Back to Basics in patchwork

The title says it all really, getting back to basics.  It was bought to my attention recently that we know what we know and just presume others know what we know….confused….lol?

In the following posts I will talk about things us more experienced quilters take for granted. We can babble on about Fat Quarter’s, Fat 1/8’s, binding, paper piecing, vliesofix, applique, BOMS etc. Stashes and  to some people it all sounds like gobbledie gook.

So I thought I would explain a few things over a few of the next posts.

So where do you start explaining patchwork terminology? Here is some of the terminology and some short explanations.

1⁄4in Foot This is a special foot for your machine. When you have the edge of the foot on the edge of the fabric it will give an accurate 1⁄4in seam. If your machine does not have one you will be able to measure from where you needle comes down and perhaps lay some masking tape down as a guide for your fabric. If your machine does not have a 1/4 ” foot you will be able to get one, even a generic one to fit.


A design made by cutting shapes from one fabric and sewing to the top of another fabric. Fusible web, which is like baking paper with a thin layer of glue on one side. There are a number of brands. To use you trace your design on the paper side (in reverse) roughly cut around the shape, place this on the wrong side of your fabric, quickly press (only long enough to melt the glue) then cut out on your drawn line. Now you  remove the paper and lay your piece onto your fabric within the design area and again press just long enough for the glue to take hold, then stitch using a buttonhole, blanket stitch, or even a zigzag will also work well.


The American term for tacking, this is mainly used in hand quilting. Today we mainly pin our quilts ready for stitching or if you’re like me, wrap them up and send them to a good friend with a long arm quilting machine…


The fabric that forms the bottom layer or back of a quilt


The American term for wadding. Wadding comes in many forms. Wool, Wool/Polyester mix, Cotton, Silk, Bamboo to name a few. Again there are many, many on the market. Once you find your favourite you’ll stick with it.


The diagonal of a woven fabric. This has the greatest amount of stretch


A narrow strip of fabric, single or folded, used to enclose the raw edges of the quilt top, wadding and backing once your quilt is fully quilted


The pattern units that repeat across the quilt top

Chain (String) Piecing

A method of sewing a number of units at a time, thus saving time and thread

Charm Quilt

A quilt made with every piece from a different fabric. Usually all the pieces are the same shape as well such as squares or triangles

Colour Wheel

A tool used to help you plan your colours in the quilt

Colour Value

The darkness or lightness of a colour


A square used to join short pieces of sashing at the corners of blocks

Cutting Mat

A special mat used with a rotary cutter and ruler to protect the work surface

Design Wall

A flannel or wadding panel on the wall. Used for laying out fabrics and standing back and checking the appearance. There is no need to use pins, the patches just adhere lightly to the flannel and can be moved easily

Echo (Outline) Quilting

Repeated rows of quilting a measured distance from each row, the machine foot can be used as a measure. Often used with appliqué


Extra embroidery or trims added after a quilt is finished

Fat Eighth

Half a fat quarter of fabric giving a small rectangle either 9 x 22in or 11 x 18in

Fat Quarter

A piece of fabric that is cut 50cm (in the UK) or 18in along the selvedge and then cut again in half across the width to give a piece approx 18 x 22in (slightly larger if cut in the UK)

Feed Dogs

The part of your sewing machine that moves the base layer of fabric forwards as you stitch

Four Patch

A block composed of four patches or one that fits within a 2 x 2 grid

Free Motion Quilting

An advanced method of quilting with lowered feed dogs and where your hands move the fabric to create the pattern

Fusible Web

A paper based glue that is ironed onto the reverse of your fabric, often used with appliqué


The lengthwise and crosswise threads on a cotton fabric

Hanging Sleeve

A tube of fabric applied to the top back of a quilt, so that it can be displayed on a wall or at a quilt show

Half Square Triangle

A block that is square in shape but is divided on one diagonal to give two equal triangles


A small hand held frame used for hand or machine quilting

In the Ditch

Quilting that is close to the seam lines of your blocks. traditionally it would be the side of the seam that did not have the seam allowances lying behind and thus would be lower and in the ditch


Every quilt should have a label sewn on the back giving details such as name of quilter, date and reason made


The process of putting the three layers of a quilt together


The spring or fluffiness of the wadding – more loft equals more height

Machine Quilting

Stitching by machine that holds the three layers of a quilt together


Several pieces of fabric cut and then sewn together to produce a pattern

Quarter Square Triangle

A block that is square in shape but is divided on two diagonals to give four equal triangles

Quilt Top

The top layer of the quilt. It can be pieced, appliquéd, or a combination of the two


The sewing used to secure the layers together; it can be by hand or by machine

Right Side

The side of the fabric that you wish to appear on the top of your quilt. For design reasons some quilters use the wrong side occasionally if it gives the right colour value

Rotary Cutter

A circular, rotating cutter used with a cutting mat and ruler to safely cut layers of fabric accurately


An acrylic measuring tool used with the rotary cutter, usually marked in 1⁄8in. There are many specialist manufacturers such as Creative Grids in the UK who have developed a wide range of rulers


See Layering


Strips of fabric that are used to divide blocks when the quilt top is joined into one piece


The point where two pieces of fabric are sewn right sides together

Seam Allowance

The distance between the cut edge of the fabric and the sewn line. Quilters usually use a 1⁄4in seam allowance, although metric allowances can range from 0.5cm to 0.75 depending on your country, but I would guess 99% of quilters do use the imperial measurements.


The edge of the fabric when it is on the bolt. This has a slightly tighter weave and should be cut off before you start measuring your pieces


The arrangement of blocks in the quilt top

Slip Stitch

A small, almost invisible, stitch used to secure a folded edge to a flat surface. Commonly used to finish the binding on the back of a quilt

Strip Piecing

Joining one or more strips together and then cutting them apart crossways to create new units


A means of securing the layers of a quilt together loosely, using large stitches and thin thread


Used to protect your fingers or thumb when hand sewing

Top Stitching

A row of stitiching often with larger stitches. Used as a decorative finish often near the edge of a garment or bag


A method of quilting, using small stitches and knots, with threads that can be left decoratively on the front or on the back of the work

Wadding (Batting)

The filling that goes in between the quilt top and the back to create warmth and depth to the quilt

Walking Foot

A special foot that is used when quilting to push the top and bottom layers of the quilt together at the same time. Is believed to give a more even result and can also be used for piecing borders


When buying fabrics most fabric stores sell minimum quantities of anywhere from 20 to 30cm pieces.

As a consumer I can understand you may only want to purchase 10cm but from a business point of view there does need to be a minimum to help cover costs such as payroll and rent. If everyone was purchasing 10cm strips turning over fabric in a quilt shop would take forever and would mean the shop owner was not able to purchase fresh new ranges for you to use. The shop owner is there after all to make a living so don’t be too offended when they insist on minimums.

When buying fabrics you can buy straight off the bolt, you can buy fat quarters, fat eights, layer cakes (10″ squares), charm squares (5″ squares), jelly rolls (2 1/2 ” strips, usually between 40 – 42 of them ) and many more ‘terms’.

Layer Cakes are 10″ squares showcasing a range of fabrics, there is usually around 42 pieces in each layer cake yielding approximately 2 1/2 metres. Layer Cakes were originally (I believe) bought out by Moda Fabrics, they are also available from other suppliers and may be known as 10″ Stackers, Tonga Treat Squares and 10″ Squares.

layer cake

Jelly Rolls   these are 2 1/2″ strips, again generally 42 pieces of a coordinated range.


Dessert Rolls  Manufactured by Moda Fabrics, Dessert Rolls contain 20 different fabrics from a collection cut into 5″ x 44″ strips.


Honeycombe Hexagons  Moda introduced Honeycomb Hexagons. These are collections of 6″ hexagons. Each Honeycomb hexagon measures 6″ from point to opposite point, with a horizontal measurement of 5 1/4″ and there are 40 coordinating fabrics.


Charm Squares  Charm packs are one of the smallest and least expensive specialty cut. Their popularity stems from the fact that they are affordable, easy to use, and the size is very common in quilting. Charm Packs typically include one square of every fabric within a collection so the number of pieces included varies. The size of charm packs may also vary slightly by manufacturer. For instance, RJR Fabrics cuts their Charm Packs to 5.5″ x 5.5″, Moda is 5″ x 5″. But they are a great little buy.


We also have mini charms which are 2 1/2″ square and many more… desert rolls, mini jelly rolls, mini layer cakes… what will they come up with next.

For any newbies it’s a minefield of information and almost like learning a second language.

When I fist started out I had no idea there was a difference between the words patchwork and quilting… well, duh… there is. I describe these words now as: Patchwork is the process of sewing pieces of fabric together to make your quilt tops. Quilting is the process of sewing the 3 layers of your quilt together. Being the quilt top, the batting or wadding (whichever you wish to call it) and your quilt backing fabric. Quilting can be straight forward stitching in the ditch (ditch being where your two pieces of fabric have been joined and you now stitch over that stitching) or you may stipple quilt, which is a series of swirls and curls as per this picture or for the clever monkey’s among us there are many, many designs that can be used. See examples below.

          Stitch in the Ditch                                   Stipple Quilting


Feathered design and other ‘fillers’


So, this is just a small part of quilting. There are many techniques both in patchwork and quilting. There is a whole world to explore and learn. You can take specialty classes, you can teach yourself (YouTube is a great resource), or you can band together with other like minded people in quilting groups and learn from them. The patchwork family is large, loving, supportive, generous and a whole lot of wonderful. If you are looking to meld into a community then join a patchwork group, if you’re looking for friends, join a patchwork group.

Happy Stitching




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