The Sewing Dictionary
A dictionary of sewing terms and glossary of terminology as well as some help navigating through the many types of fabrics available for your use on your sewing journey.
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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X, Y, Z
Sewing Abbreviations
 
Absorbant Fabric that has the capability to absorb moisture.
Acetate A shiny fabric that is not very strong, dries quicky and rarely shrinks. Triacetate is a newer acetate that doesn't seem to melt like acetate. Can be melted with nail polish remover. Acetate may be combined with other fabrics or used alone to make a silk-look fabric. It is often used for linings and has a wonderful drape to it.
Acrylic Fabric made from petroleum products. Colorfast, washable and able to be dried in the machine, wrinkle resistant, with a wool-like texture, though does not take heat well. Don't iron this wonder fabric. Will generally wick (draw moisture from the body).
Adaptor On a sewing machine, an adaptor is used to change your sewing foot easily.
A-Line Skirt term which describes a garment smaller at the waist than the hem, flaring out in the shape of an A.
Alpaca Wool made from the Alpaca sheep.
Alter/Alteration Making changes to a pattern to provide a better fit or to a garment after it is made, be it hand made or purchased. Altering it changes it from the original form or size - taking it in, hemming it, changing the size in any way. For instance, a theater may alter stock costumes to fit various cast members, adding seams, taking in seams, letting out seams, etc. Altering is a way to make certain that the garment fits just right.
Angora Wool of the Angora goat (AKA "mohair") or rabbit. Angora rabbit must be marked as such. Angora goat does not have to be marked as "goat."
Apparel Clothing that is made or purchased.
Applique Sewing a piece of fabric atop another after folding under a small bit of the fabric to create a clean edge. When done by machine, many use a satin stitch (tight zig zag). By hand, blind stitching is often used.
Applique (reverse applique/back applique) This applique method involves a piece of fabric behind the one being appliqued. The design is cut out and the back fabric shows through. See this site for applique including reserve applique.
Arrow/Arrowhead stitch A regularly spaced triangular stitch used as a decorative touch or when stitched close together (tight as in satin stitching), to add strength at strain areas of a garment.
Arm scythe Armhole (the part where the sleeve is sewn).
Awl Tool that looks a bit like ice pick, but usually with a rounder knob/handle. An awl is used to "poke" holes in fabric for creating handmade eyelets. Sometimes it is used for pushing out corners or squared off sewing areas (such as pockets or collars), but care must be taken to not put a hole through the fabric.
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Baby hem Hem that is turned up a very small amount, about 1/8". Sometimes a stitch line is made just a hair from the edge of the raw edge and turned up twice using the stitching as a guide and stitched again into place. Used often for chiffon or other fragile fabrics.
Babydoll length Length which hits right about the hip.
Backing A quilting term. Backing is the fabric that is used on the "back" of the quilt. It is often a plain fabric such as muslin.
Backstitch Used at the beginning and end of a machine sewn seam to anchor the seam in place; it involves a couple of extra stitches back and forth. (Also known as back tacking.)
Ballerina neckline A wide scoop neckline.
Ballpoint needle Ballpoint needles are designed to penetrate knit fabrics without nicking or damaging the fabric.
Bar tack A group of closely sewn stitchs (back and forth from side to side a la zig zag) that is used to tack a belt loop or similar item in place. This is not a basting stitch and should be repeated several times on the machine to make a very short run of satin stitching. It is also used at the end of a buttonhole for reinforcement. Sometimes used in the point of a V to reinforce.
Baste/basting Temporary stitching used to hold a sewing project in place and is removed when the permanent sewing is done.
Batiste A woven fabric of cotton or a blend, usually. It is lightweight to medium weight, and sheer, and often used for baby clothes and blouses. It has a delightful hang to it.
Batting Fiberfill, cotton, wool, or other material that is flattened and usually on a roll and purchased in precut lengths or by the yard. Uses of batting range from filling for placemats or vests to quilts. The British term for batting is wadding.
Bearding A quilting term. Sometimes, the batting used will pop through the holes made by needles used to do the quilting and it looks a bit like a "beard" on the fabric. This is particularly a problem if white or neutral batting is used with dark fabrics.
Beeswax If you run thread on beeswax (or use a special beeswax holder with a slot for the needle), it will add a coating to the thread to prevent tangling and will strengthen it as well.
Bell Sleeve Sleeve that is narrow at the shoulder, set into a narrow armhole and which flares outward like a bell at the wrist. It is not cuffed.
Bias Runs diagonally to the straight grain of the fabric. This is the stretchiest part on the fabric.
Bias tape Strips of fabric cut on the bias, often turned under and pressed, and used for bindings, facings, or other application where there is a need for stretch or accomodation to curves. Often found finishing the edge of a blanket or quilt. (See binding below.)
Binding (blanket, quilt, seam etc.) Encasing the raw edges of a blanket or quilt with another piece of fabric. Binding also refers to the fabric that is folded and used for the encasing of the raw edges.
Bird's nest/bird nesting If the upper thread tension on the sewing machine is not set properly or if a sewing machine is not threaded properly, thread can become tangled under the fabric. It resembles a bird's nest and is not much fun to remove.
Bishop Sleeve Similar to the bell sleeve with the exception that it does have a cuff or band at the wrist.
Blade The round, razor sharp portion of a rotary cutter. Also, the cutter used on a serger.
Blanket stitch Used to finish the edge of fabric - buttonhole, eyelet, blanket, vest edge, or other seamline. A blanket stitch is usually done by hand, though some sewing machines have a blanket stitch attachment or setting. This stitch can also be used decoratively on a crazy quilt or garment. Example.
Bleed/ing Color seeping out of fabric in the wash, when wearing (sometimes color will transfer to the body or to a lighter fabric worn underneath the bleeding fabric). Be sure and wash fabric that bleeds with like colors or by itself. Always wash a fabric that you believe might bleed before you use it for sewing. (See crock/ing and colorfast.)
Blend Fabric made of more than one type of fiber. For instance, there are cotton blends that sew and wear with the characteristics of cotton, but wash wear, not usually requiring ironing like a knit.
Blind hem stitch Sewing stitch that is not meant to be seen on the right side of the fabric, usually accomplished by picking up one thread of the fabric at a time rather than going through the full fabric to make a stitch. The best finish is done by hand, but many sewing machines come with a blind hem attachment and the manual is the best guide for how to use it and produce virtually invisible hems. Hand sewing example. Machine sewing example.
Block A quilting term. A block is the individual unit of a quilt. A quilt is composed of several blocks.
Boatneck Usually a wide, straight line neck the same in front as in the back.
Bobbin The piece of your sewing machine that holds the bottom thread (the bobbin thread) and is placed in the bobbin case. It generally is under the area the needle penetrates and it loops with the needle thread to form a locked stitch.
Bobbin case The part of the sewing machine that holds the bobbin. In some machines, it's under the needle plate. Some older machines had them next to the needle plate with a clear lid that slides in order to get to the bobbin.
Bodice Refers to the part of a garment or pattern that goes from shoulder to waist. Think of a shirtwaist dress - the part that goes to the waistline (usually the part with the buttons) is the bodice. In days of old, the bodice was removable from the remainder of the garment.
Bodkin A tool used to insert elastic, cording, etc. through a casing. Handy tool to use instead of a safety pin.
Bolt An amout of fabric on a tubular roll or a rectangular cardboard form. The bolt of fabric usually has fabric type, fabric care, manufacturer, and price on the end of the bolt for the consumer to see before they buy. Fabric is usually folded right sides together lengthwise on a bolt. Fabric stores cut their fabrics for sale off the bolt. The word 'bolt' can apply to the cardboard with the fabric wrapepd around it or to the empty cardboard.
Bond/Bonding Joining two pieces of fabric together with a bonding agent (Wonder Under, for example) or a fabric glue. Usually applied with the heat of an iron.
Boning Small, usually plastic (or bone in days gone by) strips that are used in wedding gowns and other garments (such as a corset or in Elizabethan clothing) to hold a fit and usually a vertical shape for the most part. Also available in steel. See this corsent-making site for boning information.
Bootcut Blue jean terminology. Flares from knee downward so that one could wear boots underneath. Not as wide as bell bottom flare, though, as it is more subtle and utilitarian rather than decorative.
Border (print) Fabrics with a border print have exactly that – a coordinating print on the border (one edge or two) of a fabric. Border fabric is often used for skirts, tops, tablecloths, curtains, etc.
Box Corner A method for finishing the bottom of a tote bag to give a flat bottom by folding the corners, stitching across the width of said corner, and trimming off the extra fabric. Used a lot with grocery bags and sometimes with pockets. Scroll down this page a bit for a how-to.
Box Pleats A pleat with a little more design and movement than a plain knife pleat. Used for valances, skirts, buffet tablecloths, etc. The best way to explain a box pleat is to show how one is made. BurdaStyle.com has a nice tutorial.
Broadcloth Fabric made of cotton or a blend (almost always) that is tightly woven and may have slight ridges, but not always.
Brocade Fabric with an all over raised design, usually used in elegant settings such as jackets, upholstery, etc.
Buckle Usually a metal accessory at the end of a belt, a strap, or shoes to secure two ends and used as a closure. Buckles can also be decorative, as on the tops of shoes. The buckle is open such that the belt can slip through it and often includes a pin that goes through a hole in the belt to lock it in place.
Buckram Strong, heavy woven fabric used for stiffening baseball cap brims and some drapery applications. Many prior applications of buckram have been replaced by using heavy interfacing.
Burnout Design made on fabric with a chemical agent that "burns out" the regular look of the fabric and leaves behind a design. Not usually done to 100% remove the fabric like scissors would do.
Busk Used in corset sewing for the front closure. A post and eye closure solid enough to withstand corset lacing tension.
Bust line. Important measurement when determining pattern sizes, utilizing a tape and measuring across the back and around the bust fullness.
Butting Bringing two edges together so they touch but do not overlap. Sometimes you can use a zig-zag stitch to hold two butted edges together. Also known as abutting.
Buttonhole A cut in the fabric that is bound with stitching, just large enough to allow a button to pass through. Buttonholes are mostly made by machine these days, but many people do still prefer to make them by hand, using a special buttonhole stitch.
Buttonhole cutter Similar to an awl with the exception that it has a flat, somewhat sharp end to cut the fabric between the buttonhole itself. Many people use a seam ripper for this purpose.
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Calico Usually thought of as a small printed (often flowers) cotton or blend used for quilting or applique, garments, or home decorating. Tightly woven. Calico popularity tends to come and go, but for quilting, it's always a good idea.It can be used for clothing, but will require ironing if it is 100% cotton.
Capped Sleeve A short sleeve that doesn’t extend beyond your underarm. Click to see example.
Cashmere Soft and airy wool from undercoat of the Cashmere/Kashmir goat, usually found in Asia. Used in sweaters and other garments when woven.
Casing Fabric envelope of sorts for en"casing" elastic, a drawstring, or similar material, usually along a waistline, cuff, hem. Elastic waist slacks have a casing into which the elastic is woven. Sweat pants have a turned up casing into through which elastic is encased (if there are not ribbed cuffs). Also the channel at the top of curtains through which the curtain rod is placed.
Catch Stitch See blind hem stitch.
Chalk Used to mark fabric pleats, darts, diamonds, buttonholes, and other cutting or constructing lines and designs.
Challis Very soft, flowing, somewhat brushed fabric, usually printed in a floral design, good for making dresses, blouses, skirts.
Chanille A soft woven fabric with looped threads which give a raised design. Used often in bed throws, boutique children's clothing, and beachwear. Not the same as terrycloth, but sometimes feels a lot alike.
Chicken scratch Embroidering on gingham, using the squares of the gingham as your guide. Please see this site for directions and sample project to get you started. (Suggested by Flow via E-mail 04/10/07)
Chintz Fabric generally woven of cotton. It has a high sheen, glossy look to it. Usually used for uphostery or home decorating, but can be used for a nice jacket, blouse, or high fashion item.
Chopsticks Chopsticks are a great tool for pushing corners into shape or cuffs or any item that you have to turn. They're blunt on the end and you don't have to worry about them poking through. For instance, you have sewn a collar, right sides together, and you have trimed the seams and cut the triangle off the tips of each corner of the collar. After you turn it, you want a crisp, tight corner/tip to each side of the collar, so you may need something inside to push it from the inside. Using chopsticks is probably the best way we've found to do this. Try it!
Clasp (As in bra making or belt making) -Holds two objects together. There are a variety of types of clasp, some with special uses, but the common thread is that there are two parts that come together to become one connected piece
Clean finish (or finish) Finishing a seam with zig-zag stitching, turning under and pressing, pinking shears, etc. Gives the seam a "clean" finish. Helpful with hems.
Clip (curve) Methods vary from person to person, but to clip a curve keep in mind that an outside curve (shaped like an upside down U) needs to be clipped to within a breath of the seam line. An inside curve (shaped like a right side up U) can be either clipped or you can cut very small notches (V shape) out of the curve itself in order to have it lay flat and not make bunches when the project or garment is done. If you use a serger to finish your seams, clipping is not an issue.
Colorfast Holds color even when in the wash. If something is not colorfast, wash it with like colors or alone, always. (See bleed/ing and crock/ing.)
Cording A twisted or woven "rope" or "string" that is used primarily in piping and to act as a drawstring in a jacket hood, waistband, or as stabilizer for frog closures. Cording is covered with bias strips of fabric when used for most decorative applications (such as edging a pillow). When the cording is covered with bias or other fabric, it is called piping. Other decorative effects can be achieved by zig-zagging over cording on a fabric for a raised design.
Count The number of warp/weft intersections per inch in a given fabric. The higher the number, the tighter the weave.
Covered button A button covered with coordinating or same fabric as the garment for which it is being made. Kits are available for this effect or creative and careful application of fabric, fabric glue and shank buttons can be used.
Crock/ing To transfer color, such as when washing or rubbing. (See bleed/ing and colorfast.)
Crop/ped Cut, such as a cropped top (a short top).
Cutting line On a pattern, the outermost dark line is the line upon which you cut. Traditions vary; some people cut through the center of this line, others cut just to the outside of this line.
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Dart A V shaped, tapered adjustment (usually a fold on the inside of the piece) to a pattern to allow for more fullness in the bust area or less fullness in other areas (waist)
DNTS Double needle top stitching (D.N.T.S.).
Dolman (sleeve) Similar to kimono sleeves except that dolman sleeves tend to be longer and not quite as loose as the kimono sleeve; i.e., dolman is wider at the top and tapers to the wrist. This is often cut in the same piece as the bodice of a design.
Drape Hang of fabric on the body or dress form.
D Ring Used in purse making, belts, corsets, and other applications to provide a ring to accept fabric or other material for a handle or a tie closure. Shaped like a D. Usually plastic or metal.
Drop/ped waist Wasitline designed to fall below the normal waist, making for a long bodice and shorter skirt of a dress.
Duct Tape Double (DTD) A body form made out of primarily duct tape and other materials that conforms exactly to one's body because the tape is wound around the body and then removed as a whole.
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Ease A way of sewing a length of fabric into a bit of a smaller space without resulting in gathers or puckers. Also - Seam addition that allows a garment to fit the body better.
Edgestitch A stitch done a scant 1/8" from the folded or seamed edge.
Embellish Adding special stitching, appliques, charms, or other decorations to your sewing project. Using trims to update or change the look of an item.
Empire (waist) A "waistline" that is higher than the anatomic waistline on the body. Most empire waistline dresses have the waistline under the bust or slightly below that line.
Entredeux French word meaning "between two". Often it's a piece of lightweight fabric joined to another piece of lightweight fabric with a delicate bit of lace. Another method is to join two ribbons with a piece of lace.
Epaulette A decoration on the shoulder of a dress, blouse, or jacket. Seen often in military clothing or royal clothing.
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Fabricisms Phrases and sayings relating to fabrics and sewing. See FabricLink for more information.
Facing Fabric sewn on the raw edge of a garment piece that is turned under and serves as a finish for the edge as well.
Fat quarter Prior a quilting term, but often used for wearable art, vests, smaller garments, a fat quarter is 1/4 yard of fabric, about 18" x 22" as opposed to a regular 1/4 yard, which is 9" x 45". Fat quarters allow quick and colorful stash building.
Feed dog The "teeth" under the plate on the sewing machine that move fabric as it is sewn.
Finger press/ing Using your fingers and pressure to open a seam that may not be suitable for pressing with an iron or a wooden block.
Finish (an edge) Turn under 1/4" and stitch, serge the edge, or other method of finishing the edge so it doesn't ravel or cause a bulky problem.
Flat felled seam A seam created by sewing fabric wrong sides together, trimming one of the seam allowances close to the seam, then turning the other seam allowance under and top stitching it over the prior trimmed seam allowance. This is often used for reinforcing seams on pajamas or to reduce bulk in a seam. It can be used as a decorative finish on any garment.
Fold line Many pattern pieces are placed on the fold of a piece of fabric. This is the actual fold of the fabric off the bolt or a fold of your own creation; the goal is to have a pattern piece that is cut out without a center seam.
Frame Quilting - Holds the quilt taut while hand quilting or machine quilting is performed. Machine embroidery - Holds the embroidery hoop for machine embroidery.
Free motion Machine sewing done with the feed dogs down, moving the fabric freehand. Can be used for mending (i.e., darning a hole) or freehand embroidery.
Fusible (webbing, interfacing, etc.) Has the characteristic of being able to be ironed on, usually permanently, with or without reinforcement by stitching, due to a heat-activated "glue" on one side. One brand of fusible used for applique application is Wonder Under. There are others that work as well.
French knot Embroidery stich done by hand which involves bringing a threaded needle up through fabric, wrapping the thread 3-4 times, and taking the needle back down into the fabric, enclosing the wrapped thread and leaving a knot on the top of the fabric. A nice 3-dimensional stitch which can be used decoratively on garments or in traditional embroidery.
French seam Completely enclosed seam. Used for sheer fabrics or for high couture.
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Garter Grips Commercially available grips that consist of two parts - a raised button type and a loop of wire that goes over and grabs the button, clicking into place and holding a sock, stocking, or other item in place. Usually seen on a garter belt, corset, girdle, or sock keepers for men.
Gather Gathering allows for making a long piece of fabric to fit with a shorter piece of fabric and also is a method of easing a seam to allow insertion of sleeves and other rounded pattern pieces. When making an apron, there is a waistband that is the size of the person's waist, plus some extra for tying the apron around the body. The apron itself usually is gathered, fluffy, almost pleated and has more fabric that flows from the waistband. The apron seam was gathered and then sewn to the waistline. To gather the seam, two parallel lines are sewn on the right side of the fabric, a scant 1/4" apart. Long tails of thread are left for gathering. The bobbin threads (on the wrong side of the fabric) are held on either end of the seam and gently tugged, gathering the fabric evenly on the threads. Do not scrimp and only sew one thread of long length stitches; you will need both. (Gathering and easing are similiar, but not the same.)
Give Elasticity - the fabric gives (as in stretches) a little.
Godet A triangular piece of fabric used as an insert in the seamline to provide freedom of movement or to enlarge a sleeve opening.
Grading (seams) Trimming raw edges in graduate widths to reduce bulk. The narrowest seam edge should be closest to the body, as a general rule.
Grain Direction of the fabric that runs parallel to the selvage (a stretchier grain is found running perpendicular to the selvage). Commercial patterns have an arrow on them <-----> indicating direction of the grain to assit in laying out the pattern pieces correctly.
Gromette An eyelet usually covered with vinyl or some other material. Used in lacing (i.e., shoes, corsets) and for decorative purposes.
Guild (sewing, quilting) A group of people who gather to discuss and practice sewing, usually new techniques or particular projects. Often guilds will provide items for charities such as Project Linus or for troops overseas.
Gusset See godet.
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Hem Fabric that it turned up on the lower edge of a garment or sleeve to provide a finished edge. Often extra fabric is left in the hem with children's clothing to allow for growth (especially skirts and slacks).
Hong Kong finish Enclosing a seam with bias binding.
Hook & eye closure A type of closure that employs a small hook on one side and a loop made of fabric or metal on the other. The hook and eye is used at the upper back of many dresses and often on lingerie.
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Inseam Seam inside the leg of pants that runs from the crotch to the hem.
Interfacing Fabric used between layers of fabric to provide stabilization and form. Usually used in collars, cuffs, plackets, some waistbands and pockets, and facings.
Interlining Lining added for warmth.
Iron An iron is a tool that is used to straighten or press fabric. The iron can be used with or without steam. It is a very important tool for the sewing room.
Ironing Ironing is done by moving the iron back and forth over fabric. Ironing is generally not utilized when sewing. See "press".
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Jean jumper A small piece of plastic made to ease sewing seams on denim by holding the presser foot up ever so slightly. Allows the presser foot to "jump" the seam as if it was level with the rest of the denim. Works well with all thick fabrics.
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Lettuce (hem, edge) Usually a serged edge that is stretched as sewn, resulting in a ruffly edge on the finished garment.
Lining Used to finish the inside of a garment, to hide the seam construction, to allow for ease of putting a garment on or taking it off, and to provide decorative effect. A lining is cut of the same pattern pieces as the garment and often is made of "slippery" fabrics. It provides a minimal amount of warmth and usually extends the life of a garment. Linings should be washable if the garment is washable and should be prewashed.
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Machine embroidery Decorative stitching created by using a regular sewing machine (zig zag, satin stitch, etc.) or a sewing machine specifically designed for machine embroidery. Combo machines are avaiable as well.
Miter Mitering a corner makes a smooth, tidy finish to a 90-degree corner, neatly squaring the corners while creating a diagonal seam from the point of the corner to the inside edge. Mitering is used for quilts corners, craft projects, some vests and jackets, and sometimes on collars.
Muslin A generally inexpensive woven fabric used to make crafts, back quilts, or to make draft or trial garments.
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Nap Nap is the "fuzzy" part of a fabric that is usually directional in nature. Corderoy and velvet are good examples of fabric which has a nap or a pile. If smoothed with the hand in one direction, nap is typically shiny in one direction and not shiny in the other. When cutting out a pattern, care should be taken to keep fabric pieces going in the same direction nap-wise unless one is intentionally mixing naps and piles to produce a different kind of look. See "pile".
Needle Sewing machine needles come in a variety of sizes and types - ball point and sharps are the two major categories. Ball point is used for knits and regular sharp needles are used for nonstretch fabrics. There are also all purpose needles, but it is recommended that you use ball point or regular rather than all purpose. There are wing needles, wedge needles, needles of varying sizes and shapes, as well as twin needles for some fancier stitching.
New York Hem Also known as "super hem." Used to hem jeans while leaving the original hem in place. Turn the hem up, right side to right side, making sure the original hem line is now where you want the new hem line to be. Machine stitch under the original hem. Trim off excess denim. Press the new hem down. Top stitch over the trimmed fabric through original hem stitching after you press the new hem down. Please see this site for a good example of how to hem in this manner. (Suggested by Sandra via E-mail 04/10/07)
Nonwoven Fabric that is not made of thread or yarn. Think suede, leather, etc.
Notch Usually, the notch is shown on a pattern with a dark diamond. They are commonly cut outward and should be matched on seams when joining for sewing.
Notion A term used for any item used for sewing other than the fabric and the machine.
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Overlock An overcast stitch to prevent ravelling of fabric. There are sewing machines made to do overlock stitching. See "serger".
Overcasting, overstiching Stitching done over a seam to prevent ravelling. This can be done by hand or machine. Example of hand overcast stitch.
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Pattern weights Weights used on paper patterns instead of pinning a pattern to the fabric.
Pencil skirt A straight lined skirt from waist to hem. No fullness at the hem. Usually fairly tight fitting.
Peter Pan collar A rounded, flat collar in one piece that lies flat against the neckline. Usually used in children's or doll's clothing, and sometimes on blouses.
Pile See "nap".
Pinking shears Shears with a V shape along the cutting edge used to cut fabric and have it remain essentially ravel-free.
Pins Pins are used for temporary basting of fabric. They are used to hold patterns in place while cutting and to hold fabrics together while stitching (it is not recommended to machine sew over pins as they have been known to break your sewing machine needle, jam the machine, or cause other problems). Often, large safety pins are used to baste quilt layers before the final quilting. Care should be taken to use a pin that will not leave a large hole and to not leave pins in fabric too long; they could cause stains where they touch the fabric.
Pintuck Narrow sewn rows of fabric that give a decorative raised look to a garment. Some bloused are made with pin tucking on the bodice for a more tailored look.
Piping A cord (or cording) covered with fabric, often used for decorative edging on garments or projects.
Pivot To leave the needle in fabric, raise the presserfoot and turn the fabric at a 45 degree angle. Then lower the presserfoot and start sewing. Used to sew square seams. (Thanks to Beth!)
Placket A V-shaped opening at the end of a sleeve that is finished with a bias strip before the cuff is attached.
Pleat A fold in fabric that is either inverted or folded outward, is not sewn except on the top edge (as in a skirt or slacks waistband), and provides decorative or functional fullness.
Press Using an iron in a press/pick up/move/press/... pattern. Pressing is not moving back and forth on fabric with the iron. Pressing is done "as you go" while creating a garment.
Presser foot The part of the sewing machine that holds the fabric in place as it is being sewn and fed through by the feed dogs. Specialty feet such as zig zag, buttonhole, cording, blind hem, and others are often included with a sewing machine upon purchase and are best learned by consulting the sewing machine manual.
Prewashing Washing fabric before using it for a garment or project to allow for any color bleeding and shrinkage. It is best to prewash the fabric as it is to be cleaned and dried when it is in its finished form. (Also known as preshrinking.)
Prick stitch You use prick stitching on fabrics such as velvet where everything shows. Take a small backstitch sewn on the right side of the fabric and do the remaining backstitching on the wrong side.
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Ravel/Ravelling Making or allowing the edge of a fabric to get a fringed look by having threads come loose either on their own via wearing and washing or by stitching a tight seam a distance from the raw edge and pulling threads.
Raw (edge) The edge of fabric that is not stitched or finished.
Rick Rack Rick Rack is a zig-zag type of trim that is used to decorate and embellish items, often for a nostalgic flair. Rick rack like this can be found at stores like Joann.com. Two colors of rick rack entwined make an interesting trim. Rick rack can also be rolled and manipulated to create a flower-like decoration for a garment. Particularly popular in the 50s on children’s clothing. Kind of a whimsical trim.
Rigiline Flexible, but firm, boning with a sewing edge. Not recommended for some Elizabeth=ian type sewing because it does not remain rigid and will not stay straight. Used in some corset sewing.
Right side The right side of the fabric is the design side. There are instances of fabric with no right or wrong side visible, and the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing.
Rivet Another closure item that is inserted into a hole and a tool is used to flatten the back and hold it firm. Often used with grommets.
Rolled hem Often a feature of a high end serger. it can also be done by hand with a folding technique - fold, fold again, fold again, and stitch through the rolled hem you have created.
Rotary cutter Early versions of the rotary cutter looked like pizza cutters. Today, the handles are often ergonomically designed and padded. The blade, though, remains a rounded razor, sometimes with pinked edging or other designs. These are great for cutting layers of fabric into straight strips. Many people are using them for curved lines and pattern cutting for garments as well.
Ruching Gathering the fabric, usually in a seam, to provide decoration, accent, or fullness.
Running stitch A simple stitch made by running the thread over and under the fabric. This stitch is often used for basting or as the basis (marking) for another more decorative stitch.
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Satin stitch A very tight zig zag stitch that is available on most sewing machines. If it is not automatically available, the stitch length can be set to almost zero (0) to achieve a satin stitch with a plain zig zag machine.
Seam The result when two pieces of fabric are sewn together along a line.
Seam allowance The fabric between the edge of the fabric and the line of stitching, about 5/8" for most patterns. (Craft patterns often allow 1/4" seam allowance.)
Seam ripper Your best friend in the sewing room. It is a tool with a small hook on one end that can slip under a stitch and get close enough to it to cut the stitch. I personally have learned as much about sewing with my seam ripper as I have with making stitches by hand or machine.
Selvedge, selvege, selvage Often marked with information from the manufacturer (color code, identifying data, etc.), this is the edge of the fabric which generally does not fray due to manufacturer's finish. In most cases, this edge should not be included when you cut your fabric, as it may cause puckering of your seam later. on.
Separating zipper A zipper that comes completely apart when unzipped. There is a special tab at the bottom of a separating zipper for bringing it together and starting the zip. Usually seen in jackets, sweatshirts, and wearable art.
Serger A type of sewing machine that stitches the seam, encases the seam with thread, and cuts off excess fabric at the same time. These are used for construction of garments with knit fabrics mostly, or to finish seams of any fabric, especially those which might ravel. Sometimes referred to as overlocker.
Shank button A button with space left between the button and fabric. A shank button is one made with a shank, an extension on the back of the button through which the thread passes to sew the button onto the garment. Other buttons can be "shanked" by wrapping thread under the button to create a shank.
Sizing Fabric finish that provides crispness without stiffness; a light starch finish.
Sleeve The portion of the garment that covers the arm from the shoulder to wrist for long sleeved, shoulder to just below elbow for three-quarter sleeves, and about halfway between shoulder and elbow for short sleeved.
Sleeve, capped A very short sleeve that doesn’t extend beyond your underarm and is shorter than a typical short-sleeved treatment. Click to see example.
Slide Clasp Couples and uncouples the ends of a chain, holds them together and allows for opening. As its name suggests, you slide one piece into or onto the other to make the connection and reverse th emovement to disconnect. You can purchase plastic (clear and colored) ones that hook one piece of plastic over another for a bra or strap, or metal ones that work primarily with chains (jewelry, corsets, etc.).
Sloper Basic fabric rendering (block) of a garment that is used for designing, fitting, adjusting. Think of a sloper as a pre-pattern.
Snap A closure device generally composed of two parts – male and female. The male snaps into the female to hold tight. Snaps can be sewn in or you can use a special snap tool (similar to pliers) to attach pronged snaps to the fabric.
Snips Very small cutting tool somewhat resembling scissors used to snip threads. Not meant for cutting fabric patterns. Usually used with hand sewing or portable projects.
SNTS Single needle top stitching (S.N.T.S.)
Spool The holder of thread. There are wooden spools, plastic spools, cardboard tube spools, and cone spools, as well as others.
Stash Collection of fabric. That pile in the sewing room you intend to use some day. The most valuable of all items a sewist has!
Stay stitch A line of stitching just inside the intended permanent stitching line (seam line) on curved edges that stabilizes and keeps the curve from distoring. The direction of the stay stitching is shown on the pattern. If not, it generally goes from shoulder to center on necklines. There are other indications for stay stitching, but this is one of the more common. If you do clip curves, use stay stitching first to guide the tip of your scissors - don't cut beyond the stay stitching.
Stay tape Unstretchable tape of fabric that it sewn into a seam or a garment at strategic locations to keep it from becoming mishapen. Some tee shirts have stay tape along the shoulder seams on the inside to keep them from stretching.
Stitch in the ditch Stitching in the ditch is sometimes used as a method of understitching and also as a form of simple machine quilting for craft projects. It is a method of stitching in the seam itself (the ditch) in order to hold it down.
Stitch length In general, regular sewing is about 11-12 stitches per inch, basting/gathering/bunching/sleeve easing is about 6 stitches per inch (plus or minus 1 or 2 stitches for some applications). There are rare occasions when stitches need to exceed 12 per inch, but they are few. Stitch length for zig-zag is the same as with regular straight stitching; it refers to the number of stitches per inch. The scale varies from machine to machine, so be sure and check your manual. A satin stitch can be created using a zig-zag stitch length of zero.
Straight stitch Stitching made with single stitches moving in a line. This is the regular stitch (the lock stitch) that most sewing machines make and may or may not require a special presser foot.
Super hem See New York hem.
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Tack A temporary stitch to hold pieces together, usually removed after final stitching. Tacking is also known as a term for starting off a seam with a few stitches back and forth for stabilizing.
Tailor's tack A tailor's tack is essentially two threads in a needle, drawn through fabric layer/s and then snipped, leaving tails of thread on top and on the bottom of the fabric as a marking for later use. They can be used to mark pattern pieces for darts, buttonholes, etc. Go straight through all layers of pattern and fabric before snipping any threads. Leave a long enough tail of thread that you can find it later. Use a contrasting thread that stands out so you can see it later.
Tape or Tape Measure A long, flexible measuring tape. One of the most used tools in your box of motions.
Tension Tension is one of the least understood concepts of sewing machines. It refers to the pressure being placed on your needle and bobbin thread by your machine. There are two types of tension on your sewing machine - the thread and bobbin tensions. It is best to read your sewing machine manual for specifics. Rarely does one need to adjust bobbin tension. Your sewing machine manual will show you the appropriate settings and offer you examples of what the threads should look like on the right and wrong sides of your stitching.
Thread A complementary or like thread is chosen for garment or project construction on a machine. The bobbin should be wound of the same type of thread or the exact same thread whenever possible, to prevent knotting, bunching, etc. The first step for most sewing machine trouble shooting is to change the thread and needle. When hand sewing with one thread, cut the end of the thread that is nearest to the spool before tying a knot in the same end. This will prevent ravelling and knotting.
Top stitch A sometimes decorative, sometimes functional stitch that is usually 1/4" from the edge of a seam. It is visible because it is done on the top of the item. For instance, once a vest is turned or a facing to a jacket is turned and pressed, one may stitch 1/4" from the edge on the top of the garment to provide a bit of stabilization. This can be done in same or contrasting thread, depending on the decorative effect one wishes to achieve.
Tracing paper A type of paper made especially to be used with a tracing wheel. It has an ink-type substance on one side for marking fabric with the wheel.
Tracing wheel A tracing wheel is used with tracing paper. The paper is placed upon the fabric with the "ink" side down, the pattern markings that need to be transferred placed upon the paper, and then the markings are traced with the wheel. The wheel itself looks a bit like a pizza cutter with spikes. Care needs to be taken not to press too hard and cut the pattern, tracing paper, or the fabric. Tracing ink from the tracing paper does not always wash out and this needs to be taken into consideration as well.
Trim Trim is a general term which includes rick rack, ribbon, laces, fringe, cording, and other decorative items used to embellish a garment. Trim is also used to define the act of trimming excess seam allowances or fabric with scissors. See Embellish/Embellishment.
Tuck See pin tuck. A method of folding and then sewing fabric together resulting in a raised seam, often seen in heirloom sewing, the bodice of a woman's blouse or a man's formal shirt.
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Underlining Lining used to add body to a garment.
Understitching Keeps a facing or lining from rolling onto the right side of a garment. After pressing the seam allowance and facing away from the garment, stitch through both a scant 1/8" from the seam. Some people grade the seam allowance and facing/lining prior to stitching to eliminate bulk.
Uneven plaid Almost impossible to match at seams as the arrangment of the plaid is not necessarily even.
Universal needle A slightly rounded tip to use for woven or knit fabrics. It is preferred to use a regular needle for wovens and a ball point needle for knits.
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View Most patterns show different variations on the pattern package. Each variation is called a "view".
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Wadding British term for batting.
Walking foot A special foot attachment for a sewing machine that allows for sewing through several layers of fabric (i.e., with quilting) without shifting the lower fabric and the upper fabric. Good also for sewing slippery (silk, rayon, etc.) fabrics. Also known as a dual feed foot because it serves as a set of feed dogs above and works in concert with the feed dogs below the fabric.
Warp Threads running the length of a woven fabric. Also known as the lengthwise grain (little to no stretch). About 90° from the weft and 45° from the bias. (see weft and grain) (Example illustration.)
Wearable art Decorative, usually quilted, clothing made to be unique, beautiful, and functional.
Weft Threads running at 90° angles to the length of woven fabrics (or the width). Also known as the cross grain. It has little to no stretch and is usually 45° from the bias. (see warp and grain) (Example illustration.)
Welt A method of covering the raw edges of a pocket or other opening, can be single or double welt. May be referred to as a 'welted pocket." It usually looks like a big button hole, made by placing fabric right sides together over the pocket opening, stitching and turning this in, then top stitching in place. It's a good way to create a sturdy pocket with an often decorative appearance. (Examples/Instructions.)
Whipstitch A simple running stitch used to hold two pieces of fabric together. Good for closing seams of leather, crochet/knit item, or the opening of a pillor that has been stuffed.
Wing needle Needle with wide, wing shaped, flared sides used to create holes in tightly woven fabrics, such as creating entredeux. Available as single or doubles.
Wrong side The wrong side of the fabric is the side upon which there is no decorative design, such as a print. There are instances of fabric with no wrong side visible, and the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing. Sometimes, people use the wrong side as the right side to mix things up a bit or to accent the right sided design.
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Yoke Usually found on Oxford shirts or western wear, this is the small panel of fabric that comes from the shoulders and down several inches, often decorative. It may be a part of the front as well, coming from the shoulders to the chest/pocket level of the shirt. (Picture)
Zip Britsh term for zipper. The act of zipping a zipper.
Zipper Closure device for clothing and accessories which includes interlocking "teeth" that open and close by coming together/interlocking when engaged by pulling up or down a zipper pull.
Zig zag A stitch that goes one way (zig) and then the other (zag) and provides a nice finish to a seam to prevent raveling, can be a decorative addition to any garment, and can allow for give with knits. A very short to nonexistent stitch length with zig zag stitching is the same as a satin stitch. (Picture) Stitch length for zig-zag is the same as with regular straight stitching; it refers to the number of stitches per inch. The scale varies from machine to machine, so be sure and check your manual. A satin stitch can be created using a zig-zag stitch length of zero.
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RS Right side of fabric.
WS Wrong side of fabric.
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Updated 09/15/14

Copyright Donna Gettings Apperson 2000 - 2008
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