Learn basic quilting terms and search for unknown sewing words with our complete quilting glossary! If we have more information on a term or 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.


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)


Gathering stitch: A long running stitch that can be pulled to draw up the fabric.

Glass-head pins: Pins with a glass head that won't melt when pressed.

Glazing: Treating thread and fabric with starches and special chemicals, as well as polishing, to create a high luster.

Grain (grain line, on grain, or grain perfect): Reference to the lengthwise or crosswise threads in a woven fabric. (see more here)

Grandmother's Flower Garden: A traditional quilt design created entirely from joining hexagon shapes. See also "English paper piecing."

Greige goods: Fabric in a raw, unfinished state. Pronounced "gray-zh" goods.

Grid method: A system of dividing quilt blocks into smaller units to organize the design. Nine-Patch and Four-Patch are two commonly used grids.

Grid quilting: Quilting in vertical and horizontal lines across the quilt top. Also called crosshatching.


Half-square triangle: The 90° triangle formed when a square is cut in half diagonally once.

Hand: The feel of the fabric. Determined by the different greige goods and finishes used on fabric.

Hand appliqué: Using needle and thread to hand-sew fabric pieces onto a fabric foundation.

Hand ironing tool: A piece of hardwood that can be used to "press" open a seam.

Hand piecing: Using needle and thread to hand-sew seams while making a quilt top.

Hand-piecing templates: Pattern shapes used to trace and cut patches for hand-piecing projects. The pattern shapes do not include seam allowances.

Hand quilting: Series of running stitches made through all layers of a quilt with needle and thread. (see more here)

Hanging sleeve: A piece of fabric sewn to the back of a quilt. The fabric holds a rod so a quilt can be hung for display. (see more here)

Hawaiian appliqué: Intricate, symmetrical appliqué designs. The pattern-making process is similar to that used to create paper snowflakes.

Herringbone stitch: A decorative embroidery stitch.

Homespun: A fabric woven with colored threads rather than printed. The color is inherent in the fabric and not applied at a later time.


Inset seam: See "Set-in seam."

Intensity: The amount of pure color (saturated or brilliant) or muted color (grayed or subdued) present in a fabric.

In-the-ditch quilting: The process of stitching just next to the seams on the quilt surface; it is often used to define blocks or shapes. Also called stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

Ironing: The process of moving the iron while it has contact with the fabric, which can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. Ironing is distinctly different from pressing.

Isosceles triangle: A triangle with two equal sides whose sum is longer than the base.


Kaleidoscope: A quilt block pattern in which fabric is pieced so that it resembles the variegated image seen through a kaleidoscope.

Knee-lift presser foot: A device attached to a sewing machine that allows the quilter to raise the machine presser foot with the knee, leaving the hands free to manipulate or hold the fabric.

Knife-edge self-binding: A binding alternative in which both the quilt top fabric and backing fabric are turned under to meet evenly at the edges of the quilt, leaving the quilt edges without an additional strip of binding fabric.

Knot on the needle: See "Quilter's knot."


Lap quilting: Hand quilting done while holding the quilt loosely in the lap without using a hoop.

Lazy daisy stitch: A decorative embroidery stitch often combined to create a flowerlike design. (see more here)

Lengthwise grain: The threads running parallel to the selvage in a woven fabric. (see more here)

Light box: A translucent surface that is lit from below and is used for tracing patterns onto paper or fabric. Available in crafts or photo-supply stores.

Lingerie thread: See "Bobbin-fill thread."

Lockstitch: The stitch created by a sewing machine consisting of several very short stitches which serve the same purpose as a knot. Used to begin or end a row of stitching that will not be crossed by another seam.

Loft: The thickness of the batting.

Log Cabin: A block assembled in a numerical sequence with strips, or "logs," beginning at the center of the block and working in a clockwise direction around a square center. (see more here)

Logs: Strips of fabric used to make a Log Cabin block.

Long-arm quilting machine: A quilting machine in which the quilt layers are held taut on a frame that allows the quilter to work on a large portion of the quilt at a time. The machine head moves freely, allowing the operator to use free-motion to quilt in all directions.


Machine appliqué: Attaching fabric motifs onto a fabric foundation with a sewing machine. (see more here)

Machine piecing: Machine-sewing patchwork pieces together with 1⁄4" seam allowances while making a quilt top.

Machine quilting: Series of stitches made through all layers of a quilt sandwich with a sewing machine. (see more here)

Machine tension: The balancing forces exerted on the needle and bobbin threads by the sewing machine that affect the quality of its stitch. Tension may be affected by the machine parts, how the machine and bobbin are threaded, thread type, needle type, and fabric choice.

Marking tools: A variety of pens, pencils, and chalks that can be used to mark fabric pieces or a quilt top. (see more here)

Matching point: Where the seam line joining two pieces begins or ends. Also known as a joining point.

Meandering stitch: An allover quilting pattern characterized by a series of large, loosely curved lines that usually do not cross over one another. Commonly used to cover an entire quilt surface without regard for block or border seams or edges.

Metallic needle: A needle designed with a larger eye for use with metallic thread.

Metallic thread: A synthetic thread with a shiny, metallic appearance.

Milliners needle: A long needle with a small round eye. Used for basting, gathering, and needle-turn appliqué. Also called a straw needle.

Mirror image: The reverse of an image or how it might appear if held up to a mirror.

Mitered borders: Border strips that meet in the corner at a 45° angle.

Mock-hand appliqué: A method of using clear, monofilament thread in the needle, cotton thread in the bobbin, and a blind hemstitch to make virtually invisible appliqué stitches by machine.

Monochromatic: Use of a single color, which may include tints and shades of that color, such as sky blue, royal blue, and navy.

Monofilament thread: A clear or smoke-colored thread made of polyester or nylon that is used for machine quilting and appliqué. Finished stitches are virtually invisible.


Napping: A process wherein the fabric surface is brushed, creating soft texture. This process is used to create flannel.

Needle-punched: A process used in batting manufacture to entangle the fibers and stabilize the batting.

Needle threader: A device that helps in getting thread through the eye of a needle. Available for both hand and machine sewing.

Needle-turn appliqué: An appliqué method in which the seam allowances are turned under with the needle tip just ahead of the section being stitched.

Nine-Patch: A block or unit comprised of nine squares of fabric sewn together in three horizontal rows, often with alternating color placement. A common block configuration in quilting. (see more here)

Notch: A small V shape clipped into a curved seam to reduce bulk and make seams lie flat when joined.

Novelty print: Fabric designed with a theme that may include holiday symbols, hobbies, or pet motifs. Also called a conversation print.


Off grain: When the lengthwise and crosswise grains of fabric don't intersect at a perfect right angle. (see more here)

Oilcloth: A woven, natural-fiber cloth (usually cotton duck/canvas) treated with an oil coating, making it relatively waterproof. Modern versions of this fabric are generally vinyl-coated cloth and are sometimes offered with a napped, flannel backing.

On point: Quilt blocks that are positioned on the diagonal are on point.

Outline quilting: Quilting done 1⁄4" from a seam line or an edge of an appliqué shape.

Overprinted: Fabric that is first dyed and then printed.


Paper foundation: A thin piece of paper with a drawn, printed, or stitched pattern that becomes the base for a quilt block when fabric is sewn directly onto it.

Partial seams: A two-step process of seaming to avoid set-in seams.

Perle cotton thread: A soft, yarnlike cotton thread used for quilting, decorative stitching, or embellishment. Available in a variety of thicknesses.

Photo transfer: Technique for transferring photo images onto fabric for use in a quilt top.

Pieced border: Blocks or pieced units sewn together to make a single border unit that is then sewn to the quilt center.

Pillow tuck: The portion of a quilt that is tucked under the pillow(s).

Pin-baste: Process of basting together quilt layers using pins (most often safety pins).

Pinking blade or shears: Rotary-cutter blade or scissors with edges that cut a zigzag pattern in fabric.

Piping: See "Covered cording."

Pivot: The process of leaving the needle in the fabric and turning the fabric when machine-piecing or machine-quilting.

Ply: A single strand of fiber. Several plies are twisted together to create a thread.

Polychromatic combination: A multicolor or scrappy mix.

Pounce: A chalk bag that can be patted over a stencil to transfer a pattern to fabric. Also called stamping powder.

Prairie points: Folded fabric triangles used as a quilt border or embellishment.

Preshrinking: Washing and drying of fabric by the quilter or manufacturer to remove finishes and shrink fabric before it is cut and sewn.

Presser foot: The removable machine accessory that holds fabric in place against the machine bed and accommodates the needle. A variety of presser feet styles are available for most machines.

Pressing: The process of picking up the iron off the fabric surface and putting it back down in another location, rather than sliding it across the fabric. (see more here)

Primary colors: Pure colors-red, yellow, and blue-that combine to create all other colors on the color wheel.

Puckered seams: Seams with uneven or pulled spots. Can be caused by pushing or pulling the fabric through the sewing machine, having unbalanced thread tension, or pulling the thread too taut when hand-sewing.


Quarter-square triangle: The 90° triangle formed when a square is cut diagonally twice in an X.

Quilt center: The quilt top before borders are added.

Quilt sandwich: The three parts of a quilt layered together-the quilt top, batting, and backing. (see more here)

Quilt top: The front of a quilt prior to layering and quilting. It can be pieced, appliquéd, or a single piece of fabric.

Quilter's knot: A knot used frequently in quilting in which thread is wrapped around the needle, then the needle is pulled through the wraps to create a knot. Also known as knot on the needle.

Quilting bar: A machine attachment used as a guide for channel or grid quilting.

Quilting distance: The space between quilting stitches. Batting manufacturers recommend different quilting distances for their products.

Quilting frame/hoop: Two pieces of wood or plastic that are placed on the top and bottom of a quilt to hold the fabric taut for quilting or surface embellishment.

Quilting stencils: Quilting patterns with open areas through which a design is transferred onto a quilt top. May be purchased or made from sturdy, reusable template plastic.

Quilting templates: Shapes that are traced around to mark a quilt top for quilting. May be purchased or made from sturdy, reusable template material.


Raw edge: An unfinished fabric edge. Sometimes used as a decorative element on quilt tops.

Rayon thread: A synthetic thread used for embroidery, embellishment, and sometimes quilting, but not piecing.

Reducing lens: A device that allows quilters to view fabric and projects as if they were several feet away. Distance may be valuable in determining design qualities.

Redwork: White or off-white fabric with images embroidered in red embroidery floss.

Relief: A raised surface, created in quilting by stuffing or filling an area, then quilting around it, as done for trapunto.

Repeat: Repetitions of a pattern or design in a fabric, or repetition of a quilting design or motif.

Reproduction fabrics: Recreations of fabrics from different time periods, such as the Civil War era or the 1930s.

Resiliency: The ability of a batting to resist creasing and regain its loft.

Reverse appliqué: An appliqué method in which the foundation fabric is on top of the appliqué fabric. The foundation is cut away to reveal the appliqué fabric underneath.

Right triangle: A triangle with one 90° angle.

Rock the needle: The process of bringing the needle back to the surface of all the quilt layers by using a rocking motion. Also called a rock-and-roll motion.

Rotary cutter: Tool with a sharp, round blade attached to a handle that is used to cut fabric. Blades are available in different diameters. (see more here)

Rotary-cutting mat: See "Cutting mat."

Row-by-row setting: A quilt layout in which a different type of block comprises each row.

Running stitch: A series of in and out stitches used in piecing, quilting, and embellishing. (see more here)


Sampler quilt: A quilt in which each block is a different pattern.

Sandpaper: Typically used in woodworking and crafts. The fine-grit type can be used in quilting to hold fabric while marking to prevent distortion.

Sashiko: A type of Japanese embroidery traditionally using a thick white thread on layered indigo-color fabric to create geometric patterns.

Sashing: Strips of fabric used to separate or set off block designs.

Satin stitch: A compact zigzag stitch often used around appliqué pieces to enclose raw edges and attach the appliqués to a foundation fabric.

Scale: The size of a print in relationship to other fabrics.

Scalloped border: A border with multiple curves around the quilt's outer edges.

Screen-printing: The process of applying designs to a fabric surface in separate steps.

Scrim: A loosely woven fabric resembling a net. Used to contain fibers in some types of batting.

Seam allowance: Distance between the fabric raw edge and the seam line. Typically 1⁄4" in hand and machine piecing. (see more here)

Seam line: The straight or curved line on which the stitches should be formed.

Seam ripper: A sharp, curved-tip tool used to lift and break thread when removing a seam.

Secondary colors: Colors created by combining equal parts of two primary colors-orange, violet, and green.

Seed beads: Small, round beads used for embellishment.

Self-binding: Using backing fabric as binding, rather than attaching a separate binding strip.

Self-healing mat: See "Cutting mat."

Selvage: The lengthwise edge of woven fabric. (see more here)

Serpentine stitch: A wavy-line stitch sometimes used in quilting.

Set: How blocks are arranged in a quilt top.

Set-in seam: The type of seam used when a continuous straight seam is not an option. Separate steps are necessary to sew a piece into an angled opening between other pieces that have already been joined. Also called inset seam.

Setting a seam: The first pressing of the seam as it comes from the sewing machine to lock threads together, smooth out puckers, and even out minor thread tension differences before pressing the seam open or to one side.

Setting squares: Solid, pieced, or appliquéd squares placed between the focal-point quilt blocks to set off a design.

Setting triangles: Triangles used to fill out a design when blocks are set on point. Also called filler triangles.

Shade: Black added to a color or hue creates a shade of that color; also refers to slight variations in a color

Shaft: The body of the needle that extends below the shank.

Shank: The top part of the needle that is held by the machine.

Sharp: A thin hand or machine needle with an extremely sharp point that is used to piece woven fabrics.

Shrinkage: The amount of area a fabric or quilt loses after being washed, dried, or quilted.

Signature block: Quilt block with a blank area where a signature has been added with permanent ink pen or embroidery.

Silk pins: Thin-shaft pins with sharp points ease insertion into fabric and make tiny holes in delicate fabrics.

Single-block setting: A quilt created primarily from a single block shape, such as Tumbling Blocks or Grandmother's Flower Garden.

Single-fold binding: A single-thickness fabric strip used to enclose quilt edges. Most commonly used for miniature quilts or quilts that will not be handled frequently.

Sizing: Product used to add body or stability to fabric, making it easier to handle.

Slip stitches: Small hand stitches used to secure binding to quilt backing.

Spacer border: Plain border sewn between a quilt center and an outer pieced border.

Split complement: A color grouping utilizing a primary, secondary, or tertiary color and the colors on each side of its complement (yellow with red-violet and blue-violet, for example).

Spool pin: The spindle that holds thread on the top of the sewing machine.

Spray starch or spray sizing: Liquid starch or sizing that can be sprayed over fabric to stabilize it before cutting.

Squaring a block: Measuring and, if necessary, trimming a block to ensure that it is the correct size.

Squaring fabric: Straightening one edge of the fabric prior to rotary cutting.

Squaring up a quilt: Straightening the edges of a quilt prior to sewing on the binding. (see more here)

Stabilizer: A product used beneath an appliqué foundation to eliminate puckers and pulling on the fabric while machine-stitching. Stabilizers are often tear-away or water-soluble for easy removal after stitching is complete.

Stab stitch: A quilting stitch in which the needle and thread are brought to the back and up again in separate movements.

Stained-glass quilt: A quilt style with pieces outlined by black bias tape that simulates the leading in stained-glass windows.

Stamping powder: See "Pounce."

Star stitch: A decorative embroidery stitch.

Stem stitch: An embroidery stitch frequently used to outline objects. (see more here)

Stippling: An allover quilting pattern characterized by a series of randomly curved lines that do not cross. Stippling is used to fill in background areas, which allows motifs to be more prominent. Also called allover meandering.

Stitching sequence: A designated order in which appliqué pieces should be stitched to the foundation fabric. Normally notated on appliqué patterns or pieces by a number.

Stitch-in-the-ditch: See "In-the-ditch quilting."

Stitch length: The number of stitches per inch. On a sewing machine, stitch length is often in millimeters.

Stitch width: A term generally applied to machine satin or zigzag stitching where the stitch width can be adjusted.

Straightedge: A ruler or other rigid surface that can be placed on template material or fabric to position a cutting tool or draw a line.

Straight grain: See "Lengthwise grain." (see more here)

Straight set: A quilt top setting with blocks aligned side by side in straight, even rows without sashing.

Straight-set border: A border that has been added first to the top and bottom of the quilt, then to the side edges, or vice versa.

Straight-stitch throat plate: A sewing machine throat plate with a small round hole for the needle to pass through. This allows less area for the sewing machine to take in or "swallow" the fabric as it is being stitched.

Straw needle: See "Milliners needle."

String piecing: Sewing multiple strips of fabric to a foundation piece for use in a block. (see more here)

Strip piecing: A process for accurately and quickly joining multiple strips, then cutting them into units or subunits for blocks. Also known as the strip method.

Swallow the fabric: At the beginning of a seam, the fabric edge is sometimes pushed into the throat plate by the needle and it appears that the machine has "swallowed" the fabric.

Symmetry: When one-half of an image or block is the mirror image of the opposite half.

Synthetic threads: Threads made from polyester, rayon, and nylon.


Tack stitch: A hand stitch used to secure appliqué pieces to a foundation. (see more here)

Take-up lever: The sewing machine part that holds thread and pulls it up as the stitch is being made.

Tapestry needle: A needle with an oval eye that accommodates thick thread and creates a hole in the fabric big enough for thick or coarse fibers to pass through.

Temperature: A relative characteristic that denotes the warmth or coolness of a color.

Template: A pattern made from paper, cardboard, plastic, acrylic, or other sturdy material used to cut pieces for patchwork or appliqué.

Template plastic: Easy to cut, translucent material available at quilt shops and crafts supply stores. Designs can be traced onto its surface with a marking tool to make templates, pattern pieces, or quilting stencils.

Tension: See "Machine tension."

Tension dial: A sewing machine component that allows for adjustment of the upper thread tension, important to achieving a balanced stitch.

Tension discs: Sewing machine parts that hold the thread and keep the tension appropriate for the stitch being sewn.

Tertiary colors: Colors that are combinations of primary colors (red, blue, yellow) and secondary colors (green, orange, violet)-red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, and yellow-orange.

Tessellating designs: When a single shape is repeated on a quilt top and covers the surface without holes or overlap.

Tetrad: A four-color combination of colors equidistant on the color wheel.

Thimble: A device to protect finger pads from needle pricks. Can be made of metal, leather, plastic, or rubber.

Thread-basting: Basting quilt layers together using a needle and thread and extra-long stitches that will be removed after the quilting is complete.

Thread count: The number of threads woven into a fabric. A higher number designates a more tightly woven fabric.

Thread finishes: Mechanical or chemical processes performed during thread manufacture to enhance the thread's ability to perform under certain sewing conditions.

Throat plate: The removable plate on the machine bed that covers the bobbin and has an opening for the feed dogs and needle. Throat plates can be changed depending on the type of project.

Tint: White added to a color or hue creates a tint of that color.

Tone: A color's intensity-its degree of lightness or darkness.

Tone-on-tone: Fabric that appears solid from a distance but has subtle areas of light and dark.

Topstitch: A machine straight stitch typically done on the right side of a project close to a seam.

Tracing paper: A thin, translucent paper used for copying patterns.

Trapunto: A method of adding raised texture to quilts by stuffing design areas. Trapunto often is used in stems, leaves, and other motifs.

Traveling (with the needle): Hand-quilting technique of moving from one area to another without knotting the thread and starting again.

Triad: Any three colors equally spaced on the color wheel, one of which usually takes precedence in a color scheme (yellow-orange, blue-green, and red-violet, for example).

Triangle-square: The square unit created when two 90° triangles are sewn together on the diagonal.

True bias: Intersects the lengthwise grain and crosswise grain at a 45º angle. (see more here)

Tufting: See "Tying."

Tying: Taking a stitch through all three layers of the quilt and knotting it on the quilt surface. Tying creates a loftier quilt. Also called tufting.


Unbalanced borders: Borders of different widths resulting in an asymmetrical look.

Unit: A combination of two or more pieces of fabric sewn together that form part of a block.

Universal needle: A sewing machine needle type with a point and eye suited for multiple sewing and quilting applications.

Utility stitch: See "Big stitch."


V clip: A notch taken out of a seam to reduce bulk.

Variegated thread: Thread in which the color changes throughout the strand.

Vertical set: A style of quilt top in which the blocks are set on point in vertical rows.


Walking foot: A sewing machine presser foot with grippers on the bottom that act in tandem with the machine's feed dogs to evenly feed multiple layers of fabric and batting beneath the foot. Effective for machine quilting. Also called an even-feed foot.

Watercolor quilt: Quilt identified by multiple squares of print fabrics positioned so each color blends into the next, creating a watercolor effect. Also called color-wash quilt.

Water-soluble: Threads, stabilizers, or marks that dissolve when wet.

Whipstitches: Small hand stitches used to join two finished edges, such as in English paper piecing. (see more here)


Yo-yos: Three-dimensional gathered fabric circles that may be sewn into quilt tops or used for decorative embellishments. (see more here)


Zigzag set: A style of quilt top in which the blocks are set on point in vertical rows that are slightly offset.

Zigzag stitch: A side-to-side stitch that can be used for machine appliqué. It can be shortened and very closely spaced to create a satin stitch.