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Quilting Terms and Definitions

Introductory Note:  This listing is a work in progress.  I do not claim that it contains all quilting terms that are in use.  I have tried to cover those most frequently seen/heard. - Kathy Walker  (Editor's note: the links below have been double checked.  Many no longer work, unfortunately)... 

Amish Quilts

Quilts made by the Old Order Amish.  Traditionally the Amish do not use prints, and depending on how strict the order, a minimal amount of piecing.  Their older quilts are known for their elaborate quilting designs and striking color combinations.  For further information go to  

Appliqué - Cut pieces of fabric are placed over a base fabric and are stitched down either by hand or machine or they may be glued down.  For hand appliqué there are various methods of turning under the seam allowances, or in some instances as with the use of Wonder Under no edges are turned under at all.  For machine appliqué either invisible (nylon thread), decorative stitches or the satin stitch can be used. 

Backing - the bottom layer of fabric used to protect the batting, or underside of the quilt from wear.  It can be muslin, any large piece of fabric or even different fabrics pieced to the proper size.

Baltimore Album Quilts – Elaborate appliqué blocks, sometimes using 3 dimensional techniques for appliqué flowers, assembled into a quilt top.  Akin to Sampler Quilts made from different pieced blocks, each appliqué block is different from the others. The blocks of the quilt were often made by different quilters and signed by each.  The style of quilt was developed in Baltimore, MD in the 1800's.  For more information and links to pictures visit
Bar Quilts – Quilts where the center design of the top is in strips (or bars) that run the length of the center.  Pieced strips of the same pattern such as flying geese will alternate with plain strips to form the center. 

Bargello Quilts – A style of quilting based on the needlepoint technique of Bargello.  Bargello is geometric patterns done with gradations of colors using pieces of varying thickness and length.  To read about the history of the needlepoint designs and to see the many different patterns visit  See also:

Basting – In sewing, basting is using long sewing stitches to temporarily put two or more pieces of fabric together.  In quilting it is the act of temporarily assembling the 3 layers of a quilt prior to quilting.  Basting can be done by  thread using long stitches either by hand or on a Professional Quilting Machine, safety pins, Quilt Tacks (from a special tool call a tac gun), or by using spray adhesive, or the new self adhesive batts.  Not all quilts are basted together prior to quilting, basting is not necessary if the quilt is to be hand quilted on a Quilting Frame.  Basting is also not necessary when done on a commercial Longarm Machine or a home machine-quilting frame.  

Batik – A term used for wax resist dyed fabrics commonly made in Africa and Indonesia.  The wax is often a tree resin or paraffin wax, or a combination of the two.  The wax is stamped on the fabric which can be pre-dyed and then re-dyed.  Wax can also be applied by the use of a cant (a wooden tool).  For more information visit the following sites: and as well as of 2 modern batiks.

Batting - the filler material used between the top and bottom layers of fabric, it is usually a non-woven pad of fibers, either natural (cotton, wool, silk) or polyester fibers.   Also called Wadding by some non-American quilters.  Traditionally the batting could also be an old quilt or an old blanket.

Bias - refers to the 45 degree angle to the straight grains of fabric.   Fabric cut at this angle exposes an edge that is very stretchy and flexible.  Fabric that is on grain - is cut with the threads either going up/down or across with the original weave of the fabric.  You should avoid placing a bias edge on the outside edges of a pieced block.

Binding - The fabric that covers the edges of the quilt sandwich going from front to back on all four sides.  Binding is done various ways, using bias fabric, a double fold, or a single layer on grain.  Sometimes quilters will bring the backing fabric to the front sewing it down for a self binding, but most quilters now use a separate piece of fabric.

Border Quilts – Quilts that have a center medallion, or block, surrounded by several pieced and/or plain borders.  They are also called Medallion Quilts.

Borders - The strips of fabric that surround the center of a quilt top.  A top may have multiple borders, plain borders of a single fabric, pieced, or have appliqué.  Borders act as a frame to enhance the overall design of a quilt. 

Broderie Perse - A form of appliqué, where motifs are cut from a large print (usually floral) and appliquéd to a background, often using a fine buttonhole stitch.  This is a very traditional and early form of appliqué.  It was done by early American Quilters using Chintz fabric as a way to extend those very costly fabrics from overseas.   For more information visit

Calico - In the US calico is a 100% cotton fabric with a small floral print.

Charm Quilts – Quilts made with a one patch pattern, usually with all different fabrics used for each patch.  Shapes that can be used for charm quilts are hexagon, 60 degree diamond, square, kite, half hexagon, equilateral triangle, or any other tessellating shape.  For more information visit

Chintz – In the US a cotton fabric with a large floral print and often with a glazed finished.  It was originally manufactured in India for export.

Color Wash also called Watercolor – A style of quilt making where the value of the fabrics is more important than the color.  Usually done with squares though it can be done with other shapes of fabrics, where the fabrics are positioned to give a gradual change of value from one area to another.  Sharp changes are also used to give the design focus. Originally developed by Englishwoman Dierdre Amsden, it was amplified by Pat Maixner Magaret & Donna Ingram Slusser in their book called Watercolor Quilts.  A good starting point for viewing watercolor quilts on the web is

Conversation Prints – Fabric with small images of things or animals on a white/off white background.  They are usually printed with only one or two colors.   Found in old quilts or as reproduction fabrics.


Crazy Quilts – A great favorite during the Victorian era.  Crazy quilts are randomly pieced blocks, done either over muslin or paper often with silks, velvets and brocades.  They usually have decorative stitches and images.  They were made for show not use, and usually didn't have any batting just a backing and weren't actually quilted.  For further information visit

English Paper Piecing – a method of hand piecing units that have been basted over paper templates by using a whip stitch from the top, instead of a running stitch from the reverse side of the fabric.  Most often used for piecing hexagon shapes, such as are used in a Grandmothers Flower Garden quilt.  Paper templates are cut to size, next the fabric is cut with a ¼ inch seam allowance around all edges.  Place the paper in the center on the wrong side of the fabric piece, fold the seam allowance over the paper and baste down, through the fabric and the paper.  These prepared pieces are whipped stitched together from the top by hand.  Papers may be removed after the unit is sewn in place and reused.

Fat Quarter – A piece of fabric that is a quarter yard in size, but instead of being 9 inches wide and 45 inches long it is one half of a half yard cut, making the piece approximately 18 inches by 22 inches.  Many quilters find this a more useable size then the skinny quarter.

Feed Sack Fabrics -  Prior to 1950, flour, sugar, rice and many animal feeds were packaged in cotton sacks.  Manufacturers used printed fabrics for the sacks from approximately the 1880's till the 1950's.   These fabrics would be used by farmers' wives as sewing fabrics either for quilts, or for clothing.   A good site to visit for more information is Jane Clark Stapel's baglady site.

Flying Geese – a term for a rectangular unit made of 3 triangles, a large center triangle squared off by two smaller triangles.  A common unit in either quilt blocks or used as a border.

Foundation Paper Piecing – a method of piecing quilt blocks, where the design is drawn, printed or copied onto a piece of paper and then fabrics are placed on the wrong side of the paper and the sewing lines are machine sewn from the top along the marked lines.  Piecing must be done in a certain order.  Paper piecing allows for precision points and can be used to piece complex shapes and images.  

Foundation Piecing – also called Foundation paper piecing, but it does not have to be done on paper, muslin foundations can be used instead.  This method does not place the fabric on the back of the foundation, but instead on the top.  Two fabrics are placed right sides together on top of the foundation, a ¼ seam is sewn through all three layers, the top fabric is flipped and ironed in place, an additional piece of fabric is place on top of the 2nd fabric and the next seam is sewn.  This method can be used to make log cabin blocks, or for crazy quilting units.

Freezer Paper – It is a fairly heavy white paper with a plastic coating (originally wax) on one side.  Manufactured by Reynolds its original purpose was for the wrapping of meat (game) for the freezer.  When ironed it clings to fabric.  When removed it leaves no residue.  It is used by quilters for many things, among its uses are one time appliqué patterns, or as templates.  It can also be used to stabilize fabric that is to be written upon.

Fussy Cut – A technique of cutting fabric so that a specific image or area from a print fabric will be in the middle of the pattern piece in the finished block.  It is usually done with the use of see through templates.

Grain - refers to the direction of the threads in the woven fabric.  It is either straight, cross or bias.  Fabric that is on-grain is cut with the threads going up/down with the original weave of the fabric (the warp).  This is the least stretchy direction of a fabric weave. Cross-grain refers to the thread that is woven in and out of the warp (weft).  Bias refers to a 45 degree angle across the warp and weft. 

Greige (gray) Goods – This is the name for bleached or unbleached woven cotton fabric that is used for dyeing or printing.

Hawaiian Quilting – Quilts traditionally made in the Hawaiian Islands.  A form of appliqué where the design is cut from a large piece of cloth using a method similar to cutting snowflake designs out of paper.  The design elements are traditionally floral or having to do with the sea and done with solid brightly colored fabrics.  The appliqued design would then be quilted with echo quilting.   These quilts often did not have batting, just a top and backing stitched together.   For more information visit:

Jacobean Appliqué – Appliqué designs based on Jacobean embroidery patterns developed during the reign of the James I of Scotland.   The tree of life is a common motif.  Pat Campbell is the most noted teacher/designer in this area.  Read an interview with her at

Marbleized – A method of dyeing fabrics where paints are floated on a pretreated water surface and prepared fabric is placed on top to pick up the colors.  Based on a technique used for coloring papers for use on the inside fronts and backs of books.

Muslin – in the US an inexpensive cotton fabric usually unbleached with no finishes.  But not as light weight as a gauze

Piecing - A term used for assembling quilt blocks or tops either by hand or on a sewing machine using geometric shaped pieces of fabric.

Plaid - True plaids are woven with different colored threads in the warp and weft, creating a planned geometric color pattern.

Quilt - A bed covering, or wall hanging that consists of 3 (2) layers sewn or stitched together. The top layer is the quilt top, pieced or appliquéd, or even whole cloth.  The middle layer is the batting or wadding.  The bottom layer is called the backing. 

Quilt Blocks - Usually traditional patterns that may be square in shape that are made up as repetitive units and assembled to create, when joined together as a quilt top, an overall design.  The patterns are made up of geometric shapes, sewn either by hand or on the sewing machine.  The blocks are usually named and over the years thousands of different blocks have been designed.  There are many books on the market that are collections of block patterns. 

Quilt Top - This is the top layer of a quilt, either pieced, or appliquéd, by hand or machine.

Quilting - A generic term for the process of making a Quilt from beginning to end.  Or the actual act of sewing the layers of a quilt together, either by hand or by machine.  Also refers to the finished lines of sewn thread that make up the quilting design

  Reverse Appliqué – Another type of appliqué, the fabric that is eventually to show on the top is placed underneath the base fabric.  The design/pattern is copied unto the top fabric and then the top fabric is cut so that it can be turned back to the design edges.  Seam allowances are turned under and are stitched to the underneath fabric exposing the underneath fabric to view.   More than one layer of fabric can be used.  This style of appliqué is done by both the Hmong people from China and the Cuna Indians from the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama who make Molas .   It is also a technique used for stain glass appliqué patterns.

Rotary Cutter – A tool used to cut fabrics, looks a bit like a pizza cutter.  Consists of a handle and a thin round blade, which is razor sharp.  Must be used with caution and kept out the reach of young children.  For safety reasons and to extend the life of the blade it should only be used with rotary cutting mats and rulers.  There are several manufactures with different handle styles and sizes.  They come in 3 sizes, small, medium, and large.   

Rotary Cutter Rulers – Heavy plastic rulers with marked grids and lines to be used with rotary cutters.  It is best to stay with the same manufacturer when purchasing rulers to be sure that the measurements are consistent.   For beginning quilters the 6 x 24 rectangular ruler is the most useful size, with an additional smaller square ruler. 

Rotary Cutting Mat – A special mat made to be used with a rotary cutter.  The mats are self healing so the cuts from the cutting blade don't tear it apart.  Purchase the largest size mat you can afford and that fits in your working area.  The mats must be stored flat, as they can warp, esp. in the heat from the sun.  

Round Robin – A group of quilters, usually 5 or 6, who get together to make a quilt.  Each quilter will start the round by making their starting block.  Then it will be mailed/passed on to another member of the group who will add something to the quilt and pass it on until each member of the group has worked on the quilt.  The quilt will eventually return to the originator so each member of the group ends up with a quilt that has been worked on by all the members of the group.  The rules for each round are usually decided before the quilters start sewing.  There are different kinds of quilts that can be made in a round robin, border quilts, one of a kind quilts, and row quilts.

Row Quilts – Quilts where the repetitive design has been done in rows.  The rows are usually separated by strips of non-pieced fabric.  This type of quilt has become popular for Round Robins where each row is a different block pattern. 

Selvage - the more tightly woven edges of a piece of fabric, the selvage edges often contain Mfg. information, and printing registration marks, and is usually not dyed or printed.  The selvages are the two outer edges of the width of fabric on a bolt.  The selvage area should not be used and may be cut off prior to using the fabric.

Sampler Quilts – Quilts made with a group of different blocks, can be either pieced or appliquéd or a combination of both.  They are often made by beginning quilters as they make different blocks to learn the various sewing techniques.  Usually assembled with sashing, and often use the same fabrics in each block as a unifying feature.

Sashing - The strips of fabric used between quilt blocks in a quilt top.  They can be solid pieces/strips of fabric or can be pieced.  Sashing can be used to separate blocks that are not of the same pattern as in Sampler Quilts, or can be used to size blocks that are not all exactly the same size. 

Seam Allowance – Is the distance between the sewn seam and the edge of the fabric piece. Quilters prefer to use a scant ¼ inch when machine piecing, and at least a ¼ inch when hand piecing.  Exceptions are needle-turn applique and miniatures where a 1/8 inch is used.

Shirting Fabrics – Cotton fabrics with geometric designs printed on them, usually a small single color repeat design on a white or off white background.  Used for men's shirts, or woman's blouses.  Found in old quilts or as reproduction fabrics.

Stipple Quilting - A hand quilting technique where small random stitches are placed very close together.  This method flattens out the surface of the quilt.  Often used with Trapunto to make the raised area stand out even more.  It is also a term used for a randomly curved free motion machine quilting, which is more accurately called meander quilting.

Square in a Square – a common pieced unit of a square with 4 triangles attached, one triangle to each side of the square, making a larger square unit.

Stack n Whack – A piecing technique developed by Maine Quilter Bethany Reynolds.  It is a technique for creating kaleidoscope blocks.  It works well using large to medium scale print fabric.  Fabric yardage is carefully stacked, matching repeats, and cut.  The number of repeats needed is determined by the number of wedges to be cut.  The squares are stacked on top of each other and then cut to form 6 or 8 equal pie shaped pieces.  Teach stack of the same section of fabric is then sewn together to make a block.  For more information visit Bethany's site:

Stain Glass Appliqué - There are several techniques that can be used to reproduce the look of a stained glass window in fabric.  Most of them are forms of appliqué.  For additional information see

Strip Piecing – A method of machine piecing quilt blocks that doesn't use templates but cut strips of fabric which are then cut into required sub units for piecing.  The strips are cut with a rotary cutter, mat and rulers.  It is an adapted form of the Seminole Indian's traditional piecework technique.

Templates – A pattern of a shape needed for making a quilt block that can be marked around on fabric by a pencil.  Templates are used for both appliqué and hand piecing.  Templates that are to be used only once can be made out of freezer paper and ironed onto the fabric to be cut.  Sturdier materials for template making are cardboard or plastic sheets. Commercial templates are made from Plexiglas and have printed guides.   

Thread count - The number of threads per square inch in a fabric, including both warp and weft threads. Good quilting cotton generally has a thread count of 60/78 to 80/90 threads per square inch.  Fabrics with a higher thread count can be difficult to hand piece or hand quilt.  Too low a count will contribute to failure of t he fabric when handled.  It is not information generally divulged by manufacturers.  There are magnifying tools sold that can be used to determine the count. 

Tone on Tone – A printed fabric which from a distance appears to be solid, can be used by quilters to replace solid colored fabrics in a quilt design. 

Trapunto – A method of hand or machine quilting where extra batting (padding) is added behind the top layer of a quilt so that the area inside the quilting lines puffs out more than the surrounding surface of the top.   Traditionally a slit was made in the backing and extra batting would be inserted.  Modern quilters have come up with simpler and easier methods.  For additional information visit  or or .

Value – Value is the relative darkness or lightness of a fabric color when compared to another fabric color.  All colors have a value ranging from light to dark.  White fabrics would be a lighter value when compared to a navy blue fabric.  Quilt blocks are usually designed to use fabrics with at least two different values, light and dark, though many blocks also incorporate the use of medium values.  The contrast between the values gives the block design its impact.  Learning to use value in quilt design is critical to successful quilt design.

Warp - the lengthwise threads in a piece of fabric they run parallel to the selvage edges, in weaving they are the threads on the loom.  This is the direction of the fabric that has the less give or stretch.   Experienced quilters recommend cutting the border strips for a quilt from the length wise (straight) grain of the fabric as it adds stability to the quilt top. 

Watercolor Quilts – see Color Wash

Weft - the cross wise threads in a piece of fabric.  These are the threads in the shuttle that is moved back and fourth across the warp during weaving.  The weft threads run from selvage to selvage - the width of a piece of fabric as it is on the bolt.  This direction of the fabric has more stretch than the lengthwise warp but less than the bias.

Uploaded: 2/21/2004