Quilting Vocabulary Quilting Words Defined

Quilting Vocabulary

Learning a New Craft Vocabulary

Learning any new craft includes a new vocabulary. Quilting has a vocabulary all its own, including initialism. Read the interesting post discussing initialism and acronyms /initialism-and-acronym-differ/, another part of the quilting vocabulary!

When you decide to sew and/or quilt, you will quickly be aware there are terms you would like defined.  If I said you will need to make a sandwich before you start to quilt, would you head to the kitchen?  How about borders?  And do you avoid bias?  Do you press to the dark side?  Sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? 

Now you know why I felt compelled to define words familiar to quilters.  You will find these terms becoming part of your vocabulary before you know it. 

Quilting Vocabulary Alphabetically


Analogous Colors: on a standard color wheel, colors adjacent to each other.

Applique: fabric shape(s) attached to fabric block or border by machine, hand, or fusing.  Different methods may also be referred to as freezer paper applique, fusible applique, and needle-turn.

Asymmetry: irregular shapes that do not produce mirror image of the other horizontally or vertically


Backing:  fabric layered under batting and quilt top; made of one or more pieces to size required

Baste: stitch with long stitches to temporarily hold two or more layers together for permanent stitching, such as quilting

Batting:  layer between backing and pieced top to add warmth, body, definition, and drape to the finished product

Bias: the cut with the most stretch is a 45-degree angle from the selvage

Binding: (n) finished edges of a quilt, (v) the act of adding by hand or machine the fabric enclosing the edges of a quilt

Block: fabric sewn in a particular order or randomly to duplicate a pattern from the past or modern quilts

Bobbin: Vessel for bottom thread.  Modern machine bobbins come in assorted sizes – 15, L, M – and fit distinct types of machines.  Style and size of bobbin identified by the machine manufacturer.

Borders: fabric that goes around the inner quilt top appearing as a frame


Chain Piecing: sewing pairs of fabric without breaking/cutting thread between pair units

Charm: 5″ square

Charm Packs: forty or forty-two 5″ squares from one fabric line and will coordinate in color and/or pattern

Column: in quilting vocabulary this is reference to blocks in a vertical line

Complementary Colors: colors directly across from one another on the standard color wheel

Continuous-Line Quilting: stitching without breaking thread from beginning to end

Cornerstones: squares placed at intersections of sashing strips and/or border strips

Crosswise Grain: from selvage to selvage

Cut Size: the size including the seam allowances


Design Wall: flannel covered flat surface for the purpose of auditioning arrangement of units making blocks or quilt top

Diamonds: a symmetrical four-sided shape with same length parallel sides and equal opposing angles made from two equilateral triangles

Diagonal: a straight line joining two opposing corners of a square or rectangle

Directional Prints: definite up/down print requiring care to position fabric correctly in the quilt

Dog Ears: the small points at the end of a seam that stick beyond the fabric and resemble canine ears


Embroidery: the art of using thread and stitches to embellish designs on cloth

English Paper Piecing (EPP): combining common template shapes by hand or machine the – common shapes are hexagons, triangles, and diamonds

Equilateral Triangles: shape derived of equal length sides and all angles 60 degrees


Fat eighth:  9″ x 21″ cut of fabric from 9″ width of fabric or 11″ x 18″ cut of fabric from 18″ width of fabric divided into four fat eights (cut lines are parallel to selvages)

Fat quarter: 18″x21″ cut of fabric; two equal one half yard, cut from 18″ width of fabric (selvage to selvage)

Feed dogs: moves fabric under foot as stitches are created

Finished Size:  refers to a cut size minus the seam allowance

Flying Geese: name of quilt block made by sewing two smaller ninety-degree triangles to the sides of a larger triangle – forming a rectangle that will finish twice as wide as it is high

Folded Corners: smaller squares stitched on diagonal creating a triangle on each corner of square/rectangle – also known as snowball block

Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP or PP): constructing blocks on paper pattern for sharp points and using small fabric pieces.  Refer to my posts Foundation Paper Piecing – A Different Approach – Sewing with Stitcher.

Free-Motion Quilting:  quilting motifs on home sewing machine with feed dogs dropped down

Fusible Web: adhesive designed for fabric to adhere fabrics together with an iron – one method for applique

Fussy Cutting: cutting specific designs from fabric such as a flower or animal to display in blocks


Grain of fabric:  how threads lay in the weave of the fabric and affect cuts


Half-Square Triangle (HST): place two squares of equal size right sides together; draw one diagonal line and sew 1/4″ on each side of line; cut on center line and open newly made half-square triangles

Hand Stitching: the process of sewing using a thread and needle manipulated with thumb and finger to make the stitches

Hanging Sleeve: hemmed tube attached at the top back of a quilt for hanging/display

Honey Bun: precut roll of forty 1 1/2″ x 44″ fabric collection

Honeycomb: (40) six-inch hexagons cut from a fabric collection


Initialism: this link says it all /initialism-and-acronym-differ/

Ironing: moving a hot iron over fabric, different from pressing

Imperial Measurements: units used in the United States for measuring (inch, foot, yard, etc.) in contrast with metric measurements used throughout other countries


Jelly Roll: (40-42) 2 1/2″ x 44″ strips from a fabric collection

Junior Jelly Roll: Twenty 2 1/2″ x 44″ strips from a fabric collection

Junior Layer Cake: (20) 10″x10″ squares



Label: (n) physical notation on fabric with name of quilt, who pieced it, who quilted it, date made, where made, who it was made for, occasion; (v) to document quilt

Layer Cake: (42) 10″x10″ squares with at least one of each print in a collection

Layering: backing, batting, and quilt top with backing right side down, batting smoothed on top of backing, and quilt top right side up on batting

Lengthwise Grain: parallel to the selvage – least stretch

Locking/Nesting Seams: ease of matching seams by pressing seams in opposite directions on blocks to be joined


Mat: the protective cutting surface required when using a rotary cutter

Medallion Quilt: a large center block frequently appliqued surrounded by multiple borders

Mini Charm Pack: (42) 2 1/2″ squares, also called Candy by Moda Fabrics

Mirror Image: reverse shapes

Mitered Borders and/or Binding: corner fabric folded at a 45-degree angle

Motif for Quilting: a motif for quilting is the pattern or design stitched, such as feather, meander, hatch


Needle: an exceptionally fine slender piece of metal with a point at one end and a hole or eye for thread at the other, used in sewing

Needle Kind/Use: Needle Guide | SuperiorThreads.com has an educational page on needles that should answer any questions you may have.

Needle-Turn Applique: hand applique method of using needle point to turn edge of applique under before taking one-eighth inch stitches to hold it to background fabric


On Point: setting quilt squares rotated at 45-degree angles, placing points top to bottom; stitched together in diagonal rows


Panel/Panel Quilt: often used for the center of a quilt top enlarged by constructing borders, much like medallion quilts

Patchwork Block: two or more fabrics stitched together to form a block of a quilt top

Pieced Quilt Top:  blocks attached to form a design

Piecing: joining fabric pieces in a specific order to result in a designed block

Pinked Edges: cut with pinking shears that leave an edge of peaks and valleys rather than straight; often used to reduce raveling

Piping: enclosing a cord in a strip of fabric

Pre-Cuts: fabric cut by manufacturer or quilt shop owners to make certain sizes popular in quilt patterns

Pressing: the up and down motion of the iron on and off the fabric avoiding movement when iron is on the fabric

Press to “the dark side”: when pressing the seams of a dark fabric and a light, whenever possible some believe you should press to “the dark side” – sounds a bit mysterious

Prewash: the act of washing fabric before cutting or using in a quilt


Quarter Square Triangle: The result of placing two half square triangles with right sides together, next stitching 1/4″ on both sides of a diagonal line. Cutting on the middle diagonal line and opening newly made block of 4 equal parts to make the square

Quilt (noun):  fabric backing, batting, and pieced fabric top secured together with stitches made by hand, machine, or tied

Quilting (verb): the act of stitching/tying layers of fabric and batting together for use; to quilt

Quilt as You Go: A method of quilting smaller units (blocks most frequent) of a quilt, then putting them together as one complete quilt.

Quilt Block: a unit of pieced, appliqued or solid fabric used to construct a top; traditionally named; some may have more than one name

Quilting Motifs:  the quilting design made by quilting

Quilt Sandwich: backing, batting, and quilt top layered for quilting

Quilting Vocabulary: words, slang, phrases with specific meaning to quilters


Reverse Applique: top layer of fabric hand or machine stitched and then cut away to reveal fabric layered below

Reversed Shapes: mirror images cut from fabric either right sides together or wrong sides together; cutting both layers the same time produces mirror or reversed images

Rows: quilt blocks left to right in a line

Rotary Cutter: handle with an attached circular sharp blade that turns to cut fabric

Rulers: made of acrylic for cutting with a rotary cutter and much thicker for machine quilting with a hopping foot


Sampler Quilt: Often each block has a different pattern. This is an effective way to learn new techniques.

Sandwich: backing, batting, and quilt top before quilting.

Sashing: strips of fabric between blocks to separate them

Scant 1/4″: a seam one thread width narrower than a full 1/4″

Scissors: used for light cutting, have shorter blades than shears, and the finger holes are equal.  In the quilting and sewing world, it is nice to have a variety of sizes.

Scrappy Quilts: made from several different fabrics

Seam Allowance: 1/4″measured from fabric edge to stitches is most common in quilting

Selvage: the tightly woven edges of the fabric

Setting Triangles: used in on point quilts as fillers of empty space corners and along four sides

Shade: colors with black added to them

Shears: for heavy-duty cutting, long blades, sized finger holes for thumb in one and three fingers in the other. In the quilting and sewing world, it is nice to have a variety of sizes.

Square in a Square: a smaller square is inside a larger square, tilted 45 degrees to the larger; made by adding triangles to each side of the smaller square

Stash: the fabrics owned by a quilter and, as a rule, is more than she will ever be able to use in a lifetime but doesn’t stop her from buying more; an early word learned in quilting vocabulary

Stitch-in-the-Ditch: quilting by sewing in the seams of blocks

Strip Piecing:  strips stitched together on the long edges, then sub-cut into smaller segments to stitch to similar segments

Symmetry: in quilting is when a block looks the same on the left side as the right, as in mirror image


Thread: great reference information at Thread Weight | SuperiorThreads.com and Thread Characteristics | SuperiorThreads.com

Tint: colors with white added to them; pastels

Tone: in reference to fabric, a color with gray added

Tone on Tone: fabric with like color printed on like color and reads as one color

Trapunto: a way to give quilt shapes a three-dimensional appearance by stuffing the shape with bits of batting; most often done on whole cloth quilts or areas of solid fabric



Value: how light or dark a fabric appears when compared to other fabrics; a fabric value can change when compared to different fabrics; placement of different values is a major determination on how a quilt design will appear

Vocabulary: words, terms, phrases pertaining to specific activities (sports, rocking climbing, etc.) not understood by laypersons unfamiliar with the subject or skill such as a quilting vocabulary


Walking Foot: a foot secured to the pressure bar with the attached U-shape movable arm around extension above the needle; this foot works with the feed dogs to keep multiple layers of fabric to evenly feed under the needle to eliminate puckers or distortion of the bottom fabric; foot frequently used when quilting on a home sewing machine, especially doing straight line quilting motifs; specific type of attachment known for moving fabric evenly under the needle – quilting vocabulary when quilt sandwich is moved together under the needle to avoid bunching, pleating of either top or backing

Whole Cloth Quilts: made from unpieced solid fabric and elaborately quilted



Yo-yos: fabric circles stitched close to the edge with stitches gathered tight