Sewing Glossary

If you are new to sewing you NEED this sewing glossary. Have you ever noticed that most things like hobbies, industries or areas of study seem to have their own vocabulary. When you are new and hear all these words being thrown around it can get a bit intimidating. I remember many times where I’d just smile and pretend I knew what people were talking about while trying to remember the word or phrase so I could look it up later.

In sewing there are some common terms and then some that are specific to sub-categories like dressmaking, home décor or quilting – just to make things even more confusing! I’ve gathered 47 common and pretty universal terms to know. Be sure to bookmark this page for quick reference or sign up for my emails below and get 8 Easy-Reference Sewing Cheat Sheets, which includes this glossary, for free.

Here are the terms, in alphabetical order, with links to more information as available. Enjoy!

Backstitch: To sew 2 or 3 reverse stitches to secure the stitches at the beginning and end of a seam. A backstitch or a back tack will secure the stitches and prevent your seam from coming undone.

Baste: to sew a temporary seam with a long stitch length. This can be done by hand or by using the longest stitch length on your machine. Basting generally holds two or more layers of fabric together until they can be sewn together permanently. Basting stitches are generally removed after the final seam is complete if visible from the outside.

Bias: Bias refers to the diagonal direction of a piece of fabric, drawn at an exact 45-degree angle to the selvage or grain line. Woven fabric has the greatest amount of stretch in this direction even when it is a non-stretch fabric.

Bias Binding: Strips of fabric cut on a 45-degree angle to the selvage and pressed in half. In this direction, the fabric is stretchy and it adjusts well to curves, making it a great finish for necklines, (curved) hems, armholes or curved quilt projects. Learn how to calculate fabric requirements or watch the video tutorial on YouTube.

Bias Tape: Strips of fabric cut on a 45-degree angle to the selvage that are joined together and pressed so that the raw edges meet in the middle.

cutting fabric to make bias tape

Binding: Binding refers to a narrow strip of fabric attached along the edge of a project. It hides raw edges, so they don’t show or fray, and gives the project a finished. Binding is used along the outer edges of a quilt, along necklines or armholes on garments, and more. Learn how to calculate straight grain binding or watch the video tutorial on YouTube.

Bobbin: A small spool that goes into your sewing machine to supply the bottom thread in your stitches. It’s loaded into the bobbin case and then inserted into your sewing machine. The size of the bobbins can vary per model, even if they are from the same brand so always check you manual for the correct type.

Clapper: A wooden tool that is placed on sewn seams to help keep them flat after pressing by absorbing the steam. Originally called a “Tailor’s Clapper” and now also called “Quilter’s Clapper” because they are so popular for pressing quilt block seams. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Clip / notch: Clipping and notching will give you a smoother curve when you turn fabric right side out on convex (curving out) and concave (curving in) curves. A clip is a snip towards the stitching and a notch is a v-shaped (wedge) cut out towards the stitching. Cut close to the stitch line but not through.

Cut on fold: When a pattern tells you to cut a pattern piece on fold, it means you align that edge of the pattern to the fabric fold. Then you only have to cut out half of the pattern piece (don’t cut the fold!) and when you unfold the fabric you have a full symmetrical piece of fabric.

Darts: Darts are used to shape a garment around the waist, bust, shoulders, and sometimes sleeves. They are often shaped like triangles or diamonds.

Edgestitch: To sew a line of stitching, close to the edge.

Feed dogs: The feed dogs are the teeth that transport the fabric through your sewing machine. They are located under the presser foot and can be dropped when you are sewing buttons or doing free motion quilting on your machine.

Finger press: When you use your fingers, fingernail, or another flat and smooth object to flatten or open a seam instead of using an iron.

Finish: To serge or zigzag stitch the raw edge of fabric(s) to prevent fraying.

How to make a Pillowcase - Quick & Easy Burrito Method

French seams: French seams are a great way to finish your fabric if you don’t have a serger because the French seam encases the raw edge of your fabric. Mostly used on straight seams. I show how to sew French Seams in pillowcases in my YouTube video.

Fusible interfacing: Fusible interfacing can be permanently fused with the wrong side of the fabric to add strength and structure to your garment or project. One side has a glue on it that will fuse with the fabric, there are many different kinds and weights that you can and should use depending on your project and fabric.

Fussy Cut: to cut a specific motif that’s printed on fabric, rather than randomly cutting yardage.

Gather: Gathered fabric is used to create fullness or ruffles. You sew one or two lines of gathering stitches just inside and/or outside the stitch line.

Grain / Cross grain: Grain describes the direction of the warp and weft of a woven fabric.

Interfacing: An additional layer of fabric that is used to stabilize, add structure, “crispness” and strength. It lays between the lining/facing and the outer fabric of a garment or project.

Lining: A layer of fabric on the inside of a garment, bag or other project to hide construction seams and details, add warmth and/or make it more comfortable to wear and easier to put on.

Mark: Putting pattern symbols and markings on fabric.

Mitered Corner: A mitered corner is a hem finish where the fabric meets at a 45 degree angle. It reduces bulk making the corner easier to sew and look good. It is used on quilt binding and is a useful finish for the corner of napkins, a split hem and more.

Notions: Items like buttons, zippers, hooks, lace, elastic, etc. All the small accessories you need to finish your project or garment.

Preshrink: Preshrink your fabric by washing and drying as you would with your finished garment. Many fabrics shrink when you wash them. It is not uncommon for cotton fabric to shrink 5% in length.

Pressing: Using an iron to press seams open or to one side. Pressing is different than ironing because you lift the iron slightly when you move then press down instead of moving the iron while touching the fabric. Watch my short video explanation on YouTube.

Pressing cloth: A thin, usually sheer, piece of fabric to protect your fabric when pressing to help prevent shine on your fabric and markings from your iron. It also protects your iron when you are using fusible interfacing.

Presser foot: presses the foot against the feed dogs of your sewing machine while you sew.

Raw edge: The cut edge of fabric.

Right side / Wrong side: The right side of fabric or the face of the fabric is the side with a pattern on it if you are using printed fabric or the side you see on the outside of a garment. The wrong side is the backside of a fabric and the inside of the garment. Sometimes they look the same like in the case of solid colored fabric.

Running stitch: A simple hand-sewn stitch that weaves up and down through the fabric, creating a dashed line of stitches. Often used for basting or gathering fabric.

Seam: The line where you sew together two pieces of fabric.

Seam allowance: The fabric between the edge of the fabric and the stitch line.

Seam ripper: A small tool to unpick a row of stitches.

Sew-in interfacing: Interfacing that is sewn in by hand.

Stitch in the Ditch: An inconspicuous topstitching done in the crevice or ditch of a previously stitched seam. This is done for tacking facings in place and attaching bindings and waistbands in place. Often used in quilting to stitch in the seams between fabric pieces and blocks.

Stitch length: How long each stitch is. The length will depend on your fabric, project, and the purpose of the stitch.

essential sewing supplies - Cindys Seam Ripper

Tailor’s ham: A firm cushion for pressing that is used to shape collars, sleeves, darts, and curves. Also helpful for pressing open seams on bags and other small item.

Thread Tension: Tension refers to the amount of thread that can pass through a sewing machine to create a stitch. The more thread in the stitch, then the looser the stitch. The less thread, then the tighter the stitch.

Topstitch: To stitch on the top, an even distance from a seam, garment edge, or fold; often done with a lengthened stitch length (3-4mm). This is done on the right side and will be sewn through all layers. Can be decorative, used to add strength or help flatten pockets.

Trim: To cut a seam allowance to a narrower width to eliminate bulk and help with curved seams.

Twin Needle / Double Needle: Twin needles have two needles and sews two rows of parallel stitches simultaneously.

Walking Foot: A presser for that helps feed multiple layers of fabric through your sewing machine more evenly. A walking foot is often used by quilters because it helps to evenly transport the layers trough the sewing machine.

Warp / Weft: Warp is the lengthwise thread in a woven fabric and weft are the crosswise threads in a woven fabric. The warp is parallel to the selvage and goes up and down. The weft is woven through the warp and goes from left to right.

Zigzag stitch: Z-shaped stitch that can be used on knits, stretch fabrics, to sew buttonholes and as a finish for raw edges.

Zipper Foot: A specialized foot for a sewing machine helps you sew close to the edge of the zipper teeth. A zipper foot can be snapped onto the left or right of the sewing foot ankle, as needed.



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🧵 Tara Reed

P.S. Is there a sewing tutorial you’d love to see? Leave me a comment and I’ll add it to my idea list!

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