A-Z of Sewing

Every hobby has its own language, but sewing, with such a long and complex history, is blessed with an especially large and varied vocabulary. While this can be overwhelming for those just starting out, even experienced seamstresses can find themselves confused by some of the terms. With that in mind, we have put together a guide to help explain some of the terminology you're likely to encounter when sewing, reading a pattern, or shopping for supplies.

Anchoring Stitches
Machine stitches that are sewn with zero stitch length, to keep them from pulling out. This term can also be used to refer to when you stitch backwards for a couple of stitches.

An embellishment made by cutting fabric layers into patches or designs and stitching them around the edge or otherwise fusing them to the main fabric. It comes from the French word “appliquer,” which means to apply or put on.

The edge of the fabric that forms the armhole once sewn together, where the sleeve is attached. It is pronounced Arm-Sigh.

Ballpoint Needles
A type of sewing machine needles that are specifically designed to be used when sewing knit fabrics. The rounded tip prevents piercing, that would damage the knit.

Temporary long running stitches created by hand or machine to hold fabric in place before the final stitching. 

True bias is a cut made on an angle 45 degrees to the selvage. This direction allows for the most stretch. Bias refers to any line diagonal to the crosswise and lengthwise grains.

A long, flat, needle-like tool used to thread elastic through casing.

A casing is a fabric tunnel through which elastic or a drawstring can be threaded to pull in or draw up the fabric.

Folded and stitched wedges of fabric that shape a garment over curves. A dart point is marked by a dot. Dart legs are lines that come to a stop at the pattern edge.

Double Needle
Two machine needles attached to a single shaft, that sews 2 parallel rows of stitches at once with 2 spools of thread and a single bobbin. Also called a Twin Needle.

The fluid way that the fabric hangs in a garment.

Difference between body measurements and garment measurements. Also defined as the amount of space in a garment that allows comfortable movement.

Grommets and eyelets are metal, plastic or rubber rings that are inserted into a hole made through another material. They may be used to reinforce the hole, to shield something from the sharp edges of the hole, or both.

Fat Quarter
A quarter of a metre of fabric measuring 18 x 22 inches. Commonly used for patchwork and other craft projects.

Feed Dogs
Located beneath the presser foot, these “teeth” help move the fabric under the presser foot. In the raised position, they “feed” the fabric. You can drop the feed dogs to move the fabric freely in any direction by hand without feed dog involvement.

French Seam
A finished seam in which the seam allowance is encased by the seam.

Gathering is a technique for shortening the length of a strip of fabric so that the longer piece can be attached to a shorter piece. It is commonly used in clothing to manage fullness, or create a ruffled effect.

The process of converting a pattern from one size to another

The orientation of the threads in woven fabric: lengthwise and crosswise. The lengthwise grain is parallel to the selvage and is the warp; cross-grain threads cross the grain and are perpendicular to the selvage.

A haberdasher is a person who sells small articles for sewing, such as buttons, elastic, zippers and other motions.

Hem Allowance
Hem allowance is the distance between the cutting line and the hemline. This allowance is folded inside the garment before it is sewn. Also called “hem depth,” it varies with the garment style and sewing technique. 

The vertical seams on pants between the legs.

Sew-in or fusible fabric used to stabilise fabric, add body, reinforce, or shape. 

Jersey is a type of stretchy knitted fabric.

Knit Fabric
Knit fabric is created from one continuous piece of yarn that is looped repeatedly. This looped structure gives knit fabrics a great deal of stretch. Knit fabrics may unravel but will not fray.

Looper Stitches
These are stitches formed by the looper section of a serger or overlocker.

A piece of material used to finish the inside of a garment. Linings can hide the seam and make the garments easier and more comfortable to wear.

Millinery is women's hats and other articles sold by a milliner, or the profession or business of designing, making, or selling hats for women.

A type of inexpensive cotton fabric. Also, a muslin is the American English term for a test garment, frequently made from muslin fabric. The equivalent British English term is toile.

A fabric texture that runs in a particular direction, such as velvet, and requires all pattern pieces be cut facing the same direction.

Notions are any small tools or accessories used in sewing.

Pattern marks shaped like diamonds or triangles that are printed on the cutting line of a pattern to indicate where the seams should meet.

Known as a serger in the U.S., this is a specialist sewing machine that trims and neatens the edge of fabric as it creates a seam.

The overlapping fabric that covers an opening in a garment and supports or hides the closures. Usually a faced strip of fabric that houses either the buttons or buttonholes on a closure.

Presser Foot
A sewing machine foot that holds fabric to the feed dogs on a sewing machine.

The art of making a quilt – a decorative piece of bedding or wall hanging made from small pieces of fabric sewn together in batted layers.

Raw edge
Unfinished, cut edge of fabric.

The distance between the waist band and the crotch seam on pants.

Gathering. Sometimes whole garment sections are gathered into a seam.

Seam Allowance
A seam allowance is the area between the edge of fabric and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of material being stitched together. Seam allowances can range from 1/4 inch wide (6.35 mm) to as much as several inches. 

Tightly woven factory edge of fabric that runs parallel to the lengthwise grain.

A fabric under layer used to hold the shape of the fashion fabric or support its strength.

A surplice is a neckline formed by overlapping the left and right bodice pieces to form a "V".

Decorative row of stitches sewn on the right side of a garment.

Toile is the British English term for a test garment. The equivalent American English term is muslin.

The lower fabric of two overlapped pieces of fabric.

A fibrous material used for filling items such as quilts. Can also be known as batting or filler.

Walking Foot
A presser foot that steps across the fabric, as opposed to sliding.

Wooly Nylon Thread
A lofty yarn-like thread that stretches to a fine straight thread when under tension. Polyester versions withstand greater heat.

Woven Fabric
Woven fabric is created by weaving multiple yarns across each other at right angles. These fabrics usually have no stretch along the lengthwise, little along the crossgrain, and the most stretch along the bias. Depending on the fiber content, some woven fabrics will have more stretch than others. Woven fabrics will unravel and raw edges should be finished.

A length of fabric, based on the U.S. term where fabric is measured and cut in yards (36-inch intervals) instead of metres.

A panel across the shoulders or the waistline.

Zigzag Stitch
Commonly used Z-shaped machine stitch sometimes used to finish raw edges or to sew a stretch seam.

Zipper Foot
A presser foot that enables sewing with the needle on either side–perfect for sewing close to zipper teeth.

Zipper Teeth
Can be metal, plastic, or nylon coils each “tooth” contains the locking mechanism that holds the zipper together.