Beginners Guide - Basic Sewing Glossary

by Fatema Ali
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Beginners Guide - Basic Sewing Glossary

Here is a basic glossary to help those starting out with sewing. I hope it gives beginners a head start whether it be a new hobby, spur-of-the-moment decision or a long awaited passion. Its also great for those revisiting sewing after a long time.

Back-stitch - hold down the reverse button on your sewing machine at the start and end of each round of sewing to secure the ends.

Baste (or tacking) - a rough long stitch to hold fabric together before stitching. It can be removed once the final stitch has been done. It helps especially with difficult joints such as circles, accurate stitching and unpredictable fabrics.

Bias - the 45 degrees angle to any woven fabric. The woven nature of fabric gives the bias a stretch, which helps in making bias tape or bias binding. It is typically used for collars, facings, raw edges, piping, ties or straps.

Bias binding/tape - a narrow piece of fabric cut on the bias is referred to as the bias binding or tape. The width can differ from 1.5" to 3" depending on the use and can also be joined at an angle to produce a continuous length.

Casing - a tube like tunnel made from fabric, to thread a piece of elastic, string or rope through to create to pull-in or draw-up fabric. Examples - drawstring bag, carrier bag holder.

Dart - a technique used to reduce extra fabric around areas on the body such as the bust or waist. A triangular-shaped wedge is sewn on the wrong side and is tapered so it is visually nicer to see on the front of the garment.

Facing - is a piece of fabric used to finish of raw edges of a garment like the neckline or armholes. It is usually cut on the bias and stay-stitched so that the facing remains hidden inside the garment.

Gathering - a technique in which the fabric is gathered together in small folds which helps longer pieces to be joint to smaller pieces of fabric. Example - skirts

Grain - the direction of the fabric in respect to the woven threads of the fabric. The lengthwise grain is parallel to the warp of the fabric (usually parallel to the selvedge) and the crosswise grain is parallel to the weft of the fabric.

Hem - the technique in which the raw edges can be hidden and secured so that they do not unravel. The edge of the fabric is folded (usually 1/4"-1/2") and folded again, then straight stitched or blind-stitched to hold in place.

Interfacing - materials used on the inside, or wrong side of a fabric to give it strength, stability or thickness. This can be the use of other similar fabrics, specific interfacing which comes in different weights such as light, medium, heavy. They are available as fusible iron-on or sew-in.

Lining - a layer of fabric used on the inside of a garment or project (such as the lining of a bag) to conceal the wrong side of the outer fabric, any raw edges or interfacing.

Muslin/Toile - a test garment made from muslin. Its cheaper to use and easier to make adjustments to, as you fit it to your model.

Notch - to make a snip or cut in the fabric to align fabrics together, also used to transfer certain markings from a pattern to fabric. Notches often made to edges which are sewn on a curve to loosen the tension and ease the fabric.

Notions - refers to any tools or accessories used for sewing

Patchwork - refers to smaller pieces of fabric sewn together to create larger pieces. The technique is usually used for quilting but can be applied to many other projects.

Pattern - for dressmakers the term is referred to a template used to make a garment. The draft pattern is drawn on paper from measurements of a model to use as a template to cut from fabric. Patterns make it easier to replicate, duplicate and adjust garments. A pattern can be made from scratch, called drafting or can be purchased ready to use.

Piping - is a decorative technique used to finish off raw edges by rolling fabric (self or contrasting) over a cord and inserting it between two fabrics to create a visually nice edging. Examples - cushions.

Pleat - Is a piece of fabric folded over itself to form flat wide folds. This technique is used mainly in clothing or home furnishings but can also be applied to create interesting visual effects in general sewing projects

Quilting - a technique using two pieces of fabric with batting in-between. This makes the finished piece slightly padded and soft to use.

Right side - refers to the right side of any fabric, i.e the front.

Seam - when two pieces of fabric are stitched together, the stitch is called a seam.

Seam allowance - the allowance between the seam and the edge of the fabric is referred to as the seam allowance. Projects usually ask for an allowance between 1/4" to 5/8". On garments the seam allowance can be added to the pattern (draft) or be included.

Seam ripper - this little tool helps to unpick or rip out incorrect stitches in your sewing.

Selvedge - this is the self-finished edge of the fabric which run parallel to the warp (also the lengthwise grain). They are usually removed before stitching but can be used separately for interesting and unusual projects.

Top-stitch - a finishing or decorative stitch done on the front edge of a finished piece

Thimble - a small tool that is worn over a finger or thumb to protect it from needle points.

Trim - decorative items such as ribbons and laces that are added to projects.

Trim - this can also refer to trimming excess fabric after a seam is sewn to reduce bulkiness when a piece needs to be turned inside-out.

Wrong side - the wrong side of a fabric, i.e the back, or side which is not meant to be shown.

I know it can be daunting to start sewing and not knowing where to start. If you can grasp these simple terms you are well on your way to becoming a great sewing enthusiast!

by Fatema Ali


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