Quilting Terms and Definitions

Lots of terms and definitions floating around out there. What in the heck does Assembly Line Piecing mean? If you are on any lists or Facebook groups, you are going to run into these terms. I've been quilting for years (and years and years - yeah - a long time) and these are some of the terms that you see quite a bit.

Quilting Terms

Album Quilt ... A quilt assembled from individual blocks, each designed and/or executed by a different person. Album blocks are appliqued or pieced (or both), and frequently stitched into a quilt by a group for presentation to a public figure to commemorate a special occasion. In the past, blocks often were signed and dated by the maker in ink or embroidery.

Appliqué ... The sewing technique for attaching pieces (appliqués) of fabric onto a background fabric. Appliqués may be stitched to the background by hand, using a blind stitch, or by machine, using a satin stitch or a blind hemstitch.

Assembly Line Piecing ... A method of machine piecing small quilt block units in one, continuous, stream, one right after another. The pieces are then clipped apart, pressed, and the next section is affixed in the same manner. Most common method for piecing the Log Cabin Block or when piecing several of the same block. Also called: Chain Piecing, Strip Piecing.

Basting ... The sewing technique for joining by hand layers of fabric or the layers of a quilt with large stitches. The stitching is temporary and is removed after permanent stitching. Use a BRIGHT color to make it easier to locate when time to remove. I discovered having my longarm quilter baste my quilts way back when I was still hand-quilting my quilts. If you want to hand-quilt, check with your longarm quilter, it is usually a pretty reasonable price to baste your quilt for you. However, if you are taking your quilt to a longarmer, DON'T baste it as the longarmer will load your quilt project each layer (top, batting, backing) at a time.

Batting ... The layers of filler placed between two pieces of fabric to form a quilt. Its thickness varies, and it provides warmth. Also known as stuffing or wadding. Most commonly used for machine quilting is 80/20 combination of cotton and polyester. If hand quilting, you would probably want a 100% cotton batting. Most Polyester batting adds more 'loft' (puffiness) in finished quilt, comes in different thicknesses. More on BATTING

Bearding ... The little white things that appear on the back of a quilt. When the needle pierces the 3 layers during quilting, the batting can migrate to the outside through the quilting holes. Not very attractive. Usually shows up when using white or cream colored batting and a really dark backing. Black batting is usually available at an additional cost.

Bias ... The grain of woven fabric that is at a 45 degree angle to the selvages.

Binding ... the strip of fabric used to cover the outside (raw) edges and batting of a quilt. It traditionally is double folded to provide extra strength around the edge, where a quilt often gets more wear and tear.

Block ... The basic unit of a quilt top.

Border ... A strip of fabric that is joined to the outside of the quilt to enhance it. A block is often a pieced design in a square or rectangle shape.

Chain Piecing ... A time saving piecing technique where block components are sewn on to their blocks one after another without cutting the threads.

Charm Pack ... Moda Fabrics introduced us to Charm Packs (Part of the Moda Bakeshop) A collection of 42 5" strips of fabrics that are cut from a specific fabric collection. There may be duplicates of fabrics.

Charm Quilt ... A quilt made up of "block" units that are all the same shape/size but all different fabrics. The pieces are generally small (less than 5", but most commonly 2" or less) and are common themes for fabric swaps on the Internet, Bees or with a guild.

Cornerstones ... Generally a small square piece of fabric used at the intersection of blocks or sashing sections of a quilt top

DSM ... Domestic Sewing Machine. Home sewing machine used for piecing and quilting.

Design Wall ... A space to hang your blocks and preview your design before piecing them together. It can be as simple as a piece of flannel or batting tacked to a wall, or permanent foam wrapped with flannel installed in your sewing area.

Echo Quilting ... A type of outline quilting in which the first line of quilting is quilted in-the-ditch of the appliqué motif. The next line is quilted 1/4" away from the previous line. Echo line quilting emphasizes the shape or shapes it surrounds, both by compressing the background and by the impact created by the repeating lines. Often associated with Hawaiian quilting.

EPP ... English Paper Piecing The art of precise hand piecing patchwork pieces. Most commonly used is the hexagon used in Grandmothers Flower Garden quilts.

Fat Quarter ... 1/2 yard of fabric cut in half at the middle fold. (Creating a rectangle approx. 18" wide by 22" length) There are 4 fat quarters (commonly referred to as FQ) in one yard of fabric.

Finger-pressing ... A method for forming temporary guidelines by taking fabric between your fingers and rubbing it to make a temporary crease. This is REALLY hard on fingernails. There are lots of tools out there that do the same thing, but usually not close at hand when you need it. Ask me how I know, and why my manicurist grimaces every time I come in to get my nails done!

Finished size ... The measurement of a completed block or quilt (does not include seam allowances)

Free motion ... Free form sewing that can be quilting or thread embellishment. Feed dogs are lowered, or dropped, on the sewing machine so the quilter is in control of where the fabric is moved. For accurate stitch length, the quilter must then achieve a balance of how fast the stitching goes vs. how much the fabric is moved. (This is what you do before you become frustrated and buy a midarm or longarm machine)

Fusible web... A material that has been treated with an adhesive that fuses fabric pieces together when pressed with a warm iron.

Fussy Cut ... To select a specific area of a motif when cutting fabric, instead of allowing random cuts.

Grain ... The lengthwise and crosswise threads of a woven fabric. A grainline arrow, printed on a pattern, helps you properly place your pattern on the fabric.

Hanging sleeve ... A tube of fabric blind stitched to the top edge of the quilt back through which a hanging rod or dowel can be inserted. For little wallhangings, a TRIANGLE in the corners might be a great alternative.

Hexie ... Hexagon-popular patchwork or EPP shape

In-the-ditch quilting ... The stitching that is made alongside a seam or an appliqué edge.

Jelly Roll ... Moda Fabrics introduced us to Jelly Rolls (Part of the Moda Bakeshop) A collection of 42 2.5" strips of fabrics that are cut WOF from a specific fabric collection. There may be duplicates of fabrics.

Label ... Usually placed on the back of a finished quilt, the label includes information such as who made it and when, who was the recipient, perhaps what is special about it. Especially important for dating heirloom quilts 100 years from now! Can be written in water soluble ink or embroidered directly on the quilt, or on a piece of fabric that is then finished and appliqu?d onto the back.

Layer Cake ... Moda Fabrics introduced us to Jelly Rolls (Part of the Moda Bakeshop) A collection of 42 10" squares of fabrics that are cut from a specific fabric collection. There may be duplicates of fabrics.

Long Arm Machine ... A large free motion sewing machine used to quilt the three layers together on a quilt. Generally has a throat measurement of 23" or longer and can be computerized. Allows the Long Arm Quilter to stitch 18" or greater sections at a time.

Long Arm Quilter ... A quilter that uses a Long Arm Machine to stitch the layers of a quilt together.

Matchpoint ... The ending or pivoting place of a seam line.

Mitered seam ... A 45 degree angle seam.

Outline quilting ... Stitching that is made outside or inside the seam lines of patchwork or appliqué.

Patchwork ... The composite of pieces sewn together to form a large piece, such as a quilt.

Quick cutting ... the process of cutting fabric into strips and pieces using a rotary cutter, a thick, clear plastic ruler, and a cutting mat.

Quick piecing ... The machine-sewing method for joining fabric, instead of cutting it into pattern pieces.

Quick Triangles ... A grid system method to make half-square triangle squares.

Quilt Sandwich ... A traditional quilt is comprised of three layers. The top which might have been pieced, the batting in the center, and the backing, which is traditionally one large piece of fabric, or a few large pieces of fabric pieced to slightly larger than the top. More on Quilt Sandwich

Quilt Top ... Top layer of a quilt (see quilt sandwich for all three layers). This layer could be pieced or wholecloth.

Quilting ... The small, running stitches made through the layers of a quilt -- top, batting and backing -- to form decorative patterns on the surface of the quilt and to hold the layers together.

Quilting thread ... A heavy cotton thread that is used for hand quilting.

Raw edge ... The cut side of fabric.

Right sides together ... Fabric units are sewn together with the finished side of the fabrics together. Some fabrics have a "right" side and a "wrong" side that is usually obvious. Solids and batiks generally can be used on either side.

Round Robin ... A quilt project for a group. Each member of the group sews a "round" onto the center medallion block.

Sampler Quilt ... A quilt that is comprised of many different block designs.

Sashing ...The fabric that separates blocks in a setting, framing them and making the quilt larger. There are two basic kinds of sashing -- continuous and sashing with sashing posts.

Satin stitch ... A side-by-side stitch that resembles satin when completed.

Seam allowance ... The margin of fabric between the seam and the raw edge. For quilting, it is 1/4".

Seam line ... The guideline that the sewer follows while stitching.

Selvage/Selvedge ... The lengthwise finished edge on each side of the fabric.

Set or setting ... The organization of blocks in a quilt top.

Setting square ... The plain block or square used with patchwork or appliquéd blocks in a setting.

Setting triangle or Set-In Triangle ... A triangle placed between blocks along the sides of a diagonal-set quilt.

Siggies ... Squares of fabric with signatures and often other info written on them. (Often included in swap blocks)

Sleeve ... A tube of fabric added to the back of a quilt, used to slide a rod through for hanging.

Square Up ... A final trimming of a block to ensure the measurement is exactly as directed.

Squishie ... (Or Squishy) A nickname for the envelope containing fabric that is wrapped in plastic and sent to others in fabric, or block, swaps

Stash ... A quilters accumulation of fabrics (patterns and quilt blocks) not specifically for a particular project

Tied Quilt... A technique for securing the three layers of a quilt together by hand. Yarn or thread is pulled through the layers with a needle, then knotted. These knots are spread throughout the quilt. The knots are often left with the yarn or thread hanging loose for a decorative effect.
More on Tied Quilts

WOW or White on White ... Fabric that is White printing on top of White background fabric. Commonly called WOW.

WOF ... Width of Fabric. Term for cutting from selvage to selvage.

Yo-Yo ... Fabric circles that are gathered, flattened, and joined to make a lightweight, unbacked coverlet. Single yo-yos can be used for applique.

Originally posted June 11, 2001, updated March 5, 2021 (wow nearly 20 years!)