Top 22 Most Important Sewing Terms

Have you made the plunge to learn how to sew and then got completely blindsided by all these brand new terms you have never heard of in your life? Trust us when we say that we have all been there. Especially if you are trying to learn through online tutorials. You can’t just raise your hand while watching a YouTube video to ask what in the world a “bias” is. That is why we are making it simple and breaking it down along with a video tutorial to go with it. 


We are going to share a quick background on fabric. 

Woven fabric is made from weft threads (horizontal threads) and warp threads (vertical threads). These threads are woven between each other to form fabric. 

We bring this up, since we are going to start with some technical terms that are important because they determine how you cut your fabric. When you begin sewing, you are naturally going to want to utilize every last inch of your piece of fabric, but if you want your project to fit correctly, stretch correctly, NOT stretch at all…it is important you cut your fabric pieces in the right direction.

Sewing Defintions:


1. Selvage: 

The selvage is the two sides of a piece of fabric that run parallel with the grainline. At the time the  woven fabric is manufactured the selvage is created to prevent it from unravelling. See photo above. 


2. Grainline aka Lengthwise Grain aka Straight Grain:

The grainline typically refers to how a garment is cut on a pattern, which is parallel to the selvages of the fabric. See photo above.


3. Crossgrain: 

Perpendicular to the selvage. See photo above.


4. Bias:

The bias is another type of grain that runs diagonally across the fabric. It is most commonly known as the stretchy part of the fabric. See photo above.

Note: Defintions 1-3 are the three grain types that make up fabric and are extremely important when determining how to cut your project. It is common to try and cut your fabric differently than how a pattern recommends to conserve your fabric, but these three grains are the reason a pattern will direct you to cut your fabric in a specific manner. This will assure your garment sits or stretches properly. 


5. Raw Edge:

The raw edges of a piece of fabric are the unfinished, rough, or undecorated edge. It runs perpendicular to the selvage and is the part of a bolt of fabric that is cut at the fabric shop. See photo above. 


6. Bobbin:

A bobbin is a plastic/metal cylinder or cone that holds thread, yarn, or wire while  machine sewing.


7. Presser Foot:

A stitch is a single loop of thread or yarn resulting from a single pass or movement of the needle through fabric/material in sewing, knitting, or crocheting.


8. Feed Dogs:

The feed dogs  are directly under the sewing machine needle and sit just above the metal plate. The feed dogs are the mechanism in a sewing machine which feeds the material in a forward motion under the needle while sewing. 


9. Seam Ripper:

A seam ripper is a small sewing tool that is used to cut a remove stitches. Hence the name. It is a very essential tool in sewing. 


10. Pressing:

Pressing is an action that is conducted with an iron when you need a piece of fabric to hold its position in place. For example, you would fold the bottom of a pant leg under to the length that it needs to be hemmed, and then you would use your iron to press the fold down to keep the fabric in place.


11. Stitch:

A bobbin is a plastic/metal cylinder or cone that holds thread, yarn, or wire while  machine sewing.


12. Seam:

A seam is where two pieces of fabric (or other types of material) are stitched together by a piece of thread.


13. Hem:

A hem is the edge of a piece of fabric or material which has been turned under and sewn, so that the edge is no longer a raw edge. This is typical the end of a garment opening like leg and armholes. 


14. Backstitch:

A backstitch is a forward+backward motion and technique performed when you begin and finish a closed ended seam. It is made made by doubling the thread back on part of the previous stitch to lock in the seam and prevent it from unraveling. 


15. Basting:

Basting is a long, loose temporary stitch that is used to hold two pieces of fabric in place. This stitch will not have a backstitch as it will be removed before the project is complete. 


16. Seam Allowance

Seam allowance is the area between the fabric edge and the stitching line. This area is designated to allow yourself room to hem, to stitch fabric together, to overlap, etc. so that it does not interfere with the final project dimensions. 


17. "On the Fold":

“On the Fold” is typically seen on pattern directions when referring to how a piece of fabric or material should be cut. By folding the fabric in half and lining up a pattern piece against the fold, you are able to cut two sides evenly that are joined in the middle (on the fold).


18. Right Side of Fabric:

When any type of pattern instructions mention the “right side” of fabric, they are referring to the side of the fabric that will be visible once the project is complete. This side of the fabric usually has print designs or characters and is also commonly referred to as the “pretty” side of the fabric. A lot of the time, two pieces of fabric are sewn with right sides together so that the seams and stitches are on the inside of a project and cannot be seen once you turn it inside out.


19. Wrong Side of Fabric:

It seems redundant to have a description of the wrong side of fabric after having a ‘right side’ definition, but we felt it was worth mentioning to make sure you pay close attention to your pattern print. In some instances, the print may be visible on both sides of the fabric, but the wrong side will be more dull and faded. 


20. Interfacing:

Interfacing is a material used to make an area of a garment more rigid. It can be sewn or fused (ironed) on to the wrong side of fabric to give it more support. Interfacing can range from lightweight to heavy depending on the level of stiffness you are looking for. An example of where you would use interfacing is a professional work collar and shirt cuffs. 


21. Notions:

Notions are small objects or accessories, including items that are sewn or otherwise attached to a finished article, such as buttons, snaps, zippers, appliqué, boning, etc. This is a term most commonly referred to when working with a pattern and the directions list out the the items that you will need to complete a project (aka notions).


22. Markings:

Markings in the sewing world are used on pattern directions to inform you where to sew, fold, cut, join two pieces of fabric, etc. Common marking terms are: notch, dot, fold, etc.

In Conclusion:

As a beginner sewist, knowing these terms and definitions will help you significantly. We have also created a few video guides on some sewing techniques that will be helpful as well. Click here to check them out. Thank you for visiting our page. Please feel free to reach out with comments or questions. We love to hear from our supporters! 

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