracy.

Foundation Piecing

Foundation piecing is a method that quilters use to sew blocks together. Beginners find this quite useful in helping with accuracy.

Four Patch

A four patch is a block based on four equal units. The most common or basic four patch is a block made up of four squares.

Free Motion Quilting

Free motion quilting can be done on your sewing machine. Using this method you can easily write your name, draw curly Q’s, or color in an area.

Freezer Paper

You can buy freezer paper in your neighborhood grocery store. It is on the shelf by aluminum foil and plastic wrap. One roll usually costs under $3.00. The paper has a shiny side and a dull side. Quilters use freezer paper for many things. Applique patterns can be cut from this paper and then ironed to the fabric. This can be used as the foundation for paper piecing.

French Fold Binding

This is the type of binding that I prefer to make for my quilts. It will hold up to a lot of wear and tear. It can be cut from the straight of grain or the bias. I usually cut fabric strips 2 1/4″ and sew them together into one long length (based on the length of the sides of my quilt plus 2 feet). Next, I fold the strip in half, wrong sides together, and press it. The binding is now ready to be sewn to the quilt. See HOW TO?Binding.

Full Size Quilts

A full size quilt will cover a full size bed. The standard dimension of the mattress is 52″ by 75″. The standard full size quilt is 80″ by 104″.


A fusible is an iron-on product that fuses to fabric and other surfaces. There are many fusible products on the market. Some can only be ironed on one side. Others are two-sided. The weights of the different fusibles vary as do the directions for applying the different products. Always read the directions before using on a project.

Fussy Cut

A fussy cut refers to cutting out a particular design in the fabric. Usually a template is positioned over the design area. The template is traced on the fabric and then the design area is cut out. It is almost impossible to fussy cut designs when using rotary cutting and strip piecing methods.

Grain of Fabric

The direction the threads are woven into the fabric refers to the grain of the fabric.

Graph Paper

When drafting quilt patterns, graph paper can be used to easily transfer the design. Graph paper comes in many different grid sizes (1/8″, 1/4″….) and paper sizes (8 1/2″ x11″, 12 1/2″ x 12 1/2″….).


Grids are quilt blocks divided into smaller units. This makes it easier to organize the design. There are different types of grids. Four-patch and nine-patch are among the most common grids.

Half Square Triangle

Half square triangles refer to the two triangles that are cut from one square. No templates are used in this quick cutting method. These two triangles include seam allowance. Quilters use this technique to rotary cut several triangles at once.

The formula that works every time is listed below.

  • Measure the FINISHED SIDE of the triangle (one of the right angle sides).
  • Add 7/8? to this measurement.
  • Cut a square FINISHED SIDE plus 7/8?.
  • Then cut on the diagonal.

This method does not work on all triangles. The triangle must have a right angle and two equal sides in order to be considered a half square triangle.

Read more: How to make half-square triangles in quilting.

Hand Quilting

Some quilters prefer to hand quilt the top, batting and backing together as opposed to machine quilting.

Hanging Sleeve

A hanging sleeve may be sewn to the back of your quilt. This should be sewn across the width of the quilt. It should be at least 3″ or big enough to go around your quilt hanger. (3? is usually the standard required when entering your masterpiece in a quilt show.)

Hopper Foot

A hopper foot is the same as a darning foot.


Hue refers to the gradation of a color.

In The Ditch

Stitching in the ditch is a machine quilting technique. Seam lines (the ditch) on the quilt top are stitched while using a walking foot on your machine. A quilt top can be completely done with stitch in the ditch quilting or may be quilted with other techniques.

Stitching in the ditch does save time because you do not have to mark your quilt top with a design.

Invisible Stitch

The invisible stitch is used by quilters for applique. The stitches are often 1/8″ to 1/4″ apart and are hidden.

Invisible Thread

Invisible thread is sometimes used by quilters to quilt the top of the quilt. Since it is invisible it is not suppose to draw attention. It just gives texture to the quilt. It is used for the top thread, not in the bobbin. It is very fine – .004 m.

This thread comes in two colors – clear and smoke. Clear is used on light colored quilts and smoke is used on darker quilts.


See pressing.

Isosceles Triangle

An isosceles triangle is sometimes used in piecework. More advanced piecing skills are needed when dealing with this type of triangle as two of the sides will always fall on the bias.

King Size

The top of a king size mattress measures 76″ by “80 (sometimes 78? by 80?). A California king measures 72″ by 84”.


See tying.


A quilt label can be placed on the back of your quilt to record important information about the quilt such as who made it, where was it made and when it was completed. If the quilt is going to travel to quilt shows, make sure the owner’s name and address are on the label.

Some quilters decorate their labels. There are many books devoted to making labels. From time to time fabric companies will produce fabric with decorated pre-made labels. All you have to do is enter your info and then attach this label to the quilt.

Lap Quilt

A lap quilt fits over your lap. Sometimes beginners start their quilting careers by putting together a lap quilt. There is less piecing in lap quilts and they are easier to handle when quilting. Lap quilts are usually considered to be any quilt under 60″ square.

Lap Quilting

Lap quilting is a method of quilting that can be done – in your lap. Small sections of the quilt are pieced and layered with the batting and backing. After all the sections are assembled they are then sewn together to form a large quilt.


Some quilts are designed with fabric strips separating the blocks. These strips are sometimes referred to as the lattice.


Layering the quilt refers to the process when all three layers of the quilt are put together.

Lengthwise Grain

The grain of the fabric that runs lengthwise. The threads run parallel to a woven fabrics selvage.


The thickness of the batting is the loft of the batting. Low loft battings may only be 1/4″ thick. High loft battings may be 3″ thick. The loft of the batting will often determine how you will secure the layers of the quilt together. High loft battings have to be tied or quilted commercially. Low loft battings can be machine or hand quilted.

Log Cabin

A log cabin is a popular form of quilt consisting of dark and light fabric which represents log cabin walls. You can read more about it on my how to make a log cabin quilt post.

Machine Piecing

Machine piecing refers to piecing the quilt on your sewing machine as opposed to hand piecing which is sewing the quilt by hand.

Machine Quilting

Machine quilting refers to quilting the top, batting and backing together by using a sewing machine.


Quilters mark their quilts with a design using many different tools and techniques. Always test a scrap of fabric before marking your quilt top. The marking lines should easily wash out of fabric. The lines should not wear off completely when you handle the quilt or you will have to remark the top.

Masking Tape

Thin masking tape (1/4″ thick) can be applied to your top temporarily to be used as a guide for quilting stitches. If you leave the tape on your quilt for a long period of time, a sticky residue may stain the top. Make sure you use the tape as a temporary guide.

Masking tape also comes in handy when getting your quilt ready for basting. I use this tape to secure the edges of the backing to my table.


Meandering is a type of a random quilting pattern that will add texture to the quilt surface. It can be done by hand or by machine.


A medallion quilt is a quilt with a large center block that is the focal point of the quilt. It may be surrounded by other quilt blocks or borders. Sometimes the center is a motif found printed on fabric or it is a pieced or appliquéd design.


Muslin is a type of woven cotton material that quilters often use as a background fabric. It usually costs less than other cottons. Muslin comes in two “flavors”; unbleached (beige in color) or bleached (white). It is also available in different widths (not always 45″) so be careful to check this out before your purchase. 90? or larger muslin makes a nice backing for a larger quilt because it does not have to be pieced.

Muslin also comes in different weights and thread counts. The heavier muslin is more suitable for quilting. The lighter weight is often woven loosely and hard to handle.


Nap refers to the direction the fabric fibers are brushed in textured fabrics such as velvets and corduroys.


There are many different sizes and shapes of needles available. Each type of needle is best suited for a certain sewing job. Always try to use the proper needle for your sewing project. For more info see betweens and sharps.

Needle Turn Applique

Needle turn applique refers to a hand sewing technique. Your pattern is first drawn on top of a piece of fabric. The appliqué pattern is placed on the background fabric. As you sew around the design, the seam allowance is cut and turned under using your needle.

Nine – Patch

A nine-patch is a popular block. It is a block with nine sections divided into three rows of three.

One – Patch

A one patch quilt is made up of only one shape that is repeated throughout the quilt; all triangles, all rectangles, all hexagons, etc.

Orphan Blocks

Blocks separated from their “family” (quilt) are orphans. These blocks were the leftovers from a project. I save these and use them in other projects.

Outline Quilting

Outline quilting gives texture to a piece. The design (appliqué, pieced block or fabric motif) is outlined by your quilting. This can be done by hand or by machine.

Paper Piecing

Paper piecing is a technique used in piecing. Fabric is sewn to a paper pattern. When the block is completed, the paper is ripped away. This method is extremely accurate and easy. It is often a good method for beginners to learn.


Patchwork is a term that describes the piecing in the quilt top.


Pattern has multiple meanings in the quilting world. It can represent the design printed or woven into the fabric. A single quilt block can be referred to as the quilt pattern. The way the blocks are laid out in a quilt form a pattern.


Piecing the quilt refers to the sewing together of fabric pieces to form a quilt top.

Pillow Tuck

Some quilts are made to cover a bed and the pillows. Extra yardage needs to be added for the pillow tuck. This usually amounts to 10″.


Not all straight pins are created equal. Some pins have large shafts therefore making it more difficult to puncture through many layers of fabric. This causes some distortion at the seam lines. I prefer glass head silk pins – 1 3/8″ with a super fine .50 mm shaft. These pins easily glide through layers of fabric and will cause less distortion. The best brand I have found are IBC #5003 from Clothtide.

When hand appliqueing, I use sequin pins. Because these are very small, your thread is less apt to get caught on the pins. I also use safety pins (pinned from the wrong side of the fabric) for appliqueing. Once again, this is to ensure that your thread does not get caught while sewing.

Pigma Pen

A pigma pen is waterproof and fade proof. These recognized archival instruments are the best type of pens to use on fabric when collecting signatures or writing quilt labels. You can find these in art supply stores and at quilt and fabric shops.


Do your points match? Most quilt blocks have points or corners in the design. When piecing a block it is easy to ?cut off? a point. Sometimes the corners of the shapes will fall short of the seam lines and not match up. Most of the time this will not interfere with the overall construction of the quilt. It will cause a great deal of distress to the perfectionists out there. The only way to remedy the situation is to rip out the stitches and try sewing again.

WARNING! Never explain matching points to family members as they will be quick to point out all your mistakes from that time forward.


The small areas between the sashings are called posts. They can be squares or rectangles.

Prairie Points

Prairie points are three dimensional designs that can be added to your quilting. Often they are used in a border treatment. They are made by folding and pressing fabric and then sewing the finished points to your quilt.


Pressing is almost as important as sewing if you want to get crisp accurate seam lines. After sewing two pieces together I go to the iron and press down on top of this stitching. This will help nestle the threads into the fabric.

Sometimes this is referred to as registering the seam. With few exceptions, I usually do not open seams when I press. Instead I press both seams to one side of the fabric. This pressing is based on construction concerns not the old adage ?always press to the dark?.

Some patterns include pressing directions. Look for these patterns as it will make construction of your block easier.

Primary Colors

The primary colors are red, blue and yellow.

Quarter Square Triangle

A quarter square triangle is a right angle triangle that has a straight of grain hypotenuse. It looks like a half square triangle (right angle triangle with two equal sides). The difference between the two is where the bias is placed. The bias on a quarter square triangle falls on the right angle sides of the triangle.

It is called a quarter square triangle because a square is cut on both of the diagonals to form four equal triangles. In this quick rotary cutting method, seam allowances are included on each triangle. No templates are used.

The formula (listed below) works like a charm every time.

  • Measure the FINISHED SIZE of the HYPOTENUSE side of the triangle.
  • Add 1 ¼? to the FINISHED SIZE of the HYPOTENUSE side of the triangle.
  • Cut out a square measuring FINISHED SIZE of HYPOTENUSE side of the triangle plus 1 ¼?.
  • Cut the square on both diagonals.

Queen Size

A queen size mattress top measures 60″ by 80″.


Technically, quilting refers to the process by which all three layers of the quilt sandwich are sewn together. Generally, quilting refers to any thing having to do with making a quilt, such as organizing the fabric and piecing the top.

Quilting Frame

A quilting frame is not a frame used to hang quilts on the wall. It is used to sandwich the quilt together and to help with basting. Hand quilting can be done by one person or many when using a quilting frame. Often the frame is rectangle in shape and is made from wood. It is free standing.

Quilting Lines

The quilting lines are drawn on the quilt top. These are the lines that are eventually quilted by hand or by machine. There are many traditional and contemporary patterns that available in stencils that can easily be transferred to your quilt top. (Or use your creativity to come up with an original design!)

Quilting Needles

Needles used for hand quilting are referred to as betweens. They are shorter than regular needles.

Quilting Thread

Quilting thread is much heavier than regular thread. It is used for hand quilting NOT for the sewing machine. Often novice quilters buy quilting thread for machine piecing their quilt. This can be a costly mistake. Loaded onto a sewing machine’s bobbin, the thread can destroy the inner workings of many machines.

Quilt Top

The quilt top is the top of the quilt. Most of the time it is the side with the most piecing.

Reducing Glass

A reducing glass looks like a magnifying glass but does the opposite. This glass reduces the item being viewed. It is a tool that quilters use when designing their quilts. Often if you stand back about 20 feet you will notice the effects of values and colors in your quilt that you weren?t aware of at 10 feet.

Since many of us may not be able to view our quilt top from 20 feet away, a reducing glass is used. You can also look through the wrong end of binoculars to pick out imperfections in the quilt desgn. (You may look silly looking through the wrong end of the binoculars but you won?t be out the extra $15 that the reducing glass costs!)

Reproduction Fabric

Reproduction fabric is fabric that has been ?. reproduced! Antique quilts have wonderful examples of fabric from the 1800?s and early 1900?s. Quite a few fiber companies have come out with large fabric lines based on fabrics in these antique quilts. Often these fabrics are available in different colorways.

Reverse Applique

Instead of appliquéing a piece of fabric on top of a background fabric, in reverse appliqué the piece is put under the background fabric. The background fabric is cut away to reveal the piece under it.

Round Robin

A round robin describes a quilt (or quilts) made through a group effort. A quilter in the group makes a block or a small quilt. The next member adds a border to this and then passes it on to the next member who adds another border and passes it to the next quilter and so on. Since the members are not following any specific pattern, the final quilt is always a surprise.

Rotary Cutting

Rotary cutting is relatively new to the quilting world. It involves using a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler and a cutting mat. Using these tools, many layers of fabric can be quickly and accurately cut at once. Before quilters used scissors to cut out shapes.

Ruby Beholder

A ruby beholder is a tool that quilters use to find the value of a fabric. Fabrics of different colors and/or prints can be laid side by side and viewed through this instrument to see their relative values.


Ruching is a technique used to draw up fabric or ribbon. It is then formed into a flower or other design and appliquéd to a background fabric.

Safety Pins

If you are a machine quilter then you must use safety pins to baste together the layers of your quilt. Safety pins should be pinned about 3 inches apart all over the quilt top to ensure that the layers will not shift. You will need a couple hundred safety pins when basting a lap quilt.

Do not baste your quilt with a needle and thread and then try to machine quilt it. This will only result in heartache. The basting thread will get caught on every protruding part on your machine. You will end up having to baste the quilt top again. (Safety pins will also hang up on protruding parts but will not come out when you pull.)


A sampler is a quilt made from a sample of blocks. These quilts are quite popular for beginning quilting classes. Often the instructor will plan the sampler so that each block will allow the students to learn a new quilting skill while working on that particular block.


Sandpaper for quilts? Whatever for? A fine sandpaper makes an excellent platform for tracing templates on to the fabric. The sandpaper grips the bottom of the fabric and makes it easier to draw on the surface of the fabric.


Blocks are separated by sashing in some quilts. The sashing is often cut from a solid color or tone-on-tone fabric so its pattern does not interfere with the design of the quilt blocks. There are no written rules concerning the width of sashing. The choice is up to the individual. Usually sashing is less than one fourth of the width of the block that it will be sewn to.

Satin Stitch

The satin stitch is a decorative stitch that often is used to border appliqued pieces.


This refers to the size of the design on the fabric. Solid colored fabric has no scale because there is no design on it. Calico fabric usually has a small scale pattern. Most decorator prints are larger in scale.


Most quilts are sewn with a 1/4 ” seam.

Seam Allowance

Most quilters use a 1/4″ seam allowance. Some miniature quilters use 1/8″ seam allowance. Whatever seam allowance you use it is most important that you remain consistent throughout your quilt.

Seam Ripper

A seam ripper is a handy tool that makes it easy to rip out a seam gone bad. Keep this tool handy!


The two parallel finished edges of the fabric are called the selvage. This edge will not ravel and has a tighter weave. It is running in the same direction as the lengthwise grain. Using this edge in your quilt squares can cause problems. Some quilters cut off the selvage as soon as they come home from the fabric shop.

Seminole Patchwork

Beginning in the 19th century, members of the Seminole tribe sewed long strips of fabric together and then cut these into smaller pieces and then sewed these into a pattern.

Set On Point

When square blocks in a quilt are rotated 45 degrees (turned to a diamond shape) they are said to be set on point.


When you finish your blocks for your quilt, you will have to decide how to arrange them in your quilt. This arrangement is called the setting.

Sew and Flip

Sew and flip refers to a technique that uses a foundation for its construction. Fabric is sewn (right sides together) to the foundation and then flipped over. This method is often used to make crazy quilts.

Sew Order

Sew order refers to the sewing order that needs to be followed in order to best put the block together.


A shade is a color that has been blended with black or a darker color. Navy is a shade of blue.


Sharps are a type of needle that is used in applique. The shaft is usually longer than betweens (used for hand quilting). Sharps come in different sizes. These sizes refer to the eye of the needle. The larger the number, the smaller the eye.


Sizing is like spray starch but not as stiff. You can buy it at the grocery store in the laundry detergent aisle. Some people call it “Magic in a Can”. If your block is not the proper size or if it is distorted often a squirt of sizing can magically fix it.


A sleeve is sewn on the back of a quilt to make it easy to hang. The sleeve is a tube shape that is about 3″ wide and is long enough to go across the back of the quilt.


A stabilizer stabilizes your sewing piece. It can be made from paper (I prefer tissue paper or typing paper) or fabric. After using the stabilizer (stitching through it), Some stabilizers will disappear when sprayed with water. Other stabilizers must be torn away. If your project requires a stabilizer, try out some of the different kinds available on the market.

Ask the experts at your neighborhood quilt shop what they recommend.


A stiletto is handy tool for quilters. It can help to hold layers of fabric together when sewing on the machine.


Stippling is a quilting technique that can give texture to your quilt. It can be machine quilted or hand quilted.


Depending on your project the stitches used will vary. Generally speaking a quilter will use a regular stitch length of 2.3 for machine piecing. When machine quilting a longer stitch length (3) can be used.

Stitch in the Ditch

See In the ditch for more info.

Straight Of Grain

Straight of grain refers to the weave of the fabric.

Straight Pins

see pins.

Straight Stitch Foot

This foot can be used for machine piecing.

String Piecing

String piecing refers to a sewing technique where scraps of fabrics are sewn together into sections. Shapes are then cut out of these sections. The shapes are then sewn together in a traditional pattern.

Strip Piecing

Strip piecing is a quick sewing and rotary cutting technique. Long strips of fabric are cut using a rotary cutter. They are sewn together and then cut into smaller units. These smaller units are then sewn together again to form traditional quilts.


Templates are patterns that you use to cut out your fabric for piecing. They can be made from cardboard or thick plastic.


Thimbles protect the fingertips from repeated needle jabbing.


Most quilters use cotton fabric and therefore use cotton thread. To be truthful, I will use cotton covered polyester thread if I can’t find a particular color in cotton. 100% polyester tends to knot and may break easier than cotton thread. Spools marked quilting thread do not go in your sewing machine. This type of thread is used for hand quilting.


A hue that is blended with light or white colors is called a tint. Pink is a tint of red.

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper makes a great stabilizer. I also use it for paper piecing. I prefer this to other papers because it is easier to tear off after stitching and it is cheap.


Tone-on-tone fabric is a two colored patterned fabric . From a distance it reads as a solid. Up close it adds “interest” to a quilt. Jinny Beyer has one of the largest collections of tone-on-tone fabric.


The ancient Italian technique for producing texture in quilt tops. In trapunto a design on the quilt top is stuffed with batting to provide relief design.


The triangle is a popular basic shape used in quilts. Unlike squares, the triangle?s sides and angles are not always equal. Care must be taken when laying out triangles and when sewing them together.
For more information see half square triangle, quarter square triangle, and isosceles triangle.

Twin Size

A twin size mattress measures 39 inches by 94 inches.


A quilt’s layer can be secured together by tying. Yarn or embroidery floss is threaded on a needle and stitched down and then up through all layers of the quilt sandwich. The yarn or floss is then tied in a knot (I prefer to double knot) and clipped.


Value refers to the fabric light medium or dark. This is relative.

Walking Foot

This foot fits on your sewing machine and is a must for machine quilting. While your feed dogs (those little teeth under your sewing machine foot) move the fabric on the bottom of your quilt sandwich, the walking foot moves the fabric on top. Without a walking foot the fabric on top eventually lags behind the bottom fabric and you get puckers in your quilting.

Usually this foot does not come with your machine. Most sewing machine shops carry these feet in stock. You need to know what type of shank you have on your machine – straight or slant. The Bernina is the only machine that has a special walking foot – last time I checked the Bernina walking foot was around $80 compared to $20 for most other walking feet.

Whole Cloth Quilt

A whole cloth quilt’s top is made from one fabric.


WOF means width of fabric. Check out my posts about what does WOF mean in quilting for more information about this.

Y Seam

This seam takes its name from the pattern (the letter Y) that is formed when completed. Unlike straight line sewing where you begin stitching at the edge of the fabric; in a Y seam you start stitching one quarter inch from the edge of the piece.


A yard measures 36 inches or 3 feet. A yard of fabric is 36 inches by whatever width is listed on the top of the bolt. A yard of most cotton fabric is 36 inches by 44/45 inches when purchased at the yardage shop. Cotton fabric will shrink after washing so count on the final measurements being smaller than the original fabric.


Little circles of fabric with stitched edges that have been gathered are called yo-yo’s. They can be sewn together into a quilt or can be used separately for applique.

Zigzag Stitches

Most of the newer machines have a standard zigzag stitch. Zigzag stitches are sometimes used to outline fusible appliqué pieces

Expand your knowledge with new quilting terminology

Hopefully you’ll find some use of this quilting terminology. If you feel there are any quilting terms or quilting definitions missing, please let me know and I’ll do my best to get them added to the quit terms list as fast as possible.

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