Sewing Glossary of Terms – illustrated

At last!  Some of the terms that have been puzzling me are explained in this sewing glossary.  Links to great tutorials too.

I thought the New Year might be the perfect time to do a quick recap on some sewing terms in case there are any new readers out there or anyone who is looking to start sewing in 2014.  Each craft or profession has their own acronyms and terms which can be a mystery to those starting out, so here is the So Sew Easy Sewing Glossary or Sewing Dictionary.

It's by no means comprehensive!  But I think these are the important terms that someone starting out in sewing might need to know.  I also have a lot of readers from countries where English is not the first language so this might be useful for you too. Let's make this a collaborative project – if you have any terms you think should be included, leave a note in the comments and I'll add them into the list.

You might also find the Sewing Tutorials page useful and enjoy this roundup of Easy Sewing Projects for Beginners.

Easy sewing projects for beginners. New to sewing? Find great starter projects here including bags, accessories, clothing, home decor, seasonal and more. From So Sew Easy.
The So Sew Easy Sewing Glossary


So Sew Easy - V-neck T-shirt and A-Line skirtzxA-line – a skirt or dress resembling the shape of an A with a wider hemline than hipline. Example of A-Line skirt.

Applique – a cut out design or decoration applied to the surface of fabric as a decorative element.  Example of applique.

Armscye – armhole or opening for a sleeve

Backstitching -also known as back-tacking.  Anchoring stitches at the start and end of a machine sewn seam, made by taking a couple of stitches back and forth.

Basting – typically long loose stitches that hold fabric temporary in place during construction. Basting stitches are later removed.

Easy to follow steps for making continuous bias binding tape from a square of fabric. No more fiddly sewing strips together.

Bias -Diagonal direction of fabric. True bias is at a 45-degree angle to the grain line.

Bias Binding -bias cut strips of fabric used to encase the edges as a trim or finish.  Often decorative.

Bobbin -the piece of your sewing machine that holds the bottom thread, and is placed in the bobbin case.  Can come in slightly different sizes for different makes of machine.

Bolt – unit of fabric as sold in fabric stores.  Usually on a roll or folded over a cardboard inner, and marked with useful information such as fabric content and care instructions.

Online Sewing Class

Buttonhole -a cut in the fabric that is closely bound with small stitching, just large enough to allow the button to pass through.

Casing – a folded over edge of a garment, usually at the waist, to enclose a way of adjusting fit, such as with elastic or drawstrings.  A casing may also be formed between a garment and its lining.

Couture – fashion with a high emphasis on fit, design, finish and quality.

How to mark darts. Part of the Sew A Skirt beginners tutorial series from So Sew Easy. I never thought of doing it this way - quick, easy and accurate!Dart – a fold in the fabric, usually wide at one end narrowing to a point, which helps the fit of a garment over the curves and shapes of the body. Marking darts perfectly.  Sewing darts perfectly.

Duct tape dress form, or dress form – a model of the body sharing your own shape and measurments and used to assist in fitting and for creating garments by draping fabric directly onto the form.  Duct Tape Dress Form tutorial.

Skin tight clothing - add some ease !

Ease – the allowance of space in a pattern for fit, comfort and styling, over and above exact body measurements.  All about ease.

Empire – high waisted style bodice with a loose skirt falling from under the bust.

Facing -to finish the edge with a fitted and matching piece of fabric or binding. Typically used at necklines and armholes.

Fat quarter -a quarter yard of fabric, cut to measure 18 x 22 inches instead of straight across the fabric at 18 x 44 inches.  Used in quilting, small projects and a great stash builder.

Finger press – using the heat and pressure of ones fingers to make a small crease in fabric rather than using an iron.

Free sewing pattern. Gathered front top pattern with princess seams front and back and gathering on one side.Gather -adds fullness and softness to a garment, fitting a larger fabric piece to a smaller fabric piece. See the Gathered Front top.

Grain – direction of the fabric that runs parallel to the selvage.  Commercial patterns have an arrowed grain line marked to assist with lining up the pattern correctly on the fabric.  The cross grain of a fabric runs perpendicular to the selvage and typically has more give.

Hem – the finished edge of a garment, often referring to the lower edge such as in a skirt, jacket or dress.  Sometimes referred to as hemline.

Hong Kong finish – internal quality finish on a garment where the seam edges are encased in binding.

Inseam- The vertical seams on pants between the legs.

Sewing an invisible hem. Part of the Sew A Skirt tutorial series from So Sew Easy.

Interfacing -an additional fabric placed at the back of the outer fabric or between fabric layers to provide additional shaping and dimension or to stiffen and provide support. Sometimes used on garment facings, and especially in bags.

Invisible Hem (also called a Blind Hem) – Sewing a hem invisibly with hand or machine stitches so as to make it nearly invisible to see from the right side.  Sewn using a special presser foot (left). Invisible Hem tutorial.

How to sew an invisible zipper. Part of the Sew A Skirt series from So Sew Easy.Invisible Zipper –  A zipper designed to disappear into a seam when sewn in.  Often used in the back of skirts and dresses where pattern matching at the seam helps make the zipper invisible.  Video tutorial and photo tutorial.

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 a good finish. A lining is cut of the same pattern pieces as the garment and often is made of “slippery” fabrics.  Lining a skirt part 1 and part 2.

Making a muslin and Sewing the Perfect Fit.Muslin / toile – the making of draft or trial garments and the fabric used in making them.  Terminology differs in US to other parts of the world where toile may also be used.  Making a bodice muslin.  Making a skirt muslin.

Notions -items used in sewing other than the fabric and the pattern.  For example buttons, zippers, thread, and small tools.  Essential sewing tools.


Pressing matters - why, when and how to press seams and darts when you are sewing.Press – using an iron with an up and down motion to press fabric flat rather than a back and forward ironing motion.  Pressing is completed on seams during garment construction – see Pressing Really Matters.

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.  Presser feet are usually removable and can be replaced by all types of specialty feet for sewing specific projects or stitches.

Always wash your fabric before sewing. Part of the Sew a Skirt series at So Sew Easy. How to choose fabric.Pre-washing – washing, drying and ironing of fabric prior to using it in sewing projects. Allows for any shrinkage prior to sewing so the finished garment will fit correctly.  Read more in Choosing and Preparing Fabric.

Princess seam – vertical seam lines which give shaping to a garment in place of darts. Often found in fitted bodices.

Right side/wrong side – right side – the printed or outer side of the fabric or garment.  Wrong side – the reverse, the inside or the backside of a printed fabric.

Seam allowance -the width of the fabric beyond the sewn seam line.  The width from the edge of the fabric where the seam line stitches should fall.  The standard seam allowance on most commercial patterns is 5/8th of an inch or 1.5 cm.

Selvage -the lengthwide finished edge of the fabric, running parallel to the lengthwise grain.  Finer fabrics usually have the manufacturer name and design printed here.

So Sew Easy - drawing your own pencil skirt sloper pattern. It's so easy - spreadsheet provided.

Sewing pattern – a paper design used to cut fabric.  Usually includes several different sizes or styling options along with instructions on how to construct the project or garment.  Understanding a sewing pattern envelope.

Sloper –  a basic (block) pattern from which other patterns can be designed.  The custom sloper is made to your personal measurements and can be used to create very well fitting garments.  See the custom pencil skirt sloper tutorial.

Staystitching. What is it and why do it?

Staystitching – line of stitching just inside the intended permanent stitching line on curved edges that stabilizes and keeps the curve from distorting. The direction of the stay stitching is shown on the pattern. If not, it generally goes from shoulder to center on necklines.

TNT – tried and tested or tried and trusted.  Refers to a pattern you have made up before, and which gives good results and fit, and you come back to several times to make up a wardrobe staple such as a basic skirt, dress or shirt.

Tailors Ham – a round ‘ham' shaped firmly stuffed pillow used under a garment while pressing to help mold fabric into shape around curves for darts, princess seams etc.

Tension – 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. You rarely 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.

Top stitch – a line of stitching parallel to a seam or edge, sewn from the right side.  Can be part of the garment construction or simply decorative.

How to trace off Burda pattern, vintage patterns and multi-size patterns the EASY way - by So Sew Easy.Tracing paper/tracing wheel – used together to transfer pattern lines and marking to fabric or to duplicate and trace patterns.    Wheel resembles a tiny pizza cutter with spikes. Tracing Burda Patterns the Easy Way

Underlining – fabric lining joined in the seams of the garment rather than hanging loosely.  Used to give shape, body or support to delicate fabrics.


All about understitching. What is it, why and how do you do it?Understitching – assists a facing or lining to stay to the inside and un-seen. It is stitching that is sewn as close to the seam line as possible holding the graded seam allowance to the facing or lining.

Walking foot – a special presser foot which includes feed dogs to assist in moving the upper layer of fabric through the machine.  Sometimes used in projects with multiple layers of fabric to ensure upper layers move through at the same rate as the lower layer pulled by the machine feed dogs.

Zipper feet explained - all about xipper feet and when you would use them. Part of the Sew A Skirt beginners tutorial series from So Sew Easy.

Zipper foot – A sewing machine attachment that is designed for installing zippers; the design of the foot allows the needle to stitch close different items such as zippers and cording. All about zipper feet.

Zipper – closure with interlocking teeth. Comes in several forms, colors and lengths.  Usually requires a special presser foot for accurate insertion.  Learn more about zippers and take the FREE Craftsy Mastering Zipper Techniques Class

Sewing Glossary authored by:

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New to sewing? Here's what you should know!

[…] you can understand sewing machine specs and instructions. If you have a photographic memory, then use this illustrated list of sewing terms. […]

Janice Corley
Janice Corley

What is a type of sleeve called that flares toward the wrist, and then is gathered into a band ?
the word has 6 letters in it.

Marti @ SewliciousHomeDecor

Thank you for these tips!! So glad to have you link up at Sewlicious Home Decor! Marti

Jill (

Thanks for sharing! I am also a recent, self taught sewer and this is great. Found you at Sprinkles Party Linky Party at Buttercream Bakehouse!

The DIY Homegirl

Great round-up of terms! Thanks for sharing.


This is a great basic list. I have been sewing for over 40 years and until the last few years, had no idea what a sloper was!

Shannon @ Of The Hearth

This is super helpful! My sewing skills are pretty basic, but I’m trying to learn more. This clarifies a lot of the terms.

Jessi @ Practically Functional
Jessi @ Practically Functional

Wow, this is super awesome and totally helpful! Definitely pinning it, and thanks for sharing at Creativity Unleashed!


i too am self taught and always wondered about invisible hems. now i know i need a special foot. off to research them now thanks for linking up to the all things pretty party.


As a self-taught sewer (and still learning), this is just what I need! Thank you so much for posting this and sharing it at the Foodies and Crafties Soiree!


Love this! Thanks for putting it together. Great resource.


Thank you for sharing. I am not a newbie I have been sewing for 15+ years, but I could always use a refresher on things.


Hi Deby,
First of all Happy New Year! I wish you and your loved ones all the best for 2014.

Perfect, this might be very useful for future projects, although I am no longer a newby 😉 If I will find any missing words I will come back to you.
Thanks for sharing and your effort behind it.
Greetings from the “unusual springtime” Germany,


Oh, this is a great list!
Thanks! 🙂

Love, Midsommarflicka

mactil johnson
mactil johnson

I sew and my dauther is going to have a baby and I would like to saw it a blank would you send me a free pattern thank you.