Glossary

Here’s a brief glossary of common sewing terms you might come across. I’ll try to expand it over time, but this should hopefully give you an overview of terms you might see in my pattern instructions or tutorial posts (as well as elsewhere!), in case you are unfamiliar with them.

 

B

Baste
Sew a seam (or sew something in place) with temporary stitches that they can be picked out once the final seam is sewn. To baste by machine, use the longest stitch length on your machine (e.g. 5mm), and don’t forget to put it back to its usual setting when you go on to the next step! To baste by hand, use a long running stitch. Consider using a contrasting colour thread for basting to make it easy to pick the stitches out when the final stitching is done.

Bias
Bias grain runs diagonally to the warp (the ‘straight’ grain) and the weft (the ‘cross’ grain) of the fabric. True bias is at a 45 degree angle to the straight grain.

Bias binding / Bias bound edge
When the edge of a cut piece of fabric is bias bound, the raw edge of the fabric is enclosed with bias tape, with the bias tape is visible from both sides of the fabric. BiasBinding
Bias facing / Bias faced edge
When the edge of a cut piece of fabric is bias faced, the raw edge of the fabric is enclosed with bias tape, with the bias tape is visible from the wrong side of the fabric (e.g. the inside of a garment) but is not visible from the right side of the fabric (e.g. the outside of a garment). BiasFacing
Block fusing
Applying interfacing to a section of your fabric before cutting out the pattern pieces which need interfacing, rather than cutting the pattern piece from the fabric and the interfacing separately and then fusing them together. Read more about block fusing here.  

C

Clip

When you have sewn around a concave curve, or to the point of a corner, you may need to clip into the seam allowance, making short cuts with a sharp pair of scissors that go from the raw edge nearly to the stitching line – but not through the stitches!

ClipSeamAllowance

E

Ease (in a garment)
Ease is the amount of extra room there is around the wearer’s body, in a garment. So a lycra swimming costume has no ease when worn (in fact, it has ‘negative’ ease, in that the garment is smaller than the wearer’s body) whereas a kaftan has a lot of ease. When drafting a woven garment, there is a minimum amount of ease required so that people can move, breathe (and eat!) in the garment, which is called ‘wearing ease’, and then any additional ease is ‘design ease’, which is a matter of the designer’s preference and the style of the garment.
Ease (when pinning/sewing fabrics together)

Where two seam edges are not exactly the same length, or they curve in different directions, you ‘ease’ the larger or more curved seam edge to the other one by using pins to spread the excess length evenly across the whole seam.

Ease-pinning

How to:

Start by pinning at the ends and the centre of the seam, and then work in sections along the length of the seam to pin the two edges together evenly. Then stitch slowly and carefully.

TIP: When two edges have been eased together like this, sew the seam with the larger edge on the bottom, against the feed dogs of your sewing machine. The feed dogs help to distribute the ease as the machine moves the fabric along.

Ease stitching
Rows of stitching sewn with a long stitch length, inside the seam allowance, to help pull the fabric to a shorter length without causing visible gathers along the stitching line (for example, where setting a sleeve).

How to: Gently pull your top thread and bobbin threads beyond your needle, so you have long tails of thread behind the needle before you start sewing. Sew two rows of stitches with your longest stitch length, inside the seam allowance (e.g. with a seam allowances of 3/8” and 1/2” so that both rows are inside the 5/8” seam allowance). When you stop stitching, don’t backstitch. Instead, pull out long thread tails before snipping the threads. Then pull on the bobbin thread ‘tail’ to gather up the fabric to a shorter length, so it can be fitted to an armscye (for a sleeve) or to the relevant piece of the garment.

Edge stitching / top stitching

Stitch along the edge of a seam, around 1/8“ from the edge, from the right side of the piece. You can position your machine needle at its rightmost position and use the edge of the presser foot as a guide to keep your stitching straight, or use a special presser foot (an attachment for your machine) such as a ‘stitch in the ditch’ foot, which has a built in edge to use as a guide while stitching.

F

Finish raw edges / seam allowances

When you sew a seam, from the wrong side of the garment you can still see the raw cut edges of fabric. Finishing the seam allowance means applying one of a number of techniques to prevent that raw edge from fraying and to neaten it so it looks professional.

How to: A good sewingreference book will explain how to do this, but some common options are:

  • To stitch along the raw edge with a zig zag stitch on your sewing machine;
  • To stitch along the raw edge with an overlock stitch on an overlocker machine;
  • To bind the raw edge with bias tape, such as a Hong Kong finish;
  • To cut along the raw edge with pinking shears; and
  • If the garment is underlined, to hand stitch the raw edge to the underlining fabric.

G

Gathering stitching
Rows of stitching sewn with a long stitch length, inside the seam allowance, to help gather the fabric to the desired length, creating visible gathers along the stitching line (for example, along the waist seam of a gathered skirt).

How to: Gently pull your top thread and bobbin threads beyond your needle, so you have long tails of thread behind the needle before you start sewing. Sew two rows of stitches with your longest stitch length, inside the seam allowance (e.g. with a seam allowances of 3/8” and 1/2” so that both rows are inside the 5/8” seam allowance). When you stop stitching, don’t backstitch. Instead, pull out long thread tails before snipping the threads. Then pull on the bobbin thread ‘tail’ to gather up the fabric to a shorter length, and arrange the gathers to your liking before sewing the gathered seam.

Grade (a pattern)
To blend between sizes of a multi-sized pattern, or to take a pattern in one size and alter it to another size by a system of moving out the key anchor points (such as the end of shoulder, the bust point, the neckline etc) incrementally for each size step. Asset 1@3x
Grade (a seam allowance)

Cut/trim the seam allowance after sewing a seam, parallel to the raw edge, to reduce the width of the seam allowance edge and therefore reduce bulk. Grading means trimming the two sides of a seam allowance to different widths, with the layer which will sit nearest the outside of the garment left wider than the other.

N

Notch (pattern matching)

On a pattern piece, the notch marks a little snip/cut made into the seam allowance (or a point where you mark the seam allowance) to help you see where to join two pieces of fabric when sewing them together. Place the two pieces of fabric so that the notches are aligned, when pinning.

Notch (a seam allowance)

Notching a seam allowance is similar to clipping, and is done to reduce bulk and allow the fabric to sit correctly on a curved seam. Instead of clipping in single cuts, to notch a seam allowance you would cut small triangles out of the seam allowance. Notch convex seams (and clip concave seams).

NotchSeamAllowance

R

RST
Right sides together.

S

Stay stitch

Stitch along the stitching line of a curved or biased seam before it is sewn, to prevent the seam from stretching out of shape during assembly. Sew just inside the seam allowance so the stitches will be hidden when the seam is sewn.

Stitch in the ditch

From the right side of the garment, stitch along a sewn seam line, such that the needle passes right along the seam line and through the stitches which hold that seam together (hence ‘stitching in the ditch’), in order to catch another layer underneath. Often used for waistbands, cuffs, and facings.

T

Trim (a seam allowance)

Cut/trim the seam allowance after sewing a seam, parallel to the raw edge, to reduce the width of the seam allowance edge and therefore reduce bulk. (E.g. you may trim it to half its original width).

U

Underline

Underlining involves attaching a second layer of fabric (the underlining) to your main fabric and can be done to reduce transparency, to add stability or body to the main fabric. It is also used when making outerwear, to add an insulating layer for warmth.

How to: Cut out your pattern pieces from both main fabric and underlining fabric. Stitch each underlining piece to its corresponding main fabric piece, WST, using basting stitches, inside the seam allowance. For example, if the pattern seam allowance is 5/8“, stitch with a 1/2” seam allowance. Baste along the stitching lines of any darts, just inside the dart legs. Then treat the two layers as one main fabric piece for the rest of your garment construction.

Understitch

Usually used on facings, linings, and other layers of fabric which need to be ‘trained’ to lie towards the inside of the garment, this stitching technique helps prevent them from showing on the right side of the garment.

How to: see this tutorial.

W

WST
Wrong sides together. Here’s a brief glossary of common sewing terms you might come across. I’ll try to expand it over time, but this should hopefully give you an overview of terms you might see in my pattern instructions or tutorial posts (as well as elsewhere!), in case you are unfamiliar with them.