Calling all beginner sewers out there, this is the ultimate sewing terms guide you need! To help you guys out, I’ve put together a glossary of sewing terms that will come in handy for everyone.
Sewing Terms: The Glossary for Your Sewing Needs
I remember watching my mother and grandmother talking while sewing one of my many Halloween costumes for school. They used to talk about sewing, speaking words like ‘basting’ and ‘hemming’ with meanings flew right over my head! Now, as a grown up and experienced sewer, I know what those sewing terms meant and even use them in daily speech! But for the beginner sewers out there who are at a lost, you can refer to this guide to decode sewing terms you’re unfamiliar with.
A type of fabric used as a synthetic silk substitute. It’s usually shiny and looks great when draped over surfaces. I suggest using this to make a dress for an evening event or a long curtain for your windows!
A type of fabric made from acrylic fibers. It’s highly likely that your favorite sweater is made from acrylic and so is your favorite upholstery covering!
When a dress doesn’t fit my child, this is what saves the day! Altering means to change or adjust something, in this case, a piece of clothing.
Applique creates patterns or pictures on garments. Smaller pieces of fabric are sewn onto a larger piece of fabric as decoration. This can be hand-stitched or machine stitched.
In layman’s terms, or rather, in the sewing world, this is the armhole in a shirt.
When sewing a completely new project, what I do is sew the seams or fabrics together loosely instead of pining them together. This is what basting does — to sew fabrics together temporarily.
When we fold the fabric diagonally, usually to prepare for cutting, the fold it creates is called the bias.
No, this is not a type of scotch tape you stick on the fabric to hold the bias down. Actually, the product of cutting a bias is the bias tape and you can use this narrow strip of fabric for piping and binding seams.
Usually done at the end of a project, binding is to finish a hem or a seam. A mark of your success!
A blind stitch or an invisible stitch is a way of joining two pieces of fabric so that the thread is unseen. Use this type of stitch for hems when you don’t want to see the seam. It’s also great for sewing seams from the outside, for example a stuffed animal.
A sewing machine makes stitches with two threads. The top thread is passed through the needle and a bobbin holds the second thread. The threaded needle catches thread from the bobbin to form a stitch. A sewing machine won’t work without it.
The casing is the tunnel of fabric where strings or elastics go into to draw the fabric, creating a bag or tight pants or sleeves.
Seen in fancy curtains and sometimes, Christmas decorations, a cord is made up of twisted fiber. It could be thick or narrow, depending on the use.
Darning is a technique for repairing holes in fabrics by hand using only a needle and thread. I remember my grandmother doing this for one of our older table runners. She always said she came from a generation that always fixes things.
As the name suggests, a darning mushroom is a tool shaped as a mushroom and used for darning. It’s usually used for socks where you place the sock over the mushroom head so it’s gathered tightly at the stalk where you’ll do the repair.
This is a type of shaping technique. Sound complicated? Simply create it by stitching out a wedge-shaped fold in any given fabric. It’s usually done for the bust and waist area of a clothing.
Create new garments by draping and pinning fabric on a dress form. Draping creates a three-dimensional representation of your ideas and allows you to see how a fabric will “hang” on a person.
Traditionally, dressmaker refers to a person who makes custom clothes for women. In Sewing.com, dressmaker refers to what you and I perhaps aspire and work to be — to make our own clothing!
One of the most time consuming and detailed types of needlework, wouldn’t you agree? It creates images or designs by stitching one type of material over another, for example, gold threads over purple fabric – very royal.
An eyelet is a smaller version of a grommet. Grommets are the small metal or plastic rings you find in shower or curtains. Sewers insert the grommets into the whole of a fabric to protect the fabric from abrasion. Eyelets, on the other hand, are usually found in shoes! They’re the holes where the laces go.
The ‘front’ or the ‘right’ side of the fabric. If you have a one-sided fabric, the one with the design usually is the face. Wouldn’t want to show the pale side of a fabric for a project, wouldn’t we?
When making a shirt from scratch, it always has raw edges around the neckline and sleeves. We can’t have that, can’t we? The facing is what you need to finish the raw edges of a fabric.
Sewing a French seam means stitching both sides of the seams to hide the raw edges of the fabrics. It provides a neater, cleaner, and smoother finish.
It is the fabric used on the ‘unseen’ or ‘wrong’ part of the fabric to make it more rigid. It’s usually glued or ironed on the said part of the fabric. This help gives the fabric shape.
Gathering is a technique where we shorten a fabric by ‘gathering’ the length of the fabric and attaching its shorter piece. This way, we achieve fullness!
A gauge is a small ruler with an adjustable slider to give accurate measurements. It’s used for measuring short spaces like hems and pleats.
A godet often comes with a gore – like a buy one, take one deal! It is a piece of circular sector fabric inserted into the garment to add volume and fullness to it. This is how our favorite flared skirts achieve their shape!
A gore is a segment of fabric that is narrow on top and goes wider as it goes down. This is usually seen with flared skirt and dresses.
This is an important term to know, especially when cutting a fabric! The grain refers to the direction in which a fabric is woven. If someone says, ‘cut with the grain’ it means cut parallel to the threads of the fabric, not perpendicular to it.
Even back in my younger days, I already dislike tight garments. It’s also part of the reason why I started to learn how to sew — to alter my clothes! However, my grandmother had a different solution, she used gussets. Gussets are triangular or square pieces of fabric that are inserted into the seam to reduce tension or stress from tight-fit clothing- usually placed on the shoulder and underarms.
Commonly used to refer to a men’s outfitter — someone my husband occasionally visits! A haberdasher is also a person who sells small articles for sewing like buttons and zippers.
You and I know how annoying and heartbreaking it is when a garment unravels. All of your hard work…gone! In order to avoid this, we hem the garment by folding the cut edge twice and sewing it down to secure it. Voila!
Usually used in athletes’ uniforms, a jersey is a type of stretchy fabric, perfect for moving around. It’s also widely used on bodycon and body tight dresses. Further, it’s quite absorbent too!
This is an old term used back in the 18th century referring to a dressmaker. It sounds so fancy, too bad we don’t use it nowadays!
Personally, I’m not into hats but I have friends who are! Millinery is a term which refers to women’s hats or businesses where women could buy hats.
Muslin is the practice or test garment when making clothing. It is what a scratch paper is to a final finished work.
Needlework is any practice that involves needles and fabric. Anything from quilting, knitting to upcycling is considered needlework!
These are the tiny little things we use in sewing and we keep away from our children’s reach. It’s a collective term for the accessories and items we use like; buttons, pins, and snaps.
Usually used in gowns, an overlay is the fabric on top when there’s a different fabric underneath. For dresses or skirts, this could be lace or tulle!
As the word suggests, patchwork is a type of needlework that involves sewing pieces or ‘patches’ of fabric together to make a larger design. It gives a project a more rustic look and also makes use of your scrap fabric!
Of course, even if I have been sewing for a long time, I still begin new projects by following patterns. A pattern is an original garment which you rely on to create copies of. They’re really handy!
Imagine the icing at the edges of a cake, piping is kind of like that! It is a trim or embellishment placed at the edges of a project. This is done by inserting a strip of folded fabric into a seam and it gives the project a more compact look.
Sometimes, it’s just hard to remove a certain piece of clothing. Maybe it’s too tight or too intricate, and that’s where the placket comes in. A placket is an opening in the upper part of pants or skirts, it could also be found at the neck of a shirt.
Oh, I love pleats! But what is a pleat? A pleat is a type of fold that’s formed when you double a fabric upon itself, meaning, folding it over and folding it back.
Everyone loves pockets, not everyone has the luxury to have a free hand to carry a purse! Pockets are tiny little envelope-like structure attached to pants or shirts that hold small items, like wallets and cell phones.
Perfect for winter projects, quilting is a method of sewing where you sew two pieces of fabric together, with an insulator in between. This then creates a thicker fabric which is perfect for blankets!
This is a synonym of ‘face.’ It is the side of a fabric that will be seen once a project is done. This is usually the side with the design.
A ruching is a gathered overlay. It’s usually seen in chiffon or tulle dresses or skirts, where the overlay is gathered on two parallel sides and then stitched to an underlay or lining. Ruching then creates a slightly disheveled look!
The seam allowance is the area between the fold or the edge of the fabric and the stitching line done to create the seam. I suggest having this at around 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch wide, depending on what item you’re sewing.
Of course, sometimes, mistakes in seaming are made. In order to undo the seams without destroying the fabric, we use the seam ripper! It’s a small tool specifically made for undoing seams.
Another older term, a seamstress is someone who finishes garments, unlike the dressmaker who creates them from scratch.
A selvage is the end of a fabric that doesn’t need to be seamed. It keeps the fabric from unraveling, like a ready-made seam. Amazing? Yes, but it doesn’t apply to all types of fabric. Oh, it would’ve been amazing if it did!
Serging is the closing or binding off of an edge of a cloth or fabric. It’s similar to seaming but without the stitching. Nowadays, it’s usually done using sewing machines.
Sewing! How should we define the passion and hobby we all enjoy? Sewing is a craft that involves stitching of fabric and other different materials to create masterpieces, like our own clothes, home decor, and gifts!
This is us! A sewing circle is a group of people, usually women, who meet up and do sewing projects together. Although we don’t meet up personally, I urge you to find a sewing circle in your neighborhood! If there isn’t one, why not create one?
The Master Pattern as we call it. A sloper is the base pattern used to develop other patterns. For intermediate sewers, a sloper is something they refer to before deviating into creating their own patterns.
Basically, stitches are the first thing we learn when we start sewing- aside from cutting, of course. A stitch is a single loop of thread used in sewing, knitting, and embroidery. It could be a hand-made stitch or sewing machine stitch. Needle in, needle out — that’s the basic process. There are lots of different types of stitches for different occasions!
My favorite coat has this! A surplice is a type of neckline that forms when the left and right parts of the coat overlap to make ‘V’ shape.
Tailor used to refer to a person who specifically makes men’s clothing, like suits. However, nowadays, a tailor also refers to a person who makes men and women’s suits and coats.
As the word suggests, these are garments a tailor makes.
Protect your precious little finger from accidental pricking with this tiny bucket you wear on our thumb or any other finger. If you’re new to sewing, using a thimble is a must!
Kind of a helper, a third hand functions literally as an extra hand for a sewer. It is a type of clamp that holds the fabric you will sew together.
A thread is a type of yarn sewers use sew or repair fabric or garments together. For sure, we have spools and spools of this in our sewing baskets!
Toile is the British version of a muslin. Like a muslin, you use this as a test garment in order to see if there’s anything that needs adjusting.
Look in your closet and you’ll see topstitching everywhere. A topstitch is simply stitching you can see on the outside of a garment.
Topstitch is often decorative but it can be functional too. It holds facing, strengthens seams and holds them in place so they sit flatter.
A trim or trimming is an additional decoration in clothing or home decor. You sew the trim around the edges to give off a more elegant look. For trims, you’ll most likely use ribbons and ruffles, which are adorable by the way!
This one, I rarely use but I remember my mother using it. A twill tape is a flat-woven twill, cotton, or linen ribbon. You use it to reinforce seams, make casings, and tie closing garments together!
Often used with lace garments, an underlay is a layer of fabric underneath the top fabric. It can create a beautiful visual effect, especially when different colored fabrics are used.
If we have the right side, we have the wrong side. This is simply the “back” of the fabric. It is usually the one without design or with a paler design.
Used for knitting, crocheting, weaving, and embroidery, a yarn is a continuous length of fiber. You can pick between synthetic or natural fiber yarns! I’m sure almost all of us have a corner for spools of yarn in our sewing area!
Learn how to make basic stitches with this video from the Nutty Crafter!
Knowing these sewing terms will surely put you at an advantage when it comes to sewing! I hope this glossary has armed you with the knowledge you need to pursue this beautiful craft and become great at it. If you have friends who are hesitant to enter the world of sewing because of the unfamiliar ‘lingo’, show them this sewing terms list and you can all learn together!
If you have other sewing terms you want to add to this list, let us know in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note – This article was originally published in January 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.