Basic Quilting Terminology - How to Start Quilting | Madam Sew

Basic Quilting Terminology

How to Start with Quilting Series - Part 1 -

Quilting is a timeless and rewarding craft that allows you to create beautiful and functional pieces of art with fabric and thread. This guide which consists of three articles will help you take those first steps towards creating your very own quilts. We believe you can start to learn how to quilt on your own. The basics of quilting are not that difficult and making a quilt is totally doable. But making that intricate beautiful geometric king-size quilt is not easy and learning how to master quilting and become an expert is a long road that can take years. That is exactly what makes this craft so exciting!

In this series, we'll explore:

Throughout all three articles, we’ll provide links to in-depth articles that will help you delve deeper into each aspect of this captivating craft.

This first article is the introduction. I’m diving into:

  1. the five main parts of a quilt
  2. eight quilting terms that you should know before you start

Let’s get started!

A quilt is a textile that is traditionally composed of three layers that are stitched together, two layers of fabric and a layer of filling. Quilts can be used in many ways. They can be used to stay warm but are often decorative and can also function as an artistic expression. Many quilts are used as bedspreads or throws. And some are used as the “fabric” for a project.

People make their own quilts for many different reasons, as a creative outlet, to create physical hugs for friends, to be part of a creative community, because of the healing aspect of quilting, as stress relief, the challenge, the love of fabrics, … When you think of it, when quilting, you are actually cutting up good big fabric pieces into small pieces and sewing them back together again :-)

1. The Five Main Parts of a Quilt

Most quilts are made up out of the following five elements. Quilting is often referred to as “making a quilt” but is also a specific part of the quilt making process. That might be confusing.

The Quilt Top

The quilt top is the face of the quilt. It’s what you see when the quilt is right side up. Although a quilt top can be made out of one piece of fabric, they are typically made from different pieces of fabric that are sewn together in a pattern. Ana improvises a baby quilt top in this blog.

a quilt top in holiday colors

The Batting

The batting is the stuffing that is inside the quilt, this can be thin or thick depending on the type of quilt you are making. We have a great blog on our website all about choosing batting.

a hand holding soft batting for a quilt

The Backing

The backing is the fabric that goes on the back side of the quilt.

the quilt top and quilt backing of a quilt

The Binding

The binding is the material that goes on the edge of the quilt. You can see the binding from the top, the side and the back. The binding is used to hide the raw edges of the quilt sandwich (top, batting and backing).

the quilt binding of a quilt

The Quilting

Quilting is the term used to describe topstitching the three layers (top, batting and backing) together. It is the wavy stitching you can see in the picture. The layers of a quilt must be fixed together to avoid the batting from bunching up when the quilt is washed.

detail of wavy quilting on a quilt with triangles

There are so many different styles and traditions of quilting. Here are some beautiful examples that spark my interest to make a quilt!

Squares in frames
hexagon quilt with flowers
Jelly Roll, Three Strip Blocks in Trip Around the World Quilt
Pineapple Quilt Pattern
Scrappy Trip Around the World Quilt
flower appliqué quilt

2. Basic Quilt Terms

These are eight quilt terms that you should know before you start quilting or looking up tutorials on how to start quilting. I’m using these terms throughout this series. This list is far from complete, but these are the words that are important to know when you embark on a quilt adventure.


The part of the quilt-making process where you assemble and stitch pieces of fabric together. You can make a block, which will be joined with other blocks to form the top layer of the quilt.

piecing the quilt top with little hexagons


Is also called ‘pieced work’. It involves stitching together small pieces of fabric of different colors, patterns or textures.

patchwork with triangles

Quilt Block

Is a fabric unit made out of different fabric pieces (such as squares, strips or hexagons) that are sewn together in a variety of patterns. Sewing together multiple blocks to form a large quilt makes it more manageable.

an assembled quilt block on a table

Quilt Sandwich

Is what quilters call the three layers of a quilt. It is made up of the quilt top, the batting, and the quilt's backing. The layers in the picture are not assembled yet.

the quilt sandwich made up out of the top layer, the batting and the backing


This is a quilting technique where you stitch (quilt) in the seam (ditch) of your quilt piecing. The goal is for the stitching to not be seen because the stitches fall between the folds of your pressed fabric. Your aim is to stitch right in that seam or very, very close to it so your stitches are not seen

sewing in the seam of a quilt or quilting in the ditch

Quilt Border

Strips of fabric that surround the center of the quilt top. Borders are used to “frame” a quilt, like you would frame a picture. The border around the center of the quilt may be a single fabric or can be pieced using pieces of many fabrics. And you can have one or many borders. Some can be plain while others can also have a pattern that echoes or compliments the quilt top’s design.

a quilt with a border made up out of two borders


Strips of fabric between blocks, generally in the rows and columns of a quilt. We have a blog about adding sashing to your blocks.

a quilt with sashing, strips between the blocks

Seam Allowance

Is the area between the fabric edge and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of fabric that are sewn together. A 1/4" seam allowance is what is most commonly used in quilting. The seam allowances are hidden in the seams and not visible in the finished quilt.

showing the used seam allowance when stitching two fabric pieces together

Finished versus Unfinished Size

It is important to know that quilt block sizes are usually described as 'finished', measured when they are assembled in a quilt. The seam allowance around the edge is not included in the finished measurement. The 'unfinished' size is the block or the fabric piece with the seam allowance included, before the edges are sewn into a quilt top.

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With quilting, you can design things that don’t already exist by finding blocks you like and arranging how you like. They are very much like puzzles and paintings that you can create. Inspiration can come from fabrics, nature and so much more. There is a ton to learn in quilting many of us who have been quilting for years and years still haven't scratched the surface of everything that can be done or that we want to do.

With this introduction, you can take the next step in starting to quilt confidently. In the next blog that will be published later this month, I will explain what tools and material you will need to gather to practice a little and start making your first quilt.


Stay tuned!


Happy Quilting!

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Excellent!! Look forward to your next blog. Thank you

Florrie Meadwell

How much is this course.

Dee Fleishman.

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