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25 Quilting Terms Every Quilter Should Know

Claudia has been quilting for almost 30 years and writing about it for more than six. She has won a number of awards for her work.

Are you new to quilting? Read on for some important information for a beginner!

Are you new to quilting? Read on for some important information for a beginner!

Quilting Terminology Glossary: Lingo and Quilting Terms You Should Know

The quilting world is full of terms that you may not be familiar with. Some are used with other types of crafts as well, but many are used solely for this type of art.

There are so many terms that, even after quilting for almost 30 years, I still learn new ones from time to time.

If you are new to quilting, someone who has been quilting for a few years, or a veteran who has made more quilts than you can remember, there are phrases that you should know to help you with your work.

Here are 25 of the most important ones.

Pin basting

Pin basting

1. Basting

When you first hear the term basting, you probably think of cooking, but it's also used in quilting.

A quilt is made up of three layers, the back, the batting, and the top. Basting is the method of joining the three layers together.

There are three methods:

  1. With safety pins
  2. With a needle and thread
  3. With basting spray

2. Bearding

If you've ever made a quilt and small bits of the batting have come through the stitching holes in the top, then you've had bearding, and it happens for a number of reasons.

It could be the type of batting used, or maybe a dull needle was used. Luckily batting is made differently these days, and bearding doesn't happen as often.


3. Betweens

Betweens, also known as quilting needles, are used for hand quilting. Shorter and thinner than other needles, they are used for finer stitching.

Available in various sizes, the higher the size number, the smaller the needle.


4. Bleeding

If you've ever made a quilt with red fabric, you probably already know what this is.

Bleeding is when the color of one of the fabrics used stains other parts of the quilt. It usually happens with dark fabrics and, in particular, reds. Unfortunately, if it happens, it is really hard to get the stains out.

To help prevent this from happening, prewash fabrics to get some of the excess dye out. It's not a guarantee that it won't happen, but it helps.

Getting ready to wet block a quilt before putting the binding on.

Getting ready to wet block a quilt before putting the binding on.

5. Blocking

To make a finished quilt lay flat and square, it should be blocked. Blocking a quilt, either by a dry or wet method, is the act of laying the unbound quilt on a flat surface and making sure that it lays perfectly flat and that the corners are squared up correctly.

Once it is just right and, if you have used a wet method, dry, the binding can be added.

This process is also used in other crafts, such as needlepoint, knitting, and crochet.


6. Butted Corners

Butted corners are an easy way to add a border to, or bind, a quilt.

Instead of making mitered corners, corners that are joined diagonally, separate pieces are cut for each side and are joined with a straight seam.

While mitered corners are more striking, butted corners are easier and quicker to assemble.


7. Chain Piecing

An easy way to make quick work of sewing multiple blocks together, chain piecing is sewing two pieces of fabric together, like two triangles, leaving a few stitches in between, and then sewing the next two pieces together without removing them from the sewing machine.

A chain is formed.

This method comes in handy when making a quilt made up of many identical shapes.


8. Dog Ears

Dog ears are those tiny triangles that are formed after making various quilt blocks and patches.

It's best to carefully snip them off to avoid excess bulk around the seams.

Fun Fact: Some quilters keep their dog ears and turn them into quilts.


9. Echo Quilting

Just like it sounds, echo quilting is quilting by following the edge of the shape. It is commonly used around appliqué shapes to show off the design.

It is the primary quilting method used in many traditional Hawaiian quilts.


10. Embellishment

Embellishment in quilting means adding items to a quilt, generally the top, to decorate it.

Common types of embellishments include:

  • Beads
  • Buttons
  • Charms
  • Trimmings

11. Finger Pressing

Finger pressing is primarily used for temporarily pressing a seam or fabric, and it's just as it sounds. You use your finger(s) to press the fabric. It should not be used as a substitute for ironing.

While fingers are the best thing to use, there are a number of finger pressing tools that can also be used.


12. Floating Blocks

Floating blocks are set in a quilt top in such a way that they appear to be floating. Quilters use various fabrics and placements to achieve this effect, and it can be quite striking.


13. Foundation or Paper Piecing

Foundation or paper piecing is sewing fabrics to a piece of lightweight piece of paper that has a pattern printed on it.

A short sewing stitch is used so the paper can be easily removed once the entire block is finished.

This method is ideal for patterns that have multiple sharp points or for smaller pieces like those used in miniature quilts.


14. Fussy Cutting

Fussy cutting is when you are cutting out a specific portion of a piece of fabric to highlight a particular part of it.


15. Fabric Grain

Grain is the way threads are sewn together to make fabric. There are different types of grain in fabric, and they are important to quiltmakers.

  • Lengthwise grain: Thread is secured across the loom, which makes them tighter and less likely to stretch.
  • Crosswise grain: Thread is woven through the lengthwise thread. This direction stretches more easily.
  • Bias: Cutting fabric along the bias, a 45° angle, cuts through both grains and makes the fabric extremely stretchy.

For the least amount of stretching or warping when assembling quilt blocks, try to avoid cutting fabrics on the bias when possible.

A Fun Test

See if you can tell which side is which on a piece of fabric. Cut a rectangular pice of rectangular fabric out and stretch is in various directions. You'll be able to figure it out quickly.


16. Mitered Borders and Corners

For quilt makers, mitering borders and corners adds a certain level of finishing that other methods don't. It is a more detailed process, but the result is striking.

  • Mitered corners: When the corners of a border meet and are joined at a 45° angle.
  • Mitered binding: When the binding comes to the corner and is folded in such a way that it forms a 45° angle fold.

17. Nesting Seams

To ensure that seams match up precisely and that blocks remain as flat as possible, nesting is used.

To nest, match the two pieces of fabric that you are sewing together and join them as closely as possible. Pin so that the blocks don't shift when sewing.


18. Quilting in the Ditch

Quilting in the ditch is when you quilt in the seams of the fabric pieces. It's a more utilitarian stitch because you can't see it once the piece is finished.

In certain patterns, like quilts made up of squares, it can accentuate the fabric pieces because stitching in the seams around the piece of fabric makes it rise a little bit.


19. Raw Edge Appliqué

The difference between appliqué and raw edge appliqué is that in the former, the edges of the shape are turned under when sewing to the fabric. With the raw edge method, the edges aren't turned under, hence the term raw.

The look is distinctive, and it is easier to do than the regular method.


20. Relief Quilting

Fun to do, relief quilting is using so much stitching around a shape or word that the shape looks like it is puffed up, and it becomes the main thing that appears.


21. Reverse Appliqué

Unlike appliqué, which is when a fabric shape is sewn to the top of a piece of fabric, reverse appliqué is when a shape is cut out of the main fabric block, and a piece of fabric is added to the back.

The edges of the cut-out shape are turned under and sewn to the fabric on the backside.


22. Set-in Seams

Somewhat difficult to make, set-in seams are corners made up of three or more pieces of fabric that form a Y shape.

Some of the more common patterns that call for this type of seam are tumbling blocks, lone stars, and attic windows, but there are many others as well.


23. Sharps

Sharps are used for all sorts of hand sewing and are particularly good in appliqué.

They are available in many different sizes.


24. Squaring Up

Often, after piecing a block, or an entire quilt, it is not perfectly square. There may be some seams that aren't lined up, or one block isn't quite the same size as the other.

Squaring up blocks is important because you don't want to sew blocks together that don't match. It will cause problems down the line.

Once the quilt has been assembled and quilted, it's important to square it up before adding the binding so it lays flat, and the corners are sharp.


25. Tack Stitching

Tack stitching is used when basting a quilt or when stabilizing a seam together. It's a temporary stitch that is large and easily removed.



© 2018 Claudia Porter


Claudia Porter (author) on April 24, 2019:

Thank you Louise. I appreciate it.

Louise on April 23, 2019:

Enjoyed your site. Thank you!

Claudia Porter (author) on December 03, 2018:

Hi Dianna - I appreciate the kind words. Have a great day!

Claudia Porter (author) on December 03, 2018:

Glad they helped Natalie. If you take up quilting I hope you enjoy it!

Claudia Porter (author) on December 03, 2018:

Thanks Liz. Hopefully you'll take up the hobby if you are interested.

Dianna Mendez on December 02, 2018:

I have friends that quilt and I am pretty sure they would know these important terms. Always interesting to read your well written articles.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on December 02, 2018:

I've wanted to learn to quilt for some time now. This serves as a great introduction to terms. Thanks.

Liz Westwood from UK on December 01, 2018:

Not being a quilter myself, I have learned a lot from this artucle.