Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

A Glossary of Old Time Quilting Terms

~ delightful old fashioned terms based on writings of Ruth E. Finley ~

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based on information from Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them
by Ruth E. Finley, first published in 1929.

patching a quilt: to appliqué a small fabric motif to a larger piece of cloth

piecing a quilt: to join cut pieces of fabric by means of a sewed seam

setting together a quilt: sewing the finished blocks together
(with or without strips and/or squares between them)

quilt border: a band of fabric or piecing surrounding the quilt

quilt top: piecing, setting, and border completed and ready to be quilted

marking a quilt: tracing the quilting design on the top before quilting

quilt back: backing fabric stitched together to the size of the completed top

quilt fill: cotton or wool wadding put between the top and back
(in time batting, fiber pressed into a large sheet, became available)

quilting frame: four strips of wood supports the layers for quilting

putting in a quilt: fastening the layers firmly into the quilting frame

quilting: sewing together the layers of top, batting and backing

rolling the quilt: turning the end frames so that a new section could be quilted

taking out the quilt: removing the completed quilt from the frame

quilt tacked or tied: knotted single stitches to hold the layers together

quilt binding: finishing the raw edges of the otherwise completed quilt

Note that quilt terms varied in different areas of the country so at times "patching" referred to "piecing" and "piecing" meant "patching". It is important to be aware there have always been regional differences not only in quilting terms but also in the naming of identical quilt patterns.

In a time when numerous blankets, comforters and quilts were needed to keep a family warm in unheated bedrooms these terms were understood by all. It was enough to say you were "putting in" much like today you might say I "got online". There was no need to mention the quilt than any more than it is necessary to mention the computer now.

A few of these terms are still used like "piecing" and "quilting". The word "appliqué" has gradually replaced the word "patch". I think the most confusing thing to newcomers to the field of quilting is that we call the finished product a "quilt" and yet only when we are sewing the three layers together are we actually "quilting". The word "quilting" is used more generally as well. On this site I write about quilting history but in this case I am talking about all the steps, not just quilting the three layers. To add to the confusion we call a tied quilt a quilt when in fact the ties have replaced the quilting and many crazy quilts were never quilted or tied.

© 2001 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

If you enjoyed these terms you will love
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