Terminology and Glossary


The act or result of surface rubbing during laundering or normal wear. Synthetic threads have superior abrasion resistance to cellulose threads (natural fibres).

Across the Grain

From selvedge to selvedge. There is a fraction more stretch in the fabric across the grain than down the length of the fabric. Border strips are usually cut across the grain to allow a little easing of the quilt centre into the borders.

Album Quilts

See ‘Baltimore Album‘.


Amish quilts are reflections of the Amish way of life by the Amish quilters of Pennsylvania or the Midwest (often Ohio or Indiana). Because the Amish, the so-called Plain People, believe in not being “flashy” or “worldly” in dress and lifestyle, their quilts reflect this religious philosophy. They use unprinted solid colours only, often in deep and rich jewel tones with much black and deep navy, both in their clothing and quilts. Some church districts limit the use of certain colours such as yellow or red because those are considered “too worldly”. Black is a dominant colour. Central medallion square-in-a-square with wide borders is a popular design. Although Amish quilts appear austere from a distance, the craftsmanship is often of the highest quality and the quilting forms vigorous patterns that contrast well with the plain background. Antique Amish quilts are among the most highly prized among collectors and quilting enthusiasts.

Analogous Colours

Are made from combining two or more adjacent colours on the colour wheel.

Anchor Cloth

A scrap piece of fabric sewn through, before and after chain piecing by machine. It anchors the threads and prevents the machine from eating up the edges of your fabric.


The term “appliqué” literally means to apply one layer of fabric over another; this is the process of sewing one or more smaller shapes of fabric onto a larger foundation to create a design. The underneath fabric (foundation) is called the background and the patches sewn onto the background are called appliqués. There are a variety of techniques for appliqué, including basting, fusing, (fusible web, spray adhesive or glue stick), appliqué paper and freezer paper, and some designs better suit one or another of these techniques. Appliqué can be accomplished by hand stitching or sewing machine. Different methods for appliqué include English Paper, Freezer Paper, Fusible Webbing, Broderie Perse, Needleturn, Shadow Appliqué, Hawaiian Appliqué and Reverse Appliqué.

Appliqué pressing sheet

This sheet allows small items to be bonded together before applying them to the background when using a quick-fuse appliqué technique. It is very helpful when there are many small elements to apply. The sheet is coated with a special material that prevents the fusible web from adhering permanently to the sheet. It is important to let the fabric cool completely before lifting it from the appliqué sheet; if not cooled, the fusible web could remain on the sheet instead of on the fabric.


See ‘symmetry’.


See ‘appliqué


The layer of fabric on the back of a quilt, which is necessary for the sandwich: quilt top, batting, backing. Backing can be made from a single piece of fabric or it can be pieced or assembled in another decorative way. Choose the same quality fabric for the back as the front. If piecing the back, ensure there are not too many bulky seams. Press seams open. Cut backing at least 3” larger than the top on all sides.


Stitching backwards over previous 3 or 4 stitches to strengthen seams and stopping them unravelling. In quiltmaking, most often done during setting-in pieces, or to reinforce hand stitching.

Baltimore Album

Baltimore album quilts originated in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s, and are made up of in blocks in which each block is appliquéd with a different design, often floral, but many other motifs are also used. Nearly all of these quilts are on a white/off-white background with the appliqués being predominantly red and green. They were usually signature presentation quilts, often made by several different quilters, as a gift for a special person such as a bride. As a result, many old Baltimore Album Quilts were treasured, well preserved, and exist to this day.

Bargello Quilt

Designs exhibiting a characteristic appearance that is loosely evocative of the Italian Renaissance Florentine tapestry designs from which they descend. These quilts consist of row upon row of gracefully flowing curves composed solely of rectangular pieces in which strips fabric are first sewn in horizontal sets, then cut and arranged in vertical steps to produce interesting geometric designs which often have a wave or undulating look.


Also known as tacking, basting secures two or more layers of fabric or other materials together temporarily with long running stitches in a grid with lines about 4” apart. This readies the quilt sandwich for hand quilting. The stitches are removed after the piece is finished. Thread basting is difficult to remove after machine quilting, so safety pins (ensure they are quilters nickel-coated) placed at regular intervals, also about 4” apart, are used. This is called pin basting. These are removed as the quilting progresses. Other methods include the use of a tool (see tacking gun) or a Basting Spray Adhesive.


A method of wax-resist dyeing a fabric by which the parts of the fabric not intended to be dyed are covered with removable wax, commonly made in Indonesia. Multi-coloured and blended effects are obtained by repeating the dyeing process several times, with the initial pattern of wax boiled off and another design applied before dyeing again in a new colour. In patchwork, fabric dyed by this method is known as a Batik.

Batting, wadding, padding, filler or stuffing

The ‘filler’ in a quilt sandwich, made of one or a combination of fibres: cotton, wool, silk, bamboo and/or polyester which gives warmth and “body” to a quilt. The fibre content governs, to a degree, the amount of quilting necessary to hold the quilt together. The thickness of the finished quilt is governed by the loft of the batting. Very thick (high loft) batting can make quilting difficult, so is best avoided. The choice of batting for a quilt is determined by the final use of the quilt and the method by which the sandwich will be stitched.


The migration of batting fibres through the upper and lower fabric of a quilt, forming a fuzz or halo on the surface of the quilt. Wool, silk, and polyester battings are the worst offenders.


The bias goes diagonally across the weave of the fabric at a 45º angle to the line of the warp and weft. If the fabric is pulled across the bias, there is a great deal of ‘give’ or stretch. Celtic knotwork, ‘stained glass’ work and vine appliqué make use of strips of bias to curve the fabric without wrinkles, pleats and puckers. Bias makers come in a variety of forms to make bias binding: bias bars, bias tape makers and fusible bias tape makers, and also a variety of sizes.

Bias press bars

Strips of plastic or metal in a variety of widths, used to press the seam allowance of bias stems and Celtic appliqué.


The strip of fabric which is added after the quilt top has been layered and quilted, to finish the raw edge. This is the final act of turning the project into a useable article. Bindings can be single or double (for extra durability), straight corners or mitred, narrow or wide. Binding only requires to be on the bias if the quilt edge is curved. The backing fabric can also be brought over to the top of the quilt to form a selfbinding. Bias binding is also used to make stems in appliqué work, and the curves of Celtic knotwork.

Blanket Stitch

This stitch is defined as ‘a decorative stitch used to finish an unhemmed blanket’. Blanket stitch is used in appliqué, either by hand or machine, to finish the raw or turned edges of the motif.


See ‘dye bleed‘.

Blind hemstitch

This machine stitch is commonly used to attach an appliqué piece to the background fabric. When using monofilament thread the stitching will be almost invisible.


One complete pattern in fabric, usually a square, but sometimes other geometric shapes, formed by piecing together other shapes of different fabrics; or a background piece of fabric, either plain or embellished with embroidery or appliqué, which is one part of a patchwork, put together to form a quilt. This may be made up of one or two repeated block designs, forming an overall pattern. Sometimes, when a block is repeated, it creates a secondary design or as in a Sampler quilt, many different block designs. Often blocks have names, which can be descriptive, or historical.


A bobbin or spool is a spindle or cylinder without flanges, on which yarn or thread is wound. It may be made of plastic, wood or steel. Bobbins are typically found in sewing machines. thread is commonly purchased on a plastic or wooden spool, and when required for use as the lower thread of lockstitch on a sewing machine, it is wound on to the metal or plastic bobbin to be inserted into the shuttle for sewing.


A length of fabric, generally rolled on a board, available for sale in smaller pieces.


See ‘fusible webbing‘.


The border on a quilt acts as a frame and is just as important as the rest of the design. In fact, what is chosen as a border sets off the rest of the quilt and gives the eye a resting place. There are no magic formulae as to how wide, how dark or what design should go into the border. Each quilt is different and requires separate scrutiny. One very important factor is that, just as a painting generally requires a mat before the frame, whatever is chosen for the border needs some separation from the main part of the quilt. You do not want the border to “crowd” the quilt. Not all quilts have a border.

Border Print fabric

Often known as ‘Repeat stripes’, strips can be cut from these fabrics to represent a border. They usually range in width from 1½” – 4” and are mostly printed down the length of the bolt rather than across.


See also ‘Whole Cloth/Durham Quilt/Counterpane/White Work‘. Traditionally made in the South of France from the 17th century onwards. Boutis is a Provençal word meaning ‘stuffing’, describing how two layers of fabric are quilted together with stuffing sandwiched between sections of the design, creating a raised effect. In the 1660s and 1700s in Marseilles (France) professional needleworkers made bedcovers stitched in white on a white background which were hand quilted with a “boutis” needle which then gave its name to this type of quilt.

Broderie Perse

Meaning “Persian embroidery”, this is a method of applying a fabric, originally the colourful chintz type fabrics of Europe, onto a background by sewing. This is done in order to randomly decorate it or establish a pictorial scene upon the background, to be turned into coverlets or quilts. This technique became most popular in the 17th century and possibly earlier. The chintz fabrics were used due to the firm outlines of the figures woven into the fabric, the images were not usually blended into the next image, there was clear space around where the picture could be cut out, as if it were in a colouring book with a line around the outside. Thus when cut just outside the lines of those images, say a flower or bird, the artist can then take the cut-out motif and appliqué it onto the background fabric of the project with tiny stitches matching as close to the same colour as possible. This technique makes the end product look like the picture was printed on it.


When the batting has to be joined, it is important the two adjacent edges meet each other without overlapping. They can be secured with a herringbone stitch or using a fusible tape, especially designed for the purpose.


The name calico is derived from the name of the city of Calicut, Kerala, India, where it was made by the traditional weavers of calicut called ‘chaliyans’. Calico refers to fabric made from unbleached, and often not fully processed, cotton. It may contain unseparated husk parts, for example. The fabric is less coarse and thick than canvas or denim, but owing to its unfinished and undyed appearance, it is still very cheap. This fabric is called muslin in the United States. As it is an inexpensive and readily available fabric, calico is often used by tailors in the construction of toile – mockups of a garment for the purpose of testing a pattern.

In the US, “calico” refers to a printed cotton fabric with a small, all-over pattern, often floral.


A traditional white on white embroidery, done on white linen or cotton fabric with heavy cotton threads used for making candle wicks. Originally the stitches used were knots, both Colonial and French, as well as stem stitch. More stitches were added as this became popular, such as buttonholing, satin stitches, fishbone, herringbone, coral and straight stitch and lazy daisy. Designs of vines, flowers and baskets of fruit are often stitched in blocks and made into cushions, or joined with sashings often using cotton lace, to make a quilt.

Cathedral Window

A form of patchwork whereby folded and refolded squares of fabric are sewn together to form a frame. A square of contrasting fabric is secured over the stitched seam. The resulting design resembles a stained glass window.

Chain Piecing

Assembly-line piecing, where patches are aligned for sewing and fed through the machine one after another without breaking the threads between them, saving time as well as thread. They are cut apart later.


Usually issued by an individual such as the group leader to get people to participate, normally in conjunction with a quilt show. There are almost always prizes as an incentive. Participants have to work within a rigid set of rules combining finished size, fabric and possibly a theme. Judges (who may be the general public) get to pick the piece which was the perfect combination of size, fabric use and interpretation of the theme. Not always agreed with by the participants or their families!

Charm Quilt

Usually made from a single shape with no fabric being used more than once, these quilts started in the Victorian era, growing from the hobby of collecting one-of-a-kind buttons on strings, called both charm and friendship strings. The quilters of the day took this idea, collecting fabrics and making one-patch quilts, each patch made with a different fabric. Sometimes mothers make a charm quilt, duplicating one fabric. Looking for the duplicate would entertain a sick child. This type of quilt is great for collectors of fabric.

Charm Square

Doesn’t have to be a square but is usually sold as a square. So a packet of charm squares contains many different fabrics. Great for charm quilts, or just to enhance your stash.

Cheater Cloth

Fabric printed to look like a pieced or appliquéd quilt top.


A form of fabric manipulation; layers of fabric are joined together with close rows of stitching, then slashed between the rows leaving the bottom layer of fabric intact. The raw edges of fabric are then brushed to give a soft fluffy finish. A chenille cutter is available, but scissors may be used to make the slashes.


High-quality, cotton fabric, often with a floral pattern, which is usually glazed.


A filling quilting pattern with overlapping circular shapes reminiscent of fish scales. The design is often done using a cup or glass to trace.


The ability of a thread or fabric to retain its colour during normal use, laundering, and/or when exposed to sunlight. Colourfastness variables include wash fastness, crock fastness, sublimation, cold-water migration and light fastness. Some thread types are relatively fast to some variables and only moderately fast to others.

Colour Value

The relative lightness or darkness of fabric. They are usually described as light-, medium- or dark-value in comparison to other fabrics in the quilt.

Colourwash Quilt

Also known as ‘Watercolour quilts’, these scrap quilts made of equal-size small geometric shapes, usually squares, form patterns by using the value and intensity of printed fabric colours, to build up a subtle and diffused design to give an effect similar to impressionist paintings. The technique was developed by Dierdre Amsden.

Colour Wheel

A tool used to see relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colours, and the shades and tints of each. From a colour wheel, complementary colours and warm or cool colours can be easily spotted.


A quilt which covers the top of the bed only, with no side drop. This would be used for extra warmth. Traditionally this would be a thick wholecloth quilt.

Complementary Colours

Are opposites on the colour wheel. For example red and green, blue and orange, or yellow and purple. When complementary colours are used in a quilt, the colours will intensify.

Concave Curve

A curve that rounds inward.

Contemporary Quilt

Any quilt that is non-traditional in style.

Continuous line quilting

Patterns which can be either simple or complicated in design, but whose lines do not start and stop through the entire design, or retrace any lines. These designs are ideal for machine quilting.

Contour Quilting

Also known as Echo or Hawaiian quilting, this is concentric lines of quilting, usually completed around appliqué shapes or a pieced design, running parallel to the edges of the piece to ‘echo’ the shape.


This occurs when there are a variety of differences in colour, value, intensity and line within a print or a pieced quilt top. If the differences are minimal, the effect is considered low contrast. When differences are more apparent, it is high contrast.

Conversation Prints

See ‘novelty prints’.

Convex Curve

A curve that rounds outward.

Corded Work

Also known as Italian quilting, this is an attractive decorative technique requiring the addition of cording into the quilted design to raise it above the quilt surface, thus producing a three-dimensional, bas-relief effect. Two parallel rows of quilting (backstitching) are used to outline the design, then cord is inserted between them and the layers of fabric.

Corner Squares / Corner Stones

The squares at the four corners of a sashed block or bordered quilt.


Cotton is a soft, staple fibre that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The fibre is most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile, which is the most widely used natural-fibre cloth in clothing today. Cotton fibre, once it has been processed to remove seeds (ginning) and traces of honeydew (a secretion from aphids), protein, vegetable matter, and other impurities, consists of nearly pure cellulose. The cellulose is arranged in a way that gives cotton fibres a high degree of strength, durability, and absorbency. When the cotton boll is opened, the fibres dry into flat, twisted, ribbon-like shapes and become kinked together and interlocked. This interlocked form is ideal for spinning into a fine yarn. Cotton cultivation in the Old World began from India, where cotton has been grown for more than 6,000 years.


See ‘Whole Cloth‘.

Crazy Quilt/Patch

A block or patch made with irregular and/or scrap pieces, often of velvets and silks as well as cotton fabrics. The block is made with no pre-determined pattern or design. If the blocks are grouped together they form a crazy quilt which was the best known quilt style in the latter years of the nineteenth century. Usually the quilt maker then uses embroidery to embellish the quilt. First fancy stitches are sewn along the seams and often the maker adds embroidered motifs including flowers, birds and sometimes a spider and web for good luck. These quilts are seldom used as bedcoverings; instead they are made smaller and without batting, to be used as decorative throws. Crazy quilts rarely have the internal layer of batting that is part of what defines quilting as a textile technique.


Occurs when excess dye rubs off of one dry fabric onto another dry fabric. Excessive crocking can be caused by poor dye penetration of the thread or a thread that has not been properly scoured and has residual dye on the surface. It is usually more of a problem with dark and vivid colours.

Crosswise Grain

See ‘grain‘.

Cross Hatching

A quilted grid design generally used as background stitching or filler design, sewn with equidistant parallel lines at right-angles to each other, forming square or diamond patterns. It can be on the straight grain or diagonal.

Cutting board or mat

Fabric is cut on a special self-healing mat. The mats are slightly rough to help grip the fabric, and they’re made of a material that protects the rotary blade and keeps it from becoming blunt too quickly. Most rotary mats are self-healing, meaning that any cuts the blade leaves as is passes over the mat are not permanent. Some mats are reversible, and marked with a grid, which provides a good general guide to fabric placement but is not accurate enough to measure strips for cutting – you’ll need a rotary ruler for that task. Because they warp easily, keep your cutting mats out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Always store a mat flat; do not roll or fold.

Darning Foot

A special sprung foot used on the sewing machine, in conjunction with lowered feed dogs, when doing free-motion stitching. The darning foot sits loosely above the fabric even when lowered, and drops down as the sewing machine needle lowers into the fabric to hold it firm while the stitch is formed.


A form of reverse appliqué that is worked on the machine.

Design Wall

Any wall where you can position quilt blocks, then step back to view the layout at a distance. Quilters often hang batting or plain white flannel on their design walls, because quilt blocks and other components stick to it easily without pinning. Heavier commercial design walls are also available.

Diagonal Set

A diagonal setting is created when the quilt blocks are rotated 45° so they look like diamonds and set with corner and side triangles to keep the quilt squared. Also called an “on point” setting, a diagonal setting can have the quilt blocks set next to each other as in the straight set, or can have alternating plain blocks.

Directional Print

A fabric printed with a design that has an obvious direction to it, often a motif that has a definite ‘up’ or ‘down’. These should be placed appropriately when used in a quilt.

Ditch Quilting

Also known as ‘quilting in the ditch’. The quilting stitches are worked very close to or actually in the seamline to add texture to a pieced project. This technique is often used on thick fabrics that would be difficult to quilt through, or in cases where it is not desirable for the quilting stitches to show.


Designing a block or quilt on graph paper or computer.

Durham Quilt

See ‘Whole Cloth‘.

Dye Bleed

Some cotton fabrics lose their dyes when washed, especially fabrics with vivid colours like red, blue and purple. The dyes can stain other fabrics in a finished quilt. Perform a bleed test on any cotton fabrics you suspect might bleed. Colour Catchers can be used to prevent the dye run, but must be used in the initial wash.


Adjusting adjoining units of uneven lengths so they match for sewing together. When sewing by machine, the feed dogs can be employed to compress the bottom fabric slightly to match the tauter top one.

Echo Quilting

See ‘contour quilting’.

Edge Stitch

A machine running stitch very close to the edge or seam in order to finish a project, close an opening or stitch something in place (e.g. appliqué)


Anything that adds design interest to the surface of a project without having any functional purpose e.g. embroidery, charms, buttons, lace.


The art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with designs stitched in strands of thread or yarn using a needle. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as pearls, beads and sequins. Sewing machines can be used to create machine embroidery embellishment.

Embroidery Foot

See ‘open-toed foot‘.

English or piecing over papers

A technique dating back to at least 1813, this is a simple method for constructing intricate quilts with lots of perfectly matched points. Usually a one-patch, most commonly using hexagons, it might also be done using triangles, diamonds, squares or a combination. Paper Piecing is completely done by hand and can be assembled in modular units. Cut out pieces of stiff paper accurately to the size of the template, then fabric pieces larger to include a seam allowance, either by eye or by using a larger template. Centre the paper pieces over the wrong side of the fabric which is folded over the paper and tacked down. All patches are whip-stitched together along their edges, then the tacking stitches and papers are removed. See also Paper Piecing>.

English Paper Appliqué

Appliqué designs are traced on to template plastic and cut out carefully. The shape is then traced on to paper or thin cardboard around the template. These are then placed on the wrong side of the fabric and pinned to secure. The fabric is cut out with a seam allowance. The cardboard is tacked to the fabric and the edges spray-starched on the wrong side. These are then folded over the cardboard with the tip of a hot iron to produce a crisp edge with no pleats. The cardboard shape is removed just before it is tacked in place on the background fabric.

Equilateral Triangles

These shapes have three sides the same length, with a 60°angle in each corner. To cut equilateral triangles, square up the edge of the fabric. To determine the width of the strip needed, measure the finished height of the required triangle from the mid-point on the base to the tip above it and add ¾”. Cut the strip to this width (i.e. 2” high, cut 2¾” strip). Align the 60° line on the ruler with the long edge of the fabric strip and cut. Rotate the ruler so that the opposing 60° line is aligned with the same edge of the strip (creating the point of the triangle) and cut.


Woven 100% cotton fabrics are most often used for patchwork as they ‘hold the fold’, are easy to work with and will generally be all a similar weight. Heavy fabrics will pull lightweight fabrics out of line when combined on a pieced quilt top. Cotton fabrics are usually 42-45″ wide.

Fat Eighth

One eighth yard of fabric that is usually cut to measure 9 inches x 22 inches rather than the typical one-eighth yard cut of 4.5 inches x 42 inches (the usual width of the fabric off the bolt).

Fat Quarter

A half-yard/metre of fabric cut in half vertically (parallel with the selvedge) to give one quarter yard cut of fabric that usually measures 18 inches x 22 inches (50cm x 55cm) instead of the typical quarter-yard cut of 9 inches x 42 inches (the usual width of the fabric off the bolt).

Feed Dogs

Metal teeth on a sewing machine that emerge from a hole in the throat plate. Feed dogs gently grip the underneath of the fabric and advance it under the machine needle. While most sewing is done with feed dogs up, darning, and free motion quilting are performed with feed dogs down or covered in order to give the sewer control of fabric direction.

Feed Sacks

Printed fabric that sold as the sackcloth that would hold flour, grain, seeds, etc. Feedsacks were initially made of heavy canvas, and were used to obtain flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt and feed from the mills. They were reusable, with the farmer bringing an empty sack stamped with his mark or brand to the mill to be filled. This changed when the American North East mills began weaving inexpensive cotton fabric in the late 1800’s. Feedsacks (or feedbags) were initially printed on plain white cloth. The brand name of the flour was printed on the side of the bag. The thrifty farm wife quickly discovered that this cotton bag was a great source of utilitarian fabric to be used for dish cloths, nightgowns and other household uses. Around 1925 manufacturers decided to take advantage of this and started offering sacks in various prints and solid colours as a marketing ploy to create loyalty. It would take three identical sacks to make a dress, for example, and the farmer just might be induced to buy more that way. Magazines and pattern companies began to take notice of feedsack popularity and published patterns to take advantage of the feedsack prints.


A non-woven fabric, usually wool, that is made by pressing the fibres together with heat and moisture. Felt has no grain and will not fray. It is not a strong fabric, nor is it washable.


See ‘batting’.

Finger Pressing

A technique used to make a temporary guideline for turned appliqué or seam allowances, by pressing a fold with a finger to apply pressure, or running a thumbnail along a fold in the fabric. A “hera” (a Japanese term) tool can also be used in place of a finger to press the fold.

Finished Size

The final sewn measurement or dimensions of a completed block or quilt without seam allowances. Thus a 6″ sewn measurement block would be cut 6½” to allow for ¼” seam allowances on each side of the block.


Refers to a sewing problem caused by the fabric moving up with the needle as it rises from the bottom of its travel causing poor loop formation and leading to skipped stitches or thread breakage.


A light to medium weight woven cloth, commonly used to make clothing and bed sheets. It was originally made from carded wool, but is now often made from either wool and cotton, or 100% cotton. After weaving, it is napped once, then bleached, dyed, or otherwise treated, and then napped a second time. Flannel is used to make cuddly quilts, often for children, but the napping weakens the fibres, so the fabric tends to stretch a little more than good quality cotton fabric.

Focus Print

Generally a large print with several colours in it. Other fabrics are then selected to match, using the colours in the focus print as a guide.

Folded Star

See ‘somerset patchwork‘.

Foundation Piecing

Foundation block piecing consists of sewing pieces of fabric on to the reverse side of a paper or a calico foundation to form a quilt block. While this technique is most often used for miniature blocks, foundation piecing can be used for creating full sized quilt blocks as well, often motifs or Mariner’s Compass. Using the foundation piecing technique to piece blocks allows quilters of all levels to construct complicated patterns easily and accurately and is a very good way to use up small scraps of fabric and adds strength and stability to delicate or stretchy fabrics. Patterns for foundation blocks vary from a normal quilt block pattern in that each new piece must be able to be joined to the foundation with a single, straight seam. Each portion of the block is numbered to indicate the order in which the pieces are to be joined to the foundation block. For machine piecing, paper is used for the foundation block and removed once the block is completed. For hand piecing, foundations must be transferred to a cloth backing such as calico or lawn, and remain under the completed work.

Four Patch

A grid of four (2 x 2), sixteen (4 x 4) or sixty four (8 x 8) equal-size squares.

Five Patch

A grid of twenty five (5 x 5) equal squares.


See ‘quilting frame‘.


To wear away by rubbing, to unravel. The raw edge of fabric will fray if it is not enclosed in a seam, or bonded to another fabric with fusible webbing. This means the warp or weft threads which make up the fabric will pull away from the edge, slowly disintegrating the body of the fabric. There are products available which can prevent fraying.

Free Motion

With the feed dogs lowered or the throat plate covered on a sewing machine and a darning foot attached, the sewer is able to move the work freely, enabling easier manoeuvrability for quilting or stitching of motifs and fancy designs, especially in raw edge appliqué.

Freezer Paper

A food wrap made from a layer of paper fused to a shiny silicone-type layer. This has many uses in patchwork and appliqué; by pressing freezer paper shapes to the fabric, it temporarily sticks to the surface of the fabric but can be easily peeled off when finished with, without leaving any residue. It is especially useful for making templates for appliqué or quilting.

Freezer Paper Appliqué

There are two methods for using freezer paper and each method begins in the same way. Trace the appliqué design on to the dull side of the freezer paper without adding seam allowances, then carefully cut it out on the line.
Each method then proceeds as follows:
Shiny side down on back:    Place the template shiny side down on the wrong side of the selected fabric and press it gently with a hot iron to temporarily fuse it. Cut around it adding a ¼” seam allowance. Fold the edges of the fabric of the fabric over the template to make a sharp edge.
Shiny side down on top: Place the template shiny side down on the right side of the selected fabric and press it gently with a hot iron to temporarily fuse it. Cut around it adding a ¼” seam allowance. Peel off the template and place it with the shiny side up on the wrong side of the cut shape. Run around the edges of the template with a fabric glue pen and fold the seam allowance of the fabric over on to the glue.

Friendship/Signature Quilts

Indelible ink was available after 1840 making it possible to not only sign a quilt but to add inscriptions including poetry, personal messages or other information. The more elaborate autographs and inscriptions are seen most often in quilts made before the American Civil War. Often each person makes a block and signs it, or one person makes the quilt then each person signs a block. Friendship quilts have special meaning for those who are travelling as they can look at the quilt and remember friends and family left behind. The other kind of autograph quilt is the album quilt that consists of several unique quilt blocks. The most elegant of these album autograph quilts are Baltimore album quilts.

Fusible Webbing

Used for bonding with a warm or hot iron two fabrics together for appliqué or 3-D work. There are several brands available – e.g. Vliesofix, Steam-a-Seam 2, Wonder Under and Bondaweb. When tracing shapes on to the paper of fusible webbing it is important to trace in reverse, as the webbing is fused to the wrong side of the fabric. After removing the backing paper, the shape can then be fused to the background fabric.

Fussy Cutting

To target and cut a specific motif that’s printed on fabric. To make a “fussy cut”, carefully position ruler or template over a selected design within the fabric. Include seam allowances before cutting designated pieces.


An adhesive in a solid form used for joining fabrics. Although manufacturers claim that it will not stain fabrics, it is a good idea to test a gluestick on a fabric scrap before using.

Godey’s Lady’s Book

A women’s publication of the mid-19th century which gave patterns for many forms of needlework, including patchwork, quilting and appliqué.


This refers to the way threads are arranged in a piece of fabric while it is being manufactured. All fabric has two grains, or directions of woven threads. The lengthwise threads, the ‘warp’, are strung on the loom, and the ‘weftthreads, called crosswise grain, cross them horizontally, in and out, under and over. The rigid edges on each side of a length of fabric are called selvedges and the grain which runs parallel to these is known as “lengthwise grain”. This is the most stable grain in the finished fabric. The diagonal grain is the bias. This lies at 45° to either straight grain. Off-grain is anything else and it’s not usually used in patchwork unless you have a permanent foundation or if you’re fussy-cutting a motif.

Greige/griege (pronounced “gray”)

Raw fabric which is unbleached and undyed, and, after processing, becomes the finished product on the shelves. The term is from the same root as the French “grege” (raw silk) and the Italian “greggio” (grey).

Grid Quilting

Sewn in evenly-spaced rows, straight or diagonally, grid quilting adds background surface texture to strong designs without adding pattern. Unlike in-the-ditch quilting, grid quilting gives an overall quilted effect that can enhance many quilts.

Half Square Triangles

A 90° triangle formed when a square is cut in half diagonally once. The long side of the triangle is on the bias, and the two short sides are on the straight grain.


Basting is used to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together to prevent shifting while sewing final stitches. Basting can be done with pins, a sewing machine, or by hand. To hand-baste, place the two pieces of fabric in the desired position, then make a series of long running stitches in the area. Remove after the permanent stitching is completed.

Hand sewing Needles

A needle for hand sewing is a slender precision-made strand of wire which has a hole at the non-pointed end to carry thread or cord through the fabric after the pointed end pierces it. Hand sewing needles have different names depending on their purpose.

Needle size is denoted by a number on the packet. The convention for sizing is that the length and thickness of a needle increases as the size number decreases. For example, a size 1 needle will be thicker and longer, while a size 10 will be shorter and finer.

Sharps are needles used for general hand sewing. They have a sharp point, a round eye and are of medium length. The difference between sharps and other sewing needles can mainly be seen in their length.

Embroidery needles, also known as Crewel needles, are identical to sharps but have a longer eye to enable easier threading of multiple embroidery threads and thicker yarns.

Betweens or Quilting needles are shorter, with a small rounded eye and are usually used for making fine stitches in quilt making. Beginners usually start with a size 8 or 9 and the more experienced a 10 or 12.

Milliners‘ or Straws needles are longer than sharps, are useful for basting.

Tapestry needles have a large eye and a blunt tip. They are used for working on embroidery canvas, even-weave material and other loosely woven fabrics. The blunt tip allows the needle to pass through the fabric without damaging it. Double ended tapestry needles, with the hole in the middle, are also available for the convenience of embroiderers who work with fabric mounted in a frame. Sizes from 13 (heaviest) to 28 (finest).

A Bodkin is a long, thick needle with a ballpoint end and a large, elongated eye. They can be flat or round and are generally used for threading elastic, ribbon or tape through casings and for trapunto.

Chenille needles are similar to tapestry needles, but with large, long eyes and a very sharp point to penetrate close weave fabrics. Useful for ribbon embroidery. Sizes 13-26.

Hand Quilting

See ‘quilting’.

Hanging Sleeve/Rod Pocket

A pocket or tube made to sit on the back of a quilt at the top if it is to be hung on a wall or frame. Hanging sleeves on quilts not only make the quilt look better when displayed, they also save the quilt from getting pulled out of shape. All except for the smallest quilts should be hung using a sleeve. The finished width for a hanging sleeve for a small quilt should measure around 3″, and around 5″ for a large quilt.

Hawaiian Quilt

These are whole-cloth (not pieced) quilts featuring large-scale symmetrical appliqué in solid colours on a solid colour (usually white) background fabric. The designs are based on Scherenschnitte, a folded-and-cut paper art form, popular in Germany in the second half of the 1800s. They are created by folding a square of paper several times. The design is then cut out in the manner of a four-sided snowflake. The quilting follows the outline of the appliqué design and then repeats this line in waves out to the edge of the quilt in what is known as echo-quilting.

Hera marker

A small hand tool with a sharp edge made from wood or plastic, originally from Japan, that allows the making of temporary crease marks on fabric. Can also be used to quickly press a seam allowance to one side.


A coarse, loosely woven 100% cotton fabric originally made with homespun yarn. Homespun fabrics come in a wide variety of qualities and plain dyed colours and are often used as backing.


A form of patchwork consisting of many hexagons sewn together randomly or to create a variety of geometric patterns. This patchwork is usually worked by hand over paper templates for accuracy. The most common design is called Grandmother’s Flower Garden.

Hoop/Quilting Frame

A ring, usually wooden, used to keep the fabric taut while hand quilting.


The name of a colour or colour family that is seen in the images on fabric surfaces. Hue names include blue, purple, red, yellow, orange and green. White, gray, and black have no hues and are referred to as neutrals.

Ikat (pronounced: Ee-cot)

A fabric, usually handwoven which has been tie-dyed in the yarns prior to weaving. The pattern can range from simple little dots to intricate double ikats.

In-the-ditch Quilting

Quilt stitching which is done invisibly around appliqué shapes, or down the seam of patchwork pieces, usually used to stabilise the sandwich before any other fancy quilting is done. The ‘ditch’ is the single-layer side formed by pressing the seams in one direction, or the layers of the appliqué and backing.


This is the dullness or brightness of a colour. Some fabrics have more pure colour in their print than others. If a colour is very pure it is very intense. If it is dull, or ‘greyed’ or looks muddy it is less intense. Adding white or black does not make a colour less intense, it changes the value. Intensity is relative.


A lightweight, non-woven stabilizer used to give strength and durability, form and body, especially for lighter weight fabrics e.g. silk. It is used in some appliqué methods and as a foundation in foundation piecing. It comes in a variety of types, including iron-on (fusible), sew-in and tearaway. A fusible webbing (interfacing) can be used for holding appliqué pieces in place as the stitching is done.


It’s important to press the quilt components during every step of assembly. Learning to press for accuracy is easy, and it’s one of the most important things you can do to enhance your quilts. When pressing blocks or strips, iron both seam allowances towards the darkest colour from the right side. Press the seams as the blocks are made, after joining them and after applying sashings and borders. Do not press once batting is part of the project as it will flatten the loft.

Italian quilting

See ‘Corded Work‘.


There are many ways make quilt labels; they can be embroidered, sketched using permanent fabric markers, using extra blocks from the quilt top on the back, or now, labels can be printed off on fabric using a computer inkjet printer. Whatever the chosen method the quilt label should include at the very least, the maker of the quilt, the person who did the quilting (if it was someone else), the name of the pattern, the date the quilt was finished, and the location in which it was made. To make them even more special, the recipient of the quilt might be included, and the occasion for which it is made. Labels should be attached to the backing fabric before constructing the quilt sandwich – once it is quilted in place, it is harder for a thief to remove the label.

Ladies’ Art Company

An American company that specialised in producing quilt patterns commercially. Their catalogues of patterns were published in the 1890s and into the 20th century and are now valuable sources of design to quilt historians.

Lap quilt/throw

A small quilt or coverlet made to cover the lap and knees. These were extremely popular during the late 19th century when they were often made in crazy patchwork.

Lattice strips

See ‘sashing‘.


The pieced or appliquéd top is placed over the batting and backing then basted for hand quilting, or pinned for machine quilting.

Lengthwise grain

See ‘grain‘.


A fabric made from the natural fibre of the flax plant. The plain-weave fabric usually has a slightly uneven texture; it is very strong and highly absorbent.


A coarse fabric with a linen warp and a woollen weft. These quilts were usually richly-coloured wholecloth quilts embellished with intricate quilting stitches and used primarily in the winter months. This term is often used to describe all early woollen quilts.


A stitch that is formed with a needle thread and a bobbin thread that is inter-locked in the centre of the seam being sewn. Even though the same amounts of needle and bobbin thread are consumed, the needle thread requires 5 to 7 times more tension than the bobbin thread. Some of the advantages of using a lockstitch in a seam include: the stitch is reversible, produces the tightest of all seams, and uses the least amount of thread.


The ‘thickness’, height or amount of puffiness and resilience of batting or wadding. Puffy batting is considered high loft and is usually polyester, and is used more for tied quilts. Thin batting is low loft and shows off the quilting stitches more.

Log Cabin

A style of patchwork whereby strips of fabric are sewn around a central shape, usually a square to form a block. This may be sewn on to a foundation of paper or fabric. There are many variations, and when the blocks are sewn together to form a quilt, there are many traditional designs.

Long arm quilting machine

A special sewing machine made to sit on a frame (often as long as 12 feet), with an extra long ‘neck’ which allows a wider sewing space than a domestic machine. All types of quilting may be achieved with this type of machine.


Choose a marker to suit the fabric, but if marking on the right side as for quilting, check on a practice piece that it is removable. There are many varieties available and each has its own specific use. Quilter’s marking pencils come in graphite (the thin lead of a mechanical pencil is perfect), white, yellow and silver for marking quilting lines on white through to dark fabric. Chemical markers (blue, purple and white) which disappear after two hours (purple), or are washed (blue) or ironed away (white) after use, are commonly used for a variety of things. The important point to note is that they must be removed completely from the fabric by washing after the item is completed, as they can cause deterioration of fibres, even though they have “disappeared”. Also the lines of the purple and blue markers must not be ironed, as heat may cause them to become permanent. Hera markers are available and are ideal for hand quilters, but can rub off easily or disappear if the item is being rolled for machine work. Soapstone, tailor’s chalk or a chalk dispenser are also used.


Quilting designs need to be marked on the completed quilt top before the sandwich is put together. Choose designs with care and aim not to have some areas heavily quilted and other areas with no quilting at all. Choose the marker carefully; it must be removable once the quilting is completed. A light source such as a window or light box helps to follow a pattern, especially on a dark fabric. Use a ruler to mark straight lines, or use masking tape. If machine quilting, choose ‘continuous’ designs i.e. ones that do not stop and start too often.

Matching Points

Piecing so as to make sure that the corners of blocks or the points of designs match in piecing at the seam- line so that the points are not cut off by the seam.

Meander Quilting

See ‘stippling‘.


The majority of patchwork patterns and measuring equipment are in Imperial measurements, mainly because mostly they originate from the USA. The units in common use are inches, feet and yards. Abbreviations are inch: in or the symbol “; foot: ft or the symbol ‘; yard: yd. The inch is defined as exactly 2.54 centimetres. Some patterns and equipment originating from other countries use the metric system – decide which you wish to work in as you can’t mix the two i.e. you will require a metric ruler to make a pattern with metric measurements.

Medallion Quilt

A quilt with a large focal motif at its centre, sometimes a solid piece of large scale fabric like a toile or a Tree of Life, an appliquéd motif or a large, pieced star or other pieced, quilted or embroidered pattern. The central medallion is typically surrounded by setting squares and/or multiple borders or is often a large square on point. This is the earliest style of patchwork quilt.

Memory Quilt

See ‘signature quilt‘.

Mercerized Cotton

A treatment of cotton thread which consists of immersing the yarn in a solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) for short periods of time, while held under tension. The yarn is then stronger and more lustrous and takes the dye better with brighter, deeper colours. This effect of caustic soda on cotton was discovered in 1844 by John Mercer, an English calico printer and his name gave the process the name “mercerize”.

Miniature Quilt

A quilt usually measuring less than 24” square, and often made with very tiny pieces, each block measuring no more than 4” square. Paper foundation piecing is often used to make the very small miniatures.


A 45˚ angled join, usually made at a corner on borders or bindings to keep a pattern continuous.

Mitred Patchwork

See ‘somerset patchwork‘.


A traditional textile art form made by the Kuna people of the San Blas province and islands off the coast of Panama and Colombia. Molas are cloth panels, made to wear on clothing, and feature complex designs made with multiple layers of cloth in a reverse appliqué technique. Several layers (usually two to seven) of different-coloured cloth (usually cotton) are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting parts of each layer away. The edges of the layers are then sewn down; the finest molas have extremely fine stitching, made using tiny needles. The largest pattern is typically cut from the top layer, and progressively smaller patterns from each subsequent layer, thus revealing the colours beneath in successive layers. This basic scheme can be varied by cutting through multiple layers at once, hence varying the sequence of colours; some molas also incorporate patches of contrasting colours, included in the design at certain points to introduce additional variations of colour.


A chemical substance used to produce a fixed colour in a textile fibre during the dyeing process, and can be either acidic or alkaline.


An isolated design or picture, usually appliquéd or quilted, either within the quilt body or on a border.


A print or quilt top may be made up of a variety of values all in the same colour family. This is known as a monochromatic colour scheme. Sometimes there is high contrast between the values and good design lines. At other times there will be little contrast between the values and they will appear as a solid colour when viewed from a small distance away. These are also known as tone-on-tone prints.

Monofilament Thread

See ‘thread’.


Muslin is a type of finely-woven cotton fabric, introduced to Europe from the Middle East in the 17th century. Its first recorded use in England was in 1670. It was named for the city where Europeans first encountered it, Mosul, in what is now Iraq, but the fabric actually originated from Dhaka in what is now Bangladesh. Muslin is most typically a closely-woven unbleached or white cloth, produced from corded cotton yarn. Muslin breathes well, and is a good choice of material for clothing meant for hot, dry climates.

In NZ, many sheer cotton fabrics are called muslin, while in the United States, muslin sometimes refers to a firm cloth for everyday use. In NZ that firm cloth is called calico.

Mystery Quilt

A quilt project, revealed one part at a time, done in steps without knowing what the final quilt looks like, often done as a group project.


See Hand sewing needles orsewing machine needles‘.

Needle-Punched Batting

One of the manufacturing processes used to make some types of quilt batting of cotton, wool or polyester. Thousands of barbed needles are punched through the carded fibres to lock them into position to help prevent bearding and shifting of the batting in the finished quilt. A needle-punched batting allows quilting to be placed further apart than un-treated batting does.


A type of hand appliqué where edges of appliqué shapes are turned under with the tip of the needle as they are sewn, rather than being turned under and secured before sewing.

Nine Patch

A grid of nine (3 x 3) or thirty six (6 x 6) equal squares.

Novelty Print

A fabric printed with larger pictures in a theme such as a particular hobby, nursery rhyme, holiday or sport, also known as a conversation or craft prints.


Any quilt pattern that uses a single shaped patch for the pieced top. May be squares, triangles, hexagons, etc. repeated in colour patterns or different fabrics.

On Point

See ‘diagonal set‘.

Open-toed/Embroidery Foot

Used for machine appliqué, the open nature of this foot enables clear vision right up to the needle. There is no bar across the foot, only two ‘toes’.

Orphan Blocks

Quilt blocks that are left over from a project.

Outline Quilting

Hand or machine quilting that outlines a pieced or appliquéd shape in order to emphasize it using just a single stitching line. Multiple rows of outline quilting are called echo quilting.


See ‘batting‘.

Paper Piecing

Also known as English Paper Piecing, in this method paper is used as a pattern and each individual piece of cut fabric basted around it. Paper was a scarce commodity in the early American west and women would save letters from home, newspaper clippings etc. to use as patterns. The paper not only served as a pattern but as an insulator. The paper found between the old quilts has become a primary source of information about pioneer life.


A small piece of fabric used to cover a worn area, or a piece used to make a patchwork pattern. An individual fabric shape joined with other patches to make a quilt block or sometimes a one-patch style quilt. Also known as a piece. These may be cut from templates, rotary cut or free hand cut.


A fabric ensemble that is created when smaller pieces of fabric, called patches, are sewn together, also known as piecing. Large pieces of patchwork can be created by joining random or identical patches, or by first sewing pieces of fabric into smaller blocks, then joining the blocks. The design formed is usually based on repeat patterns built up with different coloured shapes. These shapes are carefully measured and cut, straight-sided, basic geometric shapes making them easy to piece together. Precise joining makes for patchwork that lies flat without puckers. When used to make a quilt, this larger patchwork or pieced design becomes the “top” of a three layered quilt, the middle layer being the batting, and the bottom layer the backing.


This may be a design for a project to make, printed with full instructions, or it may be the design printed or dyed on fabric.

Pattern Repeat

The distance from one place in a pattern (usually on fabric) to the point where it is repeated.

Perle Cotton

A cotton embroidery thread that is silky in appearance because of the way it is twisted during manufacture. Available in a variety of colours, perle cotton comes in three diameters: fine – # 8; medium – # 5 and coarse – # 3. This is an excellent thread to use when embroidering crazy patchwork. It can also be used for tying quilts.

Penny Squares

Small simple designs marked on calico quilt block patterns for embroidery which were popular in the late 1800s and after. They cost one cent each; the look was similar to the redwork patterns popular later.


Project half Done. Goes hand-in-hand with UFO and WIP.

Pieced Border

A long strip of fabric made up of pieced or patched units to be sewn to the inner quilt centre section. Quilts may have several borders, either solid fabric or pieced.


The term for sewing patchwork pieces together to form a block or quilt top, whether stitched by hand or sewing machine. Piecing fabric together is a very old occupation. It was more often used for clothing, but also occasionally for decorative objects from the 15th century. It is important to be accurate when piecing; pin pieces together at each end and ease towards the middle.

Pin Baste

Securing layers of fabric together with straight pins instead of stitching. Pin basting is used for holding small patches together, or when the job is very simple and will be completed quickly. The term also means to secure the three layers of a quilt together using safety pins, usually before quilting by machine.


A device used for fastening objects or material together. It is usually made of steel, and is formed by drawing out a thin wire, sharpening the tip, and adding a head. Quilters pins are long and fine so that they can go through the layers of fabric without causing puckering. The heads may be made of steel, plastic or glass. Purchase the very best you can afford.


Used when a corner is reached, and a turn is required to continue stitching in a different direction. To pivot, stop stitching, but keep the fabric in place in the sewing machine with the needle in the down position. Pick up the presser foot and rotate or move the fabric to continue the stitching.

Plain Fabric

Fabric dyed in one colour, with no pattern printed on it.


Good patchwork is judged by how precise the points of the geometric parts of a pieced top meet together. Pinning or tacking before final sewing helps to get precision.

Prairie Points

Folded fabric triangles used to give a third dimension to quilted items. Usually they sit on the edge of a quilt.

Primary Colours

Are red, yellow and blue. All other colours are made up from these three.

Presser Foot

The part of a sewing machine that holds the fabric firmly on the needle plate so that the needle can pass through the fabric.


A very important part of the patchwork process for crisp and accurate seam lines. Generally each seam is pressed to one side (usually towards the darker fabric, if possible) before adding another unit. Use an iron to press downwards on the seam, not “ironing” back and forth, which distorts the seam. Never press once batting has been added to a quilt, as it flattens the loft.


Refers to the wrinkled appearance of a seam or quilted line of stitching, which can be caused by a number of factors including: structural jamming, tension puckering, and feed puckering.

Puff Patchwork

Two layers of fabric are sewn together and stuffed to create small ‘puffs’ which are then joined to make a patchwork top.

Quarter inch foot

Most sewing machines have this presser foot available, often as an optional extra, to be used for sewing an accurate ¼” seam by running the right-hand edge of the foot precisely down the raw edge of the fabric shape when sewing seams. In patchwork, all pieces must be cut with an accurate ¼” allowance for the seam, and sewn with an accurate ¼” seam in order for the pieces to fit together as designed.

Quarter-square triangle

Created by cutting a square through both diagonals to form four 90° triangles. The long side is on the straight grain of the fabric.

Quick Triangles

A variety of faster shortcut methods for making half and quarter square triangles where squares are sewn and then cut into finished units with no bias edges to sew.

Quick-unpick/Seam Ripper

A small sewing notion that usually has two points, one sharp and one that is protected so that it will not accidentally penetrate and rip fabric, and is used to remove unwanted stitches. The fine tip of a seam ripper allows you to pick out single threads, decreasing the likelihood of cutting the fabric that the stitches are attached too.


A specially designed quilt which is actually a cross between a quilt and a pillow. A Quillow folds up into a pocket. A popular gift for children and teens.


A body of work usually made from two or more layers of fabric, with batting sandwiched between, which are joined with machine or hand quilting. The simplest quilts have the single top piece of fabric (known as the quilt top) decorated with quilting patterns that can be worked by eye and don’t even have to be marked on the fabric. More complicated quilts can be constructed from patchworked or appliquéd fabric which is then quilted. Quilts not in use should be stored in a cotton bag, not plastic, or wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and kept out of the sun to prevent fading. Many quilt tops don’t become quilts but remain as UFO‘s or a kinder term is a WIP.

The first known quilted garment was found on a carved ivory figure of a Pharaoh, dated to at least 3400BC. The word “quilt” has its origins in the Latin word culcita, which means a stuffed sack, but the word came into the English language through the French word cuilte. Though the origins of quilting are unknown, the sewing techniques employed in quilting have been used throughout the world for several millennia. There are some lovely examples of early quilting in places such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


If work space is at a premium or a more portable approach desired, quilting blocks individually before joining together into the final quilt is a technique which can be used. Each pieced or appliquéd block, batting and backing are made into quilt sandwiches, leaving the seam allowances free for joining to other blocks later. This can also be known as Lap Quilting.


The joining of two or more layers of fabric with a series of stitches which form a pattern. quilting is done by hand or machine and can be entirely decorative or purely functional. The gridwork of stitches traps air in the material, making it much warmer than a single layer of fabric would be, or even the layers separately. In patchwork, the quilting can follow the outline of each shape along the seam, or on either side of the seam. appliqué shapes can be accentuated by stitching around the outline and plain areas can be quilted with designs echoing patterns elsewhere on the quilt. quilting can also be used as a form of elaborate decoration, where the stitching creates complex designs and patterns, with or without the use of colour. Many draw the design they plan to quilt on the quilt top before stitching, while others stitch “freehand”. quilting is as old as ancient Egypt if not older and wholecloth quilts were very common trade goods in wealthy circles in Europe and Asia going back as far as the 15th century.

Hand Quilting is the process of using a needle and thread to sew a running type stitch by hand across the entire area to be quilted. This binds the layers together. A quilting frame or hoop is often used to assist in holding the piece being quilted off the quilter’s lap. A quilter can make one running stitch at a time. Another option is called a rocking stitch, where the quilter has one hand, usually with a finger wearing a thimble, on top of the quilt, while the other hand is located beneath the piece to push the needle back up. The third option is called “loading the needle” and involves doing four or more stitches before pulling the needle through the cloth. The aim is to have evenly spaced rather than tiny stitches, the same size on the quilt back and front.

Machine Quilting uses a home sewing machine or a Longarm machine to sew the layers together after basting together and before quilting. This involves layering the top, batting and backing out on a flat surface and pinning (using safety pins) the layers together. Do not thread-baste if machine quilting as the basting threads get caught under the presser foot. A walking foot is essential for machine quilting with straight lines, or a darning foot for free-motion quilting, to prevent puckering and tight stitching. Longarm Quilting involves placing the layers to be quilted on a special frame. The frame has bars on which the layers are rolled, keeping these together without the need for basting or pinning. These frames are used with a professional sewing machine mounted on a platform. The platform rides along tracks so that the machine can be moved across the layers on the frame. A Longarm machine is moved across the fabric. In contrast, the fabric is moved through a home sewing machine.

Tying or knotting, the best-known form of utility quilting, is another technique of fastening the three layers together. A quick and easy method of quilting where thread or yarns or multiple strands of thread ties are looped at regular intervals through all layers, and tied on one side to hold the layers together during use and especially when the quilt is washed. It can also be secured using buttons. This method is easier and more forgiving if the quilt is made by hand. Tied quilts are called, depending on the regional area, “lap”, “comfort” or “comforter“, among other names.

Quilting Frame

A four-sided structure designed to hold the three layers of a quilt taut to facilitate even stitching. A full frame will hold an entire quilt at one time. A roller frame takes up less room than a full frame; the quilt is wrapped around rollers and the quilt is unrolled, one section at a time, for quilting. These may be used for handquilting, or may have an arrangement for setting up a long-arm quilting machine.

Quilting Hoop

A portable round or oval frame used to hold small sections of a quilt taut to facilitate even hand stitching.

Quilt in the Ditch

See ‘ditch quilting‘.

Quilt Size

This varies from country to country and obviously depends on bed sizes and how much overhang is required, but the following are standard mattress top sizes for NZ:

Cot 27” x 51” (69cm x 130cm)
Single 36” x 75” (92cm x 190cm)
King single 42” x 80” (107cm x 202cm)
Double 54” x 75” (137cm x 190cm)
Queen 60” x 80” (153cm x 202cm)
King 72” x 80” (183cm x 202cm)

A drop (overhang) may be anywhere from 10” to 22” on three sides. A tuck for under the pillow may be required, so will need to be added accordingly.

Quilt Top

See ‘quilt‘.

Raw Edge

The cut or unfinished edge of a piece of fabric which is usually enclosed in a seam, as it will fray if rubbed. Raw edge appliqué has become popular since the invention of fusible webbing. In this method the appliqué piece is attached to the background with fusible webbing and a row of stitching is sewn just inside the edge of the piece, leaving the raw edge visible, but “glued” to the background. This technique would not be used on a quilt which was to be washed regularly; it is mostly used for art quilts.

Reducing glass

A tool which reduces the image of your quilt to enable you to see a developing design from a different perspective. Problem areas ‘jump out’ and solutions become more evident. The same effect can be had with using binoculars the wrong way around, or a door peephole.


Quilt blocks prepared with a design done in outline embroidery stitching, with turkey red embroidery floss. There is also a blue version known as Bluework. Redwork became popular in the late 1800’s because of a colourfast thread made in Turkey, from a secret recipe. Up until then, coloured threads did not hold their colour in the wash and therefore, could not be used successfully to adorn everyday items like bedspreads or dish towels. The simplicity of redwork designs, and the fact that they were embroidered with very simple stitches on inexpensive fabrics, meant that nearly everyone could have decorated linens. Children often learned how to embroider on “Penny Squares”, little designs printed on muslin and sold at the general stores for a penny. Redwork quilts were mostly “summer weight” linens, meaning they had no batting. The Redwork squares were usually stitched together without sashing, and either quilted to a backing with a feather stitch or simply tied with string or yarn.

Reverse appliqué

Two or more fabrics are basted together and the design is cut out of the top layer to reveal the fabric underneath before the edges of the top fabric are turned under and stitched in place. This technique was very popular on 19th-century quilts and also Mola quilts.

Rod Pocket

See ‘hanging sleeve‘.

Rotary Cutter

An accurate cutting tool with an extremely sharp, round blade that is capable of slicing through multiple layers of fabric. Resembling a pizza cutter, rotary cutters are available with several different sizes of handle types and cutting discs, mainly 28, 45 and 60mm. Larger blades allow greater ease of cutting, while smaller blades are perfect for small cuts or circular cutting. These must be used on the correct cutting mat to protect the sharp blade and the work surface and are generally run along the edge of a rotary ruler. The rotary cutter should always roll away from your body; never attempt to cut “backwards” towards yourself. Always cut standing up. Accidents are more likely to happen if sitting and reaching as you are cutting, and you are able to get far more pressure on the cutter when standing. Get into the habit of closing your rotary cutter’s safety shield every time you lay it down. Every manufacturer makes a slightly different type of safety latch. In a few cutters, blades automatically retract when you release pressure on them after making a cut. Try out several cutters to see which ones have safety devices that are easy to manipulate. New blades are available to purchase – always store them in their packaging until required.

Rotary Ruler

Acrylic, see-through rulers align the fabric and hold it firmly against the cutting mat to enable you to run the rotary cutter along its side. Choose rotary rulers that are marked with very thin lines. It’s much easier to align the edge of your fabric accurately under a narrow line than it is to guess under a broader marking, and it is important to have exact measurements, so that all seams will be accurate. Start with the basics and add to your collection as you discover which rulers work best for your needs. Rulers come in imperial and metric markings; decide which you wish to work in as you can’t mix the two. In NZ, although fabric must be purchased by the metre, most patterns are in imperial, so the majority of rulers available for purchase have imperial markings. The markings are usually in inches with lines at ¼” increments and markings to 1/8”.

Basic Rotary Rulers

A 6 or 6½ inch x 12 inch rotary ruler should be your first purchase as it enables you to make nearly any type of cut. It should be marked with 30-, 45-, and 60-degree lines, with dimensions in 1/8 inch increments.

A 12½ inch x 12½ inch or 15½ x 15½ inch square ruler helps you make sure blocks are square, but you’ll find lots of other uses for it.

A 6 or 6½ inch x 24 inch ruler enables you to trim your quilt without having to move the ruler so often and is ideal for cutting long strips such as borders and bindings.

Round Robin

Done with a group of usually 6 quilters. Each sews her own centre motif and then these are passed around the group, with each quilter adding a border or row. The quilt is a surprise when it arrives back to the original quilter.

Ruby Beholder

Looking at all colours in fabric through this piece of red acrylic or glass eliminates all colour so all that is seen is the value (the lightness or darkness) of the fabric.

Running Stitch

The straight quilting stitch that passes through the ‘fabric sandwich‘ holding the three layers together.

Safety Pins

These are used to pin the three layers of the quilt together prior to machine-quilting. The only type of safety pins which should be used in quilting are made of nickel-coated steel, which won’t rust if left in the quilt. They come in small or large sizes, straight or curved.

Sampler Quilt

A quilt constructed from a variety of blocks using different designs and techniques, showing the maker’s ability.


The three layers of a quilt that have been prepared for quilting: the quilt top, the inner quilt batting and the backing.

Sashiko Quilting

This is a form of utility quilting from Japan, traditionally used to reinforce points of wear, or to repair worn places or tears with patches, this fairly large running stitch technique is often used for purely decorative purposes. The coarse white cotton thread on the traditional indigo blue cloth gives sashiko its distinctive appearance; sometimes red thread is used. The oldest surviving item of sashiko-stitched clothing is from the Asuka period and is a Buddhist priest’s robe. It was donated to a temple in 756. Many Sashiko patterns were derived from Chinese designs, but just as many were developed by the Japanese themselves.

Sashing/Lattice Strips

Strips of fabric which separate blocks in a quilt top. This acts as a frame for the individual quilt blocks, or the sashing itself can be pieced and used as part of the quilt design. Sashing can range very simple to very complex. Not all quilts have sashings.

Satin Stitch

A very close zigzag stitch that is used to finish raw fabric edges, usually in appliqué.

Sawtooth Edging

A method of finishing the edge of a quilt by inserting squares of fabric folded into triangles. A variation is called prairie points.


This describes the size of a motif in the surface of design. They can be small or quite large.


A German folding paper-cutting technique that makes a lacy design like snowflakes and may inspire appliqué artists. The images were used as an influence in Baltimore quilts as well.

Scrap Quilt

Generally made with leftover ‘scraps’ of fabric, using as many different prints as possible. There are many designs specifically for scrap quilts.

Seam and Seam Allowance

The line where two or more layers of fabric are held together by stitching. When piecing by machine, sewing with an accurate ¼” seam allowance is essential for the accuracy of quilt blocks. This means stitching ¼” in from the raw edge of the two aligned fabrics. If seams are not accurate, patches will not align with each other properly when it’s time to sew blocks and other components together. If you are unable to get a Quarter inch foot for your sewing machine, check if changing the needle position will give you a ¼” seam. Alternatively, place a piece of masking tape an exact ¼” from the needle position in your throat plate to use as a guide for the raw edge of the fabric. When hand piecing, stitch along the marked line, but only to the dots, leaving the seam allowance free. Start sewing with a backstitch; continue with a running stitch and an occasional backstitch to secure. backstitch at the end. Seams must be pressed to one side for strength.

Seam Ripper

See ‘quick-unpick‘.

Secondary Colours

Are green, orange and violet. These are created by mixing two adjacent primary colours on a colour wheel.


Bringing the quilt backing over to the front, folding over the raw edges and neatly stitching it down to finish the edges of the quilt.


Also spelt selvage, selvedges are the narrow finished edges that run along the outermost lengthwise grain of a piece of fabric. They are formed when the weft threads turn to change direction as the weaving process travels down the warp. fabrics are very tightly woven for a half inch or so from the selvedges inward, keeping the edges stable while fabric is on the bolt and keep the fabric from fraying. The selvedge usually has the name of the textile company, a copyright logo, and (sometimes) the name of the fabric collection. When you find fabric you like, be sure to check the selvedge so that you can ask for that fabric company by name in the future. Another useful bit of information sometimes found on the selvedge is a colour bar. The colour bar will tell you how many screens (or colours) were used to print the fabrics, and it provides you with samples of the actual colours. This is a great help when you are trying to mix or match fabrics, or to find complimentary colours or prints, especially for patchwork projects. Selvedges shrink at a different rate to the rest of the fabric when washed so should be removed before pieces are cut from the fabric.

Seminole Work

Women on Seminole reservations in Florida have been strippiecing patchwork since the early twentieth century. Strips of solid-coloured fabrics, torn or cut in various widths are stitched together then cut apart, often at a sharp angle, before being joined again into bands of pattern that were incorporated into clothing.

Setting in Pieces

Not all patchwork patterns can be assembled with continuous straight seams. Sometimes a piece has to be set in with a ‘Y’ joint. The most important consideration when setting in pieces is that you must stop all stitching at the place where the seam allowances on the pieces meet, thus allowing an opening so the fabrics can be set in smoothly and without puckers.

Setting Triangle

Used to fill in the jagged edges left around the outer perimeter of a quilt where blocks are arranged on point. The straight grain runs parallel to a setting triangle’s longest side.

Seven Patch

A grid of forty nine (7 x 7) equal squares.

Sewing Machine

Most home sewing machines, and some industrial machines, use a two thread stitch called the lockstitch. This is the familiar stitch made from two threads, one passed through a needle and one coming from a bobbin or shuttle. Each thread stays on the same side of the material being sewn, interlacing with the other thread at each needle hole. The machines are made for the fabric to easily glide in and out of the machine without the hassle of needles and thimbles, and other such tools used in hand sewing. Modern machines may be computer controlled and use stepper motors or sequential cams to achieve very complex patterns. They use an eye-pointed sewing machine needle (with the eye and the point on the same end) carrying the upper thread, and a shuttle carrying the lower thread. The curved needle moves through the fabric horizontally, leaving a loop as it withdraws. The shuttle passes through the loop, interlocking the thread. Besides the basic motion of needles, loopers and bobbins, all but the most trivial of stitches also requires the material being sewn to move so that each cycle of needle motion involves a different part of the material. This motion is known as feed, and sewing machines have almost as many ways of feeding material as they do of forming stitches. For general categories, we have: drop feed, needle feed, walking foot, puller, and manual. Often, multiple types of feed are used on the same machine.

Sewing Machine Needle

Come in many different types as well as sizes. They range from very fine 60\8 to a very heavy duty needle 130/21, and have a colour- coded dot on the shaft. Most needles use the two number measuring system. They are identified by two numbers and a letter, such as 90/14 H. The first number is European sizing and ranges from 60 to 120, which refers to the diameter taken on the shaft right above the eye. American needles are sized from 8 to 18 in an arbitrary numbering system, and paired with corresponding European sizes: for example, 60/8 or 70/10. The higher the number, the thicker the fabric needs to be. The “H” code on many needles stands for Hohlkehle, the German word for the scarf. There is often a second letter code which refers to the type of sewing for which it was designed. Typically H is a very sharp point that will work for any type of woven fabric. To test for the right size needle cut a piece of thread about 12 inches long and thread it through the needle. Hold the thread vertical and fairly taut. Then, from the top, spin the needle. It should slip down the thread. If it doesn’t, you need a larger needle.

Possibly the most important thing about needle points is that they are not everlasting. Apart from catastrophic events like collisions with pins or other metal objects, they gradually become worn with use. Some types of stitching and fabrics are harder on needles than others. Any very close, fast or constant stitching, such as machine quilting, is obviously tougher than regular seam sewing, and synthetic, multi-layered or heavyweight fabrics are more wearing than single or double layers of natural, lightweight fibres. Stitching through batting dulls a needle very quickly. Bent needles and those with burrs are not obvious to the eye, but they can spoil your stitches and damage your fabric, and possibly damage your machine. A guide to follow for conventional sewing machines is to insert a fresh needle after every 8 – 10 hours of sewing. A sign that it may be best to try a new needle is when you encounter stitching problems with a new type of sewing thread or a new sewing technique.

Universal Point Needles have a very slightly rounded point that is quite sharp and used for general sewing of most knit and woven fabrics. H-M is intended for use with microfibres or silks and satins (M for microfibre).

The Denim/Jeans Needle has an acute point, slender eye and a stronger shaft. Use when sewing tough heavyweight fabrics such as denim, duck and canvas. A regular sharp-point needle can cause crooked stitches in dense fabric. H-J is the code for a sharp-pointed needle intended for sewing denim jeans or other tightly woven fabric (J for jeans). The H-J is available in sizes 70/10, 80/12 and 90/14 and a double needle size 16/100. It has a Denim blue dot on the top of the shaft with a second dot underneath representing the size.

Metallic thread Needles have a specialized larger eye and the scarf accommodates heavier threads, pampers delicate metallic and rayon threads that tend to shred and split, and makes needle threading easier. It only comes in size 80/12 and a double needle with 2.5mm space between needles. This needle has a mid pink dot on the shaft with an orange dot underneath.

The Quilting Needle is made from blue or toughened steel to keep it cooler; it has a tapered point for stitching through multiple fabric layers and across intersecting seams making this needle unique. It prevents damage to sensitive, expensive materials used in quilting. H-Q designates a needle especially developed for piecing and quilting (Q for quilting). The H-Q has a green dot on the shaft with either a mid pink (75/11) or dark blue (90/14) underneath, and only comes in sizes 75/11 and 90/14, occasionally both in the same pack.

A Topstitching Needle (Code N) has an extra-large eye and deeper groove for use with heavier topstitching thread such as buttonhole twist, 30-weight rayon and cordonnet, or when using a double thread through the needle for more pronounced stitching. These needles have a pale blue dot on the shaft with a second dot underneath representing the size.

Quick Threading Needles, also known as Handicap, have a small slip-in threading slot in the eye, which is great for people who have trouble seeing the eye of the needle! HDK is their code and they are available in sizes 80/12 and 90/14 only.

There are also twin needles (ZWI) of differing widths (2 on one shaft, for sewing 2 different rows of thread at the same time, straight stitching only), triple needles, double eye needles (DE) (for two threads in one line of stitching), plus Leather, (brown dot on the shaft), Spring, Hemstitch/wing, Ballpoint and Stretch (yellow dot on the shaft), all with their own unique uses.


Not what you think! Stash Enhancement eXercise. Usually a shopping trip with lots of girlfriends, lots of shops and lots of chocolate/coffee stops. Oh, and did I mention lots of fabric?

Shadow Appliqué

Appliqué done using a see-through fabric such as silk organza or polyester netting to shade or shadow the images. The transparency of the fabric gives a different colour look, usually paler, to the areas covered.

Shadow Quilting

A technique where a thin, transparent fabric such as organza is laid upon brightly coloured fabric shapes. The outline of each shape is quilted thus securing the fabric. Shadow quilts have a muted, pastel look.


The rotary shuttle device sits in the lower portion of a sewing machine and makes the lower thread available for stitching. It comprises a hook body mounted on a driving shaft and a bobbin cap holder which accommodates a bobbin.


A tie-dye technique from Japan used to make elaborately patterned fabrics. The technique often involves wrapping and tying the fabric around a tube or pole and then dyeing.

Signature Quilt

A quilt with signatures from friends, often made for special events. Also called a Memory Quilt, an Autograph Quilt or an Album Quilt.


Sizing is used in fabric to make ironing garments easier. Sizing is also designed to create shape and dirt resistance. Sizing washes away.


See ‘hanging sleeve‘.


Applies to a thread texture, created by small bumps in the threads which are formed during the spinning process. Slub adds to the overall texture when the fabric is woven.

Solid Fabric

See ‘plain fabric‘.

Somerset Patchwork

A technique whereby rectangles or circles of fabric are folded into triangular shapes and arranged in a base pattern which resembles a star. It is also known as Mitred patchwork or Folded Star.

Speed Piecing

This is a technique in which larger pieces of fabric are first sewn together then cut to the size required for the quilt block. Position pieces right sides together and line up next to sewing machine. Stitch first unit together, then continue sewing others without breaking threads. When all units are sewn, clip threads to separate. By using this technique, and rotary cutting, the quilter can piece blocks quicker and with greater accuracy.


See ‘bobbin’.

Stack and Whack

A technique formulated by Bethany Reynolds for cutting out repeat sections from a large overall fabric pattern and sewing them into kaleidoscope-like designs

Stained Glass Work

A form of appliqué, stained glass window patchwork simulates the effect of stained glass in church windows. Satin fabrics simulate the coloured glass, and black bias binding tape simulates the lead.


A term applied to a quilter’s collection of fabrics. Most quilters love to add to their “stash” regularly.


Pieces of cardboard or thin plastic with design lines cut out in channels wide enough to accommodate a marker point. The channels are separated by ‘bridges’. Stencils are used to mark quilting lines.


A continuous, meandering line of quilting that never crosses itself, and is random, giving a stippled or coarse grain effect creating surface texture. It can be very close or very large and open, according to the area to be filled.


A method of securing thread into textiles in embroidery and sewing. This may be done by hand with a needle and thread, or by sewing machine.

Stitch Length

On a sewing machine this is determined by the amount of feed for which the feed dogs are set. The stitch length numbers on a machine refer to the length of the formed stitch in millimetres. The following is a guide for the number of stitches per inch at each setting.

Setting: 0.5 Stitches per inch: 50

Stitch in the Ditch

To sew quilting stitches by hand or machine in the groove formed by the seam lines (or “ditch”) of piecing or appliqué, so that the stitching cannot be seen, but will make the shape “stand out” from the background.

Straight Grain

This is the direction either up or down the warp and weft of the fabric. On patterns, it is usually indicated by either a straight line, with or without arrows at either end. There is very little or no stretch in the fabric when pulled with the straight grain.

Straight Set

In a straight quilt setting, the quilt blocks are placed right next to each other in rows and columns.

Straight stitch throat plate

This plate on the base of a sewing machine has a round hole for the needle as opposed to the wide slot designed for zigzag sewing. This is often an optional accessory for your machine. The small single centre needle position hole promotes perfect stitch quality as it provides fabric support all around the needle as the stitch is formed, preventing distortion in delicate or cotton fabrics. This specialty throat plate is favoured by quilters for piecing and free-motion machine quilting. Combined with a ¼ inch foot, it facilitates the piecing process, especially at the beginning and end of seams. The straight stitch plate may only be used with a straight stitch in the centre needle position. The best even seam is achieved using a Jeans/Sharp needle with a straight stitch throat plate.


To lengthen, widen, or distend.


For most patchwork piecing, a strip of fabric is cut across the grain from selvedge to selvedge with a rotary cutter and ruler to the desired width. This strip is then crosscut into the shape required, unless the pattern being followed is suitable for strippiecing. To cut strips, fold the fabric in half lengthwise (parallel to the selvedge), and match the selvedges. Place the fabric on a cutting mat with the fold of the fabric horizontal to the bottom of the mat and the bulk of the fabric to the left. Place the ruler on the fabric about 1” to the left of the raw edge, aligning a horizontal line on the ruler with the fold. Hold the ruler firmly in place with your left hand and cut, pushing the rotary cutter away from you. The raw edge is now straightened. Rotate your mat, or the fabric 180° so that the cut edge is now on your left. Place the ruler at the required measurement for your strip and cut as above. If you are left-handed, reverse the above. Ensure the raw edge remains exactly at 90° to the folded edge. If this alters, square up the fabric again.

Strip Piecing

Multiple fabrics sewn together to create a composite unit that can be cut apart to yield pre-sewn segments. Strip piecing eliminates the need to work with small, individual pieces of fabric. It involves stitching together pieces of fabric in repeat patterns into long strips and then stitching the strips together lengthwise. A classic version of this method is Seminole patchwork.

Strip Set

Strips of fabrics sewn together along the long side, usually in preparation for cross-cutting into smaller units or to form multiple borders.


See ‘Batting’.

Suffolk Puffs

See ‘Yo-yos‘.

Sunbonnet Sue

An old time, still-popular appliqué design which originated in the 1920s-30s of a girl with a big sunbonnet hiding her face. “Sue” is still made in both traditional and modern looks.


Even distribution of colour properties and design elements across a print, block or quilt. If the properties and elements are uneven or unbalanced it would be asymmetrical.


See ‘basting


A tessellation is the same as a tile; a shape or combination of shapes which will indefinitely cover an area without any gaps or overlaps. Even though we tend to think of tessellations only as interlocking motifs, any quilt block that repeats itself can be considered a tile or tessellation.


‘Ageing’ fabric with tea or coffee to give it an ‘antique’ look. Tea-dyeing tends to dull fabrics and give them a mellow sepia tone. Tea-dyeing works best on 100% cotton fabrics that have been pre-washed to remove sizing, essential for calico and chintz. If left in, the sizing will inhibit the dyeing.


A light interfacing used under embroidery to stabilise fabric while stitching. Once completed the interfacing can be torn away. Available in plain or iron-on.


These are made from patterns using templastic or any opaque or clear rigid plastic, light card or freezer paper using a permanent marker pen and are used to trace around with a marking pencil as a guide for sewing, quilting or an appliqué piece. Label each template as it is made and add important information, such as straight of grain. Templates for hand sewing do not include seam allowances; the marked line is the sewing line. Templates for machine sewing include ¼” or 6mm seam allowance.


Sewing machine tension is adjusted when the bobbin and upper thread is not even on both sides of the fabric. When sewing two layers of fabric the intersection of the bobbin and upper thread should be between the two layers of fabric.

Tertiary Colours

Are yellow-red, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green. They are created by the mixing of a primary and a secondary colour on a colour wheel.


A small protective shield or cup used as protection on the middle finger or thumb for quilting in order to push the needle through several layers of fabric. Thimbles are available in a wide range of designs, sizes and materials from steel or reinforced leather to plastic. Purchase the one which best fits your digit and suits your needs.


The general rule for piecing patchwork is that if using 100% cotton fabrics, then 100% cotton thread should be used for stitching. Special thread for quilting is recommended – it is strong and resists tangles. Thread for hand quilting is waxed (coated with beeswax), but must not be used in a sewing machine as it will clog up the tension wheel. Number 50 cotton thread can also be used. Monofilament (nylon) thread in clear or smoke is very fine (0.004 gauge) and is used in machines to make ‘invisible’ stitching for appliqué or quilting. It must not be used in the bobbin; this is usually filled with ‘bobbinfil’, which is finely matched to the gauge of the monofil.

Thread Count

This refers to the number of threads per square inch of fabric. The ideal thread count for quilting fabrics is 60 x 60 threads per square inch. In general, the higher the thread count, the softer the fabric feels and the more pill-resistant it is.

Throat Plate

The metal plate that sits below the needle on the base of the sewing machine. The plate surrounds the feed dogs, and has an oval slot for the needle to drop into to meet up with the bobbin and make a stitch. A straight stitch throat plate only has a small hole for the needle to drop into.

Tied/Knotted Quilting

See ‘quilting’.


Cook Islands women make magnificent bed covers called tivaivai (also spelt tīvaevae), which means to stitch or sew. They are either made by one woman or can be created in groups of women called vainetini. Tivaivai are often given on very special occasions either to important visitors, as birthday and wedding gifts or used to cover the body of a loved one who has died. They are often displayed during important events like the traditional boys’ hair cutting ceremonies, birthdays and weddings.

It is widely believed that while the Cook Islands women may have got the idea of making quilts from early Christian women, they have taken it to extraordinary heights and developed it into a unique art form.


Toile de Jouy, sometimes abbreviated to simply “toile”, is a type of decorating pattern consisting of a white or off-white background on which a repeated pattern depicting a fairly complex scene, generally of a pastoral theme such as (for example) a couple having a picnic by a lake. The pattern portion consists of a single colour, most often black, dark red, or blue. Greens and magenta toile patterns are less common but not unheard of. Toile is most associated with fabrics though toile wallpaper is also popular. Toile de Jouy originated in France in the 1800s. In the French language, the phrase literally means “cloth from Jouy-en-Josas“, a town of north-central France. Although it has been continuously produced since then, it experienced a marked upsurge in popularity around the year 2000.


See ‘monochromatic‘.

Top Stitch

A straight running stitch used for several purposes, usually in a slight heavier thread than normal sewing thread, topstitching finishes a project and gives it a neat appearance. It is also used to close openings left for turning a project right side out, or it can be used as reinforcement, by adding another row of stitching to areas that will be used heavily and receive more wear.

Transfer Printing

Using a special paper with a coating to transfer a design printed by an ink jet printer or colour copier to a fabric. The design is applied with a hot iron or a heat press.


(Italian for “to embroider“). Also known as stuffed work, this is a technique used to give emphasis to quilting designs. The top fabric, which has been marked with the pattern, is basted to an interlining material. The design is then quilted and padding is inserted from the back, making the overall appearance three-dimensional. In order for the stuffed design to show on the back of the quilt, it must be requilted after the three layers are basted. This style originated in Italy in either the 14th or the 16th century.

Turkey Red

A type of fabric dye, known for its extreme colour-fastness. The process was developed in Turkey before the late 18th century. From that time, turkey-red fabrics were used extensively for making clothing and quilts. Many antique quilts can be dated by the inclusion of turkey red-dyed fabrics.


A UFO is an Unfinished Object – a quilt begun, but never completed. Goes hand-in-hand with WIP and PhD.

Utility Quilt

A plain, basic quilt meant to be used for everyday bedding. Often a simple design and older ones may be examples of rural folkart. May often be a tied quilt.


Refers to how light or dark a fabric is. Perceived value of a given quilting fabric can change depending on the fabrics it is compared with, so it is a relative measurement.


See ‘Batting’.


Originally made from hessian or flour sacks, the wagga derives its name either from the wheat growing centre of Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales or bags used for the related brand of flour, ‘Wagga lilly’. The term was in common use by the 1900s. Bush or wagga rugs, using men’s suiting samples or swatches were common in regional Australia in the first half of the 20th century. They are an important example of the Australian practice of reusing materials, or ‘making do’, when resources are scarce. They were typically made by women who had obtained obsolete suiting samples from travelling salespeople or local stores. Often these were sewn to a large piece of hessian, chaff or flour bags to be used for the backing. While some makers used the different colours and textures of the suiting samples to create effective designs, some were also plainly utilitarian.

Walking Foot

A walking foot on a sewing machine has built-in feed dogs that grip and advance the upper layer of fabric that is travelling through the machine in unison with the machine’s feed dogs, which grip the underside of the fabric. The action of this special sewing machine foot helps keep the layers from shifting apart as they move through the sewing machine. A walking foot is essential for pucker-free, straight line machine quilting.

Wallhanging/Wall Quilt

A quilt made specifically to hang on a wall, although any quilt can become a wallhanging.


See ‘grain‘.


Careful washing and proper storage will help prolong the life of a quilt. To wash a quilt in a machine, use a mild detergent and a gentle wash cycle with warm/cool water, and for the rinse. Do not use bleach or harsh detergents. Hand washing requires more effort. Wash in the bathtub, using warm/cool water and mild soap. Squeeze water out gently – do not twist or wring. Roll in towels to remove as much water as possible. Do not hang a hand-washed quilt to dry. Lay flat on a clean sheet or trampoline if possible. If the quilt is made of velvet, wool or silk, or if it is filled with a non-washable stuffing, avoid having it dry-cleaned too often as the chemicals will wear it out in time. To store, fold or roll in a clean sheet. Do not use plastic as it does not breathe. Air a stored quilt at least once a year and refold along different crease-lines before re-storing.


See ‘grain‘.

Whip Stitch

This is used for seaming fabrics by hand, either right or wrong sides together. Small vertical stitches are made from right to left, catching only a thread or so under the fabric. The stitches should be about 1/16″ apart, and only as deep as necessary to create a firm seam. Leave a tail of thread when you start, and work several stitches over it to secure and hide the thread.

Whole Cloth/Durham Quilt/Counterpane/White Work

A quilt made from one large piece of fabric, traditionally white, but sometimes in other colours. No patchwork or appliqué is used. Embellishment relies on quilting motifs; quilting stitches are usually intricate and closely spaced. One historic type of white quilt which also has a variety of trapunto quilting is the “boutis” of Marseilles.


The term for Works in Progress. Goes hand-in-hand with UFO and PhD.

Yo yos/Suffolk Puffs

Little gathered rosettes of fabric that can be used to make an entire quilt or for dimensional appliqué. If made into a quilt, yo yos would not be batted or backed. They can also be used to embellish.

Zig Zag Stitch

A zigzag is a pattern made up of many small corners at an acute angle, tracing a path between two parallel lines; it can be described as both jagged and fairly regular. In sewing, a zigzag stitch is a machine stitch in a zigzag pattern. The width and length may be varied according to the use required. Tightly spaced zigzag stitches are used to emulate embroidery stitches, such as satin stitch on appliqué, and to reinforce buttonholes.


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