Quilting Glossary

Glossary of quilting terms

Album quilt – a quilt made from contributed blocks, with each block signed by its maker.

Alternate Block – an unpieced square of fabric which alternates with pieced or appliquéd blocks in a quilt setting. Sometimes two different blocks are set together as alternate blocks, such as “Nine Patch” and “Snow ball.”

Appliqué – adding a picture shape on top of a larger piece of cloth, by sewing the cut out shape on top, as a second layer. Can be done by hand or machine. See also needle-turn appliqué, and reverse appliqué.

Assembly-line sewing – also called chain piecing – working from stacks of prepared pieces, feeding them into the machine one after another, creating a string of pieces separate by short intervals of thread.

Anchor – A small bit of cloth which is stitched across before starting on the actual subject sewing piece. This prevents the threads from becoming tangled in the bobbin area when the stitching begins. Can be used between items, also. See also: spider.

Aniline dyes – dyes made from chemicals derived from coal tar, rather than vegetables. They were first used in 1850s.

Backing – the cloth that forms the back cover of a quilt. Special backing cloth can be purchased in 96-to-104-inch width, so no seams will be needed on the backing cloth. Modern quilts sometimes feature pieced backing, which echoes cloths or shapes from the quilt top.

Basting pin – a curved or flexible safety pin designed for basting. When basting is done with pins, the pins must be placed so as to allow sewing between them.

Basting Spray – a spray of sticky substance that will cause two layer of cloth to adhere to each other. This has limited use, to help control shifting while sewing. It is more useful for appliqué and smaller projects, but is not recommended for full quilt construction.

Basting stitch – temporary stitching - long and loose running stitches used to secure several pieces of cloth before sewing or quilting. Basting is used to stabilize pieces of quilt sandwich before quilting. It can also be used to stabilize the folded binding before machine sewing.

Batting – Anything sandwiched between two layers of cloth to create the puffiness of a quilt. There are professionally produced battings of polyester, cotton, wool and mixtures. Historically, people have used blankets, toweling, sheeting, rags and even paper for batting.

Bearding – when fibers from the batting push through the surface of the quilt. Wool and polyester batting create the most bearding. Bonded batting has a surfacing treatment which limits bearding. Needle-punch batting has the least bearding.

Betweens – short quilting needles with small eyes used to hand-quilt on a quilt sandwich. The higher the number; the smaller the needle.

Bias – the diagonal of woven fabric. A bias edge results from a diagonal cut rather than lengthwise or crosswise. Examples of bias edges are the longer cut edges on half-square triangles and the shorter edges on quarter-square triangles. There are also bias edges on some sides of diamonds and parallelograms. The bias edge has more stretch, and must be handled carefully so as to not distort the shape when it is part of piecing and appliqué. However, bias is ideal for following curved lines and binding scalloped edges; hence the value of strips of bias-cut cloth for the purposes.

Bite – The area under a pin when it is inserted through the cloth and comes back up.

Binding – Cloth that covers the edge of the quilt and hides the raw edge. It is “self binding” when the backing fabric is wrapped around to the front and used to form the edge. Other binding is done with strips of cloth sewn on one side, wrapped to the other, and sewn again. Binding must be cut on the bias for edges with curves, but may be cut on the straight of the grain for straight-edge quilts.

Bleeding – when dye migrates from one cloth to another. This can happen across time and can happen during laundry. There are commercial products sold for use in the first wash, to limit bleeding. Cold water wash with vinegar can also limit color migration.

Border – a strip of cloth added to a quilt top to form a frame around the pieced/appliquéd blocks. There may be zero, one, two, three or more borders in varying widths. The strip of cloth may be a plain piece of fabric or may be a pieced border.

Broderie perse – appliqué that uses a cut out of large-scale textile prints as the motif. These became popular when chintz was first developed.

Center Medallion – see medallion quilt.

Chain piecing – also called assembly-line sewing – machine sewing many units, one after the other, without lifting the presser foot or cutting the thread.

Challenge Cloth – a cloth with is distributed among members of a group, with the challenge to interpret a quilt with it. Often the challenge cloth is especially bright or difficult – hence the “challenge.”

Challenge Quilt – a quilt created with a challenge cloth.

Charm quilts –quilts made with a different fabric for every piece of the quilt. These celebrate the exchange of fabrics between quilters. Often the quilt is constructed by repeating a single cut shape, such as a diamond, triangle or hexagon.

Charm Square – an exchange fabric. Quilters trade these to acquire enough fabrics for a charm quilt. These are usually in the size range of 5 to 6 inch squares.

Chambray – woven cloth which has white threads in warp and collored threats in weft. Most commonly done in light blue, but also in other colors.

Cloth exchange – trading of cloth to create more diversity for scrap quilts and charm quilts.

Commemorative Quilt – a quilt designed to commemorate an event. There are birth quilts, naming quilts (American Indian ceremony for the new baby), wedding quilts, retirement quilts, etc. There are also quilts which commemorate events in history, such as “9-11 quilts” and event quilts such as “Breast Cancer Quilt” and the “Aids Quilt.”

Contrast – Differences in color, value or pattern between cloths which accentuates the geometric shapes of the quilt pieces. Differences in pattern include the striking difference between solids, small prints and large prints.

Conversation Print – also called “object print” – recognizable larger print objects set on a solid background. These include nature creatues and manmade items. In the smaller print form, these date back to the mid-1800s.

Counter Change – A quilt design which uses strong light/dark and dark/light versions of the same blocks, to create the mirror images.

Crazy Quilt – Arrangements of oddly shaped pieces on foundation squares, usually decorated with ornate stitching. Victorian Crazy Quilts were often made of the richest fabrics: silks, satins, etc. Some were sashed and some were joined, square to square.

Cross Grain – The straight line that runs from selvage to selvage.

Cross-hatching – quilting in straight lines that form a grid of squares or diamonds.

Cross-wound Thread – thread that is wound onto a spool in figure-eight style, similar to the way crochet thread or string is wound. See “stacked thread.”

Cut size – size of a quilt unit before it is sewn to other pieces; it still has the ¼ inch seam allowance showing. This differs from finished size, which is the portion that will show after all seams have been sewn.

Cutting Mat – a self-healing mat designed for use with rotary cutters. These are marked with grids matching standard measurements (inches or centimeters) and with diagonals for 45 and 60 degree angles.

Curved Pin – a safety pin that is arched in such a way as to make it easier to pin through several layers without bunching. See Basting Pin.

Dark – measurement of value, or amount of black in the color of the fabric. See “value finder.”
Directional fabric – Fabric with a print which has an “up” and “down.” Cityscapes are a classic example. But even small geometrics may have patterns that look “right side up” and “up side down” in different turns. Yardage is usually given for non-directional fabric. With directional fabrics, extra yardage is needed to accomplish projects.

Dog ears – the little triangular protrusions of seam allowance which pop up when triangular pieces are sewn together and pressed into their finished position. Dog ears are usually trimmed off, either before or after sewing the next seam line.

Double quilting – also double rod quilting – in hand-quilting, the creation of a pair of lines which run parallel, separated by about ¼ inch. Often these lines would run diagonally across a quilt.

Easing – matching up cloth with uneven edges (such as curves) or slightly disparate lengths, so that seams match on the pieces. Usually done by pinning.

Echo quilting – quilt lines which follow the outline of an appliquéd, pieced or embroidered shape. Echo quilting employs several lines, which expand the shape and ripple out till they meet other quilting lines.

Fat Eighth – A fat eighth has the same area as an eight yard of fabric, but it measures about 9 by 22 rather than 4.5 by 44. This gives more options for using the quarter yard, with less waste.

Fat Quarter – A fat quarter has the same area as a quarter yard of fabric, but it measures about 18 by 22 rather than 9 by 44. This gives more options for using the quarter yard, with less waste.

Finished size – the size a piece or patch will be when it is sewn into a quilt and none of its seam allowances are visible. This measurement is smaller than the measurement of the piece when it is first cut, when it still has seam allowances.

Flying geese – a common and basic shape, used in many pieced blocks, especially stars. The rectangular unit has a length that is twice the height (finished measurements). Traditionally it was made by sewing two half square triangles to an isosceles triangle.

Friendship quilt – a quilt made as a gift or memorial quilt by a group of quilters who each sign their blocks. In the mid-1800s this became popular as a way of commemorating a marriage, birth, death, retirement, etc.

Focus Fabric – A fabric with strong colors and patterns that is the dominating fabric in the quilt. Often this is the determining factor for choosing all other fabrics.

Four-patch – a patch created by four equal squares, set two by two.

Foundation piecing – to cut a finished size piece of muslin or other backing cloth, and then sew pieces of colored cloth to this foundation. This was the traditional way to make crazy quilts and log cabin quilts, as well as many string-pieced quilts such as Rocky Road to Kansas.

Fugitive Dye – A dye color which fades (becomes a fugitive) across time, especially with exposure to light. A purple might become a grey, a green might become a yellow. Older quilts which were composed of various fabrics that coordinated may appeared to match may, with time, fade unevenly, and display a discordant color pattern to the eye.
Fusible web – any of several commercial materials that will adhere to cloth when heated with an iron. Double-side fusible webs are used in some appliqué methods.

Fussy Cut – Cutting geometric shapes from a patterned cloth by carefully aligning the shape over the print. For example, hexagons of Grandmother’s Flower Garden may be cut with a single flower centered in each.

Fussy Press – carefully aligning the seams on the back side of a block, so as to avoid a bulky build-up at an intersection. For example, this is used at the center of Pinwheel and Star of LeMoyne, where the six-to-eight seams are fanned out in different directions on the back side of the block.

Ghost Dye – A dye color which fades so much across time that there is almost no color left on the cloth.

Grain – The straight line of threads in the weave. Quilt templates may be marked with a straight line which is supposed to be lined up with the grain. For smaller pieces, it is not as important to always use lengthwise grain, but if you know the lengthwise grain, then stick to it.

Half square triangle – or HST – The right triangles created by cutting a square in half from one corner to the opposite, across the diagonal.

Hand-quilting - Use of a needle and thread to sew quilting lines which stabilize the sandwich of a quilt. Specialized quilting thimbles and thread are recommended. This must be done on a hoop, small frame (lap quilting) or a large frame. The stitching is done to be seen, and is considered a decorative stitch as well.

Hanging sleeve – a casing of cloth sewn on the back side of a quilt for use in hanging the quilt for display. A rod is inserted through the casing for hanging.
HST – see Half Square Triangle

In The Ditch – quilting stitch lines which follow in the in the ditch of the seam lines. This became popular with the advent of quilting on the home sewing machine.

Lap-quilting – hand quilting done using a hoop or small frame. Extensive basting of the sandwich is recommended before lap quilting.

Lengthwise Grain– The straight line that runs parallel to selvages.

Light – measurement of value, or amount of white in the color of the fabric. See Value Finder.
Long-arm quilting – quilting done on special machines which are designed to sew a quilt while it is stretched on a frame.
Machine quilting – Use of a sewing machine to sew the quilting lines which stabilize the sandwich of a quilt. This can be done with a standard sewing machine or a long arm machine. See Long Arm Quilting.

Medallion quilt – A quilt which features a prominent central area, surrounded by borders and more quilt areas. Often the central feature is set “on point” with relation to the next area of the quilt. This was very popular in solid-cloth quilting of the Amish and in the creation of fancy bed coverlets where the medallions were sized to fit the bed. The earliest uses were in appliqué quilts made around 1800, when a central large tree was popular.

Medium – measurement of value, or amount of gray in the color of the fabric. See Value Finder.

Migration – when the fibers of batting move around inside the quilt (from use and washing) and bunch up in the corners of the spaces between quilting lines.
Mitered corners – corners that have the joining line set at 45-degree angle. Mitered corners in borders means creating a 45-degree angle seam where the side border meets the end border. Mitered corners in bindings means folding the cloth in such a way as to simulate mitering when turning the corner.

Needle-turn appliqué – a hand appliqué method using a long, flexible needle to turn appliqué seam allowance under, then stitch in place using an invisible stitch. See appliqué.

Nesting – when pressed seam allowances meet in such a way as to nest and help the seams grab together at the right spot.
Nine-patch – a square made of nine squares, arranged in three rows of three.

Object Prints – see “conversation print.”

Ombré Print – also called rainbow print” – cloth that has multiple shades or colors printed across its width. Bright and bold colors were used for this cloth in the early 1800s; dusky colors were used after the Civil War.

On Point – a square set into a quilt resting on its point, creating a fat diamond. Typically the body of on point squares are bounded with triangles to form a straight edge at the edge of the quilt.

Outline quilting – quilting stitches which follow the shape of the piece, by stitching ¼ inch the seam line.

Paper piecing – sewing blocks onto a paper that is pre-marked with the sewing lines. The paper is discarded before the quilt is assembled.

Pieced Border – a border that is assembled from cut pieces.
Pin matching – using straight pins to match up two seams for sewing.

Points – any intersection of two seams creating an angle.

Prairie points – an edging method utilizing triangles folded from squares of fabric.

Press – pressing of quilt squares is done with dry iron. It is not a sweeping motion (not the motion used for smoothing table cloths); it is a straight up and down motion. Sliding the iron or use of steam will stretch pieces and distort the shape.

Quarter square triangle or QST – The triangles created by cutting a square in half from one corner to the opposite, and then in half again by cutting in half again in the other direction. The two diagonal cuts form an X shape on the square.

Quarter Inch Foot – a machine foot which is marked for quarter inch sewing. Some have a guide ridge for the edge of the cloth.

Quilt Hoop – similar to an embroidery hoop, but larger. Usually of wood. May be round or oval. Usually able to comfortably display a 12-inch block or larger section of the quilt for stitching.

Quilt math – tables which help convert finished piece size to cutting size. There are also tables for calculating setting squares and triangles, borders, backings and other quilt elements.
Quilt sandwich – the three layers that compose a quilt, stacked together. There is a top, some batting and a backing.

Quilt Set – the set or setting is the arrangement of blocks and elements that form the finished quilt top. Common varieties are sashed, on point, stripe and medallion.

Quilting – sewing through multiple layers. The stitch appears much like a running stitch, but is best achieved by causing the needle to go perpendicularly through the layers of the quilt sandwich.

Quilting thread – thread used for quilting stitches. Hand quilting thread is much heavier than normal sewing thread. Machine quilting thread is a little heavier. These threads are not used for piecing.

QST – see Quarter Square Triangle.

Rainbow print – see “Ombre print.”

Raw size – size of a quilt unit before it is sewn to other pieces; it still has the ¼ inch seam allowance showing. This differs from finished size. It is the same as the cut size on pieces which have not yet been joined to other pieces.

Resist Dyeing – applying wax, starch, paste, or other covering to sections of cloth so that it will not absorb the colors in a dye bath. See also “Tie Dying.”

Reverse appliqué – using a top layer with cut-away areas, sewn onto a base layer. The cut away areas reveal portions of the base cloth or cloths.

Rotary cut pieces – individual quilt pieces cut to precise sizes using rotary cutting tools.

Rotary cutting tool – a cutting tool which uses a sharpened cutting wheel. The wheel is guided by a rotary cutting ruler.

Rotary cutting ruler – a ¼ inch thick acrylic ruler with measurement grids marked on its surface for use with a rotary cutting mat and rotary cutting tool to create strips and rotary cut pieces. These are purchased in quilting departments only.

Round Robin – a group project in which the first person creates a starter piece and this is passed among the group for additions from each quilter. The finished project goes back to the originator. Often these are smaller items, such as table runners or wall hangings.

Right sides together or RST – Placing right sides together before sewing the seam. When the seam is done and the piece is opened, right sides are visible on both parts from the finished side.

RST – see Right sides together

Sampler – a quilt composed of a collection of differing blocks assembled together.

Sashing – small borders added between blocks to set them apart and add contrast in the quilt. If the sashing is the same color as the background of the blocks, then the detail of the block seems to float. If the sashing is a contasting color, it creates a lattice effect or window box effect around the individual blocks.

Sash-and-post – small borders added between blocks, with contrasting squares set at the corners.

Sawtooth – a common and basic shape, used in many pieced blocks and borders. Sawtooth sets HST squares in a chain, so that a jagged edge is created. The most common use is in Bear Paw.
Scrap quilts – quilts made from a large collection of fabric scraps or fat quarters. See also “Charm Quilts.”

Seam allowance – the extra fabric which is designated on a pattern but is hidden on the reverse side after seams are sewn. For quilting, the standard seam allowance is ¼ inch, unless expressly stated otherwise. Any variation from the intended seam allowance will result in awkward joints for the geometric shapes of a quilt.

Self binding – when one surface of the quilt sandwich is cut larger than the batting and the other side. The larger piece is folded over the opposite side and mitered at the corners.

Selvage – The finishing edges of cloth, which are woven especially densely. This is part of the loom process. Selvages should never be part of the quilt pieces, not even as part of the seam allowance. They shrink differently from other cloth and create problems.

Seminole Piecing – A technique for putting squares or rectangles in an on-point arrangement, usually for borders.

Set-in seam – where three seams meet in a Y shape, such as when diamonds are used to make Tumbling Blocks.

Setting – the way in which blocks are assembled into a quilt. They may be butted up against each other or separated by sashing. They may be set square with the quilt body, or on point. There can be borders and insets. A large center medallion can be surrounded by smaller blocks. The blocks may be assembled in strips. And so on ...

Setting Squares – a plain square of cloth or a simple square used to alternate with more detailed squares and give a more interesting look to a quilt.
Signature Block – sometimes called a “siggy” – Plain cloth with signatures, exchanged like charm squares, for use in a signature quilt. These can include information such as city of residence.

Sleeve – a tube or strip attached to the back of the quilt, near the top, to be used to support the quilt on a rod for hanging.

Spider – A small bit of cloth which is stitched across before starting on the actual subject sewing piece. This prevents the threads from becoming tangled in the bobbin area when the stitching begins. Can be used between items, also. See also: Anchor.

Squaring a block – trimming a block to remove uneven edges. When joining blocks together in a quilt, all blocks should be squared to the same size.

Square in a square – a common and basic shape used in many quilt blocks and borders. It has one square, positioned on point, inside a second square, which is not on point. This creates an appearance of a fat diamond in a box.

Square to – the size for squaring a block. This is larger than the finished size by ½ inch.

Stack and Whack – a technique for using large-print fabrics to create repeating pinwheels, stars or other shapes. Cloth is aligned in layers and cut together to create a “fussy cut” pattern that will give a kaleidoscope look to the final pinwheel, star or shape.

Stacked Thread – thread that is wound onto a spool in a continuous line that meets the previous section on each revolution. This is the traditional way we think of thread spools. Thread wound in this way should always be mounted on a vertical spindle; it does not work well on a horizontal spindle. See “cross-wound thread.”

Stippling – quilting stitches done on a home sewing machine which create a continuous, meandering line that fills in an area of a quilt with fairly tight quilting. The line never crosses itself. Templates can be purchased for stippling.

Stitch in the Ditch – quilting stitches done on a home sewing machine, which follow the “ditch” created by joining seams. This quilting is almost invisible from the front, and enhances the shapes of the elements.
Stitches per inch – a way of measuring the size of stitches. For hand quilting, the count is both the number of stitches visible on the top and the number visible beneath. Fine quilting uses 10 to 12 stitches per inch, but 6 to 8 is still very good for beginners and for quick quilting.

Straight edge/Bias edge – every quilt piece edge is either on the straight of the grain or is on the bias.

Straight of the grain – the lengthwise grain. Cross-grain has more stretch and more shrinkage than lengthwise grain.

String piecing – the use of odd strips of cloth, from 1 inch to four inches wide, to create striped cloth for use in elements of a quilt. One method is to sew strips together, side to side, and then cut shapes from them. Another is foundation piece on cloth backings.

Strip cutting – strips are normally cut from selvage to selvage, across the grain. On a typical 42 inch width of cloth, the strips will be 42 inches long. If directions want the strip cut lengthwise, they will specify that. Otherwise, assume cross-grain strips.

Strip piecing – sewing strips of cloth together in preparation for more cutting. This is done to speed up the process of quilting.

Strip quilt – sometimes called a “strippie”– a quilt constructed of long vertical sections. Sometimes the sections have pieced/appliquéd squares set on point. Sometimes the sections vary between solid cloth and string piecing. These were a favorite of Pennsylvania quilt makers in the 1800s.

Top – the front of the quilt. This can be whole cloth or can be an intricately pieced/appliquéd pattern.

Template – a pattern piece used to mark or cut cloth for quilt pieces, or to mark stitching lines for quilting. Historically these were made of paper or cardboard. Modern patterns are cut from sturdy plastic sheets or hard-surfaced clear acrylics.

Template plastic – a thin but sturdy plastic which can be cut to size for marking quilt pieces. Templates are used for non-standard pieces which would be difficult to cut using rotary methods. Historically, all quilt patterns used templates.

Three-D Piecing – incorporating folded clothes onto the front of pieced areas, creating three-D effects. These are not suitable for long-arm quilting, as the three-D pieces will roll and pull with the passing of the long-arm machine.

Tie Dyeing – using string or rubber bands to tightly seal sections of cloth so that it will not absorb the colors in a dye bath. See also “resist dying.”

Trapunto – a technique for over-stuffing features of a quilt, such as appliquéd units, to give greater relief. Can be done with whole quilt. It is commonly done by added extra stuffing from a small hole behind the quilt, or by drawing yarn through areas with upholstery needles.

Value – the amount of black or white mixed into the color of a cloth. Values are rated as dark and light in two-color quilts. They are rated as dark, medium and light in three-color quilts. For four- and five-color quilts, the extra values are rated as medium-dark and medium-light. Value should not be confused with color. For example, cloth printed pink or gold can be darker in value than cloth printed green or lavender.

Value finder – a tool for differentiating value in colored cloth. Usually a red-shaded window of plastic through which cloth appears darker or lighter depending on the amount of black or white mixed into the color. For viewing red cloth, a green value finder is recommended.

Vegetable Dyes – colors created by using berries, fruits, or other plant materials, sometimes boiled. This is one of the oldest techniques for adding color to cloth.

Walking Foot – a machine foot which is used for quilting and binding. It feeds the top layer through so there is less shift between the top and bottom layers.

Watercolor Quilt – a quilt composed of many small squares of diverse fabrics, arranged like color pixels to create a picture.

Y2K Fabric – fabric printed in designs which celebrated the turn of the millennium.

Y2K Quilt – a commemorative quilt that celebrates the turn of the millennium

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