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Quilting Terms and Tips

In my first quilting article I explored the history of quilting, covered the tools of the trade, and gave you some basic tips on how to get started. The second article discussed washing and caring for your quilt. In this article I want to take a bit of a step back. There is so much to cover in quilting, and as yet, we haven’t even scratched the surface. I’m guessing by now that you’re pretty excited to get started. But let’s hold on just a second. Although the actual process of making your first basic quilt is not all that complicated in practice, on paper it can look pretty daunting. I don’t want to overwhelm you, but at the same time, I’m not quite ready to let you go it alone just yet. The focus, as ever, is in having fun and learning a new skill that will benefit both you and your family. From these articles, I want to give you the building blocks you need to start your own quilting tradition. In order to do that, you will need to first speak the language: I’m talking about quilting terms and what they mean.

There are so many terms used in quilting, and that can leave even the most enthusiastic beginner’s head spinning. It is for this reason that I recommend learning directly from an experienced quilter, as well as starting with a basic nine-square quilt. For those of you who are lucky enough to have found a quilting partner, great! You can get to work. As for everyone else, do not despair! You will have everything you need to get started by the end of this article.

I Love to Say It: Keep It Simple, Sweetie!

As always we want to keep things simple, so I’m not going to list every single quilting term I know. Trust me, that would make for one very long article. What I will do, however, is provide some additional resources, which I have found very useful. You should bookmark these pages for future reference, because you never know when you will need them again. Bearing in mind that there may come a time when we no longer have the Internet to rely on at all, I have compiled a glossary of terms and quilting tips. It is arranged in alphabetical order, and every time I learn something new I simply update my glossary. Apart from that, it is nice to think that my big book of quilting will one pass down from generation to generation, for many years to come. In fact, my niece has already started using it, and she completed her first quilt only last month (she’s 17).

Basic Terms

  • Backing – A single sheet of fabric that serves as the bottom layer of your quilt. You can use old sheets for your backing.
  • Batting – The middle section of a three-layer quilt, which is what makes it all cozy and warm. The batting is typically made from cotton, polyester, or wool.
  • Bias-tapeFabric strips that are used to bind the edge of your quilt.
  • BindingUsed to cover the edges and batting of your quilt.
    Blocks – By sewing nine (square, rectangular, or triangular) pieces of fabric together, you create one block.
  • Quilt topThe top layer of your quilt, typically made up of blocks.
  • Squares – These are smaller sections of fabric, which, when combined, make up one block.
  • Piecing The process of sewing pieces of fabric together, usually blocks, to create the top layer of your quilt.
  • Quilt sandwichThe top, batting, backing sections are combined to make your quilt sandwich.
  • Seam allowance A ¼ of fabric allowance, which is the width remaining to the right of a seam.

If you are having trouble building a mental picture of how each section of your quilt should look, watch this video to see the basic terms used in this article come to life. In the video a sewing machine is used for the seams, but as I mentioned in my previous article, using a heavy cotton quilting thread will keep your quilts together for many years. If by this stage you are already making basic quilts and want to advance, I would advise checking out to this site for a fuller list of quilting terms.

When looking for tips on quilting, Block Central is another resource that I use frequently. The site is broken up into categories, and it contains tips submitted by quilters from all over the world. This link will take you directly to some incredible quilts. And trust me, it’s so easy to get lost for hours browsing the wealth of information there is to pick up.

So now you have the tools and the know-how that you need for a basic quilt, and you are all set to begin. I would recommend trying your hand at a nine-square quilt using the information in this article as a guide. Before you know it, you will be moving on to bigger, better, and more complicated designs. Feel free to revisit this article and the resources listed here as needed.

Also, I recommend building your own glossary, which you can pass down to your children or share with friends. There are no set rules; quilters are finding new and innovative ways to do things. Things have come a long way since the first quilted sock and the first attempts at making blankets. With advancements in technology, tools are lighter in weight, easier to use, and in some cases even ergonomic.

One Final Tip

Never view your old worn out clothes, sheets, or other fabrics as rags. Instead, use your creativity to visualize the makings of a new quilting project. I hope that you will find quilting as fun, practical, and therapeutic as I have.

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