Glossary of Quilting Terms and Definitions


The following is a selection of Quilting Terms and Definitions from the National Quilter's Circle website. 

View the full article here.


Applique: A technique where fabric shapes are cut and sewn onto a fabric block or quilt top. Typically a fusible material is ironed to back of shape, and then ironed to fabric. There are many types of applique: Needle turned: this involves hand work where you use a needle to turn edge under and then hand stitch in place. Raw edge applique: technique used to fuse your shape to fabric, then use a decorative stitch to adhere to quilt block. Applique is used to embellish or create interest to a block or quilt.


Backing: A quilt consists of three layers.  The Quilt top is either pieced [see "piecing" below] or a single piece of fabric. The next layer is batting. The bottom layer of a quilt is a piece of fabric that is generally 4 inches longer on all sides, this allows for quilting on long arm machine. Backing fabric can be a single piece of extra wide backing fabric or a fabric of your choice which will be sewn together to the size needed. A few quilters like to piece their entire backing with scraps of fabric, always allowing for the 4 extra inches on all sides of quilt. Example, if quilt top measures 60×60, backing and batting should measure at least 68×68.


Basting: Long stitches used to temporarily hold fabric in place, can be done by hand or by machine. It is used to hold all three layers (quilt top, batting and backing) in place when ready for quilting process. It is not necessary to secure thread knot on either end of stitch, it is merely a way to ensure that your project stays secure and does not shift. These stitches are removed once quilting is complete.


Batting: A light weight, warm product used between the quilt top and quilt backing, batting is used for quilts, wall hangings, quilted clothing and home décor. Batting is also referred to as Wadding. It is generally made up of cotton, cotton/poly blend, bamboo, wool, bamboo cotton blend. There are two types of batting: with scrim and without scrim.


Bearding: Batting fibers that poke through to the top of the quilt during the quilting process are undesirable. This is caused by bad batting and will create this effect on front and back of quilt. Bearding happens when fibers in your batting pull apart and migrate through the fabric fibers of your quilt. You will most often notice this after quilts first washing. This is why it is important to choose good quality batting.


Bias: The length or width of woven fabric is considered straight grain, there is no stretch when on straight grain. If you follow the printed salvage on the fabric, this is the lengthwise of your fabric, perpendicular would be your width of fabric. When you chose to cut diagonally at 45 degree angle across the straight grain, you will be on bias. When cutting on Bias you will always have a greater amount of stretch. This can be a casualty in quilting if not handled with care. Your blocks can become distorted unless you pin properly and be careful not to stretch the piece cut on bias.


Binding: Finishing of the quilt. Long, thin fabric strips that are attached to the borders of a quilt.


Blocks: The unit that is designed for a quilt. Generally there will be many blocks in a quilt. A quilt block can be a single piece of fabric cut with a rotary cutter into a perfect square or a block that has been pieced using many pieces of fabric and sewn together using ¼ inch seam allowance.


Borders: Strips of fabric that frame the edges of the quilt. You can have one or many borders in a quilt top. You may also have borders surrounding your quilt blocks, also known as sashing, or as part of quilt block design.


Continuous Line Quilting: A pattern in quilting in which the design line continues from start to finish so you don’t have multiple stop and starts.

Crosswise Grain: The threads of woven fabric that run across the grain of the fabric, which runs the length of the bolt. The crosswise grain runs from selvage to selvage. Crosswise grain also runs width of fabric, salvage to salvage.


Drape: This is the way your quilt will feel after it is quilted, does it drape over your arm in a soft, comforting way? Your batting choice as well as how much quilting you do will determine how your quilt drapes after you’re done quilting it. Higher quality batting are able to take more stitches and still retain their soft, cozy feel, whereas cheaper battings will turn to a cardboard feel.


Ease: Distributing the fabric evenly while long arm quilting so quilt lies flat. Commonly referring to quilt borders that are not measured properly.


Echo Quilting: Echo or Shadow quilting is a technique where quilting is done around an outline of an applique piece on a quilt top or around a design or pattern. Then the quilting is echoed again and again around the previously stitched line. Generally, you will use your hopper foot to determine distance between echoes. Continue to do this until block is filled or desired effect is achieved.


Free Motion Quilting: A process requiring a quilting, darning or hopper foot. Requires you drop your feed dogs so you can move fabric freely in all directions without “draw” on fabric from feed dog interference. Special gloves marketed for free motion quilting help tremendously in controlling the fabric. Many books on the market with lots of free motion designs and techniques. [Amy's note: My understanding is that the term "free-motion" is used interchangeably, whether the quilting is done on a domestic machine or a longarm.  The differences are that a longarm quilter does not have feed dogs that need to be dropped, as they are on a domestic sewing machine, and that the quilting designs are created by moving the machine's sewhead on a carriage and a frame, rather than moving the quilt itself.]


Grain: The lengthwise grain of threads running through a woven fabric.

Loft: Loft is another word for thickness. The higher the loft of batting the thicker your quilt, this does not necessarily mean the warmer your quilt. There are wool battings that are very thin and super warm. **The thicker your batting, the more difficult it will be to baste.


Micro Quilting: Quilting that is done as background fill, small and precise micro patterns. Micro quilting contrasts with your primary motifs and actually makes them stand out in a quilt. This technique adds visual interest, definition and texture.


Negative Space: Unoccupied area that surrounds an object or shape in a project. Negative space can be in a block or the area surrounding a block. It encompasses the areas and flows in, around and between quilt blocks, Negative space gives definition and depth to our project making it an essential tool in quilting. This is the area that micro quilting and fills are used to extenuate the quilt by creating movement and added interest to quilt.


Patchwork: The art of sewing small pieces of fabric together to make a larger fabric or design, then usually quilted to be made into a quilt or bag or other project.


Piecing: Process where you sew your fabric pieces together to form a block, garment or quilt.


Quilt Frame: Can be a small quilt hoop or a large floor frame that holds the 3 layers of a quilt (top, batting, and backing) as it is hand quilted.


Quilt Label: A patch or an area on the back of the quilt. Generally the label will have a date, recipient name and name of its maker. Perhaps even a little about the quilt.


Quilt Sandwich: The three layers of a quilt: the quilt top, the quilt batting, the quilt backing. This is what a quilt is referred to before binding is put on. A quilt sandwich can also be used when practicing free motion quilting. This is done when you use a 12 inch block of fabric on from and on back with a 12 inch block of batting in the center. Thus, a quilt sandwich.


Right Side: The “front” side of the fabric; usually the distinctly printed side of the fabric.


Sashing: Strips of fabric sewn around or between blocks of a quilt top. These strips are generally joined together by cornerstone blocks or sashing squares. See Lattice.


Scrim: A term used in batting where a thin layer of polyester is added to the cotton to be needle punched into, this gives stability to your batting so it won’t break apart within your quilt. Scrim adds poly to your batting so it will no longer be 100% cotton.


Seam Allowance: The fabric on the right of the sewing line from raw edge. In quilting it is ¼ inch. This process keeps edge from fraying and maintains a secure seam.


Selvage: Manufactured finished edge of fabric prevents fraying before it gets to consumer. Selvage should always be cut off before starting the process of cutting your pieces. This is where you can find the name of your fabric line, company that supplied fabric as well as your color wheel… colors that went into your fabric.


Stencils: Designs that are cut into a plastic template. Stencils are used for marking quilts during quilting process.


Stitch-in-the-Ditch: A quilting term used to describe the method of stitching along existing seams in a patchwork piece or quilt top in order to quilt it together with the batting and backing.

Straight Grain: The grain of the fabric that runs lengthwise grain and crosswise grain through the fabric. This is most stable, less stretch.

Stippling: A technique used in both hand and machine quilting to flatten an area of a quilt and create texture. Stippling is continuous closely spaced waving and curving, resembling a puzzle. In the past it was faux pas to cross over a line, this is no longer the thought.


Template: A shape or design that is placed on fabric and used as a pattern to trace or cut around. Often used as an applique when finished.


Tension: The amount of “pinching” done to your thread as it flows through your sewing machine. Thicker fabrics need a higher tension (a harder pinch so the thread doesn’t flow out too quickly), and thinner fabrics need less tension (a lesser pinch to let the thread out easily to prevent puckering).


Whole Cloth Quilts: Name given to three single pieces of fabric sandwiched and sewn together in the quilting process. The design is in the quilting.


WOF: Width of fabric. Salvage to salvage. You will find this abbreviation in many patterns.


Wrong Side: The “back” side of the fabric; usually the opposite side of a distinctly printed fabric.


Following are excerpts from  Click here for more from their site.

Longarm Quilting: is the process by which a longarm sewing machine is used to sew together a quilt top, quilt batting and quilt backing into a finished quilt. Quilting using a longarm machine can take significantly less time than hand quilting or more traditional machine quilting. This time saving is a large factor in the gain in popularity of longarm quilting.


 Frame:   The longarm sewing machine frame typically ranges from 10 feet (about 3 metres) to 14 feet (about 4.25 metres) in length. A complete longarming system typically consists of an industrial length sewing machine head (19 - 30 inches,) a 10 to 14-foot frame, a table with a layer of plastic under which is placed a pantograph, and several rollers on which the fabric layers and batting are attached. 


Automated (Computerized) Quilting:  computer-guided machine head is hooked up to a computer system that allows the quilter to select the chosen design to be sewn onto the fabrics.[4] With the push of a button on the computer's keyboard, the longarm sewing machine will sew the design onto the quilt with minimal physical assistance.


Edge-to-Edge (E2e/Pantograph) Designs:  An edge-to-edge design spans the width and length of the quilt and can be repeated in rows to produce an all-over design on the quilt top. This method of longarm machine quilting is popular due to the minimal amount of work required by the longarm quilter themselves.


Custom Quilting:  Custom work is done when the sewer wishes for the quilt blocks to contain individual designs in each block or area of the quilt. This method is typically more time-consuming for the longarm quilter and is a more expensive method for having a piece quilted. Depending on the type of quilting work desired by the customer, the process can require additional time and resources for the longarm quilter. Some sewing styles, like meandering, which entails an all over fill-in design, require less attention to detail and can be done quickly. Other styles and designs, like feathers and motifs, require the longarm quilter to pay more attention to details and alignment and therefore can be time-consuming and costly.

The following definition is from the Bernina e-book, "Just Quilt It:  Ruler Work for Quilters for Both Longarm and Domestic Machines," by Nina McVeigh, which can be found here.

Ruler Work: The use of specialized quilting rulers to create accurate, repeatable designs. Create straight lines, curved lines, scallops, waves, and specific designs while free-motion quilting with the use of these rulers. While rulerwork is traditionally done on a Longarm machine, it can now be done on domestic machines as well.


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