Glossary of Quilting Terms

"We can't, however, discover ourselves by introspection. We have to jump in before we learn to swim." -Charles Handy 

Some useful definitions to enhance your Custom Quilt Journey.                

[Click underlined terms to view in Anatomy of a Quilt diagram.]

A design made by cutting shapes from one or more fabrics and sewing them on top of  another piece of fabric.

Baby Size
A baby size quilt or wallhanging is typically 38” x 38”.  

Background Fabric
The lighter or receding color fabrics in patchwork, or the base fabric onto which appliqué shapes are sewn.

A large piece of fabric that makes up the back of the quilt. 

The ‘fluffy’ middle layer of a quilt, giving it warmth and thickness.  It also enhances the quilting by puffing up slightly around the lines of stitching, adding an important element to the overall quilt design.  

A strip of fabric sewn over the edges of the quilt layers to finish the raw edges, add strength, and/or decorate the outer edge.  

One unit of patchwork design, usually square, that is repeated (the unit, not necessarily the pattern on the block) to build an overall pattern in a quilt top.  Can be either pieced or appliquéd. 

Outermost edge of a quilt top. Borders are often used to ‘frame’ the inner, pieced quilt top. Quilts can also have multiple borders. Much like ‘mats’ on a framed piece of art, interior borders delineate concentric patterns radiating out from the center of a quilt.   

Charm Quilt
Quilts made from a single shape (square, triangle, etc.) utilizing many small pieces of fabric, where no two patches are from the same fabric.  

Corner Blocks
A square unit at the corner of borders on a quilt top.  Used in place of Mitered Corners.  

Crazy Quilt
A method of stitching irregular and random pieces of fabric to form a quilt block.  Many have decorative stitching added to the seam lines. 

Crib Size
A crib size mattress is 27"x52".

Decorative stitching, lace, buttons, etc. on a quilt; Crazy Quilts are often lavishly embellished.  Adding embellishments will often reduce the washability of a quilt.

Decorative top stitching.

"Fantasy" Fabrics
A technique whereby fabrics are combined to 'capture' colorful items- such as thread, ribbons, yarns, lace, silk flowers, beads, glitter and more -  under a layer of sheer fabric to create unique designs.  These original fabrics can then be used in larger quilting projects to add dimension and texture.

Feedsack Fabrics (also called Floursack Fabrics)
Dating back as far as the early 1800’s, these sturdy bags were used to carry flour, sugar, meal, grain, salt and feed home from grain mills.

 Thrifty wives quickly discovered that the cotton bags were a great source of fabric for dish cloths, diapers, nightgowns and other household uses. Manufacturers took advantage of this trend and began offering sacks in prints and solid colors. At their peak in the 1930’s-40’s, Post WWII technological innovations greatly reduced availability of feedsacks, and their popularity waned.  Today, there remains an active trade in these ‘antique, collectible fabrics’ among specialty quilt and fabric collectors and dealers.  Consider yourself extremely lucky if you’ve got a stash of these special fabrics, or even better, a quilt made from these lovely pieces of the past.

Full Size
A full (double) size mattress is 54"x75".

Fabric that has been dyed by hand to create unique colorations, often looking more ‘natural’ or subtle than commercial fabrics.   

Hanging Sleeve
A fabric tube sewn on the top back of a quilt in order to hang the quilt from a dowel for display. Usually 3-4" wide and attached during the binding process.  (also called a Sleeve) 

King Size
A king size mattress is 76"x 80".

A piece of fabric affixed to the back of a quilt to document the quilt name, recipient, quilt maker, date completed, special messages for the recipient, care instructions and/or other pertinent information.  

Lap/Throw Size
A youth size mattress is 36”x 66”.  (This size is also often called a Throw Quilt) 

Term for the thickness and resilience of quilt

Low loft batting is thinner and shows off quilting stitches to better advantage.  Usually made of cotton, this batting gives a quilt a softer, more traditional feel, which will continue to grow softer and more comfortable with passing years.

High loft batting is usually made of polyester.  It is thicker and fluffier than cotton and is used more often for tied quilts.

Machine Quilting
The method of
stitching together the three layers of a quilt (decorative quilt top, batting and backing) using a sewing machine.  Provides the advantages of strength, durability and speed over traditional hand-quilting.  Decorative and intricate patterns can be utilized to full advantage in machine quilting.   

A central block, motif or patterned area on a quilt top, surrounded by a border or borders radiating outward in concentric patterns. The center is often a large square or on-point. 

Memory Quilt
A quilt pieced from a loved one's clothing or other special fabrics.  Can be made from outgrown baby clothes, T-shirts, uniforms, jeans, ties, curtains, direct printed photos or documents, or almost anything holding special meaning for the user.

Also, quilts made to commemorate an occasion such as a wedding, anniversary, retirement, new baby, or birthday.  Individual quilt blocks can be made of 'signable' signature blocks, printed photos, or theme related blocks (i.e. schoolhouses for graduation).  

Mitered Corner
A corner (usually of a border) joined at a 45 degree angle to form a 90 degree corner, like a picture frame.  

A design element, image or drawing used on a quilt block or for an appliqué. An example is a quilt using a "heart motif" or other themed image.

 On Point
A term used to define the orientation of a square quilt block when the square is “standing up” on one of its points, instead of resting on a side. 

The ‘extra’ fabric/quilt that extends over the edge of a standard sized mattress.  Includes allowances for ‘drop’ to the floor and ‘pillowtuck’, if desired.  Dimensions are often referenced by the terms ‘comforter’, ‘coverlet’ and ‘bedspread’ sizes.  (see
Sizes of Quilts below, for more information.) 

This generally refers to the process of sewing together fabric pieces to make the colorful quilt top.

The practice of washing fabric before cutting and sewing into a quilt top. Pre-washing is important to prevent fabric colors from bleeding and for pre-shrinking fabrics.  

Queen Size
A queen size mattress is 60"x 80".

Once a quilt top is pieced, it is layered with a middle layer of batting and a backing layer.  The three layers are secured together with patterned lines of stitching, called quilting, to add strength and decoration to the quilt.

The three layers can also be secured by tying, or ‘tufting’, in which a series of knotted ties are spaced about 3-5" apart all over the quilt.
(see also Tied Quilt)

Quilt Top
The completed, decorative top portion of a quilt after all squares have been sewn together and broders added.

'Rag' Quilts
Using either appliqué or patchwork techniques, quilt pieces are sewn to firmly secure the design, yet strategic edges are left unstitched to fray, giving a soft, 'raggy' effect.

Sampler Quilt
A quilt top in which each block is a different design or style.

The strips of fabric that are sewn between adjacent blocks in a quilt top.  

Scrap Quilt
Typically, a quilt made up of many different fabrics. Commonly "scraps" of fabric left over from other projects or usable remnants of clothing.  

Signature Quilt
A quilt in which ‘blank’ quilt blocks can be signed by many different individuals and  special messages added, using washable marking pens.

Sizes: of Quilts
The pattern and layout (the number of blocks across and down, plus borders and binding) will determine the exact measurements of a quilt. 

The following is a guide to standard bed measurements:


*Important Note on Quilt Sizes as Used by Legacy Quilts*

The above referenced sizes refer only to the top of standard sized mattresses.  Legacy Quilts’ creations are designed without overhang (i.e. if used as a bed cover, they cover only the top of the bed). 

Sizes of Overhangs
Overhang refers to the ‘extra’ fabric/quilt that extends over the edge of a standard sized mattress.  It includes allowances for ‘drop’ to the floor and ‘pillowtuck’, if desired. 
References are typically made to “comforter”, “coverlet” and “bedspread” sizes .   

Should overhang be required on any quilt, it can be easily added using the following guidelines: 

  • Comforter dimensions include a 12” drop on sides and bottom of the quilt.  No extra length is added for pillows.  A comforter is designed for use with a dust ruffle and pillow shams.
  • Coverlet dimensions include a 16” drop on sides and bottom, and 10” of extra length for a pillow tuck.  A coverlet does not reach the floor, but it does cover the mattress and box springs, making a dust ruffle unnecessary.
  • Bedspread dimensions include a 20 ½” drop on sides and bottom, and a 10 ½” length for a pillow tuck.   The bedspread reaches completely to the floor on three sides of the bed.
  • *If overhang is required, please refer to the desired Size of Quilt  (i.e. Queen), AND the amount of overhang (i.e. ‘Comforter’, ‘Coverlet’ or ‘Bedspread’) to indicate the preferred finished quilt size.  
  • Overhang yardage will be calculated into the finished quilt size and priced accordingly. 

A tube of fabric sewn to the top edge of the back of a quilt to slide a dowel through for hanging the quilt. (also Hanging Sleeve)

Stained Glass Quilt
A style of quilting meant to resemble a stained glass window pane. Black fabric strips are appliquéd over the edges of fabric sections designed to look like glass, imitating the leading in real Stained Glass windows.

A small, lap-sized quilt measuring 36”x 66”.  (see also Lap Size) 

Tied Quilt
A traditional method of securing the three quilt layers together with knotted ties at intervals (usually 3-5”) across the quilt.  Can be used in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, machine quilting.  (see also Quilting) 

Short name for the quilt top.

Twin Size
A twin size mattress is 40"x75".  

Wall Quilt or Wall Hanging
A quilted piece designed and constructed to be hung on a wall for decoration. Can contain specialty fabrics and embellishments that are not meant to be washed or undergo strain or wear.  

*ANY SIZE OR TYPE of quilt can be made into a wallhanging by simply adding a hanging sleeve to the back, or for large quilts, draping them over a wall-mounted display dowel.    

Watercolor Quilt
A quilt made up of many small squares (usually only 1 or 2" in size), sewn to give the overall impression of an Impressionistic Painting. Also called Colorwash Quilts.

Definitions compiled from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to:  Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc. The Perfect Patchwork Primer, written by Beth Gutcheon; Penguin Books Ltd; 1982.  The Quilter's How-To Dictionary, written by Mari Shirer; Leman Publications, Inc.; 1991.

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