Sewing Terms Explained
Let’s talk stitching!
I’ve been spending a whole heap of time at the sewing machine lately – no real change there – but, it dawned on me that all the fancy terminology and words can, to some folks, sound rather confusing.
As with any specialist hobby, not only do you feel like you have a million new techniques and skills to learn and master, it feels like there is a whole new language to get you head around. At first all these terms and words can seem overwhelming, it feels like everyone is part of some special club and knows some kind of secret code and you’re just not part of the in-crowd. Well, my friends, here’s where that’s going to change.
I decided it was high time I put together a list of some of the most commonly used sewing terms and share a little explanation of what they each mean, to help get you off to a flying start with your next stitching project!
Check out this handy guide to Sewing Terms Explained…
Acrylic Man-made fabric, with a rich dense texture.
Appliqué A technique where a fabric motif is secured to a second piece of fabrics with neat hand or machine stitching around the outer edges. (Also see Reverse Appliqué)
Armhole The area of a bodice that is cut away for the arm to fit through.
Back Stitch A straight hand stitch often used to outline designs, the stitches are worked back to the end of the previous one to create a solid line of stitches.
Basting This is the US term for Tacking and you’ll often see this appear in quilting projects – which has a strong tradition in the United States.
Bias The section that runs through the centre of the fabric at a 45 degree angle to the Warp and the Weft. Fabric cut in this manner will have more stretch.
Bias Tape Also know as Bias Binding, this is a strip of fabric cut across the bias and triple folded so that the raw edges are concealed towards the centre of the strip, this is frequently used in the finishing stages of projects.
Blanket Stitch A hand sewing techniques worked over the raw edges to secure them and prevent fraying, also used as a decorative feature.
Blind Hem Stitch A stitch used to discretely join the fabrics to form a hem, can be worked by hand or with a machine.
Bodkin A large eyed needle often used to draw elastic through casing.
Bobbin A small reel onto which thread is wound before inserting into the sewing machine, with the mechanism of the sewing machine this will create the bottom section of each machine stitch. Also a plastic, cardboard or wooden holder used for securing lengths of Embroidery Thread (Floss) when unwound from a Skein ready for stitching.
Bodice The upper section of a garment that covers the torso.
Buttonband The section on a garment on which a series of button fastenings are secured.
Buttonhole A small slit in fabric reinforced with stitches though which a button can be passed.
Buttonhole Stitch A series of strong knotted stitches worked around the edge to secure and reinforce the fabric – can be worked by hand or by selecting a specific setting on a sewing machine.
Calico A plain woven fabric, often uncoloured, frequently used to create Toiles.
Casing Two rows of stitching worked over a fold in fabric to create a tube through which elastic, for example, can be threaded, frequently used to create waistbands.
Centred Zip / Zipper A zip/ zipper fastening secured to the fabric within a seam, the sections of seam allowance fold over to hide the teeth of the zip.
Chain Stitch A decorative hand stitch where loops of thread are secured to the surface of the fabric along a stitching line.
Charm Pack A set of Pre-Cut Fabric squares frequently used in Patchwork & Quilting projects.
Chiffon A light-weight, often sheer fabric that is used in dressmaking.
Collar A smart addition to a neckline, reinforced with interfacing to give a tailored finish.
Colourfast The term given to a thread or fabric that has been treated so that the dye used will not bleed when washed.
Comforter A heavy, thick padded blanket, stitched together for extra warmth.
Concealed Zip / Zipper A zip / zipper fastener that is created so when it is inserted into the garment or project is nearly invisible from the right side.
Corduroy A fabric with nap that runs in rows of pile, commonly used for making clothing.
Cotton A natural fabric that is available in a wide range of colours and patterns, it is comfortable to wear against the skin and is used in a wide range of sewing projects.
Covered Buttons A special button blank is surrounded with a circle of fabric allowing you to create fastenings to suit your project.
Crease or Crease Line A mark made in the fabric by pressing with an iron, often used to aid the construction of a project.
Cross Stitch A decorative hand stitch created by two straight stitches intersecting to form a cross. This is also the name given to the needlework discipline that used these stitches in a range of colours to create colourful designs
Cutting Lays Illustrated diagrams provided with a dressmaker’s pattern to assist in the placement of the cut pattern pieces onto the fabrics for correct cutting.
Cutting Lines A series of different lines printed on patterns to indicate where each piece should be cut, multi-sized patterns will feature a range of different lines.
Cutting Mat Also know as a Self-Healing Mat, is used as a base on which to cut and trim fabrics with a rotary cutter, often marked with a grid to aid precision it prevents the surface below becoming damaged.
Dart A technique used to add shaping to fabrics by folding tow points together to meet at a point, stitched in place to create a triangle in the fabric, commonly featured in women’s garments.
Double Pointed Dart A variation on a Dart, this is used to add long sections of shaping to a garment, often seen on the back of a bodice around the waist. The fabric is folded to meet at to points, stitched to create a diamond shape in the fabric.
Drape A term used to describe the way that a fabric moves or behaves, used when assessing the suitability of a fabric of a project.
Dressfrom Also called a Dressmaker’s Dummy or a Mannequin, this is a torso shaped form that is used to assist in dressmaking.
Dressmaker’s Tissue Paper Thin tissue paper printed with a series of pattern pieces that are cut and used to create a garment. The light-weight paper is easy to cut and the fabric can be seen through it, aiding the positioning of each piece.
Embroidery A needlework discipline that used a combination of different hand stitches to create colourful designs.
Embroidery Machine A specialist sewing machine that features a wide range of embroidery stitches and motifs.
Embroidery Threads Often referred to as Embroidery Floss, this stranded cotton is used either as multiple strands or separated in to thinner strands to create colourful stitched designs.
Facing A term used to describe the placement of fabrics in relation to each other, for example with right sides facing, means to place the two fabrics so that the right sides are touching.
Facings A section of fabric stitched to lay on the inside of a garment to hide raw edges and make it more comfortable to wear.
Fat Quarter A cut of fabric that is a quarter of a metre that is taken against the width of the fabric to create a piece that is around 18inches by 22inches
Feed-dogs Small metal teeth that sit under the throat place of the machine and move to draw the fabric though the machine for sewing. Can be lowered for working Free Motion projects.
Felt A thick fabric that is available in a wide range of colours, the raw edges do not fray making it quick and easy to work with.
Finger Press Applying pressure with fingertips to create a temporary crease line in a project.
Flannel A soft warm fabric that is frequently used in creating bedding and blankets.
Foot Also called a Presser Foot, these small attachments are secured to the bottom of the needle clamp and lay flush with the fabric that is being stitched. There are a wide range of feet available, each designed for a specific task.
Foot Pedal The pressure-sensitive pedal that controls the sewing machine, greater pressure from your foot will result in faster sewing.
Free Motion A machine sewing technique where the Feed-dogs are lowered allowing the fabric to be guided through the machine in any direction.
French Knot A hand embroidery technique where the threads is looped in a manner to create a neat knot to sit on the surface of the fabric.
French Seam A seam that is worked on the right side then the wrong side of two pieces of fabric, to provide additional strength, often used when working with delicate fabrics.
Gathering A row of long straight hand or machine stitches that are left unfastened at one end so that the fabric can be drawn up along it to create gathers.
Grading Also called Pattern Grading, this is the scaling up or down of a dressmaker’s pattern to create different dress sizes.
Grain The line created by the threads that run the length of the fabric.
Grain Line A marking used on dressmaking pattern’s to indicate the position it needs to be placed on the fabric in relation to the fabric’s grain.
Haberdashery The name given to the range of sewing supplies, fabrics, threads and notions.
Handle A term to describe the way that a fabric feels and moves, used when accessing the suitability of a fabric for a project.
Heading Tape A woven strip that is secure to the top of curtains, the length is gathered up by pulling the cords woven through it to create the upper section of curtains.
Hand Wheel The wheel positioned at the right-hand side of the sewing machine that is used to manually raise and lower the needle.
Hem The treatment of the lower edge of a garment to hide the raw edges, ensure the correct length and finish the garment.
Hemming Stitch A discrete stitch, worked by hand or machine that is used to secure the lower section of a garment or project to create a neat hem.
Hemming Tape Fusible tape that is often used in the repair of dropped hems, can also be used for small Appliqué motifs.
Hook & Eye Fasteners Small metal fasteners that are secured to two sections of fabric, often above a zip, to complete the fastening.
In-Seam Pocket A neat pocket that is inserted along the side seam line of a garment, the soft fabric of the pocket lies flush to the body.
Interfacing & Interlining Applied to the wrong side of fabric to provide added strength and stability. Available in a wide range of weights, some are fused in place with a hot iron, others are stitched into position.
Jelly Roll A collection of Pre-Cut Fabrics commonly used in Patchwork & Quilting projects.
Jersey A stretchy knitted fabric that is often used to make clothing.
Knit Fabrics A style of fabric that is created by knitting the threads together on a machine, in a similar way to hand knitting, for example Jersey.
Lazy Daisy Also know as Detached Chain Stitch, this hand embroidery stitch features small loops of thread secured to the surface of the fabric, often to create floral motifs.
Lining A piece of fabric cut to sit on the inside of a garment to make it more comfortable and to help it hang well when worn.
Long Arm A specialist quilting machine, often used with a large frame, to assist in the quilting of large scale projects.
Magnetic Snaps Strong magnetic fasteners used to hold together two sections of fabric.
Mitre A treatment of the fabrics on corners, created by folding the sides of a project in together to create neat corners with a diagonal section towards the point where the two sides meet.
Multi-Size Pattern Dressmaker’s Patterns often come in a range of sizes, different style lines are used to represent the section to be cut for each size. A key is provided to identify the correct line for the size.
Nap The pile that is present on the right side of some fabrics that give it a luxurious feel, for example velvet.
Neckline The upper section of a garment that is cut away and sits around the neck, there are a wide range of different shapes, styles and finishes.
Needles Sharps that are used for sewing, available in a range of different styles for different application for both hand and machine sewing.
Needle Clamp The section of a sewing machine that holds the needle securely for stitching.
Needle Threader A small notion that features a loop of metal on a tag which is used to help thread a needle.
Needle Plate The metal section of the sewing machine that lies above the bobbin carrier, the needle passes through this to make the stitches. These often feature grid marking to aid placement of fabrics for sewing.
Notches The small markings on a dressmaker’s pattern that is used to help align two sections together during the construction.
Nylon Man-made fibre with a soft and smooth texture.
Oilcloth & Laminated Fabrics A fabric, typically Cotton, coated on the right sides with a water resistant plastic layer.
Overedge Stitch A machine stitch worked around the raw edges of a fabric to prevent the fabric from fraying.
Overlocker A specialist machine commonly used by dressmakers to finish and work seams, these machines can use a combination of two to four threads and feature a blade to slice the edge of a seam before sealing the cut edge with stitches.
Patch Pocket A style of pocket that sits on the right side of a garment.
Pinking Sheers Large fabric sheers with serrated blades that create a zig zag edging when cutting fabrics to prevent them from fraying.
Pleat Neat stitched in folds often used in skirts and dresses.
Plied The term given to two strands of thread twisted together to create a single thread.
Pre-Cut Fabrics A range of fabrics, usually cottons, that are sold in bundles cut to a set size ready-to-use in projects, these include Charm Packs and Jelly Rolls and are commonly used in quilting projects.
Press To smooth out or finish a section or project with an iron.
Quilt A patchwork project made from the piecing together of a series of different sections of fabric, sandwiched with wadding and backing to make a finished item. Also the term used for stitching the layers of that will become the finished project together.
Quilt Blocks A section of stitched together fabrics to form a certain layout, a series of blocks are sewn together to make the Quilt Top for the finished project.
Quilt Top The colourful section that makes up the upper layer of a quilt.
Quilting Machine A specialist sewing machine designed for working on quilting projects.
Raglan A style of sleeve that is joined in to the bodice with long diagonal seams from the armhole to the neckline.
Raw Edge The cut edge of the fabric, on woven materials this is prone to fraying and can be treated with pinking sheers or stitches.
Reverse Appliqué A decorative technique where a motif is stitched on to the main fabric, the inner section is cut away to reveal a contrast fabric underneath (See also Appliqué).
Reverse Stitching Also called Back Tacking, this sewing machine function sets the machine to work in reverse back over the stitches that have just been worked, this is used to secure the threads.
Ribbon A colourful haberdashery item that is available in a wide range of finishes and colours.
Right Side The front of the fabric.
Rotary Cutter A tool with a disk shaped blade used for cutting fabrics, commonly used in quilting with a ruler and cutting mat.
Ruffle A small section of fabric gathered up and stitched on to a garment or project to add detail.
Running Stitch A long straight hand stitch that is commonly used for joining pieces together.
Satin A smooth luxurious fabric.
Satin Stitch A series of long hand stitches that are used to fill in sections of embroidery designs.
Seam The sections where two fabrics are joined together, there are a wide range of styles and techniques for creating seams.
Seam Allowance This section of fabric borders each piece that needs to be joined together during the construction. Maintaining an even seam allowance will create a neat finished item.
Seam Ripper A small tool with a point and a curved blade used to carefully remove unwanted stitches.
Seed Stitch A series of short straight hand embroidery stitches that are used to add detail to a needlework design.
Selvedge The woven or bound ends of the fabric, in some cases these are printed with the fabric’s care instructions.
Set-In A style of sleeve that is secure to the bodice by a single seam worked in a circle around the armhole and the shoulder.
Short & Long Stitch A mixture of long and short straight hand embroidery stitches that are used to add colour and shading to elements of an embroidery motif.
Silk A luxurious fabric often used in dressmaking.
Skein The term given to the wrapped bundle that embroidery threads are sold in.
Snap Fastenings Also called Poppers, these metal fasteners have two parts that are sewn onto the two section that need to be joined.
Stay Stitching A line of hand or machine stitching that is worked along the curve in a pattern piece to prevent it from becoming distorted or misshapen. This is often used when working necklines and is stitched within the seam allowance.
Stem Stitch A hand embroidery stitch where the stitches overlap part way along a sewing line to create a scrolling effect.
Stitch-In-The-Ditch A quilting terms that refers to quilting stitches that are made to sit directly into the section where two fabrics are joined.
Straight Stitch A machine stitch that creates neat and even straight stitches, used in the majority of sewing projects the length and the width can be adjusted to suit the fabric and project.
Stretch The term used when fabrics are very flexible, Two-Way Stretch refers to a fabric that can be drawn out from two opposite sides when pulled, Four-Way Stretch is the name given to a fabric that can be pulled and drawn out form all four sides.
Stretch Stitch A machine stitch that is designed to be uses with stretch knit fabrics, the threads are positioned to allow the stitches movement as the fabrics flexes to prevent snapping.
Tacking Also called Basting. Long loose hand stitches used to secure two section of fabric together during the construction process. These temporary stitches are often worked in a contrasting colour to make removing them easier.
Tailor’s Chalk A chalk that is used to add markers on to fabrics to aid construction of garments and projects. Available in a range of different colours which can be brushed away from the fabrics after use.
Tailor’s Knot A neat and secure knot tied onto the end of thread before hand stitching.
Tape Measure A flexible tool used for measuring, usually featuring both imperial and metric measurements.
Tension The balance of the two – spool and bobbin – threads that creates each machine stitch. Incorrect tension can cause puckering, bagging threads and even needle breakages.
Thimble A small notion that is worn over the tip of the finger to reduce any pain felt while pushing the needle through fabrics.
Threads Available in a wide range of colours and fibres, these are used for creating the stitches in a sewing project.
Thread Shank A section of long, wrapped stitches that are worked to secure a button to a garment.
Toile A mock version of a garment, often made in calico, allowing a dressmaker to perfect any adjustments before beginning work on the final project.
Top Stitching A line of neat straight stitches, often created with a machine, that are added as a decorative addition or to provide additional reinforcement to a seam.
Turn Through After a seam has been worked with the right sides of the fabric facing, the item needs to be turned so that the right sides are outermost.
Under Stitching A line of stitching used to secure the seam allowance to the inner section of fabric. This is often worked with a sewing machine and is not visible from the right side of the garment.
Velcro A brand of temporary fastening with two tapes featuring hooks and loops that can be pressed together and pulled apart.
Velvet A rich fabric with Nap or pile.
Wadding Also called Batting A padded layer made from either cotton or man-made materials that is used to add the slight bulk and warmth to a quilt.
Warp The threads that run vertically through the fabric.
Weft The threads running from left to right across the construction of the fabric. The best way to remember the orientation of the Warp and the Weft is to this that the Weft starts on the Left – neat huh?!
Without Nap A fabric that has a smooth surface, without any pile.
Woven Fabrics A style of fabric that is constructed on a loom with the threads being woven through a warp and a weft.
Wrong Side The back of the fabric, this will be on the inside or rear of a project or garment.
Yo Yo Also known as a Suffolk Puff, this is a decorative addition created by gathering up the fabric in a circle to make a slightly padded disk.
Zig Zag Stitch A machine stitch which is made up from a series of straight stitches placed to create zig zags, with both decorative and functional properties.
Zip / Zipper A fastening that is commonly used in dressmaking, available in a range of colours and styles, a tab is pulled up to draw to sets of teeth together to seal the fastening.
Zip Foot A specialist machine foot that is used to aid the insertion of a zip fastener into a project.
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I have a huge soft spot for stitching, I hope that this guide to Essential Sewing Terms will be useful in your own love affair with stitching. If you’re looking for more hints and tips on Sewing, check out my book The Sewing Manual, £21.99 Haynes