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29 Basic Quilt Terms

29 Basic Quilt Terms

29 Basic Quilt Terms from Jittery Wings

Anytime we learn a new skill there is a new language that goes with it. For the quilting and sewing world, the languages overlap at times, but there are also differences. Most terms are standard among quilt pattern designers, but occasionally you will find a new term, which is why most pattern designers encourage you to read the entire pattern before you begin cutting fabric and sewing seams. 

This is a quilt reference guide for quilting terms you might run into along your quilt journey. You can print it and keep it next to your sewing machine for the future. 

  1. Fat Quarter (FQ): A quarter of a yard of fabric which usually measures 18” to 22” depending on manufacturer of the fabric.
  2. Selvage: The natural edge of fabric which usually has little dots on one side where it is held onto the printing machine and a label on the other with manufacturer and designer names.
  3. Width of Fabric (WOF): The WOF usually measures 42”/44” from selvage to selvage depending on the manufacturer.
  4. Width of the Fat Quarter (WFQ): Width of the Fat Quarter along the edge that usually measures 21”/22” in length.
  5. Half Square Triangle Block (HST): A half square triangle block is made to include equal size triangles on either side of a square with the bottom of the triangles running diagonal along the center of the square block for point to point.
    Half Square Triangles
  6. Flying Geese Block (FG): A flying geese block is a rectangle with a triangle nestled inside it. This creates two smaller triangles on the top right and left of the rectangle.
    Flying Geese image from Jittery Wings
  7. ¼” Seam Allowance: A quarter inch seam allowance is used in quilting to piece blocks together. A 5/8” seam allowance is generally used in garment sewing. If you use a 5/8” seam allowance in quilting, the quilt blocks will not come out as intended.
  8. Wrong Sides Together (WST): The wrong side of the fabric refers to the back of a printed fabric. It is usually lighter in color and not as pretty. Solids usually look the same on both sides.
  9. Right Sides Together (RST): The right side of the fabric refers to the printed or “pretty” side of the fabric. When sewing seams, the right sides of both fabrics go together. You may see, “Place fabrics RST” in the piecing instructions.
  10. Rotary Cutter: A rotary cutter has a sharp round blade on the end of a handle that allows you to cut straight lines along the edge of a ruler. This makes cutting strips and pieces for quilting faster and more accurate than using scissors.
  11. Chain Piecing: When you need to sew seams for a significant number of the same type of blocks, you can begin running them through your sewing machine one right after the other without cutting threads. It is faster and saves you on thread. Once you finish with a single chain, you can clip the blocks apart by snipping the threads keeping each block connected.
  12. Sashing: Sashing is a small border around individual blocks of a quilt to frame them. Sashing is not required.
  13. Borders: A border for a quilt is sewn around the entire edge of the full quilt. Quilts may have one or more borders. Borders are not required.
  14. Quilt Top: The quilt top is what you are piecing when you follow a quilt pattern. It is referred to as the top, because for something to be a quilt and not a blanket, it must have a fluffy inside and a back that sandwiches it all together.
  15. Batting: Batting is the “fluff” that goes between the top of the quilt that you pieced and a large piece of fabric that is used as the backing.
  16. Backing: The backing is the large single piece of fabric, or it may also be pieced, that sandwiches the batting to the wrong side of the quilt top.
  17. Quilt Sandwich: The quilt sandwich refers to the quilt once you have put the top, batting and backing together, but before it has been quilted. Once it is quilted, it is a quilt.
  18. Basting: Basting is the term used to describe the process of securing the quilt sandwich so that it doesn’t shift during the quilting process. Basting can be done with extremely long stitches, safety pins or spray.
  19. Quilting: Quilting refers to the stitches that run through the quilt sandwich stitching it together. These may be straight lines, wavy lines or decorative.
  20. Binding: The binding is the strip of fabric that is attached to the raw edge of the sandwich/quilt after it has been quilted. It is folded over and stitched again to hide the raw edges and finish off the quilt.
  21. Ditch: The ditch is the center of a seam where the two fabrics come together on the front of the block or quilt.
  22. Pressing Seams Open: Pressing seams open refers to the act of dividing the seam fabric “edges” on the back of a block after sewing a seam and laying them each down in opposite directions and pressing them that way so they are “open.” This creates a ditch on the back.
  23. Pressing Seams to the Dark Side: This refers to pressing both seam fabric “edges” to the same side (in the same direction), usually the side with the darker fabric so it is better hidden from the front of the quilt.
  24. Matching Seams: After sewing two blocks of any size together, you will then need to sew those together with other blocks to make a larger quilt top. When you match up a set of pre-sewn blocks, the goal is to line up the seams, so they are in a continuous line. This can be done by lining up the seams and pinning or clipping them in place. If the seams are pressed open, you need to line up the ditches on the front.
  25. Nesting Seams: Like matching seams above, nesting is the term used to line up seams that have been pressed to the dark side or the same side. It is ideal for the raw seam edges on the back to be pointed away from each other when matching the seams. The small “ridges” of both blocks nest together.
  26. Bolt: quality quilt fabric comes on a bolt and is usually sold by the ¼ yard depending on the shop. A bolt usually comes with more than 10 yards of continuous fabric rolled up.
  27. On Point: An on-point quilt layout will include square blocks turned a quarter turn, so they look like diamonds. This quilt layout requires corner triangles to make the quilt square.
  28. On Grain: Fabric is woven with individual strands of thread running from selvage to selvage and the full width of the bolt. Cutting on grain means that your line up your ruler with the grain of the fabric to cut.
  29. Bias: Cutting on the bias is usually necessary in garment sewing. In quilting it can cause a wonky quilt. The bias refers to the diagonal of the weave from grain. This leaves loose cut threads along the diagonal that can stretch and warp out of place as you handle it. Triangles will have bias by their very nature of having three sides. Look for patterns that consider this when making blocks like HST and Flying Geese. All Jittery Wings patterns are written to avoid bias so you don’t have to work at being careful. 


Download 29 Basic Quilting Terms Resource from Jittery Wings Quilt co.

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