Sewing Terms

18 Sewing Terms Every Beginner Should Know

Sewing Terms


If you’re just getting started in sewing, it can seem like everyone is speaking a different language. Well break down the top terms you need to know join the sewing conversatio.


1. Right Sides

Every fabric has a “right” side and a “wrong side”. Typically, the right side is easy to spot – it’s the one you want showing on the finished side of your project. Even if your fabric is reversible at first glance, it’s a good idea to assign a “right side” to the fabric and mark it so you’re consistent when you lay out your pattern.


2. Seam

The fundamental basis of all sewing. A seam is any line stitching that joins two or more pieces together. They can be curved or straight, left raw-edged or finished, and use a wide variety of stitches, but the point is always the same; to change the shape of the fabric.


3. Seam Allowance

The seam allowance is the amount of space left between the edge of your fabric and the actual line of stitching. If your pattern has seam allowance built in, be sure to note it before you start sewing or the finished measurements will be off. If you need to add seam allowance, start with 16mm (⅝ inch).


4. Pressing

Pressing helps set the seams and gives your project shape. Most pressing can be done with an iron set to the correct temperature for the fabric you’re using. Rather than working the iron back and forth as you would if smoothing a wrinkled shirt, move it slowly along the length of your seam.


5. Thread Tension

You may have already heard sewists bemoaning their thread tension woes, but it’s not as complicated as it seems. Your sewing machine can apply different levels of tension to both the top thread and the bobbin thread so that you only see stitches from the correct thread on each side of the fabric. Different fabrics require different tension settings, so test on a scrap of your fabric to make sure they’re correct.


6. Grain

Woven fabrics have grain, cross-grain, and bias, which refer to the direction the threads of the weave are running. Grain, or straight grain, runs parallel to the finished edges (selvedges) of a length of fabric. Cross-grain is perpendicular to the straight grain, running side to side across the fabric. Bias runs at a 45 degree angle to these other grains, which makes bias-cut fabric very stretchy and malleable.


7. Notch

Notches are one of the techniques used to mark pattern pieces to line them up during assembly. This is particularly handy for pieces with curves, gathering or other shaping techniques. Create notches by carefully snipping a tiny triangle or slit into the seam allowance of your pattern pieces.


8. Stabiliser

Wash-way, tear-away or fusible stabiliser is a great resource that keeps your fabric neat while you’re stitching and helps it hold up when you’re done. It’s especially helpful for embroidery, applique and other embellishments as well as points of heavy wear, like buttonholes and cuffs.


9. Ease

Ease is the difference between the measurements taken for a garment, and the final measurements of the garment itself. Ease is what makes the clothing possible to wear, since without it, all clothing would be skin-tight and highly uncomfortable!


10. Selvedge

The selvedge edges of a fabric are the finished edges that are created during the weaving process. The term comes from “self edge”, referring to the fact that the fabric seems to create the finished edge by itself during the weaving process, no hemming required!


11. Clipping Curves

Curves can pose a problem when turned right side out as the seam allowance bunches up inside. Cut down on bulk by clipping your curves – cutting notches into the seam allowance. Be careful not to cut into your stitch line or your work will unravel.


12. Muslin

The term “muslin” can refer to two different things. First, muslin in an inexpensive woven cotton fabric. “A muslin” can also refer to a practice version of a garment, typically made out of muslin or another inexpensive stand-in material so you don’t need to cut into that pricey fashion fabric. Also called a toile, this pricey fashion fabric. Also called a toile, this practice garment is a great way to practise the tricky bits of fitting and adjust your pattern before making the real thing.


13. Serger

A serger, also known as an overlock machine, is a type of sewing machine that use 3 or 4 threads to create a locked stitch. A serger also has a blade that cuts the fabric just before it passes through the needles, creating finished edges on all your work as you go.



When starting a new machine-stitched seam, backstitching, or back-tacking, locks the threads in place. Avoid reversing off the edges of your fabric when backstitching since this can affect the tension of your thread and cause tangles.



Darts are triangular tucks that come to a sharp point, used to remove extra fabric in on area of a garment, but not another. They’re commonly used in creating bodices and shirts.



Pins are great, but sometimes you need something a bit more versatile (or less sharp!) to hold your work in place. A basting stitch is the answer. If you’re sewing by hand, this is done by using a long running stitch. On the machine, use a long stitch with no backstitching to lock it in place.


Keep curved pattern pieces from stretching and warping by using staystitching. This is a line of plain straight stitching made inside the seam allowance of a pattern piece, especially those at collars and armscyes (armholes).


18.Knit vs. Woven

Knitted fabrics are made with threads running perpendicular to one another which means they’re typically sturdy and inelastic – perfect for creating structure, though they fray if edges are left unfinished. Knitted fabrics are made with threads looped together to form a fabric that’s typically stretchable in multiple directions and won’t fray when cut, making it ideal for soft, draped shapes.

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