Sewing Terminology

Kate Miller-Wilson
sewing machine

If you're new to the world of sewing or are expanding your skills with some challenging new patterns or projects, it's easy to get confused by some of the vocabulary specific to this hobby. It helps to have a sewing terminology guide handy as you work. That way, you can refer to it often and have a clear idea of how to complete your project.

Common Sewing Terms

You are likely to encounter the following terms frequently in sewing patterns and instructional books:

  • Accordian pleats - pleats, or folds of fabric, that all face the same direction
  • Alter - to change the fit of a garment
  • Anchor - to sew back and forth at the beginning and end of a seam to keep the stitches from unraveling
  • Applique - a fabric decoration sewn onto another piece of fabric
  • Backstitch - sewing backwards over a stitch to make it stronger
  • Baste - to temporarily sew pieces together using longer stitches, useful for putting in zippers or checking fit for clothing alterations
  • Batting - a thick layer of padding that provides weight and volume to a quilt or other project
  • Bias - to cut fabric on an angle against the grain, often allowing for stretch or drape
  • Blanket stitch - a hand sewing stitch that involves looping the thread around the raw edge of a piece of thick fabric
  • Block - to steam or soak a piece of fabric and then stretch and shape it to the desired measurements, often used in needlepoint or with wool
  • Bodice - the torso portion of a garment
  • Bolt - a large rolled piece of fabric, often containing between 8 and 15 yards
  • Boning - thin pieces of stiff material, often plastic, that provide structure to a garment
  • Box pleat - symmetrical pleats, or folds of fabric, which face toward or away from each other
  • Casing - a tube of fabric, often used for elastic, drawstrings, or a curtain rod
  • Clip - to make small cuts along the seam allowance of a project, giving the fabric the ability to curve with a seam
  • Darn - to weave thread in order to close up a hole in a piece of fabric, used when mending
  • Dart - a small measure of fabric taken in on the inside of a garment to provide shaping
  • Ease - the measurement difference between the garment and the body that wears it, allowing for comfort and movement
  • Facing - an interior layer of fabric that provides a finished look and a stronger seam by covering raw edges
  • Feed dog - the part of your sewing machine that grips the fabric and moves it forward, often located on the bottom surface below the needle
  • Finger press - to use your finger or fingernail to temporarily crease fabric
  • French seam - a seam that has no exposed raw edge
  • Fusible - an embellishment, notion, or fabric that can be adhered to another fabric using a hot iron and pressure
  • Gore - large vertical pieces of a skirt or other garment, which are generally wider at the bottom and are used to create fullness
  • Hand - the feel of a sewing trim or fabric, including the texture and the way it drapes
  • Hook and loop - any type of Velcro-style closure that uses loops and hooks
  • Hem - the finished edge of a garment or project, which is rolled to create a finished edge
  • Interfacing - a stiff layer of material that can be fused or sewn to thinner fabric to give it a more substantial weight and stiffer body
  • Lining - the interior layer of a garment or item
  • Nap - the direction of dimensional fabric fibers, often important when sewing with velvet
  • Pin fit - to use pins on the wrong side of a garment to adjust the fit
  • Pintuck - tiny folds of fabric that are sewn into a garment or item to create a decorative effect
  • Piping - dimensional trim that outlines the edges or seams of a project, usually consisting of cord covered in fabric
  • Pre-shrink - to wash and dry a fabric before sewing with it, thereby preventing shrinkage when the item is completed
  • Presser foot - the part of your sewing machine that holds the fabric down as it advances past the feed dogs
  • Princess seam - a curved seam that gives shaping to a bodice
  • Right side - the most attractive side of a piece of fabric, often the side with the printed design
  • Running stitch - a standard hand sewing stitch that goes back and forth through the fabric
  • Seam allowance - the portion of the cut fabric that will be taken up by the seam or hem
  • Seam binding - a narrow piece of fabric, often pre-made, that covers the inside raw edge of a seam or hem
  • Selvedge - the two ends of a piece of fabric that were woven and finished at the factory, often denser than the rest of the fabric or printed with manufacturer information
  • Serger - a sewing machine that uses multiple threads to created finished interior seams and special details like pintucks, also called an overlock machine
  • Stitch length - the length of each stitch, an adjustable feature on most sewing machines
  • Stitch in the ditch - to sew along the seam where two pieces of fabric meet
  • Tension - how taut the thread is on a sewing machine
  • Topstitch - to sew along the edge of a hem or on the right side of the garment or object, providing a finished look
  • Tuck - a fold of fabric that provides definition, shaping, or decoration
  • Wrong side - the side of the fabric that does not have the pattern printed on it or does not look as attractive
  • Zig-zag stitch - a common sewing machine setting to sew back and forth stitches that allow for stretch

Understanding Sewing Terminology

No matter your sewing experience level, you'll likely encounter new sewing terms from time to time. Taking a moment to look up these new terms will improve your skills as a seamstress. If you know what the pattern is asking you to do, you'll be well on your way to creating a beautiful garment, accessory, home décor item, or other fun project.

Sewing Terminology