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Patchwork & Quilting Terminology

A guide to patchwork and quilting terminology

Applique

This describes the stitching of shapes, motifs (usually fabric) onto a background to create a design or to add textural interest. Learn applique techniques here. 

Backing fabric
 
This refers to the fabric which goes on the back of the quilt. This may be plain cloth in a solid colour, particularly if the quilt is to be hung on a wall or it may be a pieced backing cloth. It is does not necessarily have to be the same design as the quilt top. It is the third quilt layer.
Batting/Wadding
 
This refers to the layer between the quilt top and the backing fabric. It is the layer which gives a quilt its ‘puffiness’ as it is compressed by the quilting design. It also gives a quilt it’s warmth. It is available in black and white, in many different materials; wool, silk, polyester and in different lofts. See our guide to choosing and using wadding. 
Quilt wadding
Quilt Wadding

Binding

This is used to finish the quilt edge. Typically bias binding is used although straight cut fabric may be stitched over the edges of the quilt to bind the layers together. Find our binding tutorial here. 

Block

A pieced or patchworked block is composed of patches or pieces which are assembled to form a geometric pattern. A number or blocks may then be assembled to create a mosaic of cloth; a quilt top.

It is possible to create a quilt top with just one quilt block. We have a selection of free quilt block tutorials. 

Border

This describes a length of fabric which is stitched around the outside of the main quilt design. Functionally they can be used to increase the size of the quilt. Used well they can be used to enhance the quilt design and highlight the colours used within the main quilt pattern. They may be plain, patterned or pieced. They may also be quilted or appliqued into. A quilt top may have one or more borders.

Fat eighth

A fat eighth is a measurement often used in patchwork. Patchwork fabric comes on fabric bolts of approximately 110/112cm (44/45 inches) wide. Fabric is usually cut in lengths down the bolt. For example one metre of fabric cut off a bolt will be 110/112 cm across and 1 metre long. A fat eighth is a square cut of fabric and is constructed by halving a fat quarter and will typically measure 50cm (19.5 inches) by 27cm (11 inches). This is a more useful cut for patchworkers than a 1/8th of a metres as it gives a ‘chunkier’ piece of fabric which is cut on the ‘straight of grain’ (the less stretchy) part of the fabric.

Fat Quarter

A Fat Quarter is a measurement often used in patchwork. It is sometimes abbreviated to FQ. Patchwork fabric usually comes in bolts approximately 110cm (44/45 inches) wide. Fabric is usually cut in lengths down the bolt. For example one metre of fabric cut off a bolt will be 110cm (45 inches) across and one metre long. A fat quarter is a square cut of that fabric. Essentially it refers to a 1/2 metre of fabric, which is cut in half across it’s width. This results in a piece of fabric about 50cm by 55 cm (dependent upon the width of the fabric on the bolt).

For patchworkers, getting these four squares or Fat Quarters from a metre of fabric is much more useful than four narrow 1/4 metre strips. More of the fabric pattern is available to use.

Quilting fabrics can often be purchased in fat quarter measurements or fat quarter bundles.

How to bind a quilt
Binding a quilt

Free-motion quilting

This describes quilting using the sewing machine’s darning foot. The ‘feed dogs’ are lowered or covered with a plate provided with your sewing machine. The stitch length is set to ‘0’ and thread is used to ‘draw’ curved or flowing lines across the quilt top. With the ‘feed dogs’ down you have the freedom to move your work as you please, ‘drawing’ as you go. Some more specialist sewing machines have a stitch-regulator foot to help regulate and maintain the evenness of the stitching. Both methods take practice to do well but the reward is that many beautiful quilt designs become possible. Some recommend practising the design with a paper and pencil to get the feel of the flow before beginning work on the cloth.

The shapes or patterns don’t need to be perfect – that’s some of it’s charm. The aim is the overall effect of flowing lines. Find more on free motion quilting in our techniques section. 

Fusible web

This refers to products such as Bondaweb which enables applique shapes to be ‘fused’ (stuck/bonded) to the fabric. By appliqueing shapes this way there is no need to use a seam allowance. It is usual to stitch around the bonded applique.

In-the-ditch

Sometimes called ‘sink’ stitching’. This refers to quilt stitches which lay on or very near to the seam lines created when the patches or blocks were sewn together.

Loft

This refers to the height and density of the wadding/batting. A low loft batting which is hand or machine quilted will give an older, flatter look and is often the recommended batting for inexperienced quilters to use as well as those who want to give their quilt a ‘vintage’ look.

Piecing or Patchworking
 
This is a general term which describes the sewing together of geometric ‘patches’ or pieces to create a larger design. These larger textile pieces can then used to create many different textile items; items for the home, as clothing, as quilts and bags.

What is free motion quilting
Free motion quilting

Quilt

A quilt is defined as consisting of three layers. There has to be a wholecloth and this can be a pieced or patchworked whole cloth or it can be a single piece of fabric. There needs to be a ‘filler’ layer, usually wadding/batting. Wadding, however may be replaced by other fabrics, in India for example this middle layer is traditionally composed of old sari’s stitched together. Quilters muslin. calico or flannel are sometimes used. There also needs to be a bottom or backing fabric, which again can be a plain whole cloth or a pieced (patchworked) cloth. When placed together these layers may be described as the ‘quilt sandwich’.

Art quilts also consist of three layers but these layers may be interpreted in many different ways.

Quilting

This is stitching which holds the quilt layers together. It is the compression of the layers of the quilt together by the stitching which creates the textural characteristics of a quilt. Quilting patterns and designs (outline quilting, feathers, free-motion quilting) are used to add a richness to the design of a quilt top.

Quilt Sandwich

This refers to the layering of the quilt top, the batting/wadding and the quilt backing fabric together. Layered just like a sandwich.

Rotary Cutter and cutting mat

A rotary cutter has a thin and extremely sharp revolving blade and is highly efficient in slicing through fabric. It is used together with a plastic ruler which helps to measures the fabric and guides the blade as you cut. It should only be used with a cutting mat to protect and preserve the life of the blade. Rotary cutters come in variety of styles and makes.

Read our guide to using a rotary cutter. 

Cutting tools used for quilting
Assorted rotary cutters

Sashing

This describes strips of fabric which are sewn between patchwork blocks as they are set into a quilt. Sometimes referred to as ‘lattice strips’.

Learn about sewing sashing and borders, or partial seam sashing.

Scrap quilt

A quilt made up a mixture of fabrics, ‘scraps’, which are used randomly throughout the design.

We have a free scrap quilt pattern here

Seam allowance

This describes how far the stitching line should be from the edge of the fabric. Generally, pieced designs use 1/4 inch seam allowances, most applique designs use approximately 0.5cm. These are usually specified on the pattern.

A Scant 1/4 inch seam allowance

The term sewing a scant 1/4 inch seam refers to ensuring that all pieced seam allowances are accurate and take into account any additional width added to the seam as a result of thread thickness and fabric thickness. Fabric thickness is added as seams are pressed to one side. These may add only tiny amounts but together over the size of a quilt this can add up to quite a lot.

This term has become familiar through the quilt books of the Pam and Nicky Lintott.

They suggest using a small practice piece to test your seam allowances and if you do discover that your seam allowance is too small or too large then correct it moving the sewing machine needle either to the left or the right to rectify any too large/too small seam allowances.

Using the Janome professional foot for precise quilt piecing
Piecing with a quarter an inch seam allowance

Set/setting

This refers to the way in which the completed blocks are laid out and arranged to make the quilt top.

Stitch in the ditch

Is a quilting method where you sew along the lines where your seams join. You can get special sewing machine feet to help guide you (see photo below).

Straight of grain or lengthwise grain

The ‘grain’ of a fabric describes the way the thread lies within the fabric. The straight grain or lengthwise grain refers to the threads which lie parallel to the selvedge (woven edging). These are the strongest, least stretchy direction of the threads.

Tack

British term for baste. Refers to large running stitches which hold layers together whilst another sewing operation is performed.

Template

This refers to the pattern for the shape of each patchwork piece or applique shape.

Tying a quilt

This is an alternative way of attaching the layers of a quilt together instead of either hand or machine quilting. It is most effective when used with higher loft waddings creating gloriously deep dimples. The ties themselves add another design element to the quilt.

You can find our quilt tying tutorial here. 

Wadding

The British term for batting.

Walking Foot

A special foot for a sewing machine. It is designed to feed the top and the bottom layers of a quilt ‘sandwich’ through the machine evenly, thus eliminating puckering.

We have a guide to using your walking foot.

Wholecloth quilt

A quilt in which the top and bottom fabrics are each one single piece of fabric. Surfaces are then densely covered with quilting designs.

Stitch in the ditch foot Janome
Stitch in the ditch foot

This article has been provided by Julia York who used to run the Gone To Earth fabric shop. 

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