Did you know that we quilters and sewists alike have our own language? When I first started quilting, I had no idea what all the short-hand and code words were… It felt like I was reading some cryptic message. I muddled my way through because wasn’t about to risk looking like I had no idea what I was doing by asking silly questions! Lucky for you, you have me. And today we’re going to answer “What is the quilter’s code?”
Be sure to also check out my list of 8 Sewing Skills Every Quilter Should Know too!
There are so many words, phrases, and acronyms that might make you want to crumple up your sewing pattern and be done with it. Really? Why all the jargon? Why can’t it just explain things clearly?
I’m here to break things down for you.
This group of terminology is going to be so useful as you grow your skills as a quilter.
I’ve put together every single set of shorthand and abbreviation that I’ve come across as a quilter so you can be informed and knowledgeable and ready to KILL IT in the sewing room!
**Be sure to pin this post using one of my images so you can refer back to it when you run across something that puzzles you.**
[Did I miss something crucial? Or a tiny detail? Let me know by emailing me here.]
What is sewing terminology?
Sewing terminology just that. It is our own little language of terms and phrases used within the sewing world.
I have a video below with some of the most popular terminologies. Keep reading the list below to see more quilter talk!
What is the Quilter’s Code?
Butter your biscuits! This is the code to all those funny words you may or may not skip over in an effort to understand the bigger picture when reading a quilting/sewing pattern.
Anchor stitch: A machine stitches sewn with zero stitch length, to keep from pulling out. It holds the rest of your stitches in place. This term can also be used to refer to when you stitch backward for a couple of stitches, to anchor it. (also see back stitch)
Appliqué: The process of stitching a piece of fabric to another piece of fabric by sewing close to the edges of the shape. Typically cut into a fun shape and then fused in place and sewn around the edges of the shape.
Appliqué scissors: Also known as duckbill scissors, one blade is wide for safe trimming around edges.
Back Stitch: (also see anchor stitch) The process of stitching backward over the loose threads at the beginning of a project to secure the threads so they don’t come loose and the fabric pieces come apart. This needs to be done whenever the thread is broken, or you are about to break it.
Baste: The technique of machine stitching with a long stitch length to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together before they are stitched together permanently. A backstitch or a knot is not used in case the threads need to be pulled out and removed. AKA, a temporary stitch.
Bias: A woven fabric does not have a stretch across the grain line from left to right, and up and down. There is no stretch in the grain. However, diagonally across the grain is the bias, where the fabric will give a bit, which is why making garments “on the bias” or “cross-grain” give a woven a nice drape.
Bias Tape: Pre-made strips of fabric in various sizes that are cut diagonally across the grain to give the fabric some movement so it will turn curves nicely.
Binding: In quilting, it is the use of a thin strip of fabric (similar to bias tape, but not necessarily cut on the bias) to hide the edges of the raw quilt edges to give a nice finish. This is usually the last step to finishing a quilt.
Blanket Stitch: Handstitch used for finishing a fabric edge.
Bobbin: The thread that comes up from the bottom and meets the thread from the spool to form the stitch. Bobbins need to be wound up and inserted properly into a sewing machine.
Bumblebunching: AKA that ” oh what the &^#*!?” moment when you see the annoying tangled loop of stitching on the bobbin side of the fabric. It is a result of improper tension applied to the sewing machine.
Buttonhole: A small cut in the fabric that is bound with small stitching. The hole has to be just big enough to allow a button to pass through it and remain in place.
Clipping Corners: The process of snipping of the triangular piece of seam allowance off of the corner of a seam to prevent bulk in the corner when turned inside out.
Clipping Curves: The process of removing triangular pieces of fabric to allow the seam to lay flat along a curve when turned inside out. In an opposite curve, small slits can also be made around the curve, so it is allowed to spread apart when turned inside out. Also known as notching.
Crosswise Grain: The threads of woven fabric that run across the grain of the fabric, which runs the length of the bolt. The crosswise grain runs from selvage to selvage. Crosswise grain also runs the width of fabric, salvage to salvage.
Cutting mat: A self-healing board used for cutting fabric on. They are often marked with measuring grids.
Darning: A technique used by “scribbling” the needle over a torn section of fabric or a hole to repair. This requires a darning foot so the feed dogs will not direct the fabric.
Darning foot: A presser foot with a circular opening that doesn’t clamp down over the fabric and is used with dropped feed dogs for free-motion stitching or mending
Darts: A wedge-shaped piece of folded fabric used to shape garments to lay on the body where it tapers.
Double-needle: 2 machine needles attached to a single shaft, that sews two parallel rows of stitches at once with two spools of thread and a single bobbin.
Drape: The fluid way that a quilt hangs and folds over surfaces when snuggled.
Ease: Distributing the fabric on a curve evenly to join to another curve (usually going in the opposite direction) to get a good fit. Commonly used in sleeves.
Edge Stitch: The process of stitching on the exterior side of a project near a fold or seamed edge to keep them in place. Also can be known as Top Stitching if done away from an edge.
Embroidery: A hand-sewing technique used to decorate fabric with needlework designs in brightly colored threads. Can also be done on a pre-programmed sewing machine.
Facing: The fabric used to finish the raw edges of a garment such as the necklines, armholes, and waistlines. This is used to make the finished edge look nice and lay flat.
Fade-out pen: A fabric pen with ink that disappears 12 to 24 hours after marking. (mine is purple!)
Feed Dogs: The feet that move the fabric under the presser foot of the sewing machines that control the length of the stitch.
Finger Press: The heat and force of your fingertips can easily put a crease in the fabric without using an iron.
Free-motion embroidery: Hand-guided stitching with dropped feed dogs on hooped fabric.
Free-Motion Quilting: The use of a darning foot to eliminate the feed-dogs (the feet that move the fabric) so you can move the fabric freely under the needle and effectively “draw” on the fabric with the thread in whatever shape comes to mind.
Fusible: Fabric that has heat-sensitive adhesive on one side that enables it to bind to another fabric.
Fusible basting tape: A temporary adhesive tape that permanently fuses.
Fusible interfacing tape: Available in a variety of narrow widths, this tape heat fuses to fabric to stabilize a seam or edge.
Grading: A process of trimming the seam allowance to reduce bulk in the seams.
Grain: The lengthwise grain of threads running through a woven fabric.
Grosgrain ribbon: Characterized by woven ridges, grosgrain ribbon is very stable and comes in many widths. This is a really fun texture to add to baby quilts to give baby something to play with that is sturdy and withstand lots of touching.
Hand: A term used to the feel and texture of the fabric. “This fabric has a nice hand to it.”
Hem: The act of finishing the bottom of the fabric to finish it, so no raw edges are seen.
Interfacing: The term for a variety of materials that are used on the wrong side (either fused or sewn in) of fabric to give it more stability or loft or whatever the desired effect may be.
Interlining: A lining used on the back of the fabric, but sewn together with the fabric, so the two fabrics act as one during construction.
Machine tension: Controlled by disks to apply drag to the machine thread. Adjust for the thread and fabric variances.
Match point: A point marked on one pattern piece so it can be matched to a similar point on another pattern piece.
Mini iron: a small iron, often with a wand-like handle, originally designed for pressing 1/4 inch quilt seam allowances. Check out my favorite mini iron!
Miter: When two strips cross at right angles the line formed by connecting the inside and outside corners.
Mitered bindings: When bindings meet at a 90-degree angle, and a 45-degree seam divides them causing a diagonal seam.
Muslin: An inexpensive, normally un-dyed fabric used to create pattern pieces, or to test out a garment before using the more expensive permanent fabric.
Nap: Some fabrics like velvet or velour have a pile, and the fibers don’t quite lay vertically, but in a particular direction. This is known as the nap. You can feel the nap if you run your hand back and forth across the fabric. The nap should run downwards in the project. You can see this on minky as well if you have a preference on how it looks when you run your hand across it.
Notions: Small accessories used to aid in sewing: scissors, needles, thread, seam ripper, zippers, etc.
Ombre: Closely related tones of color that graduate from light to dark
On-grain: The same as grain, straight-of-grain, or warp threads. It is a line parallel to the selvage on fabric.
Outline: The outline of a pattern is usually the cutting line unless it is marked as a fold line.
Overlay: This refers to the top layer of fabric when there is a different one underneath.
Patchwork: The art of sewing small pieces of fabric together to make a larger fabric or design, then usually quilted to be made into a quilt or bag or another project.
Pattern: A template on paper or cardboard from which all of the pieces of the garment are traced onto fabric. All the parts are then cut out and assembled to create the final piece. A set of sewing instructions with sized templates used to assemble a sewn item.
Piping: A trim of a fabric-wrapped cording inserted into a seam to embellish a garment or project. The cord is wrapped in bias tape so it will curve easily around all seams.
Pocket: A rectangle of fabric inserted into a garment accessible from the finished outside edge of the garment to hold small items.
Presser foot: A small piece of metal near the needle on the sewing machine. It is the function that keeps your fabric in place while you sew.
Preshrink: Wash fabric before cutting or sewing.
Pressing: Using an iron to press a seam nice and flat before sewing. A nicely pressed seam turns out much better when sewn than if the pressing is skipped.
Pre-Wash: After fabric is purchased, it may be pre-washed if it is to be made into a garment or project that will be machine washed and dried. This way the fabric will be pre-shrunk, and the garment won’t shrink after it has been made up. Typical pre-wash is washed in cold water on gentle, and tumble dried on low. Then the finished garment can be treated this same way.
Quilt: Coverlet or wall hanging made from small pieces of fabric sewn together in batted layers and topstitched, or the action of topstitching the quilt layers together.
Quilting: A method of sewing (or tying) two layers of cloth together with an inner layer of batting between it. A Quilt is a finished blanket made by Quilting.
Raw edge: The edge of the piece of fabric after it is cut but before it is hemmed. If left raw, the fabric might fray.
Right Side: The “front” side of the fabric; usually the distinctly printed side of the fabric.
Ruche: A pleated or gathered strip of fabric used to embellish a garment or project.
Running stitch: A hand-sewn stitch that weaves in and out of the material. This creates a dashed line effect.
Scrim: A term used in batting where a thin layer of polyester is added to the cotton to be needle punched into, this gives stability to your batting so it won’t break apart within your quilt, Scrim adds poly to your batting so it will no longer be 100% cotton.
Seam: The line where two pieces of fabric are joined together by sewing them with thread.
Seam finish: Any technique that finishes the raw edges of a seam.
Seam Allowance: The small space of fabric between the raw edge and where the seam is sewn. Common seam allowances range from ¼ inch to as much as several inches. Woven fabric can fray, so the seam needs to be sewn away from the raw edge for security.
Seam Ripper: A tool used for picking or ripping out sewing stitches. Read about my picks for the best Seam Rippers.
Selvage: The edges of a raw fabric that runs along each edge with the grain of the fabric. The selvedge edge is the way commercial manufacturers finish the edges of the fabric, so it does not fray as it is sold.
Serging: A method of looped threads over the raw edge of the fabric to finish the edge to prevent fraying.
Slipstitch: used to join two folded edges or one folded edge to a flat surface, for an almost invisible stitch.
Stitch-in-the-Ditch: A quilting term used to describe the method of stitching along existing seams in a patchwork piece or quilt top to quilt it together with the batting and backing.
Straight stitch: A simple, straight stitched line.
Tailor’s chalk: A piece of chalk used to mark fabric. Super helpful for ‘sketching’ ideas and stitch lines on your quilt without harming your actual fabric.
Tension: The amount of “pinching” done to your thread as it flows through your sewing machine. Thicker fabrics need a higher tension (a harder pinch, so the thread doesn’t flow out too quickly), and thinner fabrics need less tension (a lesser pinch to let the thread out easily to prevent puckering).
Thimble: A protective implement worn on the finger or thumb when sewing.
Top Stitch: The process of stitching on the exterior side of a project to finish seams or folds to keep them in place. Usually paired with a longer stitch length which looks more professional and can make it easier to go in a straight line. Also can be known as Edge Stitching if it is done near a fold of fabric.
Trim: A pre-made decorative accessory that can be sewn into your project and add just a little bit of flair or visual interest.
Tulle: A fine netting commonly used for veils or gowns.
UFO: Slang for “Un-finished object.”
Under Stitch: Sewing a line of stitching along the seam allowance to the facing or lining to help keep it flat and prevent it from popping up and creating bulk under a seam. Very similar to stitching in the ditch.
Walking foot: A presser foot that steps across the fabric instead of sliding to facilitate even feed.
Wash away stabilizer- Provides support to fabric, then dissolves in water. It is especially useful when embroidering onto fabric.
WIP: slang for “Work in progress.”
Whiskers- Tiny, frayed threads from raw seam edges.
WOF: Width of fabric. Salvage to salvage. You will find this abbreviation in many patterns.
Wrong Side: The “back” side of the fabric; usually the opposite side of a distinctly printed fabric.
Yardage: A term for an undefined length of fabric.
Zigzag stitch: A zigzag stitch is a literal stitch made with a zigzag pattern. Often used to sew along raw edges to prevent them from fraying.
Zipper foot: An attachment for a sewing machine that is designed for installing zippers.
Zipper teeth: Can be metal, plastic, or nylon coils each “tooth” contains the locking mechanism that holds the zipper together.
Whew! I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to give you a full glossary of answers to the question “What is the Quilter’s Code?” and there you have it!
So… did you pass the test? Did you learn something new? Let me know in the comments how you measure up!
If you knew far less than you thought you did, no worries… it takes experience and a lot of projects to work up to a fluent vocabulary this size!
Happy Sewing! Keep learning, Keep reaching and keep lighting the fire to your curiosity! There are beautiful things out there to be made!