Quilting Vocabulary : What you need to know before you start making quilts

When experts talk or write about a subject you want to learn and understand fully, it can be quite frustrating when you come across words that you seem to get on the tip of your tongue but not quite getting a hold of. Here is a Ready Reckoner for the quilting beginner for all those ‘seemingly’ baffling quilting words.

Frequently used Quilting words



This is the most common of all embellishments done on a quilt – cutting out fabric pieces and attaching them to a foundation fabric in the shape of a design . The sides of the pieces are turned under and top stitched or finished with satin stitches or hand stitched blanket stitches. Read More on hand applique and machine applique 


In quilting parlance, Fabric used on the back of a quilt as the bottom layer is called a backing. Linen, cotton are favorites as backing. Butter muslin is used as a backing for Italian quilting / Trapunto quilting

Bargello design

This is a type of quilt design in which the blocks are so designed that it looks like waves of colors going up and down.

Batting / wadding

A layer kept between the quilt top and the backing to give a quilt dimension and extra warmth. Cotton batting and polyester batting are popularly used.

Bagging out

This is a stitching technique used to sew the edges of the quilt without a need for binding the edges. In this the quilt top and the backing are kept rightsides together and then the edges are sewn , leaving just enough space needed to bring everything out. When the stitching is done, pull out the quilt through this hole – the edges are then top stitched, sewing shut the hole as well.

Between needles

Special quilting needles (between needles) are used to hand sew patchwork pieces. Between needles are short sharp needles which give fine stitches. Choose a needle with a higher number if you want the finest needle. 

Bias Binding

Binding the edges of the quilt using a woven fabric piece which is cut at 45 degrees to the straight grain. Read more on making bias tapes and bias binding

Blanket stitch

This is the decorative stitch used along the fabric edges in applique work. Different types of blanket stitches.


The square (usually) shaped units with which the quilt is made of. The most popular ones are 4-patch, 6-patch, 7 patch, 9-patch, star blocks, log cabins. You can find a post with the 55 most popular quilt blocks here.


This refers to manipulating your quilt block or the whole quilt top to square using steam or water.


A quilt top usually has a border – They may have butted corners or mitered corners.

Borderie Perse

A technique of applique in which floral motifs from printed fabrics are cut out and attached to another fabric. It is used in quilting as an embellishment.

Butted Seams

This involves keeping two seams together and joining them with a joining stitch.

Buttonhole stitch

A twisted hand stitched blanket stitch. It is used to neaten the cut edges of a buttonhole. You can also sew a buttonhole stitch – a tight zig zag stitch in your sewing machine.

Chain piecing

An easy way of stitching patch work pieces for a quilt – with the chain piecing method you will feed the fabric pieces one by one without cutting the thread in between which is tedious and time consuming.


This refers to the method of adding a square to each corner of a quilt top border – so that the mitered corner is avoided when sewing a border for the quilt top.


A Surface embellishment technique used to stitch thick thread. ribbon, yarn etc (which are difficult to pass through the needle eye) on the fabric/quilt top – tiny stitches (hand sewn or machine made) are used to sew these. You can learn more about the different ways to do couching stitches here.

Crazy Patchwork

Random shaped fabric pieces are sewn together to form the blocks in this patchwork technique.

Echo quilting

A method of making quilting stitches – spaced rows of quilting stitches are made around an appliqued design.

English Paper Piecing

This is a method of making a quilt block by using paper templates – you can sew interesting shapes easily this way. Mosaic blocks with shapes like rectangles, hexagons, diamonds, triangles having bias edges are made this way. The paper templates are cut in the desired shape and then the fabric is cut in this dimension with an extra allowance. They are kept on top of the paper pieces and sewn together by hand.

English traditional quilting

A type of quilting stitches that gives an overall raised effect.


This is a method of finishing the edge of the fabric – in quilting this is used to create scalloped edges. 

Fat Eighth

This is a piece of fabric measuring about 18″ x 11″.

Fat Quarter

Pre-cut piece of fabric usually used for quilting measuring about 18 inches by 22 inches. More about fat quarter here.

Folded Patchwork

In this method blocks are made for the quilt by folding the fabric and manipulating it into clever shapes.

Four Patch

A very popular quilt block – joining 4 equal sized square fabric pieces.

Free style (free motion) quilting

This is doing quilting without any particular design in mind and without the pressure feet of the sewing machine – the quilting is done by guiding the layers by hand rather than under the pressure feet. A free motion style stitching is done here. A free motion foot is used. 

Fusible Applique

A technique in applique using fusible interfacing to adhere the applique pieces on to the base fabric – it makes applique easy for even beginners. You can then use machine stitches or hand stitches along the edge to finish the applique.

Fussy Cutting

Cutting a design motif from a printed fabric ad using it for applique or patchwork. You can either use it as a central motif or repeat it several times to create a particular design.

Foundation Piecing

This is a patchwork technique in which the fabric pieces for the patchwork are kept on a foundation fabric or paper ( usually thin muslin/calico) and stitched together. When it is kept on paper it is called paper piecing.After the stitching is done the foundation paper/fabric is removed.

Fusible web

A non-woven fabric used in applique work to attach the applique pieces to the foundation fabric.


Making frills with fabric pieces – gathers are usually made by making loose stitches along the fabric edge and then pulling the thread so that fabric length is reduced.

Grain line

This refers to the direction of the thread that is woven in the cloth. You can learn more about the grain line of fabric here.

Half Square Triangles

This is two triangles joining to form a square unit for making a quilt block.

Italian quilting

This is a quilting style with double stitching lines and it is stitched only on the quilt top with a backing underneath ( a thin foundation fabric). Sometimes cording is inserted through the double lines.

Layout of quilt 

Arrangement of quilt blocks to form the whole quilt unit.

Mitered borders

The adjacent borders of the quilt top may be joined at a 45 degree angle at the corner – this type of joining is called a mitered corner.


This is a type of quilt with a central motif surrounded by many borders.

Nine Patch

A quilt block with nine square fabric pieces joined together.

Outline quilting

This is a method of sewing quilting stitches – in this an appliqued design is given an outline stitch about 1/4 inch outside the edge.


This is the inner layer inside a quilt top and the batting. When you stitch the quilting stitches through all the three layers the padding creates a raised effect which is characteristic of a quilt. Commercial batting, cotton wadding, wool domette, flannel and linen padding are all used as this inside layer.


The fabric pieces used for patchwork.


The stitching technique in which you join different sizes and shapes of fabric pieces to form a design.


Stitching various fabric pieces together to create a big piece of fabric.

Pre-washing fabric

This refers to the preparation of fabric before cutting and sewing for making the quilt. It is done to avoid the inevitable shrinking of woven fabrics in the wash. Quilting cotton fabrics are prone to shrinkage and if it shrinks after you have stitched the quilt there will be imperfections, puckering etc.

Quilt as you go

In this technique of sewing the quilt, the blocks are sewn as you would finish a quilt together with all the three layers – they are then assembled together to form the whole quilt.

Quarter Square Triangles

A quarter square triangle is made when you cut a square by half on the diagonal and then it is cut again from the other diagonal giving you a total of 4 triangle fabric pieces.


This is the whole process of stitching the three layers of quilt – the quilt top, batting and the backing together. Different methods of quilting stitches (13 types) are used for this  – you can read more about the quilting stitches here.

Quilt Sandwich

This is the term for the 3 layers that make up a quilt – the quilt top, batting and the backing.

Quilt sizes

There are no set quilt sizes – you can make quilts in all sizes and shapes – it is your personal preference. But there are certain standards in commercially made quilts that you can follow to suit standard bed sizes.

A twin quilt is 70 inch by 90 inch and a Double sized bed quilt is 85 inch by 90-108 inch; Queen quilt is 90-108 inch by 95 inch; King sized quilt is 95-110 inch by 95 inch .

You can find a more detailed post on quilt sizes here and also the sizes for baby quilts here

Quilting embroidery Stitches

These are decorative stitches used to attach all three layers of your quilt. If you are hand sewing the quilt you can use back and running stitches or even chain stitches. The three main types are English quilting, Italian Quilting and Trapunto Quilting. 

Quilter’s rule

This is a clear plastic ruler with necessary horizontal/vertical and diagonal gridlines and measures to make cutting of blocks accurate. 

Rocking stitch

Best hand stitching technique for hand quilting – you will be taking several stitches at once before pulling the thread through. 

Rotary Cutter & self healing mat

These tools make the tedious process of cutting hundreds of fabric pieces for your patch work quilting easy. If you have the mat the marked lines on the mat make your cutting job so much easier. When you cut many fabric pieces with scissors it can get pretty boring very easily. With a rotary cutter you can stack up the pieces and cut in one go. Learn more about using the rotary cutter and mat here.


This indicates the strips of fabric joined in between blocks to create borders – it may be around the individual blocks or the collective blocks. Also called Lattice.

Seam Allowance

The standard seam allowance used in making quilts is 1/4 inch.

Sewing Machine for quilting

For sewing the blocks with patchwork /applique you can do with any home sewing machine with just a straight stitch. For crazy quilting you can take advantage of the decorative stitches in your sewing machine. But for sewing up your big quilt sandwich together with the various quilting stitches you will need a long arm sewing machine, otherwise most likely you will die of frustration. If you would want to do free hand quilting you need a sewing machine which can drop the feed dogs.

Shadow quilting

This is a type of quilting in which the top is made of transparent fabric and quilting stitches are made with colored quilting wool.

Slip stitch

Perfect invisible hand stitch used to sew borders in a quilt. 


This is a strap added to the quilt to hang the quilt on the wall.

Squaring Up

This is the process of ensuring that you have a right angle in all the corners of each of your block or the quilt top when it is finally finished. You can use rulers, mats etc for this.

Strip piecing

This is a method of joining fabric pieces for patchwork – Long strips of fabric are joined together first and then they are cut apart and then joined together in a different sequence. This makes joining a lot of fabric pieces easy.

Strip piecing

Similar to strip piecing, just with fabric strips of uneven width.

Stitch in the ditch

In quilting you can sew the quilting stitches along the seams of the patchwork so that the quilting stitches are inconspicuous. This is stitching in the ditch in quilting.


You use tacking stitches in quilting to keep all the layers of the quilt sandwich intact before starting with the quilting stitches. You will be making the tacking stitches through all three layers of the quilt sandwich. There should not be any puckers. The first two lines are stitched horizontally from the center and then you will make rows of tacking stitches an inch apart. This way covers the whole area. It makes your job easier and makes your work flawless as you complete your quilt.


These are commercially available or home cut templates used for cutting fabric pieces in the shape of popular shapes like the wine-glass, scale, feather and rope. It can be made of plastic or metal.

Templates are used by professional quilters for making quilting embroidery stitches. It can also be made of paper, cardboard, plastic

For general sewing terms you can have a look at this post – Common Sewing terms.

Trapunto quilting

This is a technique of quilting in which wadding is stuffed between the top fabric and another foundation fabric for a dimensional look.


This is an alternative to making quilting stitches to hold the quilt sandwich together – the quilt sandwich is held together with ties made with lightweight wool, cord, ribbon, thread or string. They are tied in spaced intervals all over the quilt, instead of making quilting stitches all over.

Walking Foot

A very convenient sewing tool to have when making quilting stitches.The walking foot attachment will help move all the layers of the quilt sandwich under the feet smoothly without puckers or bunching – it will move the top and bottom layers at the same time/speed.

Yoyos /Suffold Puffs

A Yoyo is made by gathering the edge of a circle. They are used to embellish quilts. Learn many more ways to make yoyos here

For general sewing terminology, you can refer this post ” Commonly used Sewing terms

Related post : 28 different types of quilts.


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