Rounding up as many sewing, crafting, and quilting terms and definitions as I can! I’ve often found myself clueless to what a tutorial or pattern is referring to and hopefully I’ve put together a comprehensive enough list that you’ll never have to go searching again!
If I’ve missed anything or you think of something to add, leave a comment below and I’ll make sure it gets on the list!
A-line – Skirt term which describes a garment smaller at the waist than the hem, flaring out in the shape of an A.
alter – A change made to a completed garment to adjust the fit.
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 can be done with or without a fusible or stabilizer.
arrow 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.
awl – Tool with pointed tip used to push out corners when fabric is turned (for example, when making a collar).
backstitch – Used to reinforce your sewing and help keep it from unraveling. Just put your machine in the reverse position for a few stitches
ballpoint needle – Ballpoint needles are designed to penetrate knit fabrics without nicking or damaging the fabric.
bar tack – A very short, tight zigzag stitch used to reinforce small areas of strain.
baste – To temporarily join pieces of fabric together using long stitches that can be easily removed; done either by hand or machine.
batting – A lightweight material made of polyester, or any combination of polyester, cotton, wool, or silk, used as layered filler between finished fabric pieces to give fullness or loft.
bias – A diagonal cross of the lengthwise and crosswise grain of fabric. This is where there is the most stretch.
bias tape – Long strips of fabric cut on the bias, used to envelop the raw edge of a hem or seam. It can be bought prepackaged or made from fabric or scraps. Bias tape is folded on the two lengthwise edges (sometimes the edges are doublefolded).
binding – 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.
blanket stitch – Used to neaten the edge of a buttonhole, blanket, vest edge, or other seamline. A blanket stitch can be done by hand or machine.
blind hem – A hand hemming technique in which small zigzag stitches are made and hidden between the hem and the garment.
block – The process of straightening fabric before sewing by pulling it so that lengthwise and crosswise grains meet at a 90 degree angle.
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.
bodice – The part of a pattern or garment which runs from shoulder to waist.
bolt – The common means of packaging fabric for retail sale—the manufactures’ length of fabric wrapped around a cardboard frame. A typical bolt of fabric contains 12 – 20 yards (11 – 19 meters).
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 – Plastic stiffening material used to support your project and keep it from curling up, can be sold by the yard or precut into packages
buttonhole – A bound slit in the fabric to allow the passage of a button for closure. Buttonholes are mostly made by machine these days, but many people do still prefer to make them by hand, using a special buttonhole stitch.
casing – Fabric envelope of sorts for encasing 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).
chalk – Used to mark fabric pleats, darts, diamonds, buttonholes, and other cutting or constructing lines and designs.
clipping – Clipping allows some give in your seam allowance especially on the curves to help the seam lie flat and easier to turn your project right side out. To clip, use your scissors to cut into the seam allowance only, making cuts up to the stitch line. Be careful not to cut the stitching.
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). Other decorative effects can be achieved by zig-zagging over cording on a fabric for a raised design.
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.
crosswise grain – The direction of fabric that runs from selvage to selvage or horizontally. Also known as weft.
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.
darn – To repair a hole by using stitches going back and forth that fill the hole. Most commonly referred to when repairing socks. Some people use special darning tools and balls to keep fabric taut while they make the repair with needle and thread. Some sewing machines come with darning attachments and stitches.
dart – The take up of excess fabric, of a determined amount, at the edge of the garment and converging to a diminishing point; indicated by an arrow on a pattern. This design element allows for proper draping in a garment or sewing project.
dressmaker’s ham – A shaped cushion with rounded curves used to press curved seams and darts.
drape – Drape describes the way fabric hangs and falls from the body. Drapes are a formal window covering hung from drapery rods.
drawstring – Fold a long narrow length of fabric in half lengthwise with wrong sides together. Press. Open and fold each raw edge in to meet the seam. Press. At each short end fold fabric under 1/4″ to 1/2″ toward the wrong side and press. Fold the strip along the initial middle crease with all the raw edges tucked neatly inside. Stitch closed down the long side.
duct tape double – 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.
easing – Long loose machine stitches sewn in one or two rows to allow fabric to join evenly to another without tucks or gathers when extending threads are pulled. Used most often when sleeves are set in the armhole of a garment.
edge stitch – A very narrow stitch, done by a machine close to the edge in order to finish a project, close an opening, or stitch something into place
embellish – Adding special stitching, appliques, charms, or other decorations to your sewing project. Anything that adds something extra to the original design.
facing – Fabric pieces that are mirror images of garment/project pattern pieces, commonly used to finish openings such as necklines, armholes and front shirt openings.
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.
findings – In jewelry making, findings are the holders, the items used to make jewelry (earring wires, faux jewels, etc.). In sewing, findings are also known as notion. Findings are the little extras.
finger pressing – pressing open a seam allowance using your finger or thumbnail to form a crease on fabric that cannot be pressed or is in a tight area
flat felted 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 stitching it over the prior trimmed seam allowance. This is often used for reinforcing seams on pajamas or to reduce bulk in a seam.
fold line – The edge formed by doubling the fabric when the selvage edges meet or are parallel.
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.
french knot – Embroidery stitch 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.
fuse – 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 or both sides. (Not all interfacing is fusible!) Two brands of fusible used for sewing/applique application are Wonder Under and Stitch Witchery (sometimes used for quick hems). There are others that work as well.
fusible webbing/interfacing – 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.
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 stitch – Use the longest stitch on your machine and loose tension to enable you to pull the bobbin thread and gather your fabric
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 seam – Seam allowances trimmed to graded widths in order to reduce bulk in the seams.
grain – indicates the direction of the threads woven to create the fabric. Lengthwise/straight grain refers to the lengthwise threads that run parallel to the selvage edge. Crosswise grain refers to the cross threads that run from selvage to selvage.
grommet – An eyelet usually covered with vinyl or some other material. Used in lacing (i.e., shoes, corsets) and for decorative purposes.
guild – 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 – A bit of fabric sewn into a seamline to provide fullness (to let a garment out) or decoration. A lot of gussets were used in the early 50s that were diamond shaped and were used under the arm of a dress to give it more movement.
hemline – The line designated for the bottom edge of the finished hem.
hook and 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.
inseam – The inside seam on pants—runs from the hem of the pant to the point of the crotch.
interfacing – A type of fabric sewn or fused between the facing and the outside of a garment (as in a collar or cuff) for stiffening and shape retention.
• Woven – has grain line (pattern pieces should be laid out on grain)
• Non-woven – has no grain (pattern pieces may be laid out in any direction)
• Fusible – has a glue-like heat sensitive surface on one side and is ironed on rather than sewn (can be woven or non-woven)
• Non-fusible – must be sewn in (can be woven or non-woven)
iron – Gliding a heated iron across fabric with a sweeping motion for the purpose of removing wrinkles and/or smoothing the fabric.
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.
layout – The chart provided in the pattern instructions showing the appropriate placement of pattern pieces on the fabric for cutting.
lettuce hem – Usually a serged edge that is stretched as sewn, resulting in a ruffly edge on the finished garment.
lining – A lightweight silhouette similar to a garment that is placed on the inside of the garment.
machine applique – Using a tight zigzag stitch to finish the edge of a shape you are attaching or appliqueing to a project
machine baste – Use the longest stitch on your machine to hold a section of your project in place temporarily until you can complete your final stitches. These stitches may be removed later.
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.
marking – Transferring the various sewing construction symbols from the paper pattern pieces to the fabric.
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 or other decorative areas of a garment.
muslin – A generally inexpensive woven fabric used to make crafts, back quilts, or to make draft or trial garments.
nap – The distinct feature on such fabrics as velvet and corduroy that the right side of the fabric has a natural direction of the fibers—the natural direction will feel smoother and the opposite may feel a bit rough and the color may appear different when looking at it from different angles.
needle – Used for both machine and hand sewing: Hand sewing needles come in sizes 1 through 10; size 1 is the heaviest, size 10 the lightest. Machine needles come in sizes 7 through 18, but the numbers work the opposite way from those of hand-sewing needles, 7 being the lightest and 18 the heaviest.
notch – A protruding arrow shaped mark on a pattern piece which is used to match two pattern pieces together for precise sewing.
notion – Any items other than a pattern and fabric that are used to complete sewing projects such as pins, thread, buttons, zipper, etc.
overlock – An overcast stitch to prevent ravelling of fabric. There are sewing machines made to do overlock stitching. See “serger”.
overcast – Stitching done over a seam to prevent ravelling. This can be done by hand or machine.
pattern grading – The technique of resizing an original pattern into various pattern sizes.
pinking shears – Shears with a V shape along the cutting edge used to cut fabric and have it remain essentially ravel-free.
pins – Used for fastening or joining.
pin cushion – A small cushion in which pins may be stuck so they are ready for use.
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 covered with bias fabric, often used for decorative edging on garments or projects. This can be encased in seams for a nice effect.
pivot – Used when reach a corner and you want to turn and continue in another direction. Stop stitching, keeping your needle down. Lift the presser foot, rotate your fabric, lower the presser foot and continue to sew in new direction.
placket – An opening or slit in a garment usually on the front of a shirt or on the sleeve
above the cuff.
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 – Ironing your fabrics, especially before you cut out and sew your project, and as you are constructing your project. Pressing removes wrinkles, and pressing the seams as you make your project gives a smoother, more professional look
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.
pressing cloth – A cloth that goes between the garment and the iron when pressing to prevent heat damage to the garment, this can be purchased or a scrap of fabric can be substituted.
pressing ham – see dressmaker’s ham
prewashing/preshrink – Washing and drying fabric prior to use to allow for any shrinkage that may occur. This is especially important in projects that are machine washable, as shrinkage occurring after sewing is complete might ruin the shape or size of the project.
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.
raw edge – The edge of fabric that is not stitched or finished.
reinforcement stitch – Done to add strength and support to specific areas in your project, such as the end of a clip or in a spot that will take a lot of wear
remnant – Bolt ends of fabric, smaller pieces of fabric, leftover fabrics, usually sold at a discount.
rick rack – Rick Rack is a zigzag type of trim that is used to decorate and embellish items, often for a nostalgic flair. 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. Kind of a whimsical trim.
right side – The outside or top side of fabric; usually softer or smoother, or printed
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 – A fabric cutting tool that has a sharp round blade attached to a handle; should be used with an appropriate cutting mat.
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.
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 0 to achieve a satin stitch with a plain zig zag machine.
seam – The joining of two pieces of fabric by sewing, usually near the edge of the fabric.
seam allowance – The portion of fabric between the seam and the raw edge.
seam ripper – A tool with a small curved blade that has a sharp point on one end and a plastic tip on the other end that is used to remove stitches.
selvage, selvege, selvedge – The narrow tightly woven edge portion of fabric; it runs parallel to the warp.
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. Some sergers are combination overlock and serger machines. They do not, though, do the locking stith that a regular sewing machine does.
shears – A cutting implement similar or identical to a pair of scissors but typically larger.
sizing – Fabric finish that provides crispness without stiffness; a light starch finish.
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 the movement 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.).
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 resembling scissors used to snip threads. Usually used with hand sewing or portable projects.
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.
stay stitch – A straight stitch just inside the seam line that stabilizes a single layer of fabric and allows the seam allowance to be clipped to a corner.
stitch in the ditch – Stitching on the outside of the garment through all layers in the groove (ditch) of the seam, or as close as possible to the seam to secure inside waistbands, facings and bindings to the garment.
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.
straight pins – Pins used for the temporary joining of materials such as pattern pieces to fabric preparing the layout or to join one fabric piece to another during construction. There are various lengths and widths to accommodate different types of fabrics and projects.
straight stitch – A utility stitch on a sewing machine which creates a non-stretch seam; most often used when sewing woven fabrics.
tack - Small hand sewn stitches to mark inside construction details such as darts or pocket placement.
tape measure – A pliable measuring instrument; usually made of cloth or paper for necessary flexibility.
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.
thimble – A pitted cap or cover worn on the finger to push the needle in hand-sewing.
thread – A filament, a group of filaments twisted together, or a filamentous length formed by spinning and twisting short textile fibers into a continuous strand used for hand and machine sewing.
top stitch – A line of stitching sewn on the outside of a garment close to a seam for stability or decoration.
tracing paper – Paper which has been coated on one or both sides with white or colored wax or chalk—used in conjunction with the tracing wheel.
tracing wheel – An instrument with a smooth-edged, small serrated or needle-pointed wheel mounted on one end of a handle to transfer markings onto paper or fabric.
trim – To cut away excess fabric. Also, Trim is any decorative item, ribbon, lace that is put on a garment or craft item that is being sewn.
underlining – Lining used to add body to a garment.
understitching – Straight stitch sewn through seam allowances on facings or bindings close to seam to keep facings and bindings from rolling to outside of garment.
view – Most patterns show different variations on the pattern package. Each variation is called a “view”.
walking foot – A walking foot is an attachment for your sewing machine that enables smoother sewing when using several layers or fabric. It provides an extra bit of hold from the top that works with the feed dogs below the fabric, pushing the fabric during the sewing process. It “walks” the fabric. It also works well with slippery fabrics that may need control not available with the feed dogs only.
warp – Lengthwise threads that run parallel to the selvage edges of the fabric.
weft – Crosswise threads that run perpendicular to the lengthwise grain.
welt – A method of covering the raw edges of a pocket or other opening, can be single or double welt.
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.
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 pillow that has been stuffed.
wooden point – A tool used to dry-press small, hard-to-reach areas during the sewing process. Also used to push points of collar tips to the maximum.
wrong side – The inside or back side of fabric; usually rougher or less finished.
yoke – A shaped panel of fabric that is topstitched onto or inserted into a garment for
decoration or shaping purposes.
zig zag stitch – A machine stitch with a continuous “Z” type design that allows seams to stretch; can be used on the raw edge of fabric to prevent fraying.
All definitions can be found at one of the above sources. The Fabric Shopper takes no claim in wording any of the definitions.
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