Sewing Series ~ Sewing 101 ~ Sewing Terms

Sewing Terms

Sewing terms or vocabulary is key to becoming a successful sewist!  Names can be confusing and challenging, especially when you are not sure their definition. It is helpful to know the explanations of a particular skill or technique.

First, I am going to help you define standard terms that you will see them pop-up in most patterns, online tutorials or class. It is common for a new dressmaker to become overwhelmed with information; I am going to break it all down into parts, to help ease you into the plethora of words and common phrases.

Therefore, this post will go over the most basic of terms; I will be posting up more in-depth mini-posts as we make this journey into the world of sewing!

Reference Books

First,  you start a new craft or hobby, you are not one-hundred percent sure what the instructions mean.  Also, patterns, tutorials or what a teacher is trying to explain, do your research first, this will help keep the information you are learning.

These books below should help with getting you through some of those tight spots; a few of my favorite books to have on hand when sewing.  Perfect for referring back to when you cannot figure out what to do next.

If you still can’t figure something out using books, Needle, Ink and Thread have a fantastic sewing group on Facebook called “Needle, Ink and Thread, All things crafty” where you can ask another seamster for help.


How-To Speak Fluent Sewing by Christine Haynes – Phenomenal book! I recommend this to all of my sewing students. Quickly find definitions and examples for all the different vocabulary. This book is a must-have in your sewing library; it is indispensable.  As you can tell from the photo, I refer back to this book very consistently.

Elementary Sewing Skills by Carolyn N.K. Denham; Merchant & Mills – An excellent technique book, if you decide to get into garment sewing. This book gives in-depth with easy to follow photos for basic techniques from pressing, seams, finishing and fit. Great addition to your library as well.

Design-It-Yourself ClothesPatternmaking Simplified by Cal Patch – The perfect book to get your feet wet with creating your patterns to fit your measurements. Staple garments that are flattering and easy to sew. Build your skills with each project and expand your knowledge of sewing clothes.  Such a fun book and a great way to ease into creating your patterns.

Create The Perfect Fit by Joi Mahon – A book for those looking to alter their clothing or patterns; this book will walk you through a full bust adjustment, lengthening pants, crotch ease, sloped shoulders and more. Helping you get that perfect fit with a few simple changes; Joi breaks them down correctly to help you understand and keep the techniques for later use!

Sewing In A Straight Line by Brett Bara – Filled with smooth, straight stitching only projects to help you build confidence with your stitches. These are fun projects including skirts, curtains, quilts, pillows, fabric folders. Also techniques like shirring and belt making!  It’s a great confidence builder, and you can make super adorable projects while learning!

Below are a few other more technical books, they are great to have on your bookshelf, and we will get more in-depth with these books at a later point in this series.

Sewing 101; Basics – Terms to Know

Sewing Terms are easy to learn and needed when trying to explain a successor issue in sewing a project. The easiest way to get help from online groups or others that sew in your community is to know the specific terms, that way you can explain precisely why you are requesting needing help.

When two or more pieces of fabric sewn together, a suture is created.


Seam Allowance – Distance from the raw edge of the fabric to the entry point of the needle.  This allocation will vary between patterns; please make sure to check the pattern for this measurement.

Seam Allowance
Distance between needle and raw edge of fabric

Stitch Length: The length of a stitch – from where it begins and to where it ends. Usually measured in millimeters.  Most common stitch length is between 2.5 – 3.0.

Stitch Length
Stitch Length

Stitch Width: The width of a stitch from side to side of the center point. Depending on your machine model, this can also change the position of the needle when you are on a straight stitch.

Stitch Width
Stitch Width

Backstitch: Reversing over a straight stitch by a few stitches provides a back stitch, sometimes also called a lockstitch.

Backstitch – the button in the middle, looks like a U-Turn

Basting Stitch: A straight stitch with a long stitch length 4.0 or higher, usually this stitch does not include a back stitch.

Basting Stitch
Basting Stitch – the left stitch, 5.0 stitch length, which is the longest stitch


Pattern Terms

Stay-Stitching: A straight stitch, of regular of slightly shorter stitch length, sewn inside of the seam allowance around the curve of a cut pattern piece.


Edge Stitching: Edge stitching is a straight stitch sewn very close to the finished edge of the fabric.

Top Stitching:  Topstitching is a straight stitch sewn on the right side of the fabric, most often at seams or hems.

Understitch: A straight stitch is joining the seam allowance of a seam to the same seam’s lining or facing, just inside the original stitching.

Fabric Terms

Selvage -Edge on either side of the woven or flat-knitted fabric so finished as to prevent fraying. Different from the body of the material, often in a small tape effect.

Selvage Edge
Selvage Edge

Grain or Grainline (Warp) – Threads that run the length of the fabric.  Little to no stretch in woven, less stretch in a two way knit.  The grainline is also parallel to the selvage edge.

Grain, Bias, Cross Grain
Grain, Bias, Cross Grain

Cross Grain (Weft) – Threads that run the width of the fabric. More stretch than the grain less than the bias. Always perpendicular to the selvage edge.

Bias: The 45- degree angle that runs diagonally across a piece of fabric.  This will have the MOST stretch of a woven fabric.

Off Grain – When the threads of the warp and weft are not sitting perfectly perpendicular to each other. This will twist your fabric while wearing them.

Right Side (RS) – This right side of the fabric is the side that shown and worn on the outside of the finished project. **Usually the printed side of the material.

Right Side of Fabric
Right Side of Fabric

Wrong Side (WS) – The underside, which is on the inside of your finished projects.

Nap: The texture left on pile fabrics.

Pile: The raised fibers above the face of woven textile.

Stitch In The Ditch:  A straight stitch that lands in the groove where two seams meet on the right side of a project.


I know that this is a lot of terminologies; these are the most common words to become informal hearing. However, when taking a class in real life, online or through a book, these you will need to know what the teacher or author is explaining.  Consequently, if your knowledge of the foundation techniques or vocabulary is high, the sewing part will become comfortable, and your confidence will soar, I promise!

Also, I always say, no matter how much we already know you can still learn something new. Next, open a book, website, or blog, take a class that is labeled for a beginner, even if you think your skill is higher. Because, you will learn a tip or trick or two; there is something to be said for taking it back to the basics now and then, it’s refreshing.

XOXO  ~ Jesy

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The owner of Needle, Ink and Thread, Located in Kettering, Ohio. I love teaching, it really is my passion. The "lightbulb" moments are my favorite! I am so excited to share my passion for sewing, design, and art with you! I was also a former co-owner of Sew Dayton.

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