Sewing Terminology

Sewing TerminologyApplique: When a smaller piece of fabric is sewn onto a larger piece of fabric. Can be done with machine or by hand.

Back-stitch: A sturdy hand-sewing stitch in which stitches are made backwards to the direction of sewing. A two-step forward, one-step back method.

When using a sewing machine, back-stitch refers to pressing reverse on the sewing machine at the beginning or end of sewing to prevent the thread from unraveling.

Baste: A quick, temporary stitch to hold a seam or trim in place. Used to check fitting of garment.

Bias: 45 degrees from the direction of the fabric grain.

Bias Tape: A narrow strip of fabric that is cut on the bias. Used to make binding for quilts and clothing. Being cut on the bias makes it easier to curve when needed.

Bobbin: A small cylinder with flanges, made of plastic or metal. Goes under the needle in your sewing machine after it has been wrapped with thread.

Buttonhole: A slit made for a button to slide through and hold two pieces of fabric together. Usually made with a satin stitch.

Clips: Clips to use in place of pins. Great for fabrics like leather that will show any holes made or for those who prefer not working with pins.

Decorative Stitch: Different stitches on sewing machines. Can be simple or complex. Great for top stitching or to add a simple embroidery.

DoGS: Direction of Greatest Stretch. A term used often in under garment making.

Elastic: Cord, tape, or fabric, usually woven with strips of rubber to allow it to stretch and return to its original shape. Often used in waistbands, gathering fabric, and headbands.

Embroidery: Decorative stitching by hand or by machine.

Embroidery Machine: A machine that you can program a design for it to embroider.

Fabric: A type of cloth. Can be woven, knit, synthetic, natural.

Fabric Scissors: Scissors with a long blade for cutting out fabric. Used only to cut out fabric as cutting other items will dull them.

Fat Quarter: Quarter yard cuts of fabric cut wide instead of in a long strip. A fat quarter measures 18″ x 22″, while asking for a quarter yard at the cut counter would leave you with a piece of fabric 44″ x 9″.

Fold Under: A term used when making hems. You fold the edge of the fabric under, with wrong sides together, then fold it once more before stitching. This leaves you with a crisp edge and no fraying threads.

Foot Pedal: The pedal attached to a sewing machine that controls the speed of the needle.

Full Bust Adjustment (FBA): When you adjust a pattern for a fuller bust than the pattern is made for.

Fusing: A papery textile attached to the wrong side of fabric to help stiffen it up. There are different levels of thickness. You can buy iron on or sew in, which both have their benefits.

Gather: When you sew a basting stitch (usually two parallel lines) and bunch the fabric together to make it fit to a smaller piece. Used often on dresses, shirts, curtains, etc.

Grain: Knowing the grain of the fabric is very important, especially in apparel. There are 3 types of grain: Lengthwise grain, which is usually the grain that patterns refer to. It runs parallel to the selvage of the fabric. Crosswise grain is perpendicular to the selvage. Bias grain which is a 45 degree angle to the lengthwise and crosswise greains.

Hand Sewing: Just as it sounds, it is sewing by hand. Often use when closing stuffing holes in pillows or stuffed animals.

Hem: The edge of the fabric that is folded under and sewn, providing a crisp edge and no loose threads.

Hook & Eye: A type of clothing fastener. The hook is shaped like a hook, while the eye is rounded in a way to allow the hook to slip into it.

Interfacing: A textile used on the wrong side of fabrics to add body or strengthen the fabric. Common use is for buttonholes.

Lining: An inner layer of fabric, usually thin. Useful for providing extra coverage in a garment. Also used on the inside of hats, purses, coats, etc.

Measuring Tape: A flexible ruler most often used to take body measurements.

Needles: Sharp, pointy objects used to pierce the fabric. There are many different types of needles for hand sewing as well as machine sewing.

Notions: Small tools kept in your sewing box. Thread, pins, seam rippers, buttons, hooks & eyes, etc.

Pattern Weights: Weights used to hold patterns down on the fabric while you cut them out. Best used with a rotary cutter and self-healing mat. Can be made of anything from cans of food to small toys to metal washers.

Patterns: A template used to cut out fabric in the correct shapes to make an item. There are paper patterns as well as PDF patterns.

Pin: Sharp, pointy objects similar to a needle, but without a hole and a small ball on the end. Used to hold pieces of fabric together while sewing or cutting out patterns.

Pin Cushion: A cushion to stick your pins in.

Press: Instead of pushing the iron back and forth, you simply place it down and apply light pressure. This helps prevent the fabric from distorting its shape.

Presser Foot: The most used foot on a sewing machine. It’s an attachment near the needle that helps to hold the fabric flat and feed it through the machine.

Raw Edge: Unfinished edge of the fabric, like where it was cut from the bolt. Woven raw edges will fray, but knits will not.

Right Side (of fabric): The side of the fabric meant to be seen.

Right Sides Together (RST): A term used in pattern instructions to put the right sides of two pieces of fabric together so that you can sew a seam combining the two pieces and having the raw edges hidden on the wrong side.

Rotary Cutter: A handle with a circular blade used with a self-healing cutting mat. It’s generally used in the quilting world, but becoming more and more popular in other areas of sewing. Personally, it’s my favorite way to cut fabric.

Ruler: A thick plastic ruler, usually clear. Great for guiding the rotary cutter to cut straight pieces of fabric.

Satin Stitch: Stitches that are very close together. Used on buttonholes, lettuce edge hems, and decorative stitching.

Seam Allowance: The space between the raw edge of the fabric and the stitching line. Most patterns range from 1/4″ to 1/2″.

Seam Guides: A guide on your sewing machine to let you know where to keep the raw edge of your fabric so that your seam allowance stays precise. Some sewing machines have marks on them. If not, measure from the needle to where the allowance would be and place a piece of washi tape down.

Seam Ripper: A sewer’s best friend! A nifty little tool used to rip seams apart without damaging the fabric.

Self-Healing Cutting Mat: A mat used with a rotary cutter. The top is usually a soft vinyl, so when you cut through the fabric, and often part of the mat, it appears to “heal” itself. Most mats have a grid on them.

Selvage: The edge of the width of the fabric. It’s tightly woven to prevent premature fraying when transporting the fabric from where it’s made to you. Not recommended to use in projects as it’s often not colored and the texture of it feels different since it is so tightly woven.

Serger: A type of sewing machine used to finish raw edges to prevent fraying. As you sew, it cuts fabric to ensure a straight, even edge to overcast the thread around to encase it. Very popular in garment making.

Sewing Machine: A machine with a mechanically driven needle for sewing.

Snaps: Clothing fastener made of two pieces that snap together. Can be metal or plastic.

Straight Stitch: A stitch that is straight and made up of evenly spaced stitches that are semi-close together.

Stretch: Refers to how much elasticity is in fabric.

Spool of Thread: Thread that is still wrapped on a spool.

Top Stitch: A finishing detail. Most often referred to in garment making. It’s a straight stitch on the right side of the garment near the seam.

Webbing: Usually used in bag making. It resembles a thick ribbon. Most often it’s sewn to the item. As it is woven, there is no need to finish the edges.

Wrong Side (of fabric): The side of the fabric not meant to be seen.

Wrong Sides Together (WST): Putting the wrong sides of two pieces of fabric together. This is often done when doing a french seam.

Zigzag: A stitch that makes mountains and valleys. Popular when sewing knits as it lets the fabric stretch. Also used to finish fabric edge when a serger is not available.

Zipper: A clothing fastener. Has two toothed tracks that interlock together or separate when a pull is ran up or down it.


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