Common Thread

Quilting Terms


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[Quilting Glossary • Click on the letter of the term or scroll down]

Album Quilt
A quilt made of many different blocks, often given as a memory or friendship quilt, family or friends sign blocks with either ink or embroidery. Also known as an Signature Quilt. (also see Baltimore Album Quilts)

Done by hand, machine or with fusible web - small pieces of fabric are sewn or fused to a background fabric to form designs. Appliqué may be combined with pieced blocks.

Arkansas Crossroads Foundation Piecing
Assembling a Block by sewing pieces to a foundation of Muslin or plain fabric, also for adding strength and stability to delicate or stretchy fabrics.

Assembly Piecing
Sewing blocks or sections of blocks in an assembly line fashion, completing the same step for each unit in sequence. An efficient way to work for sewing many blocks that are the same. If the pieces are all run through the machine and cut apart later, also called "Chain Piecing".

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Baltimore Album Quilts
An elegant form of intricate applique which was very popular in the 1800s in Baltimore, Maryland. The background of the traditional Baltimores is usually white with floral and garden imagery often in reds and greens.

Long stitches used to hold fabric layers or seams in place temporarily and usually removed after final sewing. A quilt is often basted in the sandwich stage before final quilting. Pin basting of quilts is often done with safety pins. Other methods include the use of a too (see: tacking gun) or a Basting Spray Adhesive.

The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the top pieced layer and the backing. Batting can be cotton, polyester, blends, silk, or wool.

The straight-grain or Bias strips of fabric which is often folded double and covers the raw edges and batting of a quilt.

Binding by Hand: 2 1/2" folded fabric machine stitched to front of quilt, folded around to back of quilt and hand stitched to back with mitered corners.

Binding by Machine: 2 1/2" folded fabric machine stitched to back of quilt and folded to front and machine stitched to quilt front very close to edge of binding material.

The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.

A strip of fabric or pieced strip of fabric joined to the edges of the inner quilt and used to frame it.

A cotton fabric popular in solid colors for quilting. It's a plain weave with a slight weft ribbed effect. Poplin is a heavier version of the same weave.

Bubble Jet Set
A liquid product in which plain fabric is soaked and hung to dry. The dry piece is then ironed to a piece of Freezer paper and it can be printed on with an ink jet or bubble jet printer and the color is fast. See the article on Direct Printing on Fabric with a Computer for more information.

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Chain Piecing
See Assembly Piecing.

Charm Quilt
A quilt made of many, many small patches (traditionally 2" or so) where each piece is a different fabric. The pattern is usually a one-patch design and often involves swaps and trades with friends to gather many fabrics.

Crazy Block/Crazy Patch
A block made with irregular and/or scrap pieces. The block is made with no pre-determined pattern or design. If the blocks are grouped together they form a crazy quilt. Crazy quilts were popular in Victorian times and often made with silks and velvets and embellished with embroidery.

Crazy Quilt
A quilt made randomly from crazy blocks or patches. They are often heavily embellished.

Crosshatching: Two sets of parallel diagonal lines crossing one another to create a diagonal gridwork, sometimes used around applique.

Custom quilting: Quilting designed to fit the quilt top itself, can be stitch in the ditch, motifs to fit block areas, echo quilting, crosshatching, outline stitching, etc. Quilting designs are chosen according to the fabrics, design of the quilt and quilt style.

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Direct Printing
Various methods of printing directly onto fabric with a computer printer - either laser jet or ink jet. The fabric is usually ironed onto a piece of freezer paper so it can run through the printer easily.

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Echo Quilting
A type of quilting which consists of lines of quilting stitches that run around existing blocks or shapes and parallel to the edges of a shape. The result looks like rings about 1/4" apart in water and "echo" the shape. Echo Quilting is like circles in water from a drop falling.

English Paper Piecing
A method of hand piecing where paper templates are used inside the block elements to guide where the edges are turned under. Baby Blocks, Grandmother's Flower Garden and other non-square shapes are often pieced this way.

EQ or EQ4
Electric Quilt, a computer program for designing quilts.

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Fat Quarter
A cut piece of fabric which is made by cutting a half yard in half again vertically. The piece is therefore approximately 18" x 22". This allows for cutting larger blocks than a standard quarter yard which is 9" x 44".

Feathers Heart shaped forms on both sides of a main stem, can be round, heart shaped, freeform, or can even be used to fill an area.

Feed Dogs
The mechanical teeth under the area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine. For free motion quilting or embroidery or needle darning these feed dogs are lowered or covered.

Filling or Filler Pattern
The quilting design, stitched either by hand or machine, which covers the entire background area of a quilt. It can surround motifs of applique.

Finger Pressing
A method for forming temporary guidelines for appliqué turned edges or seam allowances. Running a fingernail along the fold makes it lie flat. A "hera" (a Japanese term) tool can also be used in place of a finger to press the fold.

Finished Size
The final sewn measurement or dimensions of a completed block without seam allowances. Thus a 6" sewn measurement block would be cut 6.5" to allow for 1/4" seam allowances.

Four-Patch Block
A block with two, four, or multiples of four units per row.

Freehand No pattern is used, the quilter moves the machine as in drawing, can be textures such as water, wood, or can be feathers, flower designs, and overall fills, there are many designs to choose from and are chosen to match the fabrics, style and design of the quilt top.

Free-Style Fillers
A Filler Pattern that does not follow a specific grid or pattern.

Free-Motion Quilting or Embroidery
A method of quilting or embroidering where the feed dogs of a sewing machine are lowered or covered and the quilter controls the movement of the fabric under the needle. Freeform designs can be done this way.

Friendship Quilt
A quilt made by a group of friends for one person, with each participant making and signing a block or more for the quilt top. Sometimes called a Signature Quilt.

Various webs or interfacings which can be ironed onto a fabric for easier applique or to support the fabric. "Wonder Under" is an example.

Fussy Cut
The cutting out of specific areas of a fabric to use the image or motif on the fabric. Often used to isolate animals, flowers, etc. from a "conversation print" or novelty print fabric. A template may be used to cut out many images to be the same size for use in a block. The remaining fabric then looks like "Swiss cheese". So, it's wasteful of fabric, but a fun way to get images.

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Glazed Finish
A thin resin finish which can be applied to a batting or another type which can be put on a fabric. For batting it helps to prevent bearding and shifting of the fibers in the finished quilt. Sometimes called a bonded finish.

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Hand-Quilting Stitch
A small, even running stitch that is made through all three layers of a quilt to hold them together and arranged to form the quilting pattern.

Hanging Sleeve
A tube or sleeve sewn to the back top of a quilt to allow it to be hung on a wall or at a quilt show. Shows request these to be 3-4" wide.

Heirloom quilting: Dense custom quilting, usually containing stippling, motifs, and patterns to fit the quilt top. Very heavy quilting.

Homespun Fabric
Fabric which looks handwoven, or if imported (often from India or SE Asia) may be handwoven. The weave is looser and the threads have a larger diameter than commercial cotton quilting fabrics.

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A fabric, usually handwoven which has been tie-dyed in the yarns prior to weaving. The pattern can range from simple little dots to intricate double ikats. (pronounced: Ee-cot)

Improvisational Quilts
A term for art quilts made in a free form manner and usually made with freehand cutting either by rotary cutter or scissors, but without templates or ruler. The African-American quilter, Anna Williams, and the art quilter, Nancy Crow, are especially associated with this technique.

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Kente Cloth
A traditional fabric assembled from 4" wide handwoven strips from Africa by the Asante people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. It is traditionally a ceremonial cloth. Many printed versions of Kente on cotton now exist and are popular with quilters.

Kuba Cloth
A traditional raffia fabric from Zaire woven by men and embellished with pile and stitched designs by women. The striking designs have a quilt-like quality and are an excellent inspiration for quilt designs.

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Lap Quilting or "quilt as you go"
A method of completing all three layers by quilting one block or section at a time and then assembling the finished quilt from those pre-quilted squares. Squares are quilted in small lap frames or held in the hands rather than using a large quilting frame.

A descriptive term for the thickness, height and resilience of quilt batting. High loft batting is thicker and fluffier, usually polyester and used more often for tied quilts. Low loft batting is thinner and shows off the quilting stitches.

Log Cabin Block
A quilt pattern in which narrow fabric strips, or logs, surround a center square to form a block. These may be pieced from strips or sewn onto a foundation of paper or fabric. The blocks have many variations including the pineapple block.

Long Arm Quilting
Quilting using a very long bed (often as long as 12 feet) commercial quilting machine to do the overall quilting. A popular cottage industry - a list of long arm quilters worldwide is here.

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Matching Points
Piecing so as to make sure that the corners of blocks or the points of stars match in piecing at the seam line so that the points are not cut off by the seam.

Meandering Continuous curving line, can be small to large, used as overall pattern or in specific areas of the quilt.

Medallion Quilt
A quilt with a central motif, surrounded by multiple Borders. The center is often a large square on point..

Memory Quilt
Antique Memory Quilts may have been made from a loved one's clothes after death as a memorial. Some memory quilts may be a gift to a young adult, perhaps a going-to-college quilt which contains fabrics from their own baby and growing up garments. Now, with the advent now of transfer printing and direct printing a memory quilt may have photos on it.

Mercerized Cotton
A treatment of cotton thread which consists of immersing the yarn in a solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) for short periods of time, while held under tension. The yarn is then stronger and more lustrous and takes the dye better with brighter, deeper colors. This effect of caustic soda on cotton was discovered in 1844 by John Mercer, an English calico printer and his name gave the process the name "mercerize".

Mitered Corners (also spelled mitred)
Joining a border or corners at a 45 degree angle.

A folk art of the Cuna Indians of the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. These rectangular panels are the front and back of the women's blouses and done in vividly solid colors of cotton in a reverse applique technique.

Motifs Coordinating design pattern used to fill and area of the quilt such as a block.

Mystery Quilt
A quilt pattern written in steps and revealed one part at a time to hide the final appearance of the finished quilt.

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Needle-Punched Batting
One of the manufacturing processes used to make some types of quilt batting of cotton or wool. Thousands of barbed needles are punched through the carded fibers to lock them into position to help prevent bearding and shifting of the batting in the finished quilt. A needle punched batting allows quilting to be placed further apart than un-treated batting does.

Nine-Patch Block
A family of square block designs which has 3 x 3 units. Hundreds of quilt blocks are based on the Nine Patch design basis.

Novelty Print
A fabric printed with small themed designs. These are popular for making quilts with a focus such as sea life, vegetables, toys, etc. Also called "conversation" prints and "craft" prints.

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On Point
A Block arrangement in which a block is placed with its corners up and down and to the sides.

Opportunity Quilt
A term used by Quilt Guilds and other groups to describe a quilt which is raffled off at a show or event.

Outline Quilting
Positioning quilting lines around a block or appliqué piece. Usually just a single stitching line. Multiple rows of outline quilting are called echo quilting.

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Pantograph pattern Overall continuous repeating lines of patterns in rows over entire quilt, creating a unified look, there are many patterns to choose from and these can be found on our quilting pattern page.

Paper Foundation Piecing
A popular method of piecing using a block drawn or printed and sewn on paper for highly accurate details. A big help for complicated designs and for miniature blocks.

Paper Piecing
See English Paper Piecing

An individual fabric shape joined with other patches to make a quilt block or sometimes a one patch style quilt. Also known as a piece. These may be cut from templates, rotary cut or free hand cut.

The basic method of making a quilt by sewing many small pieces of fabric together. In some countries also known as "piecework".

Penny Squares
Small simple designs marked on muslin quilt block patterns for embroidery which were popular in the late 1800s and after. They cost one cent each, the look was similar to the red work patterns popular later.

Initials stand for Paper Foundation Piecing.

PFD Fabric
The initials mean: Prepared for Dyeing. This is a fabric with no surface finish and no treatment on it which allows the dyes to penetrate well.

Pieced Border
A long strip of fabric made up of pieced or patch units to be sewn to the inner quilt center section. Quilts may have several borders, either solid fabric or pieced..

Piecing / Pieced Quilt
The most commonly seen quilt type which is made up of many small pieces of fabric sewn together by hand or machine. Often called Patchwork in some countries outside the USA.

Prairie Points
A simple folded fabric triangle made in multiples and attached as a decorative edge finish on quilts and garments.

Use an iron to press seams and blocks - this means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.

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Quick Cutting
A term not used so much now in quilt books since rotary cutting is becoming the norm. Quick cutting means not tracing templates and cutting with scissors.

Quick Triangles
A variety of faster shortcut methods for making half and quarter square triangles where squares are sewn and then cut into finished units with no bias edges to sew.

A specially designed quilt which is actually a cross between a sleeping bag and a quilt and also a pillow. A Quillow folds up into a carrying bag. A popular gift for children and teens.

Quilt As You Go
See Lap Quilting

Quilting Foot
Most sewing machine companies now offer a special quilting foot for their machines, or a generic one can be purchased called "Little Foot". Quilting feet measure exactly 1/4" from needle point to inner edge of the foot to make sewing a perfect 1/4" seam easier.

Quilting Frame
A large free-standing floor apparatus made from wood or plastic pipe that holds the layers of a quilt together during quilting.

Quilting Guild
An organization of quilters which may provide opportunities to share projects, instruction and community service.

Quilting Hoop
A small circular or oval apparatus that is used to hold the layers of a quilt together during quilting.

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Raw Edge
The unsewn edge of a piece of fabric or a quilt block. For applique, the edge which is cut, but not yet turned under with stitching.

Red Work
Simple embroidery designs worked in running stitch in either turkey red color or in blue (then called Bluework) and used for quilt blocks. These were popular in the 20s and 30s. See also Penny Squares.

Rotary Cutter - Olfa Style Rotary Cutter and Mat
A fabric cutting tool with a circular blade that cuts through several layers of fabric at once. It is best used with a clear plastic ruler as a quilting guide. A cutting mat is essential to protect the work surface and preserve the blade's sharpness.

Round Robin Swap
A popular swap among a group of friends either online or not. A small piece of a quilt is started by each, then sent to the next quilter who adds to it, then it moved to the next and so on. When the Swap is complete each quilter has back the original piece with the additions of everyone else in the group.

Row Swap
A type of round robin swap, but each addition is a row of the quilt rather than blocks or other free form additions.

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Satin Stitch
A slanted, tightly packed (no spaces showing through of the fabric) outlining stitch. Often used around applique pieces. A machine satin stitch is made by setting a zig zag stitch very closely with the machine settings.

A German papercutting technique that makes a lacy design and may inspire applique artists. The images were used as an influence in Baltimore quilts as well.

Scrap Quilt
A quilt, usually patchwork, made of many different fabrics, often left over from other projects.

Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.

Selvage or Selvedge
The outer edge of both sides of a woven fabric where the weft turns to go back across and through the warp. This is a stiffer and denser woven area of about 1/3-1/2 inch and is usually trimmed off and not sewn into a quilt.

Seminole Patchwork
A method of cutting joined strips of fabric into sections and re-piecing them with either plain contrasting fabric strips in between, or in staggered rows similar to a checkerboard. Adapted from the bright patchwork of the Seminole Indians in Florida, this technique is often used in Borders and quilted clothing.

The arrangement of completed Blocks forming the Quilt Top. Blocks can be set side by side, or on point, like diamonds, with or without Sashing. Arrangements can also vary with certain asymmetrical block patterns.

Setting Square
>A plain fabric square used with pieced or appliqued blocks in a quilt top.

Setting Triangle
The triangle blocks needed around the edge of a quilt if the blocks are set on point and the rows are thus diagonally arranged.

Shadow Applique
Applique done using a see-through fabric such as silk organza or polyester netting to shade or shadow the images. The transparency of the fabric gives a different color look to the areas covered.

The term used to describe a fine weave quality of cotton muslin fabric.

A tie dye technique from Japan used to make elaborately patterned fabrics. The technique often involves wrapping and tying the fabric around a tube or pole and then dyeing.

Signature Quilt
A quilt with many signatures collected and signed on individual blocks. Some are made as friendship gifts with each quilter giving a signed block or others may be made by a single quilter who collects the signatures by mailing or handing out the blocks for signing to others (family, famous people for raffle quilts, etc.) Sometimes also called Friendship Quilts.

A term which can be applied to a fabric texture and which is caused by small bumps or nodes in the yarns which are formed during spinning and add to the texture when the fabric is woven.

Stack and Whack
A popular technique formulated by Bethany Reynolds for cutting out specific repeat sections from a large, overall print fabric and sewing them into kaleidoscope-like designs.

The term "my stash" or "a stash" refers to a quilter's collection of fabrics. Quilters love to do "stash building" at every opportunity.

Very closely stitched background quilting that can be done by hand or machine, tiny meandering, continuous motion, used around applique, areas you wish to have a raised appearance. Usually less than 1/4" spacing between stippling lines.

Stitch in the Ditch
To sew your stitches in the "ditch" created by the joins of the pattern pieces.

Strip Piecing
A technique of sewing fabric cut in strips together and then cutting the resulting fabric strip sets into new blocks and designs. A classic version of this is Seminole Patchwork.

Sunbonnet Sue
An old time, still popular appliqué design which originated in the 1920s-30s of a girl with a big sunbonnet hiding her face. "Sue" is still made in both traditional and modern looks.

An exchange among a group of quilters of either fabric or blocks with some set ground rules as to theme, color, design, etc. Popular in Quilting Guilds, but also a very popular online activity on quilting forums and mailing lists. Also see Round Robin Swap.

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Tacker or Tacking Gun
A tool which is a close cousin to the tacking tool used to put small hanging price tags on garments in shops by means of a short piece of monofilament nylon "arrow". But for quilting these are used instead of pin or thread basting the quilt sandwich together prior to quilting. The monofilament pieces are then cut out again after quilting is complete.

A shape cut from cardboard or plastic used to make multiple units of a pattern for quilt blocks or applique. Templates may also be used to transfer quilting lines to a quilt top.

Tied Quilt
A quilt where instead of stitching in a quilting pattern to hold the 3 layers together a series of ties are used spaced evenly all over the body of the quilt.

Transfer Printing
Using a special paper with a coating to transfer a design printed by an ink jet printer or color copier to a fabric. The design is applied with a hot iron or a heat press.

A raised, dimensional surface created by putting additional batting or stuffing into areas to sculpt the surface.

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An abbreviation meaning UnFinished Projects. As in "How many UFO's do you have in your studio?"

Utility Quilt
A plain, basic quilt meant to be used for everyday bedding. Often a simple design and older ones may be examples of rural folk art. May often be a tied quilt.

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Walking Foot
A special foot which can be attached to a sewing machine which helps to feed the top layer of a quilt fabric sandwich evenly with the feed dogs feeding the bottom fabric. Pfaff sewing machines have this built into the machine, other machines have one that can be added.

Wall Quilt
A quilt made with smaller dimensions and meant for hanging on a wall. It can be a traditional design or a contemporary "art quilt".

The threads which are put on a loom under tension and raised and lowered to allow the weft to pass through. The warp direction (parallel to the selvages) is the most stable in the finished fabric. Some quilters always use this warp direction for cutting borders.

Watercolor Quilt
Using small squares of floral print fabrics to build up a subtle and diffused design. The overall look is similar to an Impressionist painting. Liberty Lawn fabrics are a popular fabric type. Technique developed by Dierdre Amsden and also called colourwash design.

The woven threads in a fabric which run across the width of the fabric during weaving and intersect with the warp threads.

White Work
A quilt which is all white fabric, not pieced. A type of whole cloth quilt. The design of the quilt is all in the quilting stitch pattern. One historic type of white quilt which also has a variety of trapunto quilting is the "boutis" of Marseilles. In the 1660s and 1700s in Marseilles (France) professional needleworkers made bedcovers stitched in white on a white background which were hand quilted with a "boutis" needle which then gave it's name to this type of quilt.

Whole Cloth Quilt
A quilt made from one large piece of fabric, historically a solid color, that is quilted in usually intricate patterns. There are no pieced blocks in these quilts. Nowadays art quilters may also make whole cloth quilts which are a single piece of fabric, but which has been painted or printed with an image or design.
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