Sewing Terms Defined

If you are completely new to sewing, I know it can be overwhelming to read sewing instructions. When I first started, it took forever to make anything because I had to google most of the steps and words (for example, what is a basting stitch?)

So, I encourage any new sewers to come to this page whenever needed and just hit control + f and type the word you’re looking for to find it faster.

Armseye/armscye: refers to the armhole of a garment

Baste: sewing temporary stitches to hold the garment in place while you sew. Basting stitches are best done using the longest straight stitch length on your machine

Back stitching: reverse machine stitching at the beginning and the end of a seam to secure the stitch

Bound: looks like a french seam from the right side and from the wrong side it has neatly enclosed stitches 

Facing: refers to a piece of fabric that covers part of a garment- usually the neckline, armhole, or waistline. It’s purpose is to provide strength and stability while also finishing off the raw edges of the seam allowance of the garment.

Flat-felled: a double stitched, closed seam that’s durable. It conceals raw edges that lie flat

Bias– diagonal direction of the fabric. For more info on this, click here

Edge stitch: a series of straight stitches placed about ⅛” from the edge of the trimmed seam or outer edge

Straight stitching: a basic line of simple stitches

Drape– the way the fabric hangs and clings to the body

Top stitching: a line of decorative stitches sewn ¼” from the edge on the right side of fabric that is parallel to a seam or edge

Under-stitching: seam allowances that are stitched to the facing/lining along the outer edge. It helps create a clean edge and helps hold the facing/lining in place(so that it isn’t visible when you’re wearing the garment).To do this. simply pull the facing/lining upwards so that it’s outside of the garment and sew to the seam allowance.

Cross grain/weft/fill– threads that go from the left to the right that are always perpendicular to the selvage

Fabric grain– direction of the threads that was used to weave the fabric

Face– the right side of the fabric (or front, what will be the outside of the garment)

Double stitched: a plain seam that has two lines of parallel stitches

Fold line– folding the fabric with the right sides facing each other to prepare it for cutting/ pattern lay outs.

Hand– the feeling/texture of the fabric

Nap– the direction of fibers in textured fabrics

Selvage: tightly woven edge that won’t fray. For more info, click here

Wrong side: the back of the fabric or what will be the inside of the garment

Cutting line: solid lines on sewing patterns that show you where to cut

Dots: marks placed at dart points, seam intersections, collars, etc. to show where pattern pieces should line up

Interfacing: a fabric used for support in areas of stress. It can be sewn on or ironed on.

Interlining: material added between the fashion fabric and the lining; usually for warmth 

Lining: the inside layer that can be decorative or added for greater opacity, warmth, structure, or comfort

Underlining: sewing fashion fabric to a backing fabric to make it more stable

Darts: Triangular shapes on the pattern that get folded and sewn in areas that have more fullness to provide better a shape/fit

French stitches: Enclose the seam allowance so that no raw edges are visible; best used on thin fabrics to avoid bulkiness

Lapped stitches: right sides of fabric face up and overlap 

Plain stitches: the most basic seam; any seam that attaches two pieces of wrong facing  fabrics together 

Superimposed stitches: edges that are placed one over the other and sewn along the edges

Cut on fold symbol: a line with two arrows on each end that indicates where the fabric should be folded before cutting

Ease: For design purposes, ease refers to fullness incorporated into a design so that it will fit comfortably. It can also refer to attaching a larger section of a garment to a smaller part by very gradually folding or gathering the edge where the pieces will meet until the larger piece is the same size as the smaller piece.

Gathers: distributing fullness via sewing a loose row of stitches and then pulling the bobbin thread in order to gather the fabric or ‘bunch’ it up, creating soft folds in the fabric and reducing its length. For more info, click here

Grade/layer: to create a complete size range via increasing or decreasing a sample size of a pattern

Hem: bottom edge of a garment (such as the bottom of a skirt) that is raw and then folded in and sewn

Pleat: folds in the fabric that are usually sewn in place

Layout: a visual guide (usually a drawing) that sewing patterns come with to help with arranging pattern pieces on fabric for cutting

Marking/tracing: transferring trued lines and guidelines from muslin or pattern over to pattern paper using a marking tool or tracing aid

Notch: triangle shaped cuts/ marks placed into pattern pieces that help with lining up pieces for sewing

Pivot: a technique used on corners where the needle is lowered into the fabric and the fabric is rotated to the desired position (for example, when you reach a corner when sewing an L or square shape)

Seam allowance: the amount of fabric between the seam line and the raw edge of the fabric- if you are unsure about size, a larger seam allowance gives you a little more flexibility if you need to take a garment out

Seam: stitches that hold multiple pieces of fabric together

Dart: V-shaped tuck that is sewn into a garment; it provides a better fit for the rounded parts of the body. Darts are most often found at the bustline, the back shoulder, the waistline, and the hipline.

Tack: a type of stitching used to provide extra support for areas of high stress (such as zippers)

Trim: to cut the excess fabric on a seam allowance to reduce bulk

Yoke: a piece added for fit- it’s often added at the shoulders or the waist. It can also be added for esthetics

Applique: cutting shapes out of fabric and attaching them to the main project fabric (the garment, the pillowcase, etc) for decorative purposes

Bias/bias cut: Bias is the diagonal direction of a woven fabric. Fabric cut on the bias, is cut along this diagonal angle. This allows the pieces to curve and drape more

Bed: the flat part of the sewing machine where the fabric rests during sewing

Bobbin: a bottom thread fed through the machine to meet the spool to make the stitch 

Bobbin Case: holds the bobbin in place

Bobbin Cover/Slide Plate: covers the bobbin case and secures it in place

Bobbin Winder Spindle: a mechanism that is moved to the right to wind thread from the thread spool to the bobbin 

Bobbin Winder Thread Guide: used to wind the bobbin evenly. You usually pop the thread in the guide before attaching it to the bobbin

Feed Dogs: 2-3 metal bars on a sewing machine bed that feed/pull fabric through the machine 

Foot Pedal: controls the start/stop of the machine through the use of the foot. Some machines have a button instead of the pedal

Free Arm – a detachable piece that’s a part of the machine bed; it’s used to sew small or circular areas

Guidelines: measurements that are on the throat plate. They’re used to guide the edge of fabric to keep seam widths even

Hand Wheel: large wheel found on the right side of the machine that raises and lowers the needle

Needle clamp: small, flat screw that keeps the needle in place

Power/ light Switch – turns the sewing machine and its light on/off

Power Socket – where the power cord gets plugged into the machine

Presser foot: uses pressure to hold fabric in place as it meets the feed dogs

Spool pin: small extendable rod on the top of a machine that holds thread and keeps it in place 

Stitch-length control: a dial or button that controls the distance between stitches

Stitch pattern selector: a dial or screen that allows the user to choose a stitch type

Stitch-width control: dial that controls the width between stitches or the position of the needle

Tension control: a dial that controls the amount of pressure that’s applied to the thread

Thread cutter: a knife found to the left and behind the needle that is used to cut threads after a seam is sewn. Some machines also have a cut button that will cut the thread for you when you’re done sewing

Thread guides: guides the thread from the spool to the needle

Thread take-up lever: a metal hook that pulls back thread after each stitch to prevent tangles and feeds thread from the spool to the needle

Throat plate: metal part of the machine located under the presser foot that protects the bobbin/bobbin case


Photo by Thomas William on UnsplashCopy

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