Learn the lingo! Quilter's Glossary

New to making quilts and feeling foxed by FPP? Baffled by basting and batting? If there are words in a quilt pattern or project that you're unsure of, our glossary has all the answers

Quilting glossary
Published: December 29, 2019 at 8:35 am
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No a "quilt sandwich" isn't a cheese and pickle bap cut into hexagon shapes! Find out the meaning of this and other common quilting terms in our complete quilting glossary from the Love Patchwork & Quilting team.



Appliqué is the art of sewing cut-out fabric shapes onto a backing fabric to create patterns and pictures. The pieces can be sewn by hand or on a sewing machine, or even stuck on with fabric glue, although sewing can prevent the edges from fraying.

Backing fabric

This is a large piece of fabric that forms the back of a quilt (it can be one piece or made up from several). Plain or patterned, in colours that complement the colours on the patterned top of the quilt, the backing is best made from 100% cotton. Look for ‘extra wide’ fabrics when buying a backing, to save you from having to sew two pieces together.


Basting is the process of loosely fixing the layers of a quilt sandwich together before quilting them by hand or on a machine. Often known as tacking, there are several ways of doing this: with a basting spray adhesive; with curved quilting pins; by using fusible batting that can be ironed on; sewing tacking stitches by hand; or using a specialist basting gun that secures the layers in place with plastic tags. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages – experiment to see which one you prefer!


Available in different weights, batting forms the padded layer of a quilt sandwich between the top and the backing. Some patterns refer to batting as ‘wadding’. It's the same thing!


Betweens, or quilting needles, are slightly shorter than the usual ‘sharps’ that are used for general sewing and embroidery. They’re designed to make detailed stitches on heavy fabric.


The bias runs diagonally to the weave of a fabric. Material that’s cut on the bias has a great deal of stretch and ‘give’ so it’s ideal for making the binding edge of a quilt.

Bias binding

This is a length of material that’s been cut on the bias and will therefore fit more easily around curved edges. Ready-made bias binding is available in many widths and colours, making it really useful for finishing off a quilt.


The binding runs all the way around the edge of a quilt, holding the three parts of the sandwich together and providing a neat, strong finish.


A block is one of a series of components that make up a quilt top. Blocks can be patchworked or appliquéd, and can be repeated across the quilt or each one
can be different.


A long piece of fabric – usually 44in wide, but anything from 25 to 100 yards long – that’s kept wound around a flat piece of cardboard. Most haberdashers display their fabrics as bolts, with information about the material displayed on one end of the roll.


On a quilt top, the border is a fabric framework that surrounds all the other decorative elements (blocks, sashing and so on). The border itself is contained by the binding at the very edge of the quilt that holds the three layers the quilt sandwich together.


A charm is a 5in pre-cut fabric square, often sold in a ‘charm pack’ bundle that includes examples of every design in a fabric range.


Cornerstones are decorative features of a quilt top. They’re the squares that sit at the corners of sashing or borders.


Crewel needles (also known as embroidery needles) are very similar to standard ‘sharp’ needles but have an elongated eye, rather than a round one, to make it easier to thread thicker multi-stranded cottons.

Dessert roll

Also known as a ‘fat roll’, this is a bundle of 20 pre-cut fabric strips that are 5in wide and as long as the width of the fabric bolt.

English Paper Piecing

A method of hand pieced patchworking in which templates for every piece are cut out of paper. Fabric is then sewn around each paper template before the shapes are joined together into a larger design. The paper templates are removed once the shapes have all been sewn together.


Stands for 'English Paper Piecing' and is commonly used in the online quilting community! See above

Fat eighth

Half of a ‘fat quarter’, this is a piece of fabric measuring 9in x 18in.

Fat quarter

A quarter of a yard of fabric made by cutting half a yard in half across the length to give a piece of fabric that measures 18in x 22in. This means you can cut larger pieces than you can from a regular quarter (9in x 44in).

Foundation paper piecing

A precise way to piece blocks by sewing pieces of fabric to a printed and numbered paper template.

Free-motion quilting

This is a style of machine quilting in which a darning foot is used instead of the usual foot so that the quilting stitches can be ‘drawn’ freehand in any direction rather than in straight lines.

Fusible web

The fabric equivalent of double-sided sticky tape. Often used for appliqué work, it melts slightly and becomes tacky when ironed between two pieces of fabric, making it a quick way to join material.

Fussy cut

To cut specifically around a motif on a patterned piece of fabric to show off the printed design.


The arrangement of threads in a piece of woven fabric. Lengthwise grain is created by the warp threads on the loom (the ones that run up and down), and crosswise grain by the weft (the ones that run left to right).


To hem a piece of fabric is to turn the edge over on itself and sew it in place to stop it fraying, although a hem can also be decorative.


A common quilt top design made from hexagons of fabric sewn together.

Jelly roll (Also: Strip roll, Noodle)

A bundle of 20 or so strips of fabric that each measure 2½in x 44in. Jelly rolls are produced by Moda Fabrics, but other companies make similar bundles with different names such as Bali Pops, Stone Strips and Roll Ups.


A reinforcing material that’s sewn or ironed to the back of fabric to make it stronger or more rigid.

Layer cake

Produced by fabric company Moda, a layer cake is a bundle of 10in fabric squares.


A term for describing the thickness and weight of batting. ‘High loft’ batting will be thicker than ‘low loft’, although low loft batting can be just as warm as high loft batting – useful if you want a warm quilt that isn’t too bulky.

Long-arm quilting

For large projects, such as bedspreads, it’s possible to pay to have the quilting stitched by an industrial ‘long-arm’ sewing machine.

Long-arm sewing machine

A long-arm sewing machine, as the name suggests, is a domestic sewing machine that has a longer arm that creates more room between the needle and the body of the machine so that it’s easier to manoeuvre larger pieces of fabric.

Long quarter

A quarter-yard of fabric cut along the width of the bolt, measuring 9in x 44in.


A medallion is a centrepiece block in a quilt, designed to be the focal point and different from the surrounding blocks. The rest of the quilt is built up in borders.

Mitred corner

This produces a diagonal seam at 45-degrees to the edges of a square where two pieces of fabric meet at a corner. It is recommended to mitre your binding corners.


With a textured fabric such as velvet or brushed cotton, the nap is the direction in which the raised threads lie.


A general term for any tools and accessories used for quilting, patchwork and other crafts. Quilting notions include rotary cutters, scissors, needles and pins, amongst others.


Panels are pieces of fabric with a printed illustration or other image on them that are intended to be used in one whole piece on a quilt top.


Patchwork involves sewing together small pieces of different fabrics to create a pattern. The blocks of a quilt top are usually patchworked.


Another name for patchworking, piecing is the act of sewing together the shapes that make up a block.


Pressing a fabric with an iron removes unwanted creases but also sets necessary ones along seams and edges. Pressing is different from regular ironing as the iron is lifted between each press rather than run backwards and forwards across the grain of the fabric.


To quilt is to sew together layers of fabric and batting to make an item such as a bedspread or garment. Quilting is the stitching that holds the layers together.

Quilt sandwich

The three layers of material that make up a finished quilt – the backing, the batting and the top – are collectively referred to as a quilt sandwich.

Quilt top

The decorative top layer of a quilt sandwich. This is the part that features all your patchwork, appliqué and stitching!

Raw edge

The edge of a fabric where it’s been cut. Many fabrics will fray at the raw edges if they’re not hemmed or bound.

Reverse appliqué

The opposite of standard appliqué, reverse appliqué involves sewing together several layers of fabric and then cutting down through the layers to create a design.

Right side

The ‘front’ of a piece of fabric that shows the design (if it’s printed). When you’re making up a pattern, the right side refers to the side that will face outwards when the project is finished.

Rotary Cutter

This bladed tool can cut straight lines through several layers of fabric at once. It should always be used with a cutting mat and quilter’s ruler.


A traditional Japanese form of running stitch, it’s now popular for quilting.


Sashing is a latticework of strips that can sometimes be used to separate the blocks on a quilt top.

Seam allowance

The distance that you need to leave between your stitching and the raw edge of the fabric. This is usually ¼in for patchwork, but each pattern should specify the amount. When cutting out fabric from a template, the seam allowance should be added around all sides, unless the pattern says otherwise.


Setting is the process of arranging all the elements of a quilt top – blocks, sashing and so on. A diagonal setting, for instance, has the blocks turned at 45-degrees to the internal edges of a square quilt.

Selvedge (selvage)

The tightly woven edge of a bolt of fabric. It may include information, such as the manufacturer and pattern repeat length. Because the fabric is more dense along the selvedge it’s best to remove it rather than to quilt with it.

Sink stitching

(Also: in-the-ditch stitching) A process that involves sewing quilting stitches that are either very close to, or actually lie within, the seams between blocks and other sewn-together elements of a quilt top.


See ‘baste’.


Tying is a fast alternative to sewing together the three layers of a quilt sandwich. As the name suggests, it simply involves sewing through the layers and back up again in the same place, and tying a knot in the thread to secure it. The knots are repeated at regular intervals across the quilt.


In patchwork, units are small pieces of fabric (often sewn together in small sets) that are then sewn together to form your main blocks.


See ‘batting’.


Warp threads run lengthwise along a woven fabric, at right angles to the weft. There is almost no stretch or give in the warp threads of a fabric.


Weft threads run crosswise along a woven fabric, at right angles to the warp. Weft threads sometimes contain a little stretch.


Wholecloth quilts have a top layer that’s made from one piece of fabric rather than patchwork. Printed wholecloth tops can be bought where you quilt around the design, or templates are available so you can quilt a pattern onto plain fabric.


Wrong side

The back of a piece of fabric – either the non-printed side, or the side that will be on the back once the project is finished.


Hannah BellisKnitting Editor, Gathered

Hannah has worked on Gathered for 2 years, since our launch in 2019. At school Hannah learned to knit collaborating on dorcas blankets – now she edits our knitting section. She inherited her love of stitching and embroidery from her talented grandmother, and her passion for thread led her to be Editor of The World of Cross Stitching for six years. Card making is a more recent passion, developing from her position as editor of Cross Stitch Card Shop. She loves using kinetic techniques to make cards that move – she was editor of Papercraft inspirations magazine for over four years, creating loads of card making video tutorials at www.youtube.com/PapercraftTV.

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