Hat on Top, Coat Below


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Here are definitions for terms I use that might not be familiar to people who don’t do the things I do. If you come across something in an entry that you think should be added to this list, or you think something here needs to be clarified, please let me know.


Batting: The filling in the quilt sandwich, the cotton or polyester or wool layer that goes between the quilt top and the backing and gives the quilt warmth and depth.

Bias: Diagonal across the weave of the fabric. Edges of pieces cut on the bias are very stretchy, as the diagonal has more give to it.

Blocks: The basic unit of most quilts, usually square in shape. Blocks can be very simple, cut from one fabric, to very complex, pieced from many fabrics cut into many different shapes and assembled to make the block design.

Colorwash quilts: Made up of small pieces (usually squares) of multi-colored print fabrics arranged so the values blend into one another forming an overall design. Also known as watercolor quilts, though in my mind there are some differences.

Conversational print: Sometimes called I Spy or novelty print fabrics. Any print with a recognizable picture in it, like cats or dogs or fairies or toothbrushes–something you might strike up a conversation about, as in “hey, are those frogs with fishing rods on that fabric?”

EQ: Electric Quilt The quilt design software I use.

Fat quarter: A piece of fabric that measures approximately 18 by 22 inches, rather than the 9 by 44 inches of a regular (aka long) quarter yard. Quilters like these because 1) it’s possible to cut bigger pieces out of them and 2) they don’t get as tangled up in the wash as long quarters.

Feed dogs: The metal teeth on a sewing machine that come up from under the fabric and pull it toward the needle.

Free motion quilting: A machine quilting technique in which one has complete freedom to sew in any direction, used mostly for curved designs. The machine’s feed dogs are dropped and it’s up to the quilter to guide the fabric and control the stitch length.

Focus fabric: One print that is used to choose all the other fabrics for a quilt.

Foundation piecing: A method of making quilt blocks in which the pieces are sewn to a foundation of paper or fabric. This makes it easier to work with odd shapes and angles, as the foundation stabilizes the pieces during construction.

Fussy cutting: Cutting pieces for a quilt to highlight specific design motifs in a printed fabric, usually to center a picture of something within a patch.

Grain or grain line: The weave of the fabric. Pieces cut on the grain will have the threads of the fabric parallel to the edge of the cut piece.

Monofilament: Thread, usually nylon, that is one strand instead of a twist or bundle of strands. Usually transparent, in clear or smoke. Used for quilting.

Muslin: A plain fabric, usually off-white in color. Used by many quilters as background and backing, because it’s inexpensive compared to many other fabrics.

Sashing: The areas between the blocks, like a lattice or grid. These can be cut from one fabric or pieced. Sashing strips run along the edges of the blocks, and sashing squares are at the intersections of the sashing strips.

Scale: Refers to the size of the design motif in printed fabric, from very small to very large.

Stippling or stipple quilting: Quilting done with closely-spaced stitches in a random pattern, usually in the background areas of a design. Most often used to describe tight and meandering machine quilting, but one can also stipple by hand.

Strip piecing: Sewing together strips of fabric and then cutting pieces out of those assembled strips.

Stitch in the ditch: Quilting done right next to the seams, so it almost disappears. This is more of a functional approach to attaching the layers together than a decorative one.

Tone-on-tone: A print fabric that uses only different values of one hue in its design.

Value: How light or dark a fabric or color is, relative to the others it is being used with.

Visual texture: The design motif of a print fabric. Some examples: plaid, stripe, dot, trees and leaves, stone, water, fish, cats, floral.

Watercolor quilts: See Colorwash quilts.


Artist date: One of the main practices of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. A weekly date with one’s self to do something out of the ordinary, inspirational, or just fun, for the purpose of recharging one’s creative batteries. I rarely do these, though I do manage to indulge my creative self regularly.

Choik: A made-up verb describing the action of repeatedly poking a fork, pointed stick, or other sharp utensil into another person, usually in the eye area, to stop them from doing, or at least punish them for, something that is annoying me. I have not ever actually choiked someone, as the amusement I get from thinking about it is generally diversion enough. Though mostly used for talking to myself, the term does occur in spoken conversation between Mr. Karen and me, as in “I knew you would choik me if I came home with squash instead of sweet potatoes.”

Morning pages: Three pages of journal writing, done longhand every morning. This is the other main practice of The Artist’s Way. I used to do them more often than not, but recently I’ve been managing only one or two days a week, if that. It is a good opportunity to use the gel pens I like so much.

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