Quilter’s Glossary

All Over Meander — A generic free-motion quilting pattern to describe a large looping pattern used over large areas of the quilt.

Appliqué — Sewing a piece of fabric on top of another piece of fabric. No seams are created.

Backing — The back of the quilt. The backing is generally not seen if the quilt is hanging on a wall or on a bed.

Basting — Attaching layers of fabric together to prepare them for sewing or quilting.

Batik — A method of creating printed fabrics using wax.

Batting — The middle layer of a quilt. Batting can be made from different materials such as cotton, polyester, silk, wool, etc. It acts as insulation.

Bias — The 45-degree angle of a woven fabric. Fabric cut on the bias has more give.

Binding — A long piece of folded fabric that wraps around the raw edge of a quilt. It acts as a frame around the entire quilt. It is generally the final step in the quilt making process.

Block — The basic unit of a quilt. Blocks are sewn together to create different patterns for the overall quilt top.

Borders — Long pieces of fabric surrounding the overall pattern of the quilt top.

Chain Piecing — Piecing multiple groups of fabric in a row without breaking thread on your sewing machine.

Charm Packs –A precut of 5” squares.

Civil War Fabric — A generic term used to describe prints designed to look like fabric from the 1800s.

Clamshells — Overlapping curved pieces used in English paper piecing.

Cornerstones — Fabric squares that are sewn at the junction of the sashing or borders of a quilt top.

Curved Piecing — Sewing two pieces of fabric that have been cut along a curved line.

Curved Safety Pins — Specialty safety pins with a slight curve used for pin basting.

Disappearing Nine Patch — A traditional Nine Patch block that is then cut and resewn to create a new pattern.

Double Wedding Ring — A traditional block using curved piecing to create the look of interlocking rings.

Drunkard’s Path — A traditional quilt block. It features a pattern of quarter circles sewn together.

English Paper Piecing — A method of piecing that involves hand sewing fabric around paper templates.

Facing — A method of finishing the raw edges of a quilt which gives the quilt an unframed look.

Fat Quarters — A precut that is generally a large rectangle with the measurement of 18” x 21”.

Feathers — A traditional free-motion quilting pattern designed to look like feathers.

Fiber Art — Any creative and intentional use of fabric and fibers. Quilts are a form of fiber art.

Flying Geese — A traditional quilt piece made up of three triangles that form a rectangle.

Foundation Paper Piecing — A method of piecing that involves sewing fabric along lines drawn on paper.

Four Patch — Four squares sewn together.

Free-motion Quilting (FMQ) — A method of quilting various designs in a similar fashion as drawing.

Freezer Paper — Paper with a slightly glossy side used in appliqué.

Fusible — A material that can be glued to fabric by applying the heat of an iron. It is used to give stability to fabrics that are otherwise difficult to sew. It is often used in the process of appliqué.

Fussy Cutting — A method of cutting out a very specific piece of a print which will be featured in a quilt block.

Glue Basting — A method of basting a quilt sandwich that involves the use of spray glue.

Half-square Triangle — A pieced quilt block made up of two triangles sewn together along their longest sides, creating a square.

Hand Binding — Usually referring to the process of attaching the first side of the binding by machine but finishing the second side of the binding by hand.

Hand Quilting — Sewing the layers of a quilt sandwich together with a hand needle and thread rather than a sewing machine.

Hexies — Hexagon quilt blocks. This term is often used in English paper piecing.

High-volume Print — A print with very little negative space in the overall design.

Improv Piecing — A method of piecing that involves sewing fabric together with no specific plan.

Interfacing — The general term for a material used to stabilize fabric. See fusible.

Jelly Rolls — A precut of strips measuring 2.5” x WoF.

Layer Cakes — A precut of 10” squares.

Log Cabin — A traditional quilt block. The traditional log cabin block has a red square in the center. Alternating strips of dark and light fabrics are sewn around the center square.

Longarm Quilting Machine — A machine designed to be used only for quilting. It consists of a frame on which the quilt sandwich is placed. The quilter then guides the quilting machine over the quilt to free-motion quilt the pattern.

Low-volume Print — A print with a lot of negative space in the overall design.

Machine Binding — Attaching the binding completely by machine.

Mitered Corners — The result of folding the binding in a way to produce a 45-degree fold at the corner.

Modern Quilt — A subjective term used to describe quilts that do not use traditional blocks.

Nine Patch — Nine squares sewn together.

Ohio Star — A traditional quilt block. The Ohio Star consists of a square in the middle with a quarter-square triangle on each side of the square.

On Point — Quilt blocks that are sewn together in a diamond pattern instead of a square pattern.

Partial Seams — Sewing two pieces of fabric but not completing the seam until more fabric has been added at a later point.

Pebbles — A traditional free-motion quilting pattern designed to look like pebbles.

Piecing — Sewing two pieces of fabric together and creating a seam.

Pin Basting — A method of basting a quilt that uses curved safety pins placed approximately every 4” over the entire quilt sandwich.

Pineapple Block — A traditional quilt block.

Precuts — Fabric that has been cut into specific shapes and sizes to expedite the piecing process.

Press to the Dark Side — Pressing the seam to the darker fabric.

Pressing — Using an iron to gently flatten seams. Depending on the desired results, the seam can be pressed open or to one side.

Prints — Any fabric with a design printed on it.

Quarter-inch Seam — The standard seam allowance when piecing quilts. The measurement from the thread line to the edge of the seam is 0.25 inches.

Quarter-square Triangle — A pieced quilt block made up of four triangles sewn together to create a square.

Quilt — Generally, a quilt is any piece of fiber art made up of a top layer, a bottom layer, and batting in the middle which have all been stitched together.

Quilt Guild — A group of quilters who gather on a regular basis.

Quilt Panel — A piece of fabric with a large picture printed on it.

Quilt Police — An imaginary force of quilters who believe there are strict rules that must always be followed for all steps of the quilting process.

Quilt Sandwich — The three layers of a quilt — quilt top, batting, and backing. This term is generally used when the three layers have been basted together and before they’ve been quilted.

Quilt Shop — A fabric and notions store specifically geared towards quilters.

Quilt Show — A large presentation of quilts usually open to the public. There are often vendor booths as well. Many quilt shows judge the quilts that have been entered.

Quilt Top — The front, or top, of a quilt. The quilt top is generally the side of the quilt that is most seen.

Quilting — The pattern of stitching which joins all three layers of a quilt.

Quilting Cotton — A medium weight cotton fabric that is most often used to make quilts.

Quilting Rulers — Rulers that are specifically designed to be used with rotary cutters. Many quilting rulers are also designed to help create specific kinds of quilt blocks.

Right Side — The side of a printed fabric with the actual pattern.

Right Sides Together — Placing a printed fabric with the right side facing up and then placing another printed fabric on top of it with the right side facing down. Once sewn together and pressed open, the right sides of both pieces of fabric will be on the same side.

Rotary Cutter — A circular blade that allows the user to cut long straight lines into fabric when used with quilting rulers.

Sashing — Long pieces of fabric framing individual blocks on a quilt top.

Scant Quarter-inch Seam — The measurement from the thread line to the edge of the seam is one or two thread widths short of 0.25 inch.

Scrappy quilt — A quilt made up of a variety of prints.

Seam Allowance — The measurement of the seam.

Seam Ripper — A tool used to rip out threads from a seam or to rip out threads used for quilting.

Self-healing Cutting Mat — A surface on which to cut fabric using a rotary cutter. Once the mats have been wiped down, the cuts seal themselves.

Selvage — The very densely woven edge of fabric that prevents it from unraveling. It often has identifying information printed on it.

Small Piecing — Piecing quilt blocks measuring less than 2” square. See tiny piecing.

Solids — Fabric that is a single color and nothing printed on it.

Squaring Up a Block/Quilt — Trimming the edges of a block or quilt so that it is even.

Stash — A quilter’s collection of fabric.

Stippling — A traditional free-motion quilting pattern consisting of a jigsaw-like design.

Tiny Piecing — Piecing quilt blocks measuring less than 2” square. See small piecing.

Traditional Quilt — A subjective term used to describe quilts that use traditional blacks.

UFOs — An acronym for unfinished objects, or any incomplete quilting projects. Most UFOs are finished quilt tops that still need to be made into a quilt sandwich and quilted.

Walking Foot — A special presser foot that grips the top of the fabric the same way the feed dogs of a sewing machine grip the bottom of the fabric.

Whole Cloth Quilt — A quilt made with one solid piece of fabric and quilted with an intricate design.

Wide Backing Fabric — Fabric that is specially created for quilt backing. It is much wider than traditional fabric so that one continuous piece can be used for the entire back of a quilt.

Width of Fabric (WoF) — The measurement of a piece of fabric from selvage to selvage.

Wrong Side — The side of a printed fabric that does not have the pattern on it.

Y-seams — The result of three seams coming together at a center point.

Yardage — This term is usually used to refer to cutting large pieces of fabric from the bolt.

Quilting 101: What Is a Quilt?

This is the first of a series of posts I’m calling Quilting 101, where I’m going to walk you through the basics of quilting as well as introduce you to some vocabulary.  

Today’s post will start to answer:  What exactly is a quilt? At the most basic level, a quilt is made up of three layers, also known as the quilt sandwich. The front of the quilt is often called the quilt top.  Then you have the backing.  And in between you have the batting.  Those three layers are sewn together, and that is called the quilting.  

That said, I am by no means a quilting purist — I do not belong to the Quilt Police — and I truly believe the answer to “What is a quilt?” can be far more varied and nuanced.  In fact, I want to emphasize this one very important point. There are no hard and fast rules to any of this. Some of the most exciting pieces of fiber art I’ve seen were created by people who broke all of the so-called quilting rules and just went crazy with fabric and thread.  First and foremost, quilting is and should always be fun!

As I go through this introduction, keep in mind that everything in the quilting process that involves needle and thread can be done by hand, on a sewing machine, or a combination of both. Because I prefer using a sewing machine over hand sewing, most of my posts will be dealing with machine piecing and quilting.  But people have been creating beautiful quilts completely by hand for centuries, so if that’s what you prefer, go for it — see the last sentence of the previous paragraph, please.

The beginning of the quilting process usually starts with creating a design for the quilt top or choosing a premade design.  Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time to find the fabric — oh, the pretty, pretty fabrics!!

If you haven’t already done so, please find your local quilt shops and bask in the glory of their gorgeous merchandise.  I certainly buy plenty of fabrics online, but nothing beats seeing the colors and prints in person and actually feeling them before deciding what you want for your project. And even when I do buy fabrics online, I try to buy from quilt shops through Etsy versus big retailers like Joanne or Fabric.com.  That said, sometimes you want something very specific and you just have to buy it where you find it.

You can technically quilt with any kind of fabric — cotton, silk, denim, jersey knit, even leather! I mean, the list goes on and on, but most quilters use quilting cotton or a medium weight cotton because it’s the easiest to work with, so that’s what I would recommend to anyone just starting out.  

Quilting cottons come in a huge variety of prints and solids.  Printed fabrics will have a right side and a wrong side.  The right side is the side with the printed design on it.  The wrong side will look like a faded version of that design or not have the design on it at all.  Solids usually don’t have a right or wrong side — both sides are the same.

There are many ways to create the quilt top.  Most quilts use piecing methods or appliqué or a combination of both.  Piecing is when you put two pieces of fabric right sides together and sew a seam along the edge.  

Appliqué is when you sew a piece of fabric on top of another piece of fabric.  In other words, you apply a piece of fabric on top of another.  

Another way to create a quilt top is to use a panel.  Panels are large pieces of fabric with an image printed on them.  Depending on how the panel is printed, you can use it as a single piece for the top or you can cut it up and sew it back together to form a new design or you can add borders around it so that it becomes the centerpiece of your pieced top.  

You could also create a whole cloth quilt, which is simply a large piece of fabric, usually a solid, with no piecing or appliqué.  The purpose of a whole cloth quilt is to show off the quilting.

Most pieced and appliqué quilts will require you to cut up fabric and sew it together. There are a variety of tools to expedite the cutting process including self-healing cutting mats, rotary cutters, quilting rulers specifically designed for rotary cutters, and of course scissors.

If you are piecing a quilt top, you usually create a series of blocks and then sew the blocks together into bigger blocks and on and on. Most blocks are pieced using a quarter inch seam. You might also hear the term “scant quarter inch,” which means a seam that is just one or two thread widths shy of a true quarter inch.

Once you’ve pieced two pieces of fabric together, you need to press the seam with an iron.

The middle layer is the batting.  There are many kinds of batting made of many different fibers.   For the purposes of this post, just know that the batting is the fluffy stuff in the middle of the quilt, which is what makes the quilt all warm and cozy.  

The bottom layer is called the backing.  Just like the top, there are many ways to create the backing of a quilt, though most quilters use either a single piece of fabric or very large pieces of fabric sewn together rather than any sort of complicated piecing techniques.  Of course, some quilters are over achievers and love to make the back of their quilts just as visually interesting as the front of their quilts. Again, see my statement above about doing whatever the heck you want as long as you’re having fun.  

Once you’ve prepared the three layers of your quilt, you need to baste them together before you quilt them.  Basting is simply a no-nonsense way of putting layers together so they don’t move when you are ready to do more controlled sewing. At this point in my quilting journey, I pin baste all of my quilts using curved safety pins.  However, there are several methods for basting a quilt, and the method you choose is simply a matter of personal preference.  

Once your quilt is basted, it’s ready to be quilted.  A lot of quilters do not find any pleasure from the actual quilting process, so they pay someone else to quilt their tops for them.  However, it is totally possible to quilt any sized quilt on your domestic machine, so if the only reason you’ve avoided this step in the past is because you’re afraid to try, stop being afraid and just go for it! You might be surprised at how fulfilling you find this part of the process.  I certainly was!

There are a few different ways to quilt on your home machine.  A very popular and relatively fast way is to attach a walking foot and quilt straight lines from edge to edge.   

There’s also free-motion quilting, which is basically “doodling” with thread on your quilt.  

Of course you can always hand quilt the layers together.  

And finally, you could do any combination of these techniques or even come up with a new and creative way of securing the three layers of your quilt together!

Once the quilt has been quilted, it’s time to square it up, which eliminates all of the extra fabric on the edges of your quilt and gives you a clean, raw edge.  

After you’ve squared it up, it’s time to add the binding or facing, which are two different techniques to cover up the raw edges.  

And that’s it!  You just made a quilt!  (Or at least you imagined making one.)  Have you started your quilting journey yet?  If so, what is your favorite part of the process?  What’s your least favorite? Post your comments below and let’s share our joys and tribulations with the quilting community.  Happy quilting!