Sewing Terms & Techniques: A to Z
Terms, Acronyms and Techniques... oh my!
It can be quite overwhelming to read your first sewing pattern or tutorial and try to understand the sewing terms & techniques being used and described. I think it is a barrier for many to get started on their sewing journeys! But do not fret my friends....
Let's go thru the sewing terms & basic techniques that are commonly used in sewing tutorials and patterns. If you go into a tutorial knowing these basics terms, and what they mean, it will be much easier to visualize and understand what is being described.
A & B
Applique- a process by which a piece of fabric, usually cut into a unique pattern or shape, is cut and attached to another piece of fabric using a satin stitch, blanket stitch, or blind stitch. May be attached using fusible webbing as well. This is often seen on custom pillows and blankets.
Batting- layer of fibrous material (cotton, wool, polyester, or blends) placed between layers of fabric. Used in quilts, craft projects and various home decor applications. Batting is available in different thicknesses and from different fibers. Each type is useful for different projects and wear differently as well.
Bias- diagonal direction of fabric. Fabrics have the most stretch across their bias.
The graphic to the right shows how to cut fabric on the bias, or diagonally.
Blind Hem- a hem in which stitching is not meant to be seen on the right side of the fabric. This specialty stitch is offered on several machines, and may require a specialty presser foot attachment. Refer to your machine manual for details. Often used on garments and drapery for a professional, invisible hemline.
See my post, Blind Hem Foot: How to make a Blind Hem Stitch if you want to learn more about this great stitch.
Buttonhole- a cut in the fabric, finished with stitching, just large enough for a button to pass thru. Most machines offer automatic buttonhole attachments (of various numbers of steps), used to make and finish custom size buttonholes. Refer to your machine manual.
This can be done manually without an automatic buttonhole feature, but is more involved and difficult.
C & D
Clipping corners & curves- techniques used to reduce bulk and allow fabric to ease in and around sewn curves. Be careful not to cut into your seam!
To determine whether you clip or notch an area, you need to look at the length of the seam compared to length of the curve:
If the seam is longer than the curve → clip straight cuts into seam allowance so fabric will spread and allow curve to take shape after turned right side out.
If the curve is longer than the seam → clip away notches of excess fabric in seam allowance so it won’t bunch up along the pretty curve after turned right side out.
Double-fold hem- a technique used to finish the bottom edge of a garment or project. Created by folding and pressing the edge under twice, and stitching in place.
We create a double fold hem and turn it into a casing in Sew a Beautiful Ironing Board Cover: A Tutorial. Many of these skills are used in combination in various projects.
E, F & G
Edge stitch- straight stitches placed about ⅛” from the edge of a seam or finished outer edge.
Finger press- using pressure and warmth from your fingertips to press a seam. Used when unable to use an iron in a tight space, or if fabric will not tolerate an iron press.
Fold line- the fold of a piece of fabric. Some patterns require placement along a fold line.
Fabric Grain- direction of the threads used in weaving the fabric
French seam- type of seam that fully encloses the seam allowance, so no raw edges are visible.
See my post Sew a Pillowcase: A Tutorial for Beginners using French Seams for details and instructions on how to create these types of seams.
Gather- gathering an end of fabric, allowing a long piece to match up with a shorter piece.
Achieved by sewing two parallel lines of basting stitches (long, straight stitches without anchoring) ¼ inch apart, leaving long thread tails at start and stop for gathering. Bobbin threads are held while top threads are gently pulled to slightly gather the area. Go slowly and try not to break the thread, or you must start from scratch!
You can also use a specialty presser foot, a gathering foot, to accomplish this task.
H & I
Hem- the act of finishing the bottom edge of a garment or project, by being folded and sewn.
Hemline- the lowest part of the garment or project after hem is sewn. Think of this as the finished length.
Hem allowance- also referred to as hem depth. The distance, or amount of fabric, between the cut line of fabric and the hemline of a project. Must be taken into account when planning and cutting project, so correct finished length is achieved.
Hook-and-loop tape- aka velcro. Available in stick-on and sew-on varieties as well as various widths, sizes/shapes and colors.
Invisible zipper- specialty zipper designed to become “invisible” or disappear into a seam, after insertion.
M, N & P
Miter- method of finishing a 90 degree corner by creating a diagonal seam line from the point of the corner to the inside edge. Often used on quilt corners and craft projects. An advanced skill.
Mitered binding- the binding of corners which can be, or appear to be, seamed along the 45 degree angle of the corner. This can be done by seaming together binding strips along the 45 degree angle of the corner, or by folding the corner to appear that this was done.
A true mitered corner has a seam running down the 45 degree angle of the corner (below left). Often the method of folding to “replicate” the look of a true miter is called a faux-mitered corner (below right).
Notions- small accessories and tools used to aid in sewing; needles, thread, bobbins, scissors, seam ripper, thimble, etc.
Pattern- set of sewing instructions with templates, used to assemble a sewn item.
Piping- fabric wrapped cording, often used to embellish a project. Frequently wrapped in bias trim to ease around curves of the project.
Pivot- Turning fabric in machine while sewing. Stop stitching, leave needle down in the fabric. Lift up the presser foot and turn fabric around the needle. Lower presser foot and continue sewing. Used when sewing corners and other shapes.
Pleat- fabric that is folded, pressed and stitched together. Most frequently used to add a decorative finish.
Point turner- thin pointed object used to assist in pushing out corners to a crisp point. Common items used include chopsticks, wooden skewers or a similar notion.
Prewash/ Preshrink- to launder fabric normally before sewing, allowing any shrinkage to occur prior to assembly of the project.
Pressing- using an iron to press wrinkles from fabric or to set a crease in place.
Q & R
Quilt- a finished product created by sewing two or more layers of fabric together, with a layer of batting in between.
Also the process of sewing said layers together, “to quilt”.
Quilting- process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together with a layer of batting in between.
Raw edge- cut edge of fabric, not finished. Found along the cut line of fabric, or the cut made at the fabric store upon your purchase and oriented along the WOF.
Right side of fabric- front side of fabric, usually the printed or “pretty” side.
Right sides together- placing the two right sides (“pretty” sides) of fabric together.
Rotary Cutter and mat- cutting device and coordinating self-healing mat, used for squaring and cutting fabric. Particularly useful for quilting projects and when cutting long pieces of fabric.
See my post How to use a Rotary Cutter to Square Fabric for more information on how to use these tools accurately and safely!
Seam line- a series of stitches that hold two or more pieces of fabric together.
Seam Allowance- width of fabric between the seam line and the raw edge of fabric. Common seam allowances are ¼ and ⅝ inch, but vary with each pattern or tutorial.
Seam ripper- handy little tool with sharp pointed and curved edge, used to remove single stitches or lines of stitching when errors are made. Some of us use this tool more often than others.
Selvage- tightly woven, self-finished edge of fabric that does not fray. Fabric stores cut perpendicular to the selvage and fabric companies often print identifiers along the selvage.
Squaring up- the process of squaring the raw edge of a cut of fabric. See my post How to use a Rotary Cutter to Square Fabric for more info.
Stitch-in-the-ditch- quilting term describing the method of stitching along existing seam in a patchworked piece, to quilt the layers together. One method of quilting.
Thread tail- untrimmed thread end
Topstitch- stitches sewn ¼ inch from the edge, on the right side of a project, parallel to a seam or edge. Typically a longer stitch length is used for this purpose.
Turning right side out- the process of turning your fabric so that the right side is facing outwards, after initially sewing right sides together. See pictures below, from Handwarmers: A Quick & Easy Tutorial.
Tutorial- set of instructions walking you through the assembly of a project. Tutorials often use pictures or videos to assist and sometimes include printable patterns or templates. A great way to start sewing without investing in, and needing to read, traditional patterns! Can be found online, on PINTEREST, and right here on Moms with Scissors of course!
W & Y
Width of fabric (WOF)- The width of fabric is a fixed measurement noted on the bolt, and typically standardized by fabric type. Fabric is bought by length (by the yard in US) and is cut across the WOF, when purchased.
Wrong side of fabric- back side of fabric, the “not pretty” side.
Wrong sides together- placing two wrong sides (“not pretty” sides) of fabric together.
Yardage- Term used to describe a cut length of fabric. Measured by 36 inch/1 yard increments in the U.S.
I would recommend you review my post, Sewing Terms: Sewing Machines Basics you Must Know. Between these two posts, I believe you have enough of an understanding of sewing terms and techniques to get started on a beginner tutorial!
There are sewing tutorials all over Pinterest, some better than others. If you need inspiration or a place to start, follow me on Pinterest @MomswithScissors.
Or check out two of my beginner friendly tutorials: Sew a Pillowcase: A Tutorial for Beginners using French Seams and Handwarmers: A Quick & Easy Tutorial.
Are there any terms or acronyms in tutorials or patterns that have stumped you? Please share so I can add them...the goal is to be as helpful as possible and share our learned experience with others!
Be safe & stay well,