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A Glossary of Sewing Terms

Updated: Jan 3

Have you ever read a pattern - quilty or sewing - and wondered what on earth they were talking about? Well, hopefully this list can help you out, so you can get back to your creative task! If you'd like to have a copy of this list at hand you can download it HERE. Print it out for your pin board so it's easy to refer to.

Check back from time to time, this is a living list that will be updated regularly.

BACKSTITCH: The purpose of back-stitching is to secure your stitching line. To do this, stitch forward a few stitches then, using the reverse function on your machine, stitch back over them. Continue stitching forward.

BAR TACK: A small row, of narrow zig-zag stitches to reinforce or keep a facing in place. They are used on a jeans fly, jeans belt loops, and buttonholes.

BASTE: To sew long loose stitches onto the fabric in order to hold something in place temporarily, trace a stitching line, or show the direction of the fabric.

BIAS: Bias refers to the diagonal direction of a piece of fabric, drawn at an exact 45-degree angle to the selvage or grain line. Woven fabric has the greatest amount of stretch in this direction even when it is a non-stretch fabric.

BIAS BINDING: Strips of fabric cut on a 45-degree angle to the selvage. In this direction, the fabric is stretchy and it adjusts well to curves, making it a great finish for necklines, (curved) hems or armholes. The strip is used to encase the raw edge of a hem or a seam. Bias Binding can be used to bind quilts or small projects like pot holders.

BEESWAX: Beeswax is used to coat thread for hand sewing. You can do this yourself by pulling the thread over a block of beeswax a couple of times and then run it through your fingers to set the wax and remove the excess beeswax. It should make a squeaky sound if you pull it between your fingers. Alternatively, you can buy thread conditioner or a pre-coated thread.

BOBBIN: A small spool of thread that goes into your sewing machine to supply the bottom thread in your stitches. It's loaded into the bobbin case and then inserted into your sewing machine.

The bobbin case is often specific to your sewing machine, be careful not to use bobbins from a different machine.

CUT ON FOLD: When a pattern tells you that you need to cut a pattern piece on fold, it means you need to align that edge of the pattern to the folded edge of your fabric. That way you only have to cut out half of the pattern piece, but when you unfold the fabric you have a full symmetrical piece of your sewing project.

EDGESTITCH: A line of stitching ⅛" (3mm) away from the folded or edge or seam line.

FAT EIGHTH (FAT ⅛): A Fat Eighth is a piece of fabric cut 9" x 21".

FAT QUARTER (FAT ¼): A Fat Quarter is a piece of fabric cut 18" (45.7cm) off the end of the bolt, and then cut in half on the fold. Four of these put together still make up 1 yard of fabric.

FEED DOGS: The feed dogs are the teeth that transport the fabric through your sewing machine. They are located under the presser foot and can be dropped when you are free motion quilting or sewing buttons onto a project using your sewing machine.

FINGER PRESS: When you use your fingers, roller, or another flat and smooth object to flatten or open a seam.

FUSIBLE INTERFACING: Using heat and pressure, fusible interfacing is permanently fused to the wrong side of fabric to add strength and structure to your project. It's often used in bag making, button bands, buttonhole areas, welt pockets, collars, cuffs but it can also be used in entire panels. Sometimes seam is required to achieve a good bond.

GRAIN LINE: The grain line of the fabric is the direction that the fibres align along the length of the fabric. It is parallel to the selvage edge of the fabric. Usually used in garment making, it is important that pattern pieces match the grain line marked on the pattern. This will insure that it hangs correctly and does not twist.

INCH: The Imperial equivalent of 2.5cm. Shown as " in patterns.

INTERFACING: Sew-in or fusible fabric used to stabilise fabrics. Can also add body, form or reinforcement. Interfacing is used in a number of Sublime Stitchery products and patterns.

LADDER STITCH: Can also be called a blind or hidden stitch. A sewing technique used for various sewing projects which keeps the stitches invisible.

MARK: Transferring pattern symbols and markings to fabric. There are many ways to do this. Using air-soluble/water soluble or heat erasing markers; chalk; pins or clips; a small clip with scissors within the seam allowance; dressmakers carbon paper and a tracing wheel or tailors tacks made with thread.

NOTCHES: Pattern marks shaped like diamonds or triangles that are printed on the cutting line of a pattern to indicate where seams should meet. Don’t cut them off your pattern pieces, trim around them.

NOTIONS: When a pattern calls for notions it’s items like ribbon, hardware, buttons, zippers, hooks, lace, elastic, etc. All the small accessories you need to finish your garment.

PRESSING: Use an iron to press fabrics, seams and adhere interfacing. When you press fabric, you lift the iron slightly when you move, then press down - rather than pushing the iron and stretching the fabric as you do so.

PRESSING CLOTH: A light piece of fabric used to protect your fabric when pressing. Place it between the iron and your project or garment, if you don't have a steam iron you can dampen the pressing cloth for better results. Useful for delicate fabrics or avoiding the glue from interfacing.

PRESSER FOOT: It presses the foot against the feed dogs of your sewing machine while you sew.

RAW EDGE: Unfinished, cut edge of fabric.

RS: Right side.

RST: Right sides together.

SCANT: A scant ¼" seam allowance is a seam allowance that is ever so slightly narrower than ¼" inch.

SEAM ALLOWANCE: The portion of the pattern edge determining the amount of excess fabric needed to stitch a particular seam to the line of stitching. A ¼" (6mm) seam allowance is included in pattern pieces and templates.

STRIP: A length of fabric cut WOF or 42" (106.5cm) selvage to selvage.

TOPSTITCH: A line of stitching that runs parallel to a fold line or a seam line. Because top stitching shows on the finished products, it is important that the stitches are even. Stitch on the RIGHT side using the fold line or seam line and your presser foot or edge stitch foot as a guide to maintain the same distance throughout the top stitching. Use a 3 - 3.5mm stitch length.

WARP: Fabric direction running from selvage to selvage.

WEFT: Fabric direction running along the selvage.

WOF: Width of Fabric. The Width of Fabric is the length between each selvage,

usually measuring about 42" (112cm).

WS: Wrong side.

WST: Wrong sides together.

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