One of the most daunting parts about learning to sew is learning all the required terms. You can’t even get through a simple tutorial without running into ten words you don’t know. Well, we’re here to help! We’ve compiled the ultimate list of sewing terms and definitions to help you prepare to tackle your first project. You can consult this list any time for clarification or if you come across a term you don’t recognize.
We’ve broken this list up into four categories: general sewing terms, types of fabric, sewing machine terms, and sewing techniques and stitches.
General Sewing Materials
These may seem simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know these terms! This list covers your basic tools and the things that you may want to have on hand when you start a project.
Needles: Every seamstress needs a good set of needles, whether you’re sewing by hand or with a machine. Needles are what pierce your fabric and pull the thread through to make stitches.
You may not know this, but there are a huge variety of different needles that are best suited for different fabrics, like leather and stretch fabrics, as well as different tasks, like quilting. Additionally, sewing machine needles are different from hand sewing needles and cannot be used interchangeably.
- Pins: Pins are sharp objects that pierce through the fabric to help hold it in place before you secure it with stitches. You’ll need a variety of pins to secure your fabrics in place while you’re sewing. If you don’t like pins, you can use sewing clips as an alternative.
- Seam Gauge: Also called a sewing gauge, this is a six-inch ruler with a sliding marker that is used to measure mark hems, buttons, buttonholes, and other decorative sewing items.
- Thread: The thread is what makes stitches and holds your fabric in place. There are a huge variety of different threads that are best used for different projects. Examples include cotton, elastic, polyester, and more.
- Seam Ripper: This is a curved metal blade used to rip apart stitches. This is used in case of mistakes or if you need to remove stitches to make alterations, such as hemming.
- Tape Measure: Made of flexible fiberglass or plastic, this is used to take measurements. Its flexibility makes it ideal for measuring body measurements, patterns, and layouts.
- Thimble: Thimbles are worn on the fingers to protect you from poking yourself with a needle. They can be made of metal, rubber, leather, or plastic.
Basic Sewing Terms
Once you move beyond the items that you’ll need, there are a few terms that are going to come up over and over again. These are some of the most basic sewing terms to know.
- Pattern: This is the premade guide you follow when working on a project. You’ll use patterns most commonly when making clothing.
- Seam: This is the line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together.
- Seam Allowance: This is the space left between the edge of your fabric and the seam. Most patterns will account for a seam allowance by telling you to cut your fabric larger than it actually needs to be.
- Hem: The edge of a given piece of fabric. The hem is sewn under or folded over to keep the raw edge of the fabric from unraveling.
Types Of Fabric
Learning the different types of fabric is incredibly important when sewing. There are two main categories that fabric can fall into: woven and knitted. Woven fabrics are made from vertical and horizontal threads that interlock, while woven fabrics are formed by single strands of thread, creating interlocking loops. There are tons of types of fabric out there, but these are the most common:
- Canvas: Canvas is typically made out of heavy cotton yarn, but sometimes, it can be made from linen yarn. Canvas fabric is sturdy, durable, and heavy-duty.
- Cotton: As one of the most popular materials in the world, cotton is light, soft, and natural. It can be both woven or knit. Cotton is known for its incredible versatility and durability.
- Denim: Denim is a sturdy, durable woven fabric made from cotton twill. Denim is usually dyed with indigo pigment, which creates the vivid blue color we associate with denim jeans and jackets.
- Leather: Leather is a natural material made from animal hides or skins. Leather is extremely durable and wrinkle-resistant but notoriously difficult to sew with.
- Linen: Made from natural fibers derived from the flax plant, linen is a woven fabric that is known for being strong and lightweight.
- Satin: Satin is an incredibly lightweight fabric known for its glossy, elegant, sleek texture and appearance.
- Silk: Silk is an incredibly soft, elegant natural fabric with a shimmering appearance. It is woven from fibers derived from silkworms.
- Synthetics: This is a larger fabric category that includes all fabrics not made from natural materials. Synthetic fabrics are usually durable, water-resistant, and don’t shrink. Synthetic fabrics include nylon, polyester, and spandex.
- Velvet: Velvet is a soft fabric that is characterized by a dense pile of evenly cut fibers that have a smooth nap. Velvet can be made from a variety of fibers, including cotton, linen, wool, mohair, and synthetic fibers.
- Wool: Wool is a natural fabric that can be woven or knit. Wool fibers can come from a variety of animals, including sheep, goat, llama, or alpaca fleece.
Other Fabric Terms
Additionally, there are some terms that relate to fabric that are very helpful to know.
- Selvage: The selvage is the self-finished edge of the fabric. The selvages are located on opposite ends of the fabric, are made while the fabric is being manufactured, usually on a loom.
- Grainline: The grain runs parallel to the selvage.
- Crossgrain: The crossgrain runs perpendicular to the selvage and the grainline. The fibers of the grainline and the crossgrain interlock to form a woven fabric.
- Bias: The bias refers to any line diagonal to the crosswise and lengthwise grains. The true bias is a cut made at an angle of 45 degrees to the selvage.
Sewing Machine Terms
If you’re just starting out using a sewing machine, there are a variety of parts and terms you need to know to understand how a sewing machine works. Your sewing machine should come with a manual that explains the specific parts in-depth, but we’ve compiled a list of the general components to understand.
- Hand Wheel: The large knob located on the side of your machine that manually raises and lowers the needle.
- Spool: The main thread that forms the stitches. This thread sits on the spool pin, which is located on top of your machine. Thread from the spool is guided through your machine, then threaded through your needle.
- Bobbin: Small spool that holds the bottom thread. This links up with the top thread to create a stitch. The bobbin lives in the bobbin case below the needle and is usually covered by a plastic piece called the bobbin cover.
- Bobbin Winder Mechanism: Located on top of your machine, this mechanism winds thread around your bobbin, which creates the back part of your stitches as the machine sews.
- Stitch Selector: This selects the type of stitch your machine is performing and allows you to select specific lengths and widths for your stitches.
- Presser Foot: When lowered using a lever on the back of your machine, this foot holds your fabric in place.
- Feed Dogs: These feed the fabric through the machine and keep it moving forward.
- Needle Plate: A metal plate located beneath the needle and the presser foot. The needle plunged down through the plate to create stitches.
- Take-up Lever: The top thread goes through the take-up lever, and it moves up and down with the needle.
- Foot Pedal: This pedal is controlled with your foot. It makes your machine run and controls the speed based on the amount of pressure you apply.
Sewing Techniques And Stitches
These are the stitches you’ll use most often, whether you’re hand sewing or machine sewing, along with some stitching techniques and terms.
- Backstitch: A backstitch is necessary to secure your stitches in place and is done by overlapping stitches at both the beginning and the end of a line of stitches.
- Baste: Basting stitches are long stitches done either by hand or by machine that is designed to hold the fabric in place temporarily and are later removed.
- Finish Seams: You finish the seam on the raw edge of the fabric to make the piece look neater and to prevent fraying.
- Pleats: Pleats are folds created by doubling fabric over itself, then sewing it together.
- Ruching: A ruching effect is created by gathered or pleated fabric and used for fullness, texture, and visual interest.
- Zig-zag Stitch: A stretchable sewing machine stitch that runs diagonally back and forth in a zig-zag pattern.
- Running Stitch: Also known as a straight stitch, this is the simple, basic, straightforward stitch you’ll use most often.
- Quilting: The art of making a quilt, quilting is defined as stitching two layers of fabric together, with a layer of batting in between, in a consistent pattern.
Obviously, there are far too many sewing terms to define in just one article. But hopefully, this has given you a good place to start! For more tips, tutorials, and definitions, be sure to check out our blog.