Sewing Terms

Sewing Terms

Alteration – exactly as it sounds changing a garment to make it fit for the purpose it is designed for.

Asymmetrical - Staystitching is a line of straight stitches that prevents curved or bias edges, such as necklines, shoulders and waistlines, from stretching out of shape as they are handled during sewing and pressing. The pattern instructions will tell you where to staystitch and the illustrations on the pattern’s instruction sheet will you show which way to stitch. Staystitching is always done from the outer or wider edge in towards the center or narrower edge. The only exception is a "V" neck, where the stay-stitching goes from the point of the “V” up to the shoulder edge. 

Bias - Any diagonal direction. Fabrics stretch in the bias direction. 

Back-tack - A few stitches taken in reverse to secure a line of stitching.

Bar Tack - A very short thread reinforcement for points of stress

Baste – basting is a loose and easy stitch that is used to join two or more pieces of fabric together.

Bias Tape - A finishing trim that is made from fabric strips cut along the bias grain. Because fabric cut on this grain has a great deal of stretch, the tape fits smoothly around curves without adding unnecessary bulk.


Single-fold bias tape - actually has two folds – one running along each long edge of the tape. When single-fold bias tape is used to finish neckline or armhole edges, it is stitched to the garment edge with right sides together, and then it is turned to the inside of the garment and stitched again. The tape never shows on the outside of the garment. 


Double-fold bias tape - single-fold tape with an additional lengthwise fold. This fold is slightly off center, making one side just a little bit wider than the other. It's used to encase raw edges, creating a decorative finish that is visible on both the inside and outside of the project. 


Box pleats - A pleat style featuring two straight fabric folds facing in opposite directions.

Clean finishing – if you tuck under the edge of the fabric and stitch, you will be clean finishing. It is the process of creating a clean line.

Construction stitching - Stitching, such as seams and darts, that shapes and holds a garment together (as distinct from stay-stitching, finishing, etc.).

Crocking - Color rubbing off.  (really?, that's a term?- hilarious!)

Directional stitching 
  • stitching with the grain in woven fabrics. In knits, stitching all seams in the same direction.  
if you see this term in a pattern guide, it means that stitching must be conducted in a particular direction. If you see this instruction, make sure you follow it. Deviate at your peril! You may find that the pattern shape distorts if you don’t!

Double Stitched Seam - The seam is stitched and finished all in one step: Stitch a plain seam; stitch again, 1/8” away, within the seam allowance using a straight or zigzag stitch. Trim close to the second row of stitching; press seam flat to set the edges. Often used on sheer fabrics.
Ease – when you are making clothing, you need to be aware of easing. This is essentially an allowance that should be added to all core body measurements (bust, waist and hips) to ensure that the item will fit, after all it is better to make an item slightly too big rather than one too small!

Ease, to (verb) - To attach a fabric edge to an edge that is slightly shorter. When ease-stitching, the longer edge s very slightly gathered.

Edgestitching - An extra row of stitching that appears on the very edge of a garment, usually 1/8” or less from a seamline, foldline or finished edge. Thread color always matches the fabric color. 

Fashion fabric - the outer fabric in a garment.

Finger pressing – if you don’t have an iron handy but need to open your seam allowance, you will need to finger-press.  Or for fabrics that cannot be pressed.  That’s really all it is – opening the seam allowance with your thumbnails!

French Seam - A narrow finished seam with a couture look, where the raw edges are completely encased inside the seam allowances: With wrong sides together, stitch a 3/8” seam; trim the seam allowances to a scant 1/8” and press open. Fold the fabrics right sides together along the stitching line and press. Stitch ¼” away from the fold; press seam allowance flat, then to one side. Often used on sheer fabrics.

Gathers - A fashion detail that provides fullness in garment areas such as the waistline, the cuff of a full sleeve, or a sleeve cap. Also used to create ruffles, such as those found on decorative pillows. 

Give – if fabric has give it will have a high amount of elasticity. Lycra for example has more give than denim. Give is a term that can apply to both fabric and threads. The opposite of give is stability.

Grading – it’s important to produce a precise seam allowance; you don’t want to create unnecessary bulk. Grading is the process of trimming the allowance to a smaller width.

Hand – if you hear someone refer to the hand of the fabric, all they are referring to is the feel and drape of the fabric; literally how it feels to the touch

Interlining - a layer of fabric added to a lining for warmth.


Inverted pleat - A pleat style featuring two straight fabric folds that face each other, forming a pleat underlay. Often used at the center front or center back of a garment.

Knife pleats - A pleat style featuring fabric folds all facing the same direction. Also called straight pleats. 

Miter - The diagonal fold made at the corner in an edge finish, such as a binding, hem, etc.

Nap - In actual fact, the raised, hairy or downy surface on fabrics such as flannel, etc. In patterns, however, "with nap" means any fabric surface that looks different when held up or down, such a s pile, knits, one-way designs.

Non-woven fabric - A fabric not woven or knitted from thread or yarn. Non-woven fabrics, include fake leather and suede, felt, various interfacings.

Notch – if you are asked to do a notch basically it means making a small cut in the seam. What this does is allow the fabric to bend slightly at the corners, removing harsh lines from the overall shape.  They also can be used as markings on patterns used for matching.  Notches cut into the seam allowance may weaken the seam.

Pivoting - Moving the fabric around with the machine needle in it and the press foot up.

Pleats - Fabric folds that control fullness in a garment. Variations include box, inverted and knife pleats.

Pre-shrinking - Shrinking done before a fabric is used.

Seam allowance – seams are essential and you must learn all you can before embarking on a project. A seam allowance refers to the space between the stitching and the edge of the fabric. Some items will require a greater seam allowance than others so make sure you get those measurements exact!

Self-Fringe - A trim created, usually on loosely woven fabrics, by pulling out the crosswise yarns along the edge of a garment so that the remaining lengthwise yarns create a fringe effect. Once the desired amount of fringe is created, a line of stitching just above it secures the fringe form additional unwanted raveling.

Selvage – you would have definitely seen a selvage before but you may not have known it! It is simply the edge of the raw fabric that you might buy at the store. This is where the company and fabric details are written.

Sizing - A starch-like finish, added in the manufacture of some natural-fiber fabrics and rayon. It is water- and steam-soluble.

Stay - A tape added to a garment part to keep it in shape.
Stay-stitching - Stitching done inside the seam allowance, before construction, to stabilize curved or slanted edges. Usually done on a single thickness, but also used to attach interfacing.
Stitching-in-the-ditch -Stitching on the right side through a seam (in the ditch"), to fasten something underneath.
Test seam - A seam done on a scrap of the garment fabric to test the machine stitch.

Topstitching - An extra row of stitching on the outside of a garment along or near a finished edge, usually as a decorative effect, but sometimes functional as well, such as on a patch pocket or pleat. Can be done in matching or contrast thread.  Can be hand or machine stitched.


True Bias - The diagonal edge formed when a fabric is folded so that the lengthwise and crosswise grains are aligned. True bias occurs at a 45-degree angle, and woven fabrics have the greatest amount of stretch along the true bias.

Underlining - A layer of fabric that is sewn as one with the fashion fabric, wrong sides together. Underlining serves as a buffer between the fashion fabric and inner details like interfacing, zippers and more that are stitched to the underlining rather than the fashion fabric. 

Understitching - a line of stitching along the edge of a facing or undercollar to keep it from rolling to the outside.

"With Nap" - Refers to a fabric that has a texture or design that must run in one direction on the finished garment. Fabrics with a nap can look different depending on which way you hold them, though sometimes the difference might be a very subtle variation in color. Examples of “with nap” fabrics include velvet and corduroy, satin, knit fabrics and toile designs.

"Without Nap" - Refers to fabrics that do not have a particular one-way texture or design. If you are unsure whether your fabric has a nap, use the “with nap” layout.