Sewing Glossary

Click the letters to  look what’s inside

Armscye The armscye or armhole is the opening in the bodice where you attach the sleeve.

Awl – A small pointed tool used for piercing holes in variety of materials. Usually a wooden handle, with a thin, tapered metal shaft, coming to a sharp point, either straight or slightly bent.

Backstitch – Used at the beginning and end of a machine sewn seam to anchor the seam in place; it involves a couple of extra stitches back and forth.

Basting – Temporary stitching used to hold a sewing project in place and is removed when the permanent sewing is done. The stitch length on the machine would be the largest (5mm).

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. In this direction, the fabric is stretchy and it adjusts well to curves, making it a great finish for necklines, (curved) hems or armholes. The strip is used to encase the raw edge of a hem or a seam. By using a contrasting or a piece of patterned fabric you can add a pop of colour to the inside of a garment.

Blind Hem Stitch aka Invisible Stitch – This stitch is not meant to be seen on the right side of the fabric. It is accomplished by picking up one thread of the fabric at a time rather than going through the full fabric to make a stitch. The best finish is done by hand but many domestic sewing machines come with a blind hem attachment which allows you to achieve the same finish. The dedicated machine for this technique is called a felling/blind hem machine.

Bobbin – The piece of your sewing machine that holds the bottom thread (the bobbin thread) and is placed in the bobbin case. It is placed under the area the needle penetrates and loops with the needle thread to form a locked stitch.

Bobbin Case – The part of the sewing machine that holds the bobbin. In some machines, it’s under the needle plate.

Bound seams – With bound seams, a double-fold bias binding is used to finish the raw edge of the seam allowance after it is pressed open or to one side, binding seam allowances together as one. This is a lovely technique but adds bulk to your seam allowance. The Hong Kong seam creates a less bulky seam.

This finish is an elegant way to finish unlined jackets or coats.

Buttonhole – A cut in the fabric that is bound with stitching large enough to allow a button to pass through. Buttonholes are mostly made by machine these days, but tailors still make them by hand using a special buttonhole stitch.

Buttonhole Cutter – Similar to an awl with the exception that it has a flat, somewhat sharp end to cut the fabric between the buttonhole itself.

Cut Line – On a pattern, the outermost dark line is the line upon which you cut.

Cut on fold – When a pattern tells you that you need to cut a pattern piece on fold, it means you need to align that edge to the fabric fold. That way you only have to cut out half of the pattern piece (don’t cut the fold!), but when you unfold the fabric you have a full symmetrical piece of your garment. This is often the case for a bodice front without a center seam or a bodice back without a centerback seam

Dart – A V-shaped or diamond shaped, tapered adjustment (usually a fold on the inside of the piece) to a pattern to allow for more fullness in the bust area or less fullness in other areas (waist).

Double-fold hem A hem that’s folded towards the inside of the garment, for the first fold you fold the raw edge toward the wrong side of the fabric, and then a second fold again towards the inside of the garment encasing the raw edge.

Ease / wearing ease / design ease / negative ease
Ease is the room in the garment that allows you to move and sit. Patterns are all designed with different amounts of ease.

In short, a pattern is made up 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

And on top of wearing ease, design ease is added. There are no rules, it’s up to the designer or your personal preference.

Negative ease
Negative ease is used in knit garments. Negative ease is when you end up with a garment that is smaller than your body measurements, but the stretch in the fabric will provide ease and room for movement.

Blogpost with more information about ease.

Easing in
When one of two pattern pieces, that need to fit together, has extra fabric you need to ease in. For example, sleeve caps often have extra fabric than needs to be eased in. You can gather the extra fabric slightly, but without creating pleats, to distribute the extra fabric evenly before you set in the sleeve. Or you can use a technique called crimping.

Crimping is when you sew a line of stitches, just inside the seam allowance, next to the stitch line, in the pattern piece that needs to be eased in, and you force more fabric into those stitches. While sewing you put your finger just behind the presser foot, letting the fabric bulk up between your finger and the presser foot. This way the fabric is slightly gathered but in a very even manner. Leave the gathers intact until you start pinning.

Feed dogs are another tool to help you get a good result when you are setting in sleeves. Unless you have a walking foot, the feed dogs will always pull the lower fabric through the machine a little bit faster than the top fabric and you can use this to your advantage when you are setting in sleeves or easing in fabric, by always sewing with the larger piece on the bottom, against the feed dogs.

Edgestitch – A finishing line of stitches sewn as close to the edge of a seam, hem, or pocket opening. Generally used as a decorative stitch and sewn 0.15 cm (1/16″) from the edge.

Feed Dog – The “teeth” under the plate on the sewing machine that pulls the fabric as it is sewn.

Finish (an edge) – Turn under 1/4″ and stitch, serge the edge, zig-zag, or other method of finishing the edge so it doesn’t ravel or cause a bulky problem.

Fold Line – Many pattern pieces are placed on the fold of a piece of fabric. This is the actual fold of the fabric off the bolt or a fold of your own creation; the goal is to have a pattern piece that is cut out without a center seam.

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.

The technique is mostly used on straight seams, but with a bit of practice, the technique works well on curved seams. If you venture into curved seams, I suggest you keep the seam allowance narrow, because wider seams will pucker easily. Best used on thin and light-weight materials like silk, chiffon, voile, and organza.

Fusible interfacing – Fusible interfacing can be permanently fused with the wrong side of the fabric to add strength and structure to your garment. It’s often used in button bands, buttonhole areas, welt pockets, collars, cuffs but it can also be used in entire panels.

One side has a glue on it that will fuse with the fabric, you should be able to feel small bumps where the glue is. The fusible interfacing is fused by applying heat and pressure for a certain amount of time, this depends on the type you bought.

Always use a press cloth to apply the fusible interfacing to avoid the glue fusing with your iron. After applying the fusible interfacing let it cool down before you move the piece you’ve just fused.

There are many different kinds and weights that you can and should use depending on your project and fabric.

It’s sold in sheets and in tape form. The tape can be used to reinforce and stabilize a curve before sewing.

Fusible interfacing relatively easy to use, but for tailored garments like jackets and heavily textured fabrics you often see sew-in interfacing sometimes in combination with fusible interfacing.

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.

Use a long stitch length (5mm and up) on your sewing machine and loosen the top tension on your sewing machine for easier gathering.

Don’t back tack when you start stitching and leave long thread tails. Anchor the thread tails on one side around a pin, and carefully hold the loose (top or bottom) thread tails and slide the fabric you want to gather along the thread.

Grade Cut seam allowances in graduated widths to eliminate bulk and prevent a ridge from showing on the right side of the garment. Trim the top layer to 0.3cm / 1/8″ and the bottom layer to 0.6cm / 1/4″and interfacing close to the stitching.

Grain – Is the direction of the fabric that runs parallel to the selvage (a stretchier grain is found running perpendicular to the selvage). Commercial patterns have an arrow on them <—–> indicating direction of the grain to assist in laying out the pattern pieces correctly.

Grainline – The long line with an arrow printed on the pattern. This line should be placed parallel to the lengthwise grain / selvage / the length of the fabric. This is also referred to as, on-grain and straight of grain.

Always place pattern pieces on-grain and in the same direction, because if the fabric has a nap (velour, velvet, fake fur, corduroy, etc.) you will see that they seem to have a different colour or shade in when light hits the fabric.

In some cases, you can also use the crosswise grain. For example; if you want to create a fun design detail with striped fabrics, and play with the direction of the print on a yoke or a cuff.

Another time to experiment with lengthwise vs crosswise grain placement is when you don’t have enough fabric and need to get creative with your yardage. However be this can affect how the garment hangs of your body (hello twisting pant leg), proceed with caution.

Hem – Fabric that it turned up on the lower edge of a garment or sleeve to provide a finished edge. Often extra fabric is left in the hem with children’s clothing to allow for growth (especially skirts and slacks).

Inseam – Seam inside the leg of pants that runs from the crotch to the hem.

Interfacing – Fabric used between layers of fabric to provide stabilization and form. Usually used in collars, cuffs, plackets, some waistbands and pockets, and facings.

Ladder Stitch Used to complete a project that requires an open seam for turning or stuffing. It provides an invisible seam finish as if sewn by machine. It is often used to sew stuffed toys, pillows or lined hems. 

Lining – Used to finish the inside of a garment, to hide the seam construction, to allow for ease of putting a garment on or taking it off, and to provide decorative effect. A lining is cut of the same pattern pieces as the garment and often is made of “slippery” fabrics. It provides a minimal amount of warmth and usually extends the life of a garment. Linings should be washable if the garment is washable and should be prewashed.

Nap – The surface of a fabric with fibers that lie in a certain direction. When using napped fabrics make sure all pattern pieces are laid out in the same direction. Fabrics like fake fur, corduroy, and velvet have an obvious nap or direction. But many fabrics that like knits, satin, and woolens that have a shine should be cut like a napped fabric.

Notch –  Notches are small marks made on a pattern to ensure that one pattern piece will match up to the pattern next to it. They can be used to show what the value of the seam allowance is, and can also be used as markers along a seam to make sure that the two pieces of fabric will come together correctly when sewn.

On a cardboard pattern, they will look like small indents around the outside edge of the seam allowance. You can buy special pattern notching tools that will clip this small indent into the edge of your cardboard pattern.

Notches are transferred from pattern onto cut fabric by making a small incision. This is done by making very small nicks in the fabric, only about 2-3mm.

Notions aka Haberdasheries – When a pattern calls for notions the are items like buttons, zippers, hooks, lace, elastic, etc. All the small accessories you need to finish your garment.

Overlock – An overcast stitch to prevent raveling of fabric. Generally done with an overlocker also known as a serger.

Pins – There are many different pins. They can vary in length and thickness, with colorful ball-shaped glass heads or without.

Pivot – To leave the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot and turn the fabric at a 45 degree angle. Then lower the presser foot and start sewing. Used to sew square seams.

Placket – A partial button band/button closure. You see these plackets in sleeve cuffs, polo shirts, and pop over shirts and anoraks.

Pressing – Using an iron in a press/pick up/move/press/… pattern. Pressing is not moving back and forth on fabric with the iron. Pressing is done “as you go” while creating a garment. This is the difference of a garment looking professional and homemade.

Don’t over press! Your fabric may become shiny or the seam allowance will cause ridges on the outside of your garment.

Press cloth – A thin, preferably sheer, piece of fabric to protect your fabric when pressing. You hold it between the iron and your project or garment, if you don’t have a steam iron you can dampen the pressing cloth for better results.

Why use a pressing cloth? A pressing cloth will help prevent shine on your fabric and markings from your iron and it will protect your iron when you are using fusible interfacing.

A piece of cotton voile or cotton batiste works as a pressing cloth.

Presser Foot – The part of the sewing machine that holds the fabric in place as it is being sewn and fed through by the feed dogs. Specialty feet such as zig zag, buttonhole, cording, blind hem, and others are often included with a sewing machine upon purchase and are best learned by consulting the sewing machine manual. 

Ravel/Ravelling – Making or allowing the edge of a fabric to get a fringed look by having threads come loose either on their own via wearing and washing or by stitching a tight seam a distance from the raw edge and pulling threads.

Raw (edge) – The edge of fabric that is not stitched or finished.

Right Side – The right side of the fabric is the design side. There are instances of fabric with no right or wrong side visible, and the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing.

Rotary Cutter – Early versions of the rotary cutter looked like pizza cutters. Today, the handles are often ergonomically designed and padded. The blade remains a rounded razor, sometimes with pinked edging or other designs. These are great for curved lines, knits, and pattern cutting out garments.

Running Stitch – A simple stitch made by running the thread over and under the fabric. This stitch is often used for basting or as the basis (marking) for another more decorative stitch.

Seam – The result when two pieces of fabric are sewn together along a line.

Seam Allowance – The fabric between the edge of the fabric and the line of stitching. The width can vary between pattern companies and in a garment. Always check the pattern descriptions and pattern pieces.

Some commonly used seam allowances are:

  • 0.6 cm / 1/4″
  • 1 cm / 3/8″
  • 1.6 cm / 5/8″
  • 2.5 cm / 1″

Seam Ripper – Your best friend in the sewing room. It is a tool with a small hook on one end that can slip under a stitch and get close enough to it to cut the stitch. I personally have learned as much about sewing with my seam ripper as I have with making stitches by hand or machine.

Selvedge, Selvege, Selvage – Often marked with information from the manufacturer (color code, identifying data, etc.), this is the edge of the fabric which generally does not fray due to manufacturer’s finish. In most cases, this edge should not be included when you cut your fabric, as it may cause puckering of your seam later on.

Separating Zipper – A zipper that comes completely apart when unzipped. There is a special tab at the bottom of a separating zipper for bringing it together and starting the zip. Usually seen in jackets, sweatshirts, and wearable art.

Serger aka Overlocker – A type of sewing machine that stitches the seam, encases the seam with thread, and cuts off excess fabric at the same time. These are used for construction of garments with knit fabrics mostly, or to finish seams of any fabric, especially those which might ravel.

Sew-in interfacing Sew-in interfacing is sewn in by hand and is mostly used in structured and tailored garments like jackets.

Snips – A very small cutting tool somewhat resembling scissors used to snip threads. Not meant for cutting fabric or paper.

Spool – The holder of thread. There are wooden spools, plastic spools, cardboard tube spools, and cone spools, as well as others.

Stay Stitch – A line of stitching just inside the intended permanent stitching line (seam line) on curved edges that stabilizes and keeps the curve from distorting. The direction of the stay stitching is shown on the pattern. If not, it generally goes from shoulder to center on necklines. There are other indications for stay stitching, but this is one of the more common. If you do clip curves, use stay stitching first to guide the tip of your scissors – don’t cut beyond the stay stitching.

Sink Stitch aka Ditch Stitch – Stitching in the ditch is sometimes used as a method of understitching and also as a form of simple machine quilting for craft projects. It is a method of stitching in the seam itself (the ditch) in order to hold it down.

Stitch Length – In general, regular sewing is about 11-12 stitches per inch, basting/gathering/bunching/sleeve easing is about 6 stitches per inch (plus or minus 1 or 2 stitches for some applications). There are rare occasions when stitches need to exceed 12 per inch, but they are few. Stitch length for zig-zag is the same as with regular straight stitching; it refers to the number of stitches per inch. The scale varies from machine to machine, so be sure and check your manual. A satin stitch can be created using a zig-zag stitch length of zero.

Straight Stitch – Stitching made with single stitches moving in a line. This is the regular stitch (the lock stitch) that most sewing machines make and may or may not require a special presser fo

Tailor’s tacks – Loose hand sewed stitches to transfer pattern markings on to the fabric.

Tailor’s ham or dressmaker’s ham – A firm cushion for pressing. It’s used to shape collars, sleeves, darts, and curves.

Tape or Tape Measure – A long, flexible measuring tape. One of the most used tools in your box of motions.

Tension – Tension is one of the least understood concepts of sewing machines. It refers to the pressure being placed on your needle and bobbin thread by your machine. There are two types of tension on your sewing machine – the thread and bobbin tensions. It is best to read your sewing machine manual for specifics. Rarely does one need to adjust bobbin tension. Your sewing machine manual will show you the appropriate settings and offer you examples of what the threads should look like on the right and wrong sides of your stitching.

Thread – A complementary or like thread is chosen for garment or project construction on a machine. The bobbin should be wound of the same type of thread or the exact same thread whenever possible, to prevent knotting, bunching, etc. The first step for most sewing machine trouble shooting is to change the thread and needle. When hand sewing with one thread, cut the end of the thread that is nearest to the spool before tying a knot in the same end. This will prevent ravelling and knotting.

Toile The French word toile can refer to canvas or linen but is often used to describe a test garment or muslin.

Top Stitch – A sometimes decorative, sometimes functional stitch that is usually 1/4″ from the edge of a seam. It is visible because it is done on the top of the item. For instance, once a vest is turned or a facing to a jacket is turned and pressed, one may stitch 1/4″ from the edge on the top of the garment to provide a bit of stabilization. This can be done in same or contrasting thread, depending on the decorative effect one wishes to achieve.

Trim – Cut a seam allowance to a narrower width. This will eliminate bulk and help with curved seams.

Twin Needle / Double Needle – Twin needles feature two needles and it sews two rows of parallel stitches simultaneously. They can be used to do topstitching on seams or to hem T-shirts.

Under stitch Helps to keep facings (lining or bias binding) in place and prevent them from peeping out on the outside of your garment. Press seam allowance towards the facing. Stitch both seam allowances and the facing close to the seam line on the facing. Press your facing to the inside.

Underlining Underlining an extra layer of fabric cut as a duplicate of a section in a garment. When the garment is sewn, there two pieces are treated as one. Underlining is used with sheer fabrics adding an opaque backing. It can also serve as a backing for an unstable fabric

Warp – Threads running the length of a woven fabric. Also known as the lengthwise grain (little to no stretch). About 90° from the weft and 45° from the bias. (see weft and grain)

Weft – Threads running at 90° angles to the length of woven fabrics (or the width). Also known as the cross grain. It has little to no stretch and is usually 45° from the bias. (see warp and grain)

Whipstitch – A simple running stitch used to hold two pieces of fabric together. Good for closing seams of leather, crochet/knit item, or the opening of a pillow that has been stuffed.

Woven Fabric – Woven fabrics are made by weaving together many threads. There are lengthwise threads (warp) and crosswise threads (weft). The most basic weave is a plain weave; where each weft thread travels through the warp threads by going over one, then under the next, and so on. Then on the next pass, it will repeat the same pattern but alternate threads, producing a checkered surface. Woven fabrics do not stretch unless they are used on the bias or an elastic is woven into the fabric, like elastane.

Wrong Side – The wrong side of the fabric is the side upon which there is no decorative design, such as a print. There are instances of fabric with no wrong side visible, and the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing. Sometimes, people use the wrong side as the right side to mix things up a bit or to accent the right sided design.

Zig Zag – A stitch that goes one way (zig) and then the other (zag) and provides a nice finish to a seam to prevent raveling, can be a decorative addition to any garment, and can allow for give with knits. A very short to nonexistent stitch length with zig zag stitching is the same as a satin stitch. Stitch length for zig-zag is the same as with regular straight stitching; it refers to the number of stitches per inch. The scale varies from machine to machine, so be sure and check your manual. A satin stitch can be created using a zig-zag stitch length of zero.

Zipper Foot – When attaching any zipper, you need to sew close to the edge of the zipper teeth and a zipper foot will help you do just that. A zipper foot can be snapped onto the left or right of the sewing foot ankle, as needed