The Hip Quilter’s Visual Dictionary

New and experienced quilters alike may be confused by the jargon used by quilters.  I know I was!  I have attempted to put in photographs to explain the terms that I had to learn when I started to quilt… in alphabetical order…

Album Quilt


The album quilt features a different appliquéd design in each block.  This style originated in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s; at that time, Baltimore was one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.  The most common motif is floral, but landmarks, eagles (and other patriotic motifs) appear in these quilts.  Today, one of the celebrated teachers of this style is Elly Sienkiewiczwho offers album quilt classes.  The album quilt can also be achieved with machine embroidery, with designs already created.  The quilt pictured above is not my work, it is an antique from the period.

Here is my first attempt at the first block of a more modern album quilt.

Appliqued in the hoop - learning curve great on this one!


Amish Quilt


Amish quilts feature bold graphic design and the use of mostly solid fabrics, which today appear to have foreshadowed the contemporary quilt movement.  Amish and Mennonite women hand-create these works of art even today, using technology available 150 years ago.  Amish quilts are designed to be used and were traditionally gifts at weddings or other pivotal life events.  Today, these quilts are showcased and sold in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,

Appliqué –

Huups Applique

Appliqué is the technique of sewing on an object to another cloth.  This can be done on quilts as well as apparel and other sewn items.  In this picture, this I stitched this bird with my embroidery module and then appliquéd to the shorts with my sewing machine.  The Matrioska doll on the shirt was appliquéd directly on the shirt with the embroidery module.

Art Quilting

Art quilting can be traditional or modern, but it strives to have more in common with fine art rather than textile creation.  For example, someone may create a portrait of someone using thread,  a landscape, or something abstract.

Audition – Auditioning fabric is the process of comparing several fabrics together to determine which might work best together in a quilt.

Bargello Quilt


The Bargello (rhymes with marshmallow) quilt comes from the traditional patterns from needlepoint embroidery in mathematical patterns that create motifs.  The name of this style of embroidery comes from Florence, Italy from a series of chairs found in the Bargello Palace.  No one person is credited with the invention of the Bargello style, but it appears to have its roots in Hungary.  Many say that a Hungarian princess, the bride of a Medici, brought her needlepoint to Florence where it flourished.  Chairs upholstered with Bargello needlepoint appear in the Bargello museum in Florence, hence the style’s name.

Basting – Basting is the process of temporarily putting pieces of fabric or fabric and batting together, with the intent of later removing the basting.  Basting can be done with long, loose stitches or safety pins (curved quilter’s pins help the quilter bite all three layers without pulling or distorting the quilt).  There are also temporary adhesive basting sprays for positioning the layers together.


Batik Shower Curtain

Batik fabrics are the result of a certain hand-dying method for the fabric.  These fabrics are also more tightly woven than others, and have been traditionally created by hand in Bali.  As you can see in the shower curtain that I made above, a batik can appear to be a solid, or it can have texture within it.  Batik fabrics appeal to both traditional and modern quilters alike.


HobbsHLWoolBtng Warm and Natural

Batting, or “wadding” (British), is the material that goes between two layers of fabric and creates the warmth and texture of the quilt.  Like all other elements of the quilt, the choice of batting presents another design element for your project.  Batting is typically made of cotton, polyester, wool, silk, bamboo, or a blend of any of these materials.  Each type of batting has its own characteristics that will determine how closely the quilting must be, how puffy the quilt will appear (from a characteristic known as “loft”), and how much the final product will shrink.

Bias –  Bias refers to the exact 45° angle running between the selvedges.  Cutting woven fabric on the bias results in the stretchiest cut of the fabric; it also reduces fraying because the threads on the cut edges are not directly exposed.

Block – A unit, often square in shape, that is sewn together to make the entire quilt.  Many quilts are constructed by creating blocks and then arranging those blocks together.

BOM – Many quilt shops offer a “Block Of the Month” program whereby the shopper purchases all of the blocks, but receives the instructions and/or the material for that block monthly.  At the end of the program, the quilt top should theoretically be complete.  The idea is that the quilter is less likely to be overwhelmed by the entire project and actually finish it timely.


A Tribute to Virgina marked and ready to quilt!

The outer portion of the quilt that surrounds the patchwork.  The border can be made with one fabric (which is typical), or it can also be pieced.  Borders can be useful to add size to a quilt with very little effort.  Quilts can also have multiple borders that can define the quilt, much like the process of matting and framing a picture.  In the picture above (you can see my sweet husband pin basting for me!), I have used three borders on this traditional star quilt.

Chain Piecing 

Chain Piecing

The process of running multiple units through a home sewing machine without cutting the thread in between the pieces.  This saves time and thread and can help a patchworker keep organized on the order of the quilt top.

Charm Pack™

Charm Pack

A Moda Pre-cut fabric with 5.5″ squares.  Other manufacturers (Rowan for example) sell 6″ squares and use different names other than Moda’s trademarked “Charm Squares.”

Crazy Quilt


A crazy quilt refers to the process of improvisational piecing with heavy embellishment (beading, decorative stitches, various textures of fabric).  Crazy “quilts” rarely have an inner layer (batting).  In addition, because the pieces of the fabric can be smaller and irregularly shaped, a crazy quilt is more likely to have exotic fabrics  – think velvet, silk, tulle – than its more traditional counterpart, which is typically made of 100% cotton fabrics.  The picture above is not my work.  It was made in 1884 by Rebecca Palmer and hangs in the Brooklyn Museum.

Design Wall –

Design wall

A design wall is a place to lay out patchwork to determine how the finished piece will look once sewn together.  In my studio, I purchased a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth from the dollar store for $4.  I inserted grommets and hung them on hooks with the flannel side facing out.  The flannel’s nap holds the blocks (or other fabric) in its place nicely.  This way, I can take the design wall down at any time.  There are many tutorials on how to make your own design wall.Fancier design walls are available for purchase, too.

Echo Quilting

Echo Quilting before tie-off

Echo quilting is the repeating of the design by stitching a certain distance away from the quilt element – often times appliqué or a more complex quilting motif.  In the picture above, I chose to go around the inside of the orange peel appliqué.

Fat Quarter 

Fat Quarter Bundle

A fat quarter is a piece of fabric cut from the bolt at 0.5 yard and then cut again in the center between the selvedges.  This results in a piece that is approximately 18″ x 21″ (assuming a 42″ width of bolt).  It is typically a more useful piece than 0.25 yards cut straight from the bolt yielding a section that is 9″ x 42″.

Feed dogs 


Your sewing machine’s hardware that grips the fabric from underneath the foot that pulls the fabric through the machine evenly.  Typically, feed dogs refer to the teeth only on the bottom of the machine (underneath the foot).  A dual feed machine, or a walking foot, has a gripping mechanism on the top of the fabric as well.  When sewing more than 2 layers, this upper feeding mechanism can produce more even stitches because both the top and bottom layer of fabric have hardware to move it through the machine.  When free-motion quilting, you must drop the feed dogs so that the fabric can be moved in any direction.



The interchangeable hardware that attaches to a sewing machine.  Each foot has been designed for a separate purpose.  For example, I sew on a Bernina, and my frequently-used feet are shown in the above picture.  The 4D is a dual feed zipper foot (the dual feed allows the foot to be used like a walking foot that feeds the fabric from the feed dogs below (see definition above) and the dual feed device attached to the foot.  The 34D is an all-purpose clear plastic foot that allows you to see the fabric as its being fed through.  The 57D has a “cheater bar” helping me sew a consistent .25″ seam.  On the bottom row is the 1C (no dual feed) general purpose metal foot, the 10D (one of my all-time favorites for perfect edge stitching, stitching in the ditch for stabilizing, and for a host of other applications.  The 5 foot is for sewing a blind hem (I have to re-watch this tutorial on sewing a blind hem almost every time I attack it).

Foundation Piecing 

Sunray Block Sunrays Quilt

The process of sewing fabric to a foundation – usually paper or muslin – to use small strips or to obtain very precise points.  The squares in the quilt above were sewn onto regular copier paper with a small stitch; the paper is then carefully removed.  On-line tutorials are available for this fun process.

Free motion quilting


The process of dropping the feed dogs (see definition above) so that your hands provide the movement in any and all directions.  Unlike using the feed dogs, which will move the quilt in a vertical direction, free motion quilting allows the artist to move the fabric in any direction.  “Free motion” does not have anything to do with whether the quilter is sewing on a marked or unmarked line.  Looking at the picture of the 2.5″ batik square quilt above, you can see where I used the orange peel, unmarked, free motion quilting.  In the more elaborate feathered quilt, I free motion quilted the quilt with mostly marked lines.

Fussy Cut(ing)

Fussy cut Bird

Fussy cutting is the method of centering a particular design or section from a piece of fabric and then cutting out that piece of the fabric.  I’ve heard Mary Fons from Fons & Porter refer to this process as “making swiss cheese” out of your fabric because just certain portions will be left!  Fussy cutting is often done for appliqué or to highlight a portion of the fabric as part of a quilt.  For example, in the block shown above, I placed a ruler over the fabric to center the bird so that it would be the focal point of the block.

HST –  

HST square blocks after pressing the seam open

Half square triangles.  HSTs form the basis of a number of exciting quilt designs and deserve the attention of books!  

Improvisational Piecing

Wonky Log Cabin Improvisational QuiltingImprov top

Improvisational Quilting is the process of adding fabric together without measuring or perhaps even using a pre-determined design.  In the pictures above, you can see my wonky log cabin piecing.  You start with a center, make a straight edge, and add another piece, continuing to add pieces clock-wise.  The second picture is the result – I needed a rectangle for a book cover, so I added wider pieces to the sides, and narrower ones to the top and bottom.

Jelly Roll™

2.5 inch stripsJellyroll1

A jelly roll is technically a package of 2.5″ strips sold by Moda.  Many people, however, generically refer to any package of 2.5″ strips as a jelly roll.  The picture on the right is a true jelly roll.  On the left is a “Bali Pop” (a package of 2.5″ strips of Batiks and a “strip tease” of island batiks.

Long arm


A long arm is an industrial-grade machine that can quilt on a frame.  Because of their size, a long arm can more easily quilt large quilts than can be done on a home machine.  Its name comes from the extended “arm” that reaches out over the frame.

Modern Quilts


Many people define modern quilting in different ways.  The Modern Quilt Guild tell us that “the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work” are classic characteristics of a modern quilt.  In the modern block above, I used solids, contrast, and a graphic layout to make this block modern.


Tweet Quilt designed by Cozy QuartersCompleted Christmas quilt - look at the black piping; it makes the binding really pop!April Showers - Initial design board

See how these squares have been turned to make diamonds?  This is a setting of square blocks “on point.”  There are a few considerations that you must follow when placing blocks on point.  Particularly, you will have to have special triangles to finish out the edges.  This method of changing up a pattern can really add sparkle and interest to a basic quilt pattern.

Piecing or Patchwork –  These terms simply refer to the act of sewing pieces of fabric together to make a quilt top (or back).  In other words, the quilt top or back is not made with one piece of fabric (known as a “whole cloth” quilt).

Quilt/Quilter/Quilting/Quilt Sandwich – A quilt sandwich is made up of the quilt top, a layer of batting, and the quilt back.  It is usually basted together before quilting.


Trimming the border blocks

QST is the shortened form for Quarter Square triangles.  In the picture above, these border blocks are being trimmed down to squares, but are made of four different quarter square triangles.

Reverse Appliqué 

Close up

Reverse Appliqué is a process of sewing the motif or appliqué underneath the fabric instead of on top of it, and then cutting away the fabric on the top to reveal the motif.


April Showers - Initial design board April Showers in Progress

Sashing is the strips of fabric (in this case gray in the picture on the right) that go between blocks.  The two pictures above illustrate how a quilt would look without sashing, and the one on the right is one with sashing.  I like them both, but for different reasons.



The selvedge is the edge of the fabric as it comes off the bolt.  It usually contains information about the manufacturer of the fabric and the fabric line.  The white selvedge running along the left side of the picture above lists the fabric manufacturer, the line of fabric, and the year it was copyrighted.

Sewist – the name for someone who sews, born out of necessity with the advent of print and writing about sewing.  What are our other options?  Sewer?  In print, that term looks like the place where wastewater goes to a treatment plant.  Seamstress?  Not only does that word feel sexist, but it implies garment sewing to me.  Does anyone have a better name for someone who sews?  I prefer sewer, but it inevitably becomes confusing.


Fabric Organization!

A stash usually refers to a sewer’s fabric inventory.  I also extend the word stash to refer to my thread inventory.

Traditional Quilting


Fancy Feathers

Close-up view of feather quilting. This was achieved with a 70/10 needle and Kimono silk thread made by Superior Threads

Like the definition of “modern quilting,” traditional quilting is more of a concept.  On one extreme, a traditional quilter would not use a machine and the piecing and quilting would all be done by hand.  My definition of traditional piecing refers more to the use of well-known and well-designed blocks.  In the quilt sampler I have shown above, the quilt itself has various pinwheel blocks.  The photo on the right shows a close up of the center of the third square on the top row of the quilt shown on the left.  As you can see, the quilting is done with a feather pattern, which is typically considered very traditional.


This trapunto was achieved with two layers of wool batting in addition to the regular cotton batting.

This trapunto was achieved with two layers of wool batting in addition to the regular cotton batting.

Trapunto is a technique of adding additional material, usually batting, into a block underneath important motifs to create a puffiness to accentuate the block.  The extra layers of batting are basted to the quilt top then trimmed away.  After the permanent stitches outline the motif with the batting, the basting stitches are removed.


UFOs, or Unfinished Objects

Unfinished Object – affectionately referring to various sewing projects that have been put to the side and remain unfinished.  I’m convinced that these projects shown in my “UFO locker” will eventually be completed.

Unsewing – 


The painful, but necessary, process of taking out stitching with a seam ripper.  The photo above shows my seam ripper in action pulling out a line of stitching on a queen-sized quilt.  While I was wrestling it like a bear through my home sewing machine, I accidentally changed the straight stitch to a blind hem stitch!!!  Not to mention the pleats in the row below.

Whole Cloth Quilt

Whole Cloth Fancy Feathers Pillow

A quilt that has not been pieced such as what is shown in the pillow I created in the photo above.

WOF – Width of Fabric.  This refers to the distance between the cut edges or those that are perpendicular to the selvedges.

WOMBAT – waste of money, batting, and time.


The pieced back of the Soul Blossom Baby Quilt


Wonky refers to something that is “crooked, off center, or askew.”  It is a technique used to take a traditional pattern or shape, cut it in a strange or new shape, and insert it into a quilt design.  In the pieced quilt back above, the shape of the piecing was sewn into a border, turned slightly, and then basted to the front.

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