Recently updated on July 17th, 2022
A sewing glossary is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about sewing. It can help you understand the different terms used in sewing, and it can also give you a better understanding of the sewing process. There are many different sewing glossaries available, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
Many sewing terms are explained in this A-Z guide for beginners, but there are also some tips and tricks you might find useful. Please let me know if I missed one of the crucial sewing terms you would like to know about.
The Sewing Directory
The armscye is the opening in the bodice where the sleeve attaches to the armscye.
A process of sewing close to the edges of a shape and stitching a piece of fabric to another piece of fabric. This fabrication involves cutting out a fun shape, fusing it into place, and then sewing around the edges. Frequently used on quilt blocks.
Backstitch / Back tack
Start and end your seam with 2 or 3 reverse stitches. In order to prevent your seam from coming undone, backstitch or back tack the stitches.
To prevent the fabric from jamming or bunching up into the feed dogs, reducing the stitch length at the beginning and end of a seam by 1.5cm/1/2″ is sometimes better when working with delicate, thin, or unstable fabrics.
This is a small row of narrow zig-zag stitches that reinforces or holds a facing in place. In jeans, they’re used on the fly, the belt loops, and the buttonholes.
A temporary stitch that holds something in place or gathers fabric temporarily. Your sewing machine can be set to the longest stitch length or you can do it by hand. To make removal easier, loosen the top tension when machine basting.
The bias indicates the angle at which a piece of fabric is drawn from its selvage or grain line to its diagonal direction. Woven fabrics have the greatest stretch in this direction, even if they are not stretch fabrics. For reference, you can read our post on the best sewing machine settings for stretchy fabrics.
An angle of 45 degrees between the selvage and the fabric strip. The fabric adapts well to curves in this direction, making it an ideal finish for necklines, (curved) hems, and armholes. Raw edges of hems and seams are encased in the strip. In the inside of a garment, you can add a pop of color with contrasting or patterned fabric.
In hand sewing, beeswax coats the thread. If you want to do this yourself, you can run the thread through your fingers and pull it over a block of beeswax a couple of times to set the wax and remove the excess. Pulling it between your fingers should now result in a squeaky sound. Alternatively, you can purchase pre-coated thread.
Hand sewing buttons, buttonholes, quilting, and goldwork embroidery are all done with coated thread. What are the benefits of waxed thread? Because it’s smoother, it won’t tangle as much, and it strengthens your thread. You should only use waxed and coated thread for hand sewing since it clogs your sewing machine.
Your sewing machine uses a spool of thread for the bottom thread of each stitch. Your sewing machine inserts the bobbin into the bobbin case.
There is no universal size for bobbins! Despite being from the same brand, bobbin sizes can vary between models. Make sure you are using the correct type by checking your manual.
The raw edge of bound seam allowances is finished with double-fold bias binding after they have been pressed open or bound together on one side. There is nothing wrong with this technique, but it adds a bit of bulk to your seam allowance. Hong Kong seams are less bulky.
Button band / button stand
The button band or button stand is always composed of two panels, one holding the buttons and the other holding the buttonholes. Button bands are either separate pieces of fabric or extensions of the panels they are attached to.
Buttonholes are reinforced holes in the fabric that are slightly larger than the buttons they pass through. There are four steps to making a beautiful buttonhole on most sewing machines with a buttonhole foot. It is also possible to make them on a sewing machine using a zig-zag stitch or by hand using a blanket stitch.
It is always a good idea to make some test buttonholes to determine if heavy fusible interfacing is necessary. Also, by making a test buttonhole, you can check whether your button will pass through the hole easily and whether your chosen thread color matches your main fabric.
Place the buttons after you have made the buttonholes and opened them up. Make a mark on the buttonholes with a marking pen by aligning the edges of the two-button stands. You will always have perfectly aligned buttons and buttonholes with this method.
The blind hem stitch, which consists of several straight stitches followed by a zigzag stitch, is used to sew across the hem of a garment in order to make the thread on the right side almost invisible. A Blind Hem foot can be used on a machine or by hand.
A woven fabric made from unbleached cotton. Cotton husks often leave little brown specks on the fabric. As a fairly cheap fabric, it’s excellent for testing a garment’s fit.
Clip / notch
Clipping and notching will give you better results in concave (neckline) and convex (hemline) curves. Clips and notches are snips towards the stitching, and notches are v-shaped (wedges) cut out toward the stitching. You should cut close to the stitch line but not through it for the best results.
Cut on fold
You must align the edge of a pattern piece to the fold of the fabric when a pattern says cut on fold. When you unfold the fabric, you have a full piece of your garment (don’t cut the fold! ). Bodice fronts and backs without center seams are often affected by this.
A casing is a small piece of fabric through which you can thread a drawstring or elastic. The elastic for a skirt’s waistband can be placed in a channel near the fold by folding the fabric down 12.5 inches (to hide the raw edge), then down again 1 inch, and stitching on the fold.
To prevent bulk in a corner when turned right side out, the seam allowance is snipped off of the triangular corner.
The process of removing small triangles of fabric from a curve in order to facilitate right-side out seams. It can also be made with small slits along the curve to allow the fabric to spread out when turned right side out. The process is also referred to as notching.
Threads running perpendicular to a fabric’s selvage are known as crosswise grain threads.
In most garments, darts are used to shape the waist, bust, shoulders, and sometimes even the sleeves. Triangles and diamonds are common shapes.
Folding the raw edge of the hem towards the wrong side of the fabric for the first fold, and then folding it again towards the inside of the garment to enclose the raw edge.
The same as twin needle. See twin needle for more information.
Repairing a hole or tearing a section of fabric by “scribbling” the needle over the hole or tear. Using a darning foot prevents the feed dogs from directing the fabric.
Ease / wearing ease / design ease / negative ease
Ease is the space in a garment that allows you to move and sit comfortably. All patterns are designed with varying degrees of ease.
A pattern consists of:
- Body measurements + wearing ease + design ease.
A minimum or wearing ease is around:
- 5cm / 2” around the bust
- 2.5 cm / 1″ around the waist
- 3.8 cm / 1 1/2″ around the hips.
In addition to wearing ease, design ease is also considered. Designers or your personal preferences decide what to do.
It is necessary to ease in the extra fabric when one of two pattern pieces needs to fit together. The extra fabric on sleeve caps, for example, needs to be eased in. Rather than creating pleats, you can gather the extra fabric slightly before you set it in the sleeves to distribute the extra fabric evenly. If you want to use a crimping technique, you can do so.
You crump the pattern piece by sewing stitches just inside the seam allowance, next to the stitch line, and forcing more fabric into those stitches. You place your finger directly behind the presser foot while sewing, allowing the fabric to bulk up between your finger and the presser foot. It creates an even gathered effect while still slightly gathering the fabric. Until you start pinning, leave the gathers intact.
Using feed dogs when setting sleeves is another way to achieve good results. When setting in sleeves or easing in fabric, you can use this to your advantage by always sewing with the larger piece on the bottom, against the feed dogs, unless you have a walking foot.
Seams, hems, and pocket openings are bound by a line of stitches. It is usually only a needle width away from the edge (0.15 cm / 1/16″).
An embroidery technique involves sewing needlework designs onto fabric. Sewing or embroidery machines can also be used.
To reinforce a hole in the fabric, small rings made of metal or plastic are inserted with pliers into the fabric. Lace-up wedding dresses, for example, have eyelets through which the laces pass. In addition, it refers to a type of fabric that has holes as the design, with each hole reinforced by embroidery.
Your sewing machine’s feed dogs transport fabric through its teeth. When you are sewing buttons on your sewing machine, you can drop them under the presser foot.
A method of flattening or opening seams using your fingers, fingernail, or another flat and smooth object.
When you don’t have a serger, French seams are a great way to finish your fabric because they enclose the raw edge.
Straight seams are most commonly used, but with a bit of practice, curved seams can also be used. Curved seams should be stitched with a narrow seam allowance, since wider seams tend to pucker.
It will also help prevent puckering if you snip your seam allowance along curves. If your fabric is lightweight, you can use a narrow seam allowance, and if it is heavier, you can use a wider seam allowance.
Facing finishes raw edges, stabilizes, adds structure, and strengthens fabrics. Necklines and armholes are lined with partial linings made from main fabrics.
Facings can be separate panels or cut-on facings. Panels with cut-on facings are integrated into the panel. In waterfall necklines or button bands, cut-on facings are often used. The use of facings and interfacing is common.
Adding strength and structure to your garment is possible with fusible interfacing fused to the wrong side of the fabric. Buttons, buttonholes, welt pockets, collars, cuffs, and entire panels can be covered in it.
In places where the glue is, you should feel small bumps where it will fuse with the fabric. Heat and pressure are applied to the fusible interfacing for a certain period of time, depending on the type.
To prevent the glue from fusing with your iron, use a press cloth when applying fusible interfacing. If you are going to move the piece you just fused, let the fusible interfacing cool down before you do so.
Your project and fabric will determine what kind and weight of thread you should use.
There are sheets as well as tapes available. A curve can be reinforced and stabilized using the tape before sewing.
In tailored garments, especially jackets and heavily textured fabrics, fusible interfacing is relatively easy to use, but sew-in interfacing is often used in combination with fusible interfacing.
Darning, hopping, and free-motion quilting involve using a foot with lowered feed dogs so that the fabric can be moved freely under the needle and threaded in any shape you choose.
Fullness and ruffles can be created with gathered fabric. Just inside and/or outside the stitch line, sew two or three lines of gathering stitches.
Make sure your sewing machine’s top tension is loosened, and use a long stitch length (5mm or greater).
Start stitching without backtacking and leave long thread tails. Gather the fabric by holding the loose ends of the thread (top or bottom) and sliding it along the thread, anchoring the thread tails on one side.
The seam allowance should be cut in graduated widths to avoid bulk and ridges on the right side. Top and bottom layers should be cut 0.3cm / 1/8″ apart and interfacing should be close to the stitching.
Grain / Cross grain
A woven fabric’s grain describes the direction of the warp and weft.
- There is little to no stretch in the direction of the grain, which runs parallel to the selvage.
- This direction has a little stretch or gives, as it runs perpendicular to the selvage.
The pattern has a long line with an arrow on it. The line should generally be aligned with the lengthwise grain of the fabric or the selvage. In addition to on-grain, this term is used to describe straight-of-grain wood.
The pattern pieces should always be placed on-grain and in the same direction since fabrics with a nap (velour, velvet, fake fur, corduroy, etc.) appear to have a different shade or color when lit.
It is also possible to use crosswise grain in some cases. When designing a yoke or a cuff, you can play with the direction of the print to create a fun design detail.
It is also a good idea to experiment with lengthwise and crosswise grain placement when you don’t have enough fabric. Do this with caution, as this can alter the way the garment hangs on your body (hello, twisted pants).
In a skirt, a godet is an insert of triangular fabric used to widen the bottom. It adds movement and fullness. Pants with bell bottoms and sleeves are also made from this fabric.
To add roominess to a garment, gussets are triangular pieces of fabric that are inserted into seams. Gussets pinch the corners to create a bottom from the sides of a bag.
Hong Kong seam
Hong Kong seams or Hong Kong finishes encase the raw edge of your fabric with a bias-cut strip of fabric, but the binding on the wrong side is left raw, so they’re less bulky than bound seams.
Garments often have their bottom edges folded up towards the inside.
An expression used to describe a fabric’s feel and texture. “There is a nice hand to this fabric.”
An additional layer of fabric that adds stability, structure, and crispness. A garment’s lining/facing is sandwiched between the outer fabric and the lining.
Adding warmth to your garment with a layer. The lining sits between the outer fabric and the outer fabric.
Special presser feet and seams are used to sew this zipper. As the name suggests, it’s hard to see the zipper in the seam if it’s done correctly.
Knit Fabric / knits
Knitted fabric consists of interlocking loops that are very stretchy. The method of knitting knitted fabrics is the same as making a scarf as a child, but with much finer threads and needles.
Adding warmth and comfort to a garment, and hiding construction seams and details. The inside of the garment is lined with fabric to hide construction seams and details.
Gathering fabric or holding something in place with loose stitches. Your sewing machine’s longest stitch length can be used, or you can do it by hand. Make sure your top tension is loose when you’re machine basting.
Fabric markings and symbols transferred to fabric. This can be done in a variety of ways.
- A tracing wheel and dressmakers carbon paper are needed (check the instructions, mine does not allow ironing)
- Thread is used to make tailor’s tacks
- Using chalk
- Fabric markers that are water-soluble
- Using pins
- Add a small clip to the seam allowance. Triangles are my favorite shapes to cut out. Then I make another angled cut, cutting a small triangle (maximum 0.5 cm / 1/4″).
It is typically used for making test garments because of its light and loose weave.
Muslin, unbleached cotton, or a cheaper fabric are used for test garments or toiles. Sewers talk about wearable muslins, which are test garments made from cheaper but nice fabrics, and you cross your fingers they will work out well.
A nap is a fabric’s surface with fibers aligned in a specific direction. Ensure that all pattern pieces are oriented the same way when using napped fabrics. There is an obvious nap or direction in fabrics like fake fur, corduroy, and velvet. The next step is to cut knits, satins, and woolens with a shine as if they were napped fabrics.
Notch / Clip
When you clip and notch convex (scalloped hem) and concave (neckline) curves, you will get better results. The clip is a snip toward the stitching, while the notch is a V-shaped cut (wedge) toward the stitching. Avoid cutting through the stitch line to get the best results.
In addition to a notch, a pattern marking can be used for alignment. In pattern pieces with long seams or curves, you may find notches.
There are a variety of notions that can be used in a pattern, including buttons, zippers, hooks, lace, elastic, and many others. Finish your garment with these small accessories.
Finishing raw edges with any method of your choice, such as pinking shears, zig-zag stitches, overlock stitches, or serging. When you are asked to finish an edge according to a pattern, you choose how to do so.
The same as serger. See serger for more information.
There are many different types of pins. With or without colorful ball-shaped glass heads, they can vary in length and thickness.
There is a partial button band/button closure. Polo shirts, popover shirts, and anoraks have plackets on their cuffs.
In the same way you would wash and dry your finished garment, you should pre-shrink your fabric. It is common for fabrics to shrink when they are washed. The length of cotton fabric can shrink by 5%.
The piping of a garment or project consists of a fabric-wrapped cord inserted into the seam. In order for the cord to curve easily around all seams, it is wrapped in bias tape.
The pleat is formed by folding the fabric over and stitching it together to secure it. Often used to fit narrower parts of a garment, or to give a drape a textured appearance.
The pocket is a rectangle of fabric that is inserted into a garment and accessible from the finished outside edge of the garment.
Seams can be opened or pressed to one side by using an iron. If you want to achieve the best results, do this while you’re working on your garment. When you move the iron, lift it slightly and then press down instead of ironing the fabric.
Make sure you don’t overpress! On the outside of your garment, the seam allowance might cause ridges or the fabric may become shiny.
When working with woolens, I always take extra care. Using my steam iron, I apply minimal pressure, just enough to open the seams, and then I remove the iron after a few minutes of steaming, hold the seam open with my hand, and let it cool. The wooden clapper can be used to set woolen seams if you enjoy sewing with wool.
A thick towel can also be used on your ironing board when a fabric has a lot of texture.
To protect your fabric when pressing, use a thin, preferably sheer, piece of fabric. To get better results, dampen the pressing cloth and hold it between the iron and your project or garment.
What are the benefits of using a pressing cloth? It prevents shine on your fabric and iron marks, and it protects your iron when you are using fusible interfacing.
Your sewing machine’s feed dogs are pressed against the foot when you sew.
The fabric can be pre-washed after it has been purchased. It is important to do this if you are going to machine wash and dry the garment or project. Before the garment is constructed, the fabric will be pre-shrunk. The fabric is typically pre-washed in the same manner as the garment will be washed once it has been finished.
The process of sewing (or tying) two layers of cloth together with an inner layer of batting between them is called quilting.
This is the unfinished, raw edge of the fabric that is raveling and unfinished.
Right side / Wrong side
Outside of the garment, you see the right side of the fabric or its face. It refers to the inside of a garment and the backside of a fabric. It is sometimes difficult to decide which side to take. If this happens, choose a side and stick with it.
This stitch creates a dashed line of stitches by weaving up and down through the fabric. Fabric can be basted or gathered with this sewing tool.
To embellish a garment or project, a rouche is a pleated or gathered strip of fabric.
It is the line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together. There are different types of seams.
The fabric between the stitch line and the edge of the fabric. Depending on the pattern company and the garment, the width can vary. Pattern pieces and descriptions should always be checked.
The following are some common seam allowances:
- 0.6 cm / 1/4″
- 1 cm / 3/8″
- 1.6 cm / 5/8″
- 2.5 cm / 1″.
For special seam finishes, such as French seams, narrow seam allowances are ideal. In addition, you can use wider seam allowances for special finishes, such as French seams on heavier fabrics, flat-felled seams, or to adjust the fit.
Learning a few different techniques will help you do this in many different ways. You can prevent your seam from raveling by using a seam finish.
The edges can be overlocked if you have a serger. Pinking shears or a zig-zag stitch can be used if you only have a sewing machine. The following seam types are also available: French seams, bound edges, Hong Kong seams.
Unpicking a row of stitches with this small tool. When the knife becomes dull, replace them occasionally.
Specialized sewing machines capable of trimming and overlocking raw edges. Knits are well suited to its stretchy seam finish due to its 3-, 4-, or 5-needle construction.
Interfacing sewn into garments is usually used to make structured and tailored items such as jackets.
Before a garment is sewn, a line of stitches stabilizes the fabric. In order to achieve this, the stitches need to be placed just inside the seam allowance, very close to the final stitch line.
When should stay-stitching be used? In order to prevent it from stretching out of shape, stay stitches are usually used around bias-cut seams, armhole curves, necklines, and even crotch seams. The fabric easily stretches in all of these areas. Consequently, when handling your cut out fabric pieces or moving them from the sewing machine to the pressing machine there is a chance that these curves will be distorted and stretched. This can be prevented with a stay stitch.
Single straight, even stitches are the most basic machine stitch. As well as being used to construct garments, it is also used to topstitch them.
Check the stretch percentage of the pattern that you are making against the amount of stretch that a knit fabric can comfortably undergo when you are working with it. Before cutting your fabric, make sure you stretch it. The raw edge of the fabric is unlikely to stretch as much as the rest of the fabric. Stretch percentages should be comfortable for the fabric.
Stitch in the ditch
Pull both sides of the seam line slightly open before stitching in the seam line. A facing or turned-up sleeve cuff can be invisibly secured by stitching in from the outside. If you are attaching bias binding, you can stitch-in-the-ditch as well.
A stitch’s length. Depending on the fabric, project, and purpose, the length will vary.
A good starting point for clothing construction is 2.5 mm. In the case of thicker fabrics, 3 mm would be a good starting point. The stitch length should be at least 3 mm / 3,5 mm for topstitching. Make sure you like how it looks by doing a little test.
In batting, scrim refers to the addition of a thin layer of polyester to the cotton to be needle punched. This gives your batting stability so it won’t crumble during quilting. Additionally, scrim can be added to your batting to make it less cotton-based.
A woven fabric’s selvage is the edge produced during the manufacturing process. The fabric is kept from raveling by this edge.
The process of gathering and folding pleats to create texture through smocking.
Pattern markings are transferred to fabric using loose hand stitches.
Tailor’s ham or dressmaker’s ham
A firm cushion for pressing. Curves, collars, sleeves, and darts can be shaped with it.
Sewing machines control thread tension in two places:
- Top – The tension discs are at the top of your sewing machine where the top thread passes through them.
- Bottom – Located in the bobbin case.
It is usually possible to adjust the top tension using a dial on the sewing machine. For buttonholes, thicker fabrics, and thinner fabrics, this needs to be adjusted.
With regular all-purpose sewing threads, you will rarely need to adjust the bottom tension by turning the screw on the bobbin case. You will need to adjust your bobbin tension if your threads are thicker or thinner. A bobbin’s screw can also tighten or loosen over time after years of use.
When you pull and shake the thread, a bobbin should only slide down slowly bit by bit as you load it into the case as usual. It’s probably too loose if it slides down on its own, without you shaking it, and too tight if it doesn’t move.
The screw on the bobbin should never be touched, but if it needs adjusting, adjust it. By thinking of the screw as a clock, I can turn it only once every 10 or 15 minutes. The lefty loosey and righty tighty are good ways to remember which way to turn.
Toile is a French word that refers to canvas, linen, or muslin, but is typically used to describe test garments or muslins.
Topstitching refers to the stitching on the outside of a garment. Topstitching can be used for a variety of purposes:
- Decorative, such as on jeans’ back pockets
- Help flatten seams, such as jeans’ inseams
- Faceting and pockets should be secure.
Reduce the width of the seam allowance. Curved seams will be easier to sew with this method, as it will eliminate bulk.
A twin needle consists of two needles that sew parallel rows of stitches simultaneously. T-shirts can be hemmed or seams can be topstitched with them.
Your sewing machine’s tension determines how much “pinching” is done to your thread. A larger pinch is needed for thicker fabrics (to prevent the thread from flowing out too fast), while a smaller pinch is needed for thinner fabrics (to prevent puckering).
Ensures facings (linings or bias binding) are kept in place and are not visible from the outside. Seam allowances should be pressed toward facings. Face the facing close to the seam line and stitch the seam allowances close to the seam line. Make sure your facing is on the inside.
As a duplicate of a garment section, underlining is an extra layer of fabric. The two pieces of the garment are treated as one when they are sewed together. To add an opaque backing to sheer fabrics, underlining is used. An unstable fabric can also be backed with it.
Many threads are woven together to make woven fabrics. Threads run lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (weft). A plain weave is the most basic type of weave, where the weft thread goes over one warp thread, then under another, and so on. A checkered surface will result from repeating the same pattern with alternate threads on the next pass.
Fabrics woven on the bias or with elastic, like elastane, don’t stretch unless they are used on the bias.
Your sewing machine will feed more evenly if you use a presser. Quilters often use walking feet to transport layers evenly through the sewing machine.
Warp / Weft
In woven fabrics, warps are lengthwise threads and wefts are crosswise threads. Warps run parallel to selvages and are uphill. From left to right, the weft is woven through the warp.
Usually the inside of the garment and the back of the fabric. Use pins or chalk to mark the right or wrong side of your fabric if you can’t tell which side is right or wrong. The raw edges of knit fabrics tend to curl in the direction of the right side, if you have trouble seeing the backside.
The width of the fabric is called the WOF. There are many quilting patterns that use this abbreviation.
Knits, stretch fabrics, buttonholes, and raw edges can be finished with this Z-shaped stitch.
It is important to sew close to the edge of the zipper teeth when attaching any zipper, and a zipper foot can help. It is possible to snap a zipper foot to either the left or right ankle of the sewing foot, depending on the application.
Now that you’ve reached the end of this sewing glossary, you should have a much better understanding of all the sewing terms you’ll encounter as you explore this wonderful hobby (or profession). Don’t be afraid to ask SewingWithEase for clarification if you come across a term you’re not familiar with. The sewing community is generally very friendly and happy to help newcomers learn more about this fascinating pastime.