Quilting 101: A Guide To Quilting Terms

Quilting has been a long tradition in many parts of the world throughout history. Quilt making has great historical and cultural significance in many different cultures. But what is the difference between quilting and sewing? We will explore that and many other quilting terms in this epic guide.

Quilting is the specific process of stitching two or more layers of fabric on top of each other, sewing their edges together. Most frequently, quilts include padding in between the layers of fabric to keep someone warm during use. For that reason, quilts are mainly used as bed covers, but there have also been some decorative quilts as well.

What Are The Types Of Quilting?

There are six essential types of quilting: Pieced Quilts or Patchwork, Appliqué Quilts, Stuffed Quilts or Trapunto, Paper Pieced Quilts, English Paper Piecing, and Foundation Piecing. As you can see, there are many different types of techniques for quilting, but what is the most traditional type of quilting?

Pieced Quilting (Patchwork)

What is the difference between quilting and patchwork? In reality, there isn’t one.

Pieced or patchwork quilting is simply the most common type of quilting used today. It is the sewing of different pieces of fabric (patches) together, as the name suggests. Small pieces of fabric are carefully sewn together to create a large quilt. This technique was very common in certain periods when people used scraps of fabrics for quilting bed covers since they could not afford any other types of covers.

Appliqué Quilting

Appliqué quilting is the process of attaching certain pieces of fabric to your base fabric. So, what is the difference between quilting and applique? With the appliqué technique, instead of sewing the edges together, you sew shapes onto a base fabric.

The appliqué technique is usually used for decoration as you can attach to your quilt several different shapes of fabric rather than the conventional squares, rectangles, and triangles that you find in patchwork quilts. Most people tend to use templates to cut out the shapes they want, and then they proceed to iron and sew them on the background fabric.

Paper Pieced Quilting

Paper pieced quilting initially seems similar to appliqué, but it defers in more ways than one. The main similarity is that you use paper templates to create the shape you want out of your fabric in both cases. However, instead of cutting out the shape, ironing it, and then sewing it on the background fabric, you instead sew the fabric onto the paper. This technique is great for creating odd shapes out of fabrics or combining smaller pieces of different fabrics into one shape. After you get your shape complete, you can easily remove the paper.

Stuffed Quilting (Trapunto)

The Trapunto quilting technique is interesting because it gives a more 3D element to your quilt. Usually used on quilts with more than one layer that include padding underneath as well, the Trapunto technique gives a raised surface to the quilt and makes it appear “stuffed,” hence the alternate name. Because of their interesting design, Trapunto quilts are very often decorative.

English Paper Piecing

English paper piecing is another interesting technique that involves wrapping fabric around the thin paper to create unique shapes. You then sew the fabric’s wrapped edges to finalize the shape by hand. After completing each shape, you have to sew them together by hand to create your unique design. This technique is often used to make hexagon shapes. While in some cases, you can remove the paper once you are done, a lot of times, it remains underneath the design as it is not visible.

Foundation Piecing

Foundation piecing is very similar to English paper piecing. However, the main difference is that you use a sewing machine with foundation piecing, while in the latter, you sew by hand. Moreover, with foundation piecing, you cannot reuse the paper, but with English paper piecing, you can still remove your templates to use them at a later time.

word quilt sewn from colorful square and triangle pieces of fabric

What Are The Methods Of Quilting?

Besides the many different types or techniques of quilting, there are also a few different quilting methods, creating a whole family of quilting terms. Let’s take a look at them.

Hand Quilting

Many quilters choose to still quilt by hand, especially when making simple small projects. While it may take some time to finish a project, quilting is not an overly complex process. You must ensure that you sew together the edges of two or more layers of fabric. Hand quilting also allows you to customize your design more easily.

Machine Quilting

The big advantage of machine quilting is that you can finish your quilt much faster than by hand. Hand quilting can take from a couple of hours to a day, depending on what you are working on, so quilting with a machine will make the whole process so much quicker. Another big advantage is that usually, quilts made through machine quilting are much stronger and more durable, so a machine might be the safest option between these first two options.

Free-Motion Quilting

You can generally do free motion quilting on most domestic sewing machine models from the comfort of your home. Free-motion quilting is you moving your quilt under the needle freely in the directions you want. A useful tool for this method is a darning foot (also known as a free-motion foot, which will allow you to move the quilt in the direction you want.

Longarm Quilting

Unlike free motion quilting, longarm quilting can only be done on a specific kind of sewing machine, the longarm sewing machine, as the name suggests. These machines sew together the top, the batting, and the quilt backing fabric at once. This machine sews both vertically and horizontally, leaving the fabric in place. However, this machine is usually a large piece of equipment, so it is not often found in regular houses. Instead, it is usually owned by professionals.

What Is Micro Quilting?

Micro quilting is a fan method that adds a lot of texture to your fabric. It is great for decorative pieces as you, through this method, can experiment a lot with the design. Micro quilting involves much more detailed work than regular quilting, as the size of your stitches will be tiny. Micro quilting is mainly achieved through the use of a sewing machine.

What Is Chain Quilting?

Chain quilting is when you sew several quilt blocks together, continuously one after the other, with only cutting the thread or lifting the presser foot after you are done. It is a very quick process that allows you to sew several quilt blocks simultaneously.

What Is Flat Quilting?

As mentioned earlier, quilting usually involves the sewing of several layers of fabric and, in some cases, some batting in between. Flat quilting is when only two pieces of fabric are sewn together, resulting in a “flat” quilt.

What Are The Styles Of Quilting?

Interestingly enough, there are a lot of different styles of quilts. Many of them allow people to get creative and playful with their design, and in some cases, the whole process of making such a quilt automatically puts you in a position of creativity. Let’s take a look at a few different styles of quilting and explore the quilting terms that go with them.

There is an array of beautiful quilt patterns popular with many quilters. Each quilt pattern has its unique history and offers something different from the rest of them. Some well-known quilt patterns are the Ocean Waves quilts, the Yo-Yo quilts, the Tree Of Life quilts, the Baptist Fan quilts, the Lady of the Lake quilts, the Sunbonnet Sue quilts, the Drunkard’s Path quilts, the Crazy quilts, and much more.

What Is A Mystery Quilt?

A mystery quilt is a fan exercise that involves the process of quilting in the form of a game. The quilter that attempts to make the quilt is unaware of the final design and gets a set of clues that slowly reveal what the quilt is. The quilt design remains unknown until the reveal or the final clue.

Due to the playfulness of this type of quilting, mystery quilts are often used for activities during certain events. Depending on the organizer, many people tend to also add more to the game to make it even more fun and inclusive as an activity, often taking place over a prolonged period.

What Is A Bargello Quilt?

A Bargello quilt is a unique and colorful type that creates the illusion of movement due to the fabric used. These quilts usually use many different materials. However, very common materials are different types of canvas and wool.

As mentioned above, the biggest characteristic of a Bargello quilt is that it must be very colorful. So, how many colors should a Bargello quilt have? To make a quilt such as this one, you need to make sure that you have a lot of colors. Generally, a collection of 15-20 colors should suffice to create a captivating Bargello quilt, but some quilters got to use even more colors.

Quilting Terms

Much like sewing in general, quilting has a lot of jargon that you might have to get accustomed to if you are interested in getting involved with this practice. This will also help you as a beginner as you will most likely require some additional support during your first steps, so knowing some of the most common quilting terms will help you identify what to look for.

What Is The Stitching On A Quilt Called?

It is very common for quilters to continue using the word “stitching” regarding quilting. However, stitches are often referred to as “quilting stitches.”

What Does Piecing Mean In Quilting?

Piecing in quilting means sewing different layers of fabric together to create a quilt design. It is a frequently used term, sometimes used interchangeably with “quilting.” Many quilting techniques include this term, such as English Paper Piecing, Foundation Piecing, Paper Pieced Quilting, and Pieced Quilting.

What Are The Squares In Quilting Called?

In quilting, squares are usually called blocks. Squares are used very frequently in many quilt patterns. It is also used a lot in patchwork quilting.

What Is A Fat Quarter In Quilting?

A fat quarter in quilting is a cut fabric different from regular cut quarters. The fat quarter is made by cutting a half yard in half one more time but vertically. The final measurements of the piece of fabric are approximately 18″ x 22″. The fat quarter is useful because you can use it to cut larger blocks than a standard quarter yard.

So, do you need to wash fat quarters before using them? The answer to that question is no. You should wash most fabrics before sewing, but not a fat quarter because it will shrink. Washing a fat quarter will make it lose the dimensions that make it as such.

The price of fat quarters may vary based on how many are in a bundle. Therefore your price may vary between $3 to $6 per yard.

What Is A Quilt Flimsy?

A quilt flimsy is an incomplete quilt with only the quilt top having been finished. It is not quilted and has no batting, backing, or binding.

What Is A Quilting Bee?

A quilting bee is a social gathering of people who engage in quilting while socializing. While it now has a more temporary context, it is believed that quilting bees were a custom that frequently happened in past centuries by mainly high-class female quilters.

What Is The Back Of A Quilt Called?

The back of a quilt is called the backing, and the top is a quilt top. The in-between the batting and what covers the quilt all around is called the binding strip.

Other Terms

  • What does subcut mean in quilting?

A subcut is a smaller piece of fabric that has been cut from another type of previously cut fabric.

  • What does LOF mean in quilting?

Length of fabric.

  • What does BOM mean in quilting?

A block-of-the-Month program, a type of quilting club.

  • What does OOP mean in quilting?

Out of print.

  • What is a honey bun in quilting?

A honey bun is a bundle of 1.5″ strips of precut quilt fabric with a selection of coordinating fabric from a designer's collection. Honey buns are ideal for strip quilting and quilt sashing.

  • What is a jelly roll in quilting?

A Jelly Roll is a pre-cut fabric strip that measures 2.5″ by about 42″ and is rolled into a circle. Moda Fabrics make them. Other manufacturers offer similar products such as Pops, Rolie Polie, Bali Pops, and Strip Sets.

  • What does layer cake mean in quilting?

Quilt Layer Cakes are collections of 10″ x 10″ squares of Moda Fabrics designs. They are like a Charm Pack but in a larger size. Layer Cake fabric comes in collections and typically has 42 pieces of quilt fabric, though the number may vary.

quilt sewn from square pieces on sewing machine

Wrapping Up Quilting Terms

Quilting is a great practice with a lot of history and a lot of cultural significance for many people around the world. A unique side of the world of sewing, quilting has become a passion for several people not just because of the comfort and practicality of quilts but also due to the multiple ways people can express their creativity with them.

Many quilters specifically make decorative quilts that are either pleasing to the human eye or, more importantly, tell a story. Indeed, many people have used quilts to commemorate important cultural moments and highlight certain people and significant events.

Of course, there are a lot of things that quilting entails. Firstly, there are quite a few different methods that people use to quilt. Some people prefer the fastness of machine quilting, while others choose the intimacy of hand quilting. There is also the comfort of free-motion quilting, as well as the durability of longarm quilting. Moreover, the detail that micro quilting adds or the efficiency and the fast pace that chain quilting offers make both methods quite adored.

Besides the different quilting methods, there are also quite a few different techniques for quilting. Each technique has its unique advantages, and for that reason, all of them are appreciated by various quilters. Pieced quilting might be the most common one but not necessarily the most loved one, as appliqué is usually preferred by many due to its decorative application.

The Trapunto quilting technique is also well known for the 3D element it provides, while the paper piecing, the English paper piecing, and the foundation piecing are all appreciated for their simplicity and ease of use.

Finally, it is really useful to know a lot of the terminology in quilting, especially for a starter in quilting. By knowing the terminology, you have already mastered a lot of the knowledge to make your quilting practice so much easier.