Learn 20+ sewing terms that every beginner or novice sewer should know! Knowing these basic sewing terms will make sewing your projects easier and more fun!
Be sure to check out our popular Sewing Tutorials page for over 50 sewing tutorials – many of them video tutorials!.
Baste (Like a turkey?) Bias (Huh?)
Sewing, just like most subjects, has it’s own terminology. Which can sometimes make it confusing to understand the directions for a sewing project. It’s a good idea to learn the sewing terms that will help you on your sewing journey. Which will make sewing much more fun!
That’s why I decided to create a glossary of sewing terms for you that I think are the most important to know, especially if you want to focus on sewing home decor projects like pillows or draperies.
For those of you who are visual learners, (like me), I’ve created a Sewing Terms video that shows, in detail, examples of the sewing terms that I’ve listed below:
I’ve divided the following sewing terms into 3 categories: fabric, stitches and techniques.
1. Right Side: The right side of the fabric is the pretty side that you see on the outside of your sewing projects. Sometimes both sides of the fabric will look the same, especially if you’re using a solid woven fabric. In this case, it doesn’t matter which side you use for the outside of your sewing project.
2. Wrong Side: The wrong side of the fabric is the side that will be on the inside of your sewing project. Usually the wrong side of the fabric in more faded than the front side.
3. Right Sides Together: When you lay two fabric pieces together with the pretty, or right sides, of the fabric together in the middle. When the two layers of fabric are sewn together, the seam will be on the wrong side.
4. Directional Fabric: Directional fabric is a type of fabric that has a clear up and down pattern to it. Such as a fabric with an animal or floral pattern. When you’re sewing with a directional fabric, it’s important to cut out or lay your pattern pieces on the fabric in the right direction.
5. Selvage: The selvages are the factory edges on either side of a width of fabric.
6. Cut Edge: The cut edge of the fabric is the raw edge that the fabric store or factory has cut. The cut edge usually not cut perfectly straight, and may need to be straightened.
7. Straight Of Grain: The straight of grain are the threads that are parallel to the selvages. These threads are called the warp threads.
8. Cross Grain: The cross grain are the threads that are perpendicular or at right angles to the selvage edge.
9. Bias: The bias is a diagonal line found on fabric. The bias of the fabric is found at a 45 degree angle from the grain of the fabric. The true bias of the fabric is stretchier than the straight of grain, and can be used to make bias tape or bias cording.
10. Straight Stitch: The straight stitch is the most used stitch used for sewing projects. The straight stitch looks like a dashed stitch line, and is used for seams and topstitching.
11. Baste Or Basting Stitch: Temporary stitching, using a long stitch length, which are done by hand or machine to hold fabric in place for final stitching.
12. Seam: A stitching line that holds two pieces of fabric together with thread.
13. Seam Allowance: The amount of fabric from the seam, or stitch, to the raw edge of the fabric. Some common seam allowances are 1/2″ for home decor projects, 1/4″ for quilting projects and 5/8″ seam allowance is used for most dressmaking patterns.
14. Back Stitch: Sewing back and forth a couple of stitches at the beginning and end of a seam. Can also be called a bar tack.
15. Zigzag Stitch: A back and forth diagonal stitch that is used to to stop raw edges of fabric from fraying. It is also used to create buttonholes with a sewing machine.
16. Serge: An edge or seam sewn with a serger. It is used to keep fabric from fraying by enclosing the raw edges.
17. Top Stitch: A finishing stitch for a seam. It can be one or two rows of straight line stitching along the finished edge of the fabric.
18. Finger Press: To finger press is to press a seam open using your fingers and pressure. I use this technique on the seams when sewing bias cording or bias binding.
19. Finish Seams: Something that is done to the cut edge of a seam to prevent it from fraying or raveling. There are 3 main ways that a seam finish can be done: with pinking sheers, a zigzag stitch or by serging the edges of the fabric to give it a clean finish. different ways to finish seams.
20. Cording: Strips of fabric wrapped and sewn around a cord. Cording creates a 3-D detail that is used for decorative purposes. It can also be called piping or welt cord.
21. Clip: Clipping is making small cuts perpendicular to the edge of the fabric, so that the seam will lie flat when it’s turned right side out.
22. Notch or notching: To cut out a piece of fabric to reduce bulk in a sewing project. I use this sewing technique most often on the corners of pillow covers.
23. Turn Right Side Out: To turn right side out is to turn a sewing project so that the right side of the fabric is on the outside.
24. Gather: Fabric is smooshed to make one piece of fabric shorter to fit a 2nd piece of fabric. I use this sewing technique to make gathered ruffles for pillows or bedskirts.
25. Knife Pleat: Making pleats is another way to make a larger piece of fabric fit a smaller piece of fabric. The fabric is folded instead of gathered. It can also be called a box pleat. I use this technique to add a decorative detail to pillows and other sewing projects.
Here are some of my favorite sewing supplies:
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- Singer Heavy Duty 4411 sewing machine – The Singer Heavy Duty 4411 is the sewing machine that I bought a few months ago, and I love it! It has all of the features that I mention above. It has a metal frame, so it doesn’t shake when I sew on it. The strength of the motor is 60% stronger than the average sewing machine, so it has some power! It has 11 basic stitches, including the straight stitch, zig-zag stitch. It also has a 4 step buttonhole feature. It is more powerful than a lot of plastic, inexpensive home sewing machines, so it sews faster (1100 stitches per minute) and can sew through heavier layers of fabric.
- Glass head straight pins – These pins are 1 7/8″ long and are very sturdy. I find them much easier to work with than smaller pins, especially when I’m trying to pin several layers of fabrics together. The glass head won’t melt if the pins get too close to the iron.
- Magnetic pin bowl – I have several of these bowls around around my sewing studio. They aren’t made for pins, but are actually used by auto mechanics to hold metal parts when they are working underneath a vehicle.
- Hand-sewing needles – I love John James Long Darners for hand-sewing. They are long and sturdy.
- Leather thimble – This leather thimble made by Clover is very comfortable to use while hand-sewing. I think it’s much more comfortable than using a metal thimble.
- Sew grip gloves – These gloves help you grip fabric, threads or strings. I find them very useful when I need to pull threads or strings when I’m gathering a sewing project. They only have one review on Amazon, and it’s not a very good one. They may not be good for some applications, but for what I use these gloves for, they work great.
- Thermal thimbles – I just recently started using these thermal thimbles. They’re very useful when you’re ironing a sewing project. They help protect your fingers from the heat and steam of the iron. I’m adding this picture of my 3 year-old grand daughter in my sewing studio. She loves the thermal thimbles (she uses them like finger puppets – not with the iron), but was upset there weren’t 5 of them. So, she added a couple of thimbles.
- Seam ripper – I really don’t like when I have to do some “reverse sewing”, but when I do need to take out some stitches it helps to have a good seam ripper. I have two different kinds – one made by Dritz and the other made by Clover. Both work well. I think I prefer the Dritz seam ripper because it’s a little bit larger than the Clover seam ripper. Both have the red ball to help protect against ripping the fabric.
- That Purple Thang – I’ve been showing this tool in several of my pillow videos. It’s great for turning out corners, and I use mine all the time when I’m making pillows.
- OmniGrip grid measuring tool – This measuring tool is very useful for quilters, but I also use it when I need to measure for cording or banding. It has markings for 1/8″ and 1/16″, and has useful angled markings.
- 18″ metal straight edge – I use this 18″ ruler to mark pleats for draperies and valances. It’s useful for measuring lots of different types of sewing projects. I like that it has 1/8″‘ and 1/16″ markings.
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