20 Sewing Terms Every Beginner Should Know

This is a guest post from Isaac Atia. He is the founder of 10BestRanked.com, a blog where he reviews sewing machines, gadgets, and outdoors products. When he’s not working, Isaac enjoys fixing broken gadgets and writing product reviews. 

Sewing might look like a daunting hobby if you are a beginner. Before diving in, you need to get familiar with some basic sewing terms and phrases so as to better understand the fundamental sewing rules and techniques. Read on for 20 essential terms every novice in this field should know.

1. Baste

Sewing, done by either machine or hand, with the long stitches which are temporarily used to hold two pieces of fabric in place until the final seam gets sewed.

2. Backstitch

Overlapping stitches used at the end and beginning of a stitching line that prevent the thread from unwinding. You can make it by sewing forward 2-3 stitches, then sew the same number of stitches backward and proceed with sewing forward again.

3. Edgestitch

Edgestitch refers to an additional row of stitches that are sewn along the seam line (usually on the right side) to hold seams in place.

4. Understitch

That’s a stitching technique which can help the seam lay flat. besides, it prevents linings and facings from rolling toward the outer side of a garment. How to make it? Simply press the seam of your fabric toward the facing and stitch them together.

5. Topstitch

As its name suggests, topstitch implies sewing along the top of the fabric. Topstitching is a stitching method whereby the outer surface of a garment gets parallel to a seam. This way your fabric gets a more professional, tailored look. Basically, topstitching is much the same as edge stitching, but it is more discernible and can be applied in a decorative manner.

6. Gathering

A sewing technique that shortens the fabric length, allowing you to attach a shorter edge to a longer edge. To gather a piece of fabric, you should run and scrunch the thread together along the fabric. That will result in greater fullness.

7. Finish Seams

You can create the finish seams in many different ways when wanting to prevent fraying and get neat looks. Make a zig-zag stitch along a seam for lighter fabrics. For sturdier fabrics, you should use pinking shears to trim the seams. Other techniques include serged edges, turned-under seams, and bound edges.

8. Notches

The notches can help you aline the pieces of the pattern when sewing them together. This term can also refer to the notches added to the curved seam from the outside.

9. Woven Fabric

This fabric can be created by intertwining a few fibers across each other – horizontally and vertically at right angles. Such a weaving method lets the fabric keep its shape without stretching longitudinally. Along the cross-grain of the fabric, there’s more or less stretch depending on the yarn content.

10. Knit Fabric

In this case, there’s only one continuous thread which is looped repeatedly backward and forward. Such a structure makes the pattern look like braiding. The knit fabric is quite stretchable and less likely to fray.

11. Staystitching

This stitching technique relates to the straight stitches that go through a single layer of cloth. It is usually done around the curve to strengthen the fabric prior to sewing and prevent distortion.

12. Raw Edge

The raw edge pertains to the incomplete, cut edge of a fabric. Note that the raw edge of a knit fabric always tends to roll towards the “right” side, i.e., the outer side of a completed garment.

13. Hem

The folded edge that is sewn from below to prevent the raw edge from unraveling and keep it hidden.

14. Seam Allowance

The distance between the raw edge and stitching line (i.e., the sewn line) of the fabric is called seam allowance. That distance varies depending on the pattern and kind of fabric used, but the vast majority of commercial patterns come with a 5/8 inch seam allowance.

15. Bias

A diagonal cut created at an angle of 45 degrees between the vertical and horizontal grain lines. In other words, bias is a line that runs at 45-degree angle to the selvage. It allows for the maximum stretch of the fabric.

16. Clip

Snip along the interior curve at even intervals to make a curved seam flat. Be sure not to break the stitch line.

17. Grade Seams

The seams are supposed to be properly graded in order to lessen bulk when you press the inlays in a particular direction. Seam allowance should be trimmed in half once the seams are sewn.

18. Selvage

The selvage is a sewing term for the self-finished edges of the fabric. It can be done along either side of the fabric to prevent it from fraying or unraveling. The selvage is usually made on a loom while the fabric is still being produced.

19. Fabric Grain

When speaking of fabric grain, we think of the direction in which the fiber pieces run, creating the fabric. Those pieces can be either knit or woven together. Materials like fleece or leather don’t contain a grain since they aren’t woven together.

20. Grainline

This term refers to the line that’s formed in parallel with the selvage. By contrast, the crossgrain runs at an angle of 90° to the selvage. Many manufacturers print the narrow long symbol on the patterns of their fabric to indicate the location of the grainline.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below. Happy sewing!


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