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Complete List of Common Quilting Terms

Learn basic quilting terms and search for unknown sewing words with our complete quilting glossary! If we have more information on a term or have how-to instructions on a technique, there will be a link within the description, so you can read more or watch a video about the topic.


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Acrylic ruler: A ruler of thick, clear plastic used to make straight cuts with a rotary cutter. Available in a variety of sizes and shapes.

Acrylic template: Thick, durable plastic pattern used to trace and/or cut around. Available commercially in a variety of shapes and patterns. Can be used with a rotary cutter.

Allover quilting: Stitching that covers the entire quilt without regard for block shapes or fabric design. Can be quilted from either the quilt top or the back side.

Alternate blocks: Plain, pieced, or appliquéd blocks used between a quilt’s primary blocks. Also called alternate squares or setting squares.

Analogous colors: Neighbors on the color wheel.

Appliqué: Adding fabric motifs by hand or machine to a foundation fabric. (see more here)

Appliqué sequence order: See “Stitching sequence.”

Appliqué template: A pattern used to trace appliqué shapes onto fabric.

Asymmetry: When one-half of an image or block does not mirror the opposite half, the image is asymmetric.

Awl: A tool typically used in leather making to create holes. Can be used in quilting to pierce templates for marking points.



Background quilting: Stitching in open interior spaces, such as in setting squares. Squares, diamonds, clamshells, or other small regular shapes are commonly used as background quilting. The closely spaced lines tend to flatten the area being quilted, creating a low-relief, textured appearance. Also called filler quilting.

Backing: The layer of fabric on the back of a quilt. It can be a single fabric, pieced from multiple fabrics, or created using extra blocks.

Backstitch: The process of stitching over one or two stitches to secure them. Can be done by hand or by reverse stitching on a sewing machine. Also a hand embroidery stitch. (see more here)

Backstitch loop knot: Used in hand piecing to end a line of sewing. Can be made with one or two loops.

Bargello: A quilt style identified by peaks and valleys created from squares of fabric that are sewn in strips, then cut and offset before joining the strips again.

Barn Raising set: A pattern created when Log Cabin blocks are placed so the lights and darks radiate from the quilt center.

Basic sewing kit: Key components for quilting that may be requested on a class supply list. The contents include scissors, needles, and thread. Also called BSK.

Basting spray: Adhesive available in a spray can that may be used to hold the layers of a quilt together instead of thread- or pin-basting.

Basting stitch: A large, loose stitch used to hold together layers of fabric or fabric and batting. Basting stitches are usually removed after the layers are permanently joined.

Batting: The material used between the quilt top and quilt backing. Commercial battings are available in a variety of fiber contents. Flannel fabric is sometimes substituted for traditional batting. (see more here)

Beading: The process of adding beads to the surface of a quilt.

Bearding: The appearance of batting on the quilt surface, showing through the holes where the needle pierces the quilt top or backing during the quilting process. Also called fiber migration.

Betweens: Short, fine needles used for hand piecing, hand quilting, appliqué, and sewing on binding.

Bias: Any diagonal line between the crosswise or lengthwise grain line in woven fabric. The bias grain has more stretch and is less stable than the crosswise or lengthwise grain. See also “True bias.” (see more here)

Bias bars: Purchased metal or heat-resistant plastic bars in varying widths that can be used to make bias stems.

Bias binding: Binding strips cut on the true bias grain, resulting in a binding that can be easily positioned around curved edges. When stripe fabrics are cut on the bias, the result is a “barber pole” effect.

Bias seam: When bias edges of fabric are sewn together, a bias seam results. This seam can be easily stretched and distorted and must be handled with care.

Bias stems: Fabric strips cut on the bias grain so that they are flexible enough to bend without wrinkles or puckers when making floral stems or vines for appliqué.

Bias strips: Long, thin pieces of fabric cut on the bias grain.

Big stitch: A large, evenly-spaced hand quilting stitch used to create a folk art appearance. Also called a utility stitch.

Binding: The finishing band of fabric that covers the raw outer edges of a quilt.

Binding foot: A specialty foot that can be attached to the machine for making and sewing binding.

Blanket stitch: A decorative machine or hand stitch used to outline appliqué pieces. Also called buttonhole stitch. (see more here)

Blind hemstitch: A machine stitch used to secure appliqué pieces for mock hand appliqué. The machine takes two or three straight stitches, then a zigzag stitch.

Block: The basic unit, usually square and often repeated, from which many quilts are composed. Blocks may be pieced, appliquéd, or solid. (see more here)

Block mock-up: A sample of a block made by cutting the shapes from the desired fabric and affixing them to a surface. Creating mock-up blocks allows the quilter to see how fabrics will work together when cut into smaller pieces.

Bobbin case: The portion of the sewing machine that holds the bobbin. Bobbin cases may be fixed or removable, depending on machine style and manufacturer.

Bobbin case finger: The part of the bobbin case that projects upward in some machines. It contains a hole for threading the bobbin thread through to increase the lower thread tension.

Bobbin-fill thread: A lightweight thread used in the bobbin for machine embroidery, machine appliqué, or decorative stitching. Also called lingerie thread.

Bobbin work: Winding thick decorative threads that won’t fit through the machine needle onto the bobbin, then stitching from the quilt back so the bobbin thread appears on the quilt front.

Bonded batting: Batting that has been chemically processed using heat or resin to combine the fibers.

Border prints: Contained fabric designs that run lengthwise on the fabric bolt. Often these prints are cut apart and used as a quilt border.

Borders: The framing on a quilt that serves to visually hold in the design and give the eye a stopping point.

Broderie perse: A technique in which individual motifs are cut from one fabric and applied to another fabric foundation.

BSK: See “Basic sewing kit.”

Bugle beads: Long, thin beads sometimes added to a quilt top for embellishment.

Burr: A nick or rough area on a needle that may snag fabric.

Butted corners: Term used when border pieces meet at a 90° angle or when binding pieces overlap in the corner at a 90° angle, rather than being mitered.

Buttonhole stitch: See “Blanket stitch.”



Center-intersecting blocks: Block designs that have multiple pieces meeting in the center. Special piecing techniques are needed to prevent excess bulk or warping at the block’s center.

Center point: The visual or actual center of a block where units come together.

Chain piecing: Sewing patchwork pieces in a continuous chain from edge to edge without backstitching. Short lengths of thread link the pieces.

Chain stitch: An embroidery stitch that appears to be a series of chain links. (see more here)

Channel stitching: Parallel rows of straight-line quilting going in one direction across a quilt top.

Chenille needle: A long, oval-eye needle used for heavyweight thread, embroidery, and tying quilts.

Chevron stitch: A zigzag-type embroidery stitch used for decorative embellishment.

Color retention: A fabric’s ability to retain its color when it is washed.

Color-wash quilt: See “Watercolor quilt.”

Color wheel: Device used to see the relationships of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors and the tints and shades of each.

Complementary colors: Opposites on the color wheel, which appear brighter when they are used together.

Continuous bias binding technique: A method of marking, sewing, and cutting a square of fabric so as to transform it into one long bias strip.

Continuous sashing: Strips of fabric that separate entire rows either vertically or horizontally.

Contrast: The differences between fabric values, which are described as light, medium, or dark. Contrast clarifies design and makes depth apparent. (see more here)

Conversation print: See “Novelty print.”

Cording foot: A specialty sewing machine foot that has a deep groove on the bottom to accommodate cording or piping.

Corner matching points: Marks made on templates and pattern pieces indicating where corners come together. Especially important when hand-piecing, as the seam allowances are unstitched.

Cornerstones: Squares of fabric pieced within sashing that align at the block corners.

Couching: A process of stitching thick threads, ribbons, beads, and other items to a quilt surface.

Covered cording: A trim or binding made by covering cording with fabric. Also called piping.

Crazy quilting: A type of quilting popularized in Victorian times. Crazy quilting is identified by odd-shape pieces of fabric usually sewn onto a foundation and embellished with fancy embroidery, ribbons, and beading. Silk, velvet, cotton, and other fine fabrics are typically used in crazy quilting.

Crocking: The transfer of color from one fabric to another, caused by the friction of fabrics rubbing against one another during handling or washing.

Crosshatch: See “Grid quilting.”

Cross-stitch: A decorative embroidery stitch that appears as a series of Xs.

Crosswise grain (cross grain): The threads running perpendicular to the selvage across the width of a woven fabric. 

Curve, concave: A curve that bows inward.

Curve, convex: A curve that bows outward.

Curved rulers and templates: Made of acrylic plastic, these commercial products make it easier to rotary-cut intricate, curved pieces.

Cutting mat: Surface used for rotary cutting that protects the tabletop and keeps the fabric from shifting while cutting. Often mats are labeled as self-healing, meaning the blade does not leave slash marks or grooves in the surface even after repeated usage.



Darner (darning needle): A needle with a long, narrow eye. Used for basting, tying, or weaving.

Darning foot: An open-toe sewing machine foot that is used for free-motion quilting.

Design wall/surface: A vertical surface used to position and view fabric choices to see how they might appear in a quilt. (see more here)

Diagonal set: A style of quilt top where the blocks are set “on point” in diagonal rows.

Die-cutting: A time-saving alternative to rotary cutting. Layers of fabric are centered over a custom-shape die blade, covered with a cutting mat, and rolled through a die-cutting machine.

Difficult to needle: The ease (or lack thereof) with which the needle glides through fabric.

Directional borders: Borders that have designs running in a particular sequence or order.

Directional clipping: Snipping seams on the bias to prevent raveling of fabric edges, such as in appliqué.

Directional pressing: Ironing seams in a designated direction to limit bulk in certain areas of a block. Commonly used in diamonds and other center-intersecting blocks.

Directional stitching: Sewing seams in a designated direction when piecing to prevent puckering. Commonly used in sewing diamonds and other center-intersecting blocks.

Dog-ears: Long points that extend beyond the seam allowance, block edge, or quilt top edge after the pieces are stitched together. Usually trimmed off to make aligning subsequent pieces easier.

Double-appliqué method: Finished-edge appliqué pieces created by facing them with a lightweight interfacing prior to stitching them to a foundation fabric.

Double-fold binding: Binding made from a fabric strip that is folded in half before being attached to the quilt. Also called French-fold binding.

Double- or triple-needle: Specialty sewing machine needles with two or three needles hooked together at the shank. Can be used for decorative stitching.

Drag: Caused by the weight of the quilt pulling while sewing. Drag can result in distortion of a finished quilt or uneven quilting stitches.

Drapability: The relative stiffness or softness of a fabric or quilted piece.

Drop: The part of a quilt that extends over the edge of the mattress. (see more here)



Easing: The process of working in extra fabric where two pieces do not align precisely, especially when sewing curves.

Echo quilting: Stitching multiple lines that follow the outline of an appliqué or other design element, echoing its shape.

Embellishment: The process of adding decorative items or stitches to a quilt top. May include buttons, beads, heavyweight threads, or charms.

Embroidery: A type of embellishment or stitchery that can be created by hand or machine using a variety of threads. (see more here)

English paper piecing: Technique of stabilizing fabric over a paper template. Frequently used for designs with set-in corners such as the hexagon shape. See also “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”

Equilateral triangles: A triangle in which all three angles measure 60°. Six equilateral triangles combine to create a hexagon.

Ergonomics: The study of work space design to prevent injury.

Even-feed foot: See “Walking foot.”

Extra-fine pins: Pins with a thinner shaft than standard pins, thus leaving smaller holes in fabric.



Fat eighth: A 1⁄8-yard fabric cut that is cut crosswise from a 1⁄4-yard piece of fabric for a finished size of approximately 9×22". (see more here)

Fat quarter: A 1⁄4-yard fabric cut that is cut crosswise from a 1⁄2-yard piece of fabric for a finished size of approximately 18×22". (see more here)

Featherstitch: A decorative embroidery stitch.

Feed dogs: The sawtooth-edge machine component that rests under the throat plate and aids in moving fabric beneath the presser foot.

Felted wool: Wool fabric which has been machine-washed and dried to create a napped, no-fray material.

Filler quilting: See “Background quilting.”

Filler triangles: See “Setting triangles.”

Finger-press: The process of pressing a small seam using a finger and pressure. Also called finger-crease.

Finishes: Created by mechanical or chemical processes used in fabric manufacturing that result in different surface characteristics, from a sheen to a nap. Finishes can be permanent or temporary and may have varying degrees of durability (ability to withstand washings).

Flannel: A 100% cotton fabric that has a brushed, napped surface.

Flat flower pins: Pins with a unique flower-shape head. The long shaft makes these pins easy to grab and helps them stay in fabric.    

Floating blocks: A look achieved by cutting side and corner setting pieces large enough that the block edges in the quilt center do not touch the border.

Flying Geese unit: A common unit in quiltmaking. It is identified by its rectangular shape created with a large 90° triangle in the center and two small 90° triangles on each side.

Foundation piecing: A method of sewing together fabric pieces on the reverse side of a paper pattern or foundation fabric. Sometimes preferred for joining very small or irregularly-shaped fabric pieces.

Four-Patch: A block or unit comprised of four equal-size squares sewn in two horizontal rows, often with alternating color placement.

Framed block: A block with fabric strips around it that give it the appearance of being framed. This technique can be used to unify blocks or adjust block size.

Free-motion embroidery: Machine embroidery done with the feed dogs disengaged and using a darning presser foot so the quilt can be moved freely on the machine bed in any direction.

Free-motion quilting: A process of quilting done with the feed dogs disengaged and using a darning presser foot so the quilt can be moved freely on the machine bed in any direction.

Freezer paper: Paper commonly available at grocery stores that can be used to make appliqué patterns. The shiny coating on one side temporarily adheres to fabric when pressed with a warm iron.

French-fold binding: See “Double-fold binding.”

French knot: A decorative embroidery stitch formed by wrapping thread around the needle. (see more here)

Fusible web: A paper-backed adhesive that can be ironed to the back of fabric that is then cut into shapes. These fused shapes are adhered to a background fabric by pressing them with a warm iron. Frequently used in appliqué projects.

Fussy cutting: Isolating and cutting out a specific print or motif from a piece of fabric. (see more here)