Sometimes, when talking to a non-sewer, they look at us like we speak a foreign language! Some sewing terms are unfamiliar to non-sewers and beginners. To help you out, I’m putting a glossary together, so you could refer to it anytime you need to. I hope this will come in handy for everyone!
Glossary of Sewing Terms For Your Sewing Needs!
I remember watching my mother and grandmother talking while sewing one of my many costumes for school. They used to talk about sewing, speaking words like ‘basting’ and ‘hemming’ with meanings that flew right over my head! Now, as a grown up and experienced sewer, I know what those sewing terms mean and even use them in daily speech! To help you decode any words used in the sewing world, check out the list of words below!
This is your chosen fabric’s ability to take in liquid; water, sweat and what-not. It’s really handy to know your fabric’s absorbency when creating household projects like coasters and customized towels!
A type of fabric used as a synthetic silk substitute. It’s usually shiny and looks very great when draped over surfaces. I suggest using this to make a dress for a night event or a long curtain for your homes!
A type of fabric made from acrylic fibers. It’s highly likely that your favorite sweater is made from this acrylic, so is your favorite upholstery’s 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.
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 that it creates is called the bias.
No, this is not a type of scotch tape that you stick on the fabric to hold the bias down. Actually, the bias tape is a narrow strip of fabric that is produced from cutting the bias. If you’re into piping or binding seams, this one’s for you!
Usually done at the end of a project, binding is to finish a hem or a seam. A mark of your success!
Seen with fancy curtains and sometimes, Christmas decorations, a cord is made up of twisted fiber. It could be thick or narrow, depending on the use.
The casing is the tunnel of fabric that strings or elastics go into to draw the fabric, creating a bag or tight pants or sleeves.
I remember, when I was a kid, that I had this cute little drawstring bag that I absolutely love. However, once, the string got pulled out and I tried in vain to return it to the casing.
This is a type of shaping technique. Sound complicated? It is simply created by stitching out a wedge-shaped fold in any given fabric. It’s usually done for the bust and waist area of a clothing.
Darning is a technique for repairing holes in fabrics by hand using only needle and thread.
I remember my grandmother doing this for one of our older table runners. She always said that she came from a generation that always fixes things.
As the name suggests, 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 that it’s gathered tightly at the stalk where you’ll do the repair.
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!
Embroidery! 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, a gold threads over purple fabric – very royal.
An eyelet is a smaller version of a grommet. Grommets are the small metal or plastic rings that you find in shower or curtains. They are inserted into the whole of a fabric to protect the fabric from abrasion. Eyelets, on the one 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 fabric used to finish the raw edges is called the facing.
It is the fabric used behind the ‘unseen’ or ‘wrong’ part of the fabric to make it more rigid. It’s usually glue or ironed on the said part of the fabric. This help give 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 godet often comes with a gore – like a buy one, take one deal! It is a piece of circular sector fabric that is 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!
Interfacing is a type of textile that is sewn or glued on the inner side of a garment to make that part harder. For example, my husband’s polo shirt collars have interfacing that make them rigid.
Usually used in athletes’ uniforms, jersey is a type of stretchy fabric, perfect for moving around. It’s also quite absorbent!
This is an old term used back in the 18th century to refer 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. So, what we do here from quilting to 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 that we use like; buttons, pins and snaps.
Usually used in gowns, 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 finds use for 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 the 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! Pleated skirts, especially so. 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 cellphones.
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 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 that 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 that they refer to before deviating into creating their own patterns.
Basically, the first thing we learn when we started sewing – aside from cutting, of course. A stitch is a single loop of thread done in sewing, knitting and embroidery. It could be a hand-made stitch or made by a sewing machine. It’s simply; needle in – needle out. There are lots of different types of stitches for different occasions!
My favorite coat has this! A surplice is a type of neckline that is formed 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, tailor is also used to refer to a person who makes men and women’s suits and coats.
As the word suggests, it means any garment made by a tailor. Just like my husband’s suit when we got married!
Thread is a type of yarn that is usually used to sew or repair fabric or garments together. For sure we have spools and spools of this in our sewing baskets!
The little tiny bucket we wear on our thumb or any other finger to protect it from being pricked. If you’re new to sewing, this 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 to be sewn together.
Toile is the British version of a muslin. Like a muslin it is a test garment, made before the final garment in order to see if there’s anything that needs adjustment.
A trim or trimming is an applied decoration in clothing or home decor. It’s usually sewed around the edges to give a more elegant look. It’s also mostly made of ruffles and ribbons. How adorable!
This one, I rarely use but I remember my mother using it. A twill tape is a flat-woven twill ribbon, ours was made of cotton but it could also be made of linen. It is used to reinforce seams, make casings and tie closing garments together!
If we have the right side, we have the wrong side. This is the “back” of the fabric being used. It is usually the one without design or with a paler design.
Used for knitting, crocheting, weaving and embroidery, yarn is a continuous length of fiber. It can be made from synthetic or natural fibers! I’m sure almost all of us have a corner for spools of yarn in our sewing area!
Curious about how certain stitches are done? Check out this video from the Nutty Crafter!
Knowing these words will surely put you at an advantage when it comes to sewing! I hope this list helped you understand or clear out some misunderstanding and miscommunication in the past. If you have friends who are hesitant to enter the world of sewing because of the ‘lingo’, show them this post!
If you have any questions or words you want me to add to this list, let me know in the comments below!
Were you inspired by this post to create a new project? Check out this Easy Hanging Hand Towel Tutorial!