Glossary of Sewing Terms

What’s in a name? Here’s our ultimate list of sewing terminology. Did we miss a crucial one? Let us know by emailing editor@nationalsewingcircle.com.

Glossary of Sewing Terms:

Appliqué: The process of stitching a piece of fabric to another piece of fabric, and sewing close to the edges of the shape. Typically cut into a fun shape and then fused in place and sewn around the edges of the shape. Used frequently on quilt blocks.

Back Stitch: The process of stitching backwards over the loose threads at the beginning of a project to secure the threads so they don’t come loose and the fabric pieces come apart. This needs to be done whenever the thread is broken, or you are about to break it.

Bar Tack: A short reinforcement of threads used on parts of a garment or project that are especially stressed, such as belt loops. Also known as a tack.

Baste: The technique of hand stitching or machine stitching with a long stitch length to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together before they are stitched together permanently. A backstitch or a knot is not used in case the threads need to be pulled out and removed.

Bias: A woven fabric does not have a stretch across the grain line from left to right, and up and down. There is no stretch in the grain. However, diagonally across the grain is the bias, where the fabric will give a bit, which is why making garments “on the bias” or “cross-grain” give a woven a nice drape.

Bias Tape: Pre-made strips of fabric in various sizes that are cut diagonally across the grain to give the fabric some movement so it will turn curves nicely.

Binding: In regular sewing, binding can refer to finishing a seam to hide it (using bias tape, for example). In quilting, it is the use of a thin strip of fabric (similar to bias tape, but not necessarily cut on the bias) to hide the edges of the raw quilt edges to give a nice finish.

Blind Hem (also known as Invisible Hem): The technique of sewing only a few widely spaced stitches across the hem of a garment so the thread is nearly invisible to the naked eye. Can be done by hand or machine with a Blind Hem foot.

Casing: A small “tunnel” of fabric through with a drawstring or elastic can be threaded through. For example, on the top waist of a skirt, you can fold the fabric down ½” (to hid the raw edge), then down again 1″, and stitch near the fold to create a channel for the elastic to stay along the waistline.

Clipping Corners: The process of snipping of the triangular piece of seam allowance off of the corner of a seam to prevent bulk in the corner when turned inside out.

Clipping Curves: The process of removing triangular pieces of fabric to allow the seam to lay flat along a curve when turned inside out. In an opposite curve, small slits can also be made around the curve so it is allowed to spread apart when turned inside out. Also known as notching.

Crosswise Grain: The threads of woven fabric that run across the grain of the fabric, which runs the length of the bolt. The crosswise grain runs from selvage to selvage. Crosswise grain also runs width of fabric, salvage to salvage.

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Darning: A technique used by “scribbling” the needle over a torn section of fabric or a hole to do a repair. This requires a darning foot so the feed dogs will not direct the fabric.

Darts: A wedge-shaped piece of folded fabric used to shape garments to lay on the body where it tapers.

Ease: Distributing the fabric on a curve evenly to join to another curve (usually going in the opposite direction) to get a good fit. Commonly used in sleeves.

Edge Stitch: The process of stitching on the exterior side of a project near a fold or seamed edge to keep them in place. Also can be known as Top Stitching if done away from an edge.

Embroidery: A hand-sewing technique used to decorate fabric with needlework designs in brightly colored threads. Can also be done on a pre-programmed sewing machine.

Eyelet: Very small rings made of metal or plastic that are inserted into the fabric with a special pair of pliers to reinforce a hole. For example, on the back of wedding dresses that lace up the back, the laces go through the eyelets. Also refers to a type of fabric with holes as the design, and each hole is created and reinforced by embroidery.

Facing: The fabric used to finish the raw edges of a garment such as the necklines, armholes, and waistlines. This is used to make the finished edge look nice and lay flat.

Feed Dogs: The feet that move the fabric under the presser foot of the sewing machines that control the length of the stitch.

Finger Press: The heat and force of your fingertips can easily put a crease in the fabric without using an iron.

Free-Motion Quilting: The use of a darning foot to eliminate the feed-dogs (the feet that move the fabric) so you can move the fabric freely under the needle and effectively “draw” on the fabric with the thread in whatever shape comes to mind.

Gather: A gather is created by running a thread along the length of the fabric, and then shortening the fabric along the threads by scrunching them together to make a ruffled effect.

Godet: A triangular piece of fabric inserted into a skirt to widen the bottom to add movement and fullness. Is also used in sleeves and bell-bottomed pants.

Grading: A process of trimming the seam allowance in order to reduce bulk in the seams.

Grain: The lengthwise grain of threads running through a woven fabric.

Gusset: In a garment, gusset is a triangular piece of fabric inserted into a seam to add roominess. In bags, a gusset is used to pinch in the corners to create a bottom and sides.

Hand: A term used to the feel and texture of a fabric. “This fabric has a nice hand to it.”

Hem: The act of finishing the bottom of a garment to finish it so no raw edges are seen.

Interfacing: The term for a variety of materials that are used on the wrong side (either fused or sewn in) of a fabric to give it more stability or loft or whatever the desired effect may be.

Interlining: A lining used on the back of a fabric, but sewn together with the fabric so the two fabrics act as one during construction.

Lining: An inner layer of fabric that provides a “slippery” layer underneath a garment to allow it to move freely around the body when worn.

Muslin: An inexpensive, normally un-dyed fabric used to create pattern pieces, or to test out a garment before using the more expensive permanent fabric.

Nap: Some fabrics like velvet or velour have a pile, and the fibers don’t quite lay vertically, but in a particular direction. This is known as the nap. You can feel the nap if you run your hand back and forth across the fabric. The nap should run downwards in the project.

Neaten Edges: The technique of finishing a raw edge in whatever manner you prefer; using pinking shears, zig-zag stitch, overlock stitch, or serged edge. When a pattern asks you to neaten an edge, you choose the manner in which the edge is finished.

Notions: Small accessories used to aid in sewing: scissors, needles, thread, seam ripper, zippers, etc.

Patchwork: The art of sewing small pieces of fabric together to make a larger fabric or design, then usually quilted to be made into a quilt or bag or other project.

Pattern: A set of sewing instructions with sized templates used to assemble a sewn item.

Piping: A trim of a fabric-wrapped cording inserted into a seam to embellish a garment or project. The cord is wrapped in bias tape so it will curve easily around all seams.

Placket: An opening in the upper part of trousers, skirts, or sleeves. These allow the garments to open up to make room for the garment to be slipped on easily.

Pleat: A fold formed by doubling over the fabric and stitching it to itself and secured in place. Used in garments to fit narrower parts, or in drapes for texture.

Pocket: A rectangle of fabric inserted into a garment accessible from the finished outside edge of the garment to hold small items.

Pressing: Using an iron to press a seam nice and flat before sewing. A nicely pressed seam turns out much better when sewn than if the pressing is skipped.

Pre-Wash: After a fabric is purchased, it should be pre-washed if it is to be made into a garment or project that will be machine washed and dried. This way the fabric will be pre-shrunk, and the garment won’t shrink after it has been made up. Typical pre-wash is washed in cold water on gentle, and tumble dried on low. Then the finished garment can be treated this same way.

Quilting: A method of sewing (or tying) two layers of cloth together with an inner layer of batting between it. A Quilt is a finished blanket made by Quilting.

Right Side: The “front” side of the fabric; usually the distinctly printed side of the fabric.

Ruche: A pleated or gathered strip of fabric used to embellish a garment or project.

Scrim: A term used in batting where a thin layer of polyester is added to the cotton to be needle punched into, this gives stability to your batting so it won’t break apart within your quilt, Scrim adds poly to your batting so it will no longer be 100% cotton.

Seam: The line where two pieces of fabric are joined together by sewing them with thread.

Seam Allowance: The small space of fabric between the raw edge and where the seam is sewn. Common seam allowances range from ¼ inch to as much as several inches. Woven fabric can fray, so the seam needs to be sewn away from the raw edge for security.

Seam Ripper: A tool used for picking or ripping out sewing stitches.

Selvage: The edges of a raw fabric that runs along each edge with the grain of the fabric. The selvedge edge is the way commercial manufacturers finish the edges of the fabric so it does not fray as it is sold.

Serging: A method of looped threads over the raw edge of the fabric to finish the edge to prevent fraying.

Shirring: Several gathered seams in a row next to each other. This can easily be achieved by using elastic thread.

Smocking: A technique in which pleats are gathered and folded in a checkerboard formation to make a texture.

Stay Stitch: Pre-sewing along the edge of a curve to help prevent the stretching along the “bias” when assembling a garment together. Often used on the curves of sleeves for stability during garment construction.

Stitch-in-the-Ditch: A quilting term used to describe the method of stitching along existing seams in a patchwork piece or quilt top in order to quilt it together with the batting and backing.

Tension: The amount of “pinching” done to your thread as it flows through your sewing machine. Thicker fabrics need a higher tension (a harder pinch so the thread doesn’t flow out too quickly), and thinner fabrics need less tension (a lesser pinch to let the thread out easily to prevent puckering).

Top Stitch: The process of stitching on the exterior side of a project to finish seams or folds to keep them in place. Usually paired with a longer stitch length which looks more professional and can make it easier to go in a straight line. Also can be known as Edge Stitching if it is done near a fold of fabric.

Trim: A pre-made ruffle, fringe, or other decorative accessory that can be sewn into a garment or sewing project to add visual interest.

Under Stitch: Sewing a line of stitching along the seam allowance to the facing or lining to help keep it flat and prevent it from popping up and creating bulk under a seam. Very similar to stitching in the ditch.

WOF: Width of fabric. Salvage to salvage. You will find this abbreviation in many patterns.

Wrong Side: The “back” side of the fabric; usually the opposite side of a distinctly printed fabric.


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Discussion
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30 Responses to “Glossary of Sewing Terms”
  1. Linda Rickard

    I have just bought a Janome HD3000. I have not used a sewing machine before and wondered if there was a DVD available to help me learn to sew and learn this sewing machine. Thanks, feeling a little bit overwhelmed right now.

    Reply
    • Joney

      you’re not in a specific forum with this post, you are commenting on a single article, which could be why you have gotten no response. I would suggest looking your machine up on youtube.com and watching videos posted there. You may be able to find a manual on dvd on half.ebay.com or ebay.com. hth 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lola Naylor

    Hi! I just read the Glossary of Terms…. there were a few I didn’t know! Wow. I guess I’m NOT too old to learn! lol Loving this site. Needing to learn more about sewing…. haven’t had a class since 19….72! Been sewing ever since, but thought I could see what is new. I’m looking to buy a used serger to try my hand at that.
    I’m planning on watching and reading everything on this site…. hope you’re posting new things soon.
    Love it!

    Reply
  3. LindY G Sherrod

    This will come in handy, I’m a self taught been awhile sewer. Wish there was a “Pin-it” button so I could find it easily. Thank y’all

    Reply
  4. Gwenna Hicks Doty

    Does your site do videos on how to use different types of feet on our machines? Like a joining foot or I believe that is the term for it. Thanks

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Gwenna! This is a great suggestion and has been passed along to the proper department for consideration for a future video.

      Reply
  5. Catherine Wiedmann

    I find that the definition of ‘stitch in the ditch’ is not at all clear. It has been over-simplified and ‘DITCH’ is not explained. It is the depression, or crevasse, that forms on the outside of the seam, when the two pieces are spread apart, as may be in the case of quilting. STITCHING is done IN that DITCH, usually on the right side, through all layers., In fashion terms, it is often done when a single-layer waist-band is to be secured from the outside, and the sew wishes to add minimum bulk. In this case the seam allowance is laid to one side, so that it may be contained in the over-lying waistband. I sometimes tack segments of lining in various projects by stitching in both DITCHES.

    Reply
  6. Karine

    I have a question about the 9$ subscription, is it monthly or yearly? I could not find any indication about the terms.
    Thanks for your answer!

    Reply
    • National Sewing Circle

      Hi Karine, The subscription is $9.00 for 12 months. It’s a really great deal! If you have further questions please contact Customer Service at 1-855-208-7187.

      Reply
  7. Nwankwo Funmilayo Lizzy

    Your Comment here…I love every information in this forum but I just don’t know how to subscribe. I live in Lagos, Nigeria. I love to sew and give it a professional look. I just got a mail about been elected to be a premium member. What do I do?

    Reply
  8. Sha-Keea

    I have a brother sewing machine , that I love using. I have just started sewing,looking a youtube video i have made a few thing. Would love to really take a class and be come a seamstress.
    Need to stoke my little sewing area, and this will help. Good luck to me

    Reply
  9. Deb

    I have a question, about my Pfaff 7570. I’ve a notion my computer went out on it. All I can get it to do is straight stitch , zigzag, and lights on panel don’t light up. But it still maintains my password. So I’m not sure… any ideas ladies?

    Reply
    • National Sewing Circle

      Hi Deb. I am not overly familiar with that model of machine, but I think you might be correct since you are not able to change to any of the more complex stitches. Do you still have your machine manual? Perhaps something in the troubleshooting section can give you a better idea.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  10. Ruth

    This is actually great, I don’t mind getting more of this knowledgeable informations via my email. thanks.

    Reply
  11. Haley

    Some of those terms I have never heard before. Well I guess I do have a hole lot more to learn plus I am only 11 and I am a beginner.?

    Reply
  12. Nita Livingston

    Nya215 Fashion Designer/l’m trying to find a company where I can order my professional labels for my Designs…Help!

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Nita. There are many companies that will make labels for you. Here is an example of one:
      http://www.heirloomlabels.com/
      I would recommend searching for them online to find one that is able to make labels in the style, size and quantity you want.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Geraldine. I am not sure. This may be something that you have to contact a garment manufacturer about directly. Or, if you have a certain manufacturer in mind already you could search their job descriptions and openings.

      Reply
  13. Judith Worthington

    In historical civil war dresses they mention the “bertha”. What is a bertha?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Judith. A bertha is something similar to what we would now call a shawl and was worn around the shoulders over a dress.

      Reply