When you are first starting to sew, one of the first things you need to know is what the most common sewing terms mean. Here is are some of the sewing terms you are likely to come across in your first sewing projects. Many of these sewing terms contain links to more detailed tutorials if you would like to learn more about sewing.
Many of these sewing terms contain links to more detailed tutorials if you would like to learn more about sewing.
Meaning #1: Backstitch is used at the beginning and end of a machine sewn seam to keep it from unraveling. Just put your machine in a reverse position for a few stitches. (Read how to backstitch seams)
Meaning #2: Backstitch can also refer to a style of hand stitching used to create strong seams. (Read how to hand sew back stitch)
To baste is to temporarily join pieces of fabric together using long stitches that can be easily removed. This can be done either by hand, pins or machine. (Read how to baste seams 5 ways.)
Bias is the diagonal cross grain of the fabric at 45 degrees. It is where there is the most stretch.
4. Bias Tape (also known as Bias Binding)
Bias tape is made from long strips of fabric cut on the bias. It is usually used to envelop the raw edge of a hem or seam. It can be bought ready cut or made from fabric or scraps to make a self-bias binding. Bias tape is used for bindings, facings, or other applications where there is a need for stretch or accommodation to curves. See these tutorials on how to sew bias tape.
5. Clip Corners
To clip the corners means cutting off excess fabric from cornered seams to reduce bumps and puckering at the corner when you turn your item right side out. (Read how to clip corners and curves)
6. Clip Curves
You clip curves by cutting a wedge out of the seam allowance along a seam so it lies flat and smooth when you turn the garment right side out. (Read how to clip corners and curves)
To ease a pattern piece means to adjust a longer edge of fabric to a slightly shorter one in such a way that the gathers or pleats aren’t obvious. It is most commonly used when attaching sleeves to a bodice.
8. Edge-stitch (or Top Stitch)
To stitch very close to the edge of a folded or seamed edge in order to finish a project, offer stability or close an opening. It can be used for decorative effect and is usually 1/16” or 1mm from the edge. (Read how to top stitch)
9. Finish (an edge)
Finishing an edge is done by zig-zag stitching, turning under 1/4″ (6mm) and stitching, serging or other methods of finishing the edge so it doesn’t unravel or cause a bulk problem. (Read 6 easy seam finishes)
10. Fusible Interfacing (webbing)
Fusible interfacing is able to be pressed on without having to use stitching. It is fused with heat activated glue on one or both sides. Double sided fusible interfacing is used a lot for appliqué.
By gathering, you can join a long piece of fabric to a shorter piece. To gather a piece, two parallel lines are sewn on the right side of the fabric, 1/4″ (6mm) apart. The long tails of the thread are left for gathering and then the bobbin threads (on the wrong side of the fabric) are gently tugged, gathering the fabric evenly on the threads. (Read more about how to gather fabric)
12. Grade a Seam
Grading a seam simply refers to cutting away some of the layers of the seam allowance to reduce bulk. (Read how to grade a seam)
The grain of the fabric follows the length of your fabric. When you lay out a pattern on your fabric you line the arrow on the pattern with the grain of the fabric. The grain is always parallel to the selvage.
A hem is usually made by turning up the raw edge twice. It hides the raw edges of a garment. (Read more about sewing hems)
Interfacing is a material that is used between layers of fabric to stabilize and add thickness to a garment. It can be non-fusible which must be sewn onto the fabric or fusible which is pressed to join it to the fabric.
16. Knit Fabric
Knit fabric stretches and so needs special needles and stitches when sewn. Read more about how to sew knit fabric.
17. Ladder Stitch
18. Pinking shears
Pinking Shears have a V shape along the cutting edge and are used to cut fabric to prevent it from unraveling. (Read about sewing scissors)
Piping is a decorative finish used on homewares such as cushions and on clothing. (Read how to sew piping)
20. Raw Edge
A raw edge is the cut edge of fabric.
21. Right side of the fabric
The right side of the fabric is the top side of the fabric. It is usually printed and softer or smoother. Sometimes there is no difference between the right and wrong side of fabrics.
A selvage is the edge along the width of fabric that is machine finished. It doesn’t fray and often has the manufacturer’s details on it.
23. Slip stitch (Ladder Stitch)
To slip stitch is to hand-sew a fabric or garment with stitches that are hidden or not very visible. (read how to sew a ladder stitch)
24. Seam Allowance
The seam allowance is the area between the raw edge and the stitching line. (Read how to add seam allowances)
25. Stitching Line
This is the line that you actually sew on. (Read how to sew a straight seam)
26. Stitch Length
The stitch length is usually set at 2.5 for normal sewing and can be adjusted on your machine. If you are basting then the stitch length should be set to 4.0.
27. Seam Ripper
A seam ripper is a small tool used for removing stitches. (Read how to use a seam ripper)
28. Stay stitch
Stay stitching is a line of stitching just inside the intended permanent stitching line on a curved edge that stabilizes and keeps the curve from stretching and distorting.
29. Stretch Factor
Knit fabrics stretch by different amounts and as such as suitable for different projects. Stretch factor measures the amount of stretch in a knit fabric as a percentage. (Read how to measure stretch factor)
30. Top Stitch
See edge stitch above.
To trim is to cut away excess fabric. Trim is also any decorative item, ribbon, lace that is put on a garment or craft item that is being sewn. (See how to sew lace trim)
32. Wrong side
The wrong side is the inside or back side of fabric. It is usually rougher or less finished.
A stitch that goes one way (zig) and then the other (zag) and provides a nice finish to a seam to prevent unraveling. It can be a decorative addition to any garment and can allow for give with knits. In addition, it can be used for appliqué.
I hope you enjoyed this beginner’s guide to sewing terms. There are many other terms you will learn as you gain confidence in sewing. If you are stuck on any please comment below and I can add them in.