Sewing Glossary

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Backstitch

A backstitch is necessary to secure a line of stitches. Backstitching is overlapping stitches at both the beginning and end of a stitching line. This is done by sewing approx. 1-3 stitches by machine, reversing the direction of the feed dogs and stitching directly on top of the previously-made stitches.

Basting

Basting stitches are temporary long-running stitches, made by machine or hand, that holds the fabric together before the final permanent stitching. They are removed once the final seam is in place.

Bias

Bias refers to the diagonal of the fabric: a cut that’s made diagonally across the crosswise and lengthwise grain of the fabric. True bias is a cut made on an angle, 45 degrees to the selvedge. This direction allows for the most stretch. Bias refers to any line diagonal to the crosswise and lengthwise grains.

Most bias pattern pieces are laid on the true bias; the grainline arrow and the pattern’s layout instructions will help you align your pattern pieces.

Clipping

To clip your fabric, you make snips in the seam allowance, up to but not through the line of stitching, to allow the fabric to open around curves or to lay flat.

Crossgrain

The line of fabric is perpendicular (i.e. at an angle of 90°) to the selvedge edge of the fabric.

Dart

A dart is a folded wedge of fabric used to shape a garment, particularly over curves.

Edge Stitch

The second line of stitching that is very close to a seam line or garment edge, on the right side of the fabric. This is usually sewn to keep pressed seams in place.

Facing

A fabric piece that is used to create a finished edge on a garment (mostly used for necklines, armholes, or edges with closures), mirroring the edge it is sewn to and creating an enclosed edge.

French Seam

A French seam is a finished seam in which the seam is initially stitched with the wrong sides together, then flipped inside and stitched right sides together. This encloses the seam allowance, creating a clean finish on the inside of the garment. This is my preferred method to finish seams on woven fabrics, as it does not require a serger machine and looks very professional.

Gathering

Gathering stitches are used to sew a longer edge to a shorter edge, resulting in significant fullness. Use a long stitch length and stitch two rows parallel to each other. Leave long thread tails which can be tugged to adjust ease before you sew. Do not backstitch.

Grain

Grain describes the direction of the warp (= lengthwise thread direction) and the weft (= transverse/crosswise) in a woven fabric. The threads in a woven fabric are set up on a loom in a lengthwise and crosswise orientation. The lengthwise grain is used to lay out the garment pattern pieces. The crosswise grain runs from one selvedge edge to the other.

Grain Line

The imaginary line that is running lengthwise on the fabric, always parallel to the selvedge edge. The grain line is marked on pattern pieces with a straight line, usually with arrows at either end.

Interfacing/Fusing

A layer of fabric that is used to stabilize the garment fabric. Interfacing can be woven or non-woven, fusible or sew-in.

Nap

A fabric texture that runs in a specific direction (for example, velvets and corduroys). Nap requires that all pieces be placed and cut in the same orientation. Prints that have directionality may not have a textured nap but also need care when placing pattern pieces.

Notches

The notches on a pattern help align the pattern pieces when you sew them together. 

Right Side, Wrong Side

The "Right Side" refers to the side of the fabric designed to be on the outside of the garment. Sewing directions usually instruct to put the right sides together and stitch, resulting in fabric seamed together with the seam allowances on the inside of the garment.

The "Wrong Side" is the side of the fabric intended to be on the inside of the garment.

Seam Allowance

The seam allowance is the distance from the edge of the cut fabric piece to the stitching, which can vary according to the pattern and fabric. The standard seam allowance for dutiers is either 10 mm or 15 mm (3/8 or 5/8 inch) and is included in the pattern pieces. The correct seam allowance is always indicated on the pattern.

Selvedge

The woven edge of a fabric that runs parallel to the lengthwise grain. When you purchase fabric, it is cut across the crosswise grain, at a 90-degree angle to the selvedge.

Stay Stitch

A line of machine stitches on or near the seam line, stitched on a single layer of fabric, used to stabilise a cut edge.

Topstitch

Topstitching is a row of stitches seen on the outside of a garment. They can be decorative and also add strength and wearing ability to an item.

Under Stitch

A row of stitching that attaches the facing to the seam allowance on the inside of the garment.