Quilting Terms Made Easy (or at least easier)

Posted by Marie Adams on

Quilting has its own set of terms and terminology. As a novice quilter, it’s easy to get confused, or even overwhelmed. Here are some common quilting terms, and an explanation:

  1. Quilt:

    • A quilt is made of three layers - a top layer of fabric, a layer of batting or wadding in the middle, and a backing fabric. These are then tied, or “quilted” together, making the one complete unit. 
  2. Block:

    • A square or other geometric shape that is the basic unit of a quilt. Many quilts are made up of multiple “blocks” sewn together to create the artistic quilt top (the top layer of the quilt)
  3. Sashing:

    • Strips of fabric that separate and define blocks within a quilt. Not all quilts have sashing, but many do. For beginners, they are a great way to disguise any discrepancies in the sizing of the blocks.
  4. Binding:

    • The fabric strip used to finish the edges of a quilt. It is usually sewn to one side, then rolled around the edge, covering the raw edges, then stitched down on the other side. This can be done either by hand, or machine.
  5. Batting/Wadding:

    • The middle layer of a quilt, providing insulation and warmth. It's usually made of cotton, polyester, wool, or a blend. Make sure to do your research to see what batting is best for your project.
  6. Backing:

    • The fabric on the back of the quilt. This can be one larger piece of fabric, or smaller pieces sewn together to cover the entire back of the quilt. 
  7. Quilting:

    • The process of stitching through all three layers of the quilt to hold them together. This can be done by hand or machine. Quilts can also be tied, which achieves the same effect, but with a different look and feel. 
  8. Patchwork:

    • The technique of sewing small pieces of fabric together to create a larger design. As my dad says, “Cutting up perfectly good fabric, and sewing it back together.” These patchwork blocks often make a design on their own, or play a part in a larger, overall design of the quilt.
  9. Appliqué:

    • The process of sewing smaller pieces of fabric onto a larger piece to create a design or pattern. There are endless ways to do appliqué, so it might take some experimenting to find what works for you.
  10. Fat Quarter:

    • A quarter-yard of fabric, cut in a more “square” shape instead of a long strip. Essentially, a Fat Quarter is a half yard cut, cut again at the fold. Each fat quarter is approximately 18”x22”.
  11. WIP (Work in Progress):

    • Refers to a quilt that is currently being worked on but is not yet finished. Another term that means the same thing is a UFO (Unfinished Object). There are many different terms used to mean the same thing. You can choose which one you use, as quilters always seem to build up unfinished projects.
  12. Quilt Sandwich:

    • The three layers of a quilt (top, batting, and backing) pinned or basted together before quilting.
  13. Chain Piecing:

    • Sewing a series of pieces together without cutting the thread between them. The thread is cut when you finish sewing that group of pieces together. This can save time, and thread.
  14. Free Motion Quilting:

    • Quilting where the fabric is moved freely under the needle, allowing for more intricate and detailed designs. This technique can be fun, but can also take a lot of practice and experimenting. Some of the most beautiful quilting is often free motion. 
  15. Bias:

    • The diagonal direction of a fabric, often used in binding due to its flexibility.
  16. Stash:

    • A quilter's collection of fabrics. This can include fabrics left over from other projects, or fabrics you may have bought, but don’t yet have a purpose. 
  17. Longarm Quilting:

    • Quilting done on a specialized longarm quilting machine, which is larger than a regular sewing machine and can accommodate larger quilts. Many quilters who own a longarm, often quilt for customers. In the long run, while not cheap, it can be cheaper to pay someone to quilt it for you, than to invest money and space in a large machine. The patterns that can be done on a longarm are endless, making it easier to customize your project.
  18. Quilt Guild:

    • A group of quilters who meet regularly to share ideas, techniques, and support each other. Guilds usually meet once a month, and often have special guests present on a variety of topics. They may all offer classes, bees, opportunities for charitable work, and so much more!
  19. Fussy Cutting:

    • Carefully cutting a specific motif or design from fabric to showcase it in a quilt block.
  20. Basting:

    • Temporarily securing the layers of a quilt together before quilting, usually with pins or temporary adhesive. This process holds the layers together, so they are less likely to shift, until you can get it quilted. If you are having it quilted on a longarm, this process is often not necessary. Check with you quilter before basting your quilt. 

These terms should help you navigate the world of quilting more easeily. If I have missed any terms you might have trouble with, comment below and I’ll get you an answer!

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