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Sewing Terminology

By: Laura Farrant - Updated: 2 Apr 2013 | comments*Discuss
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New to the world of sewing and confused by the language? Don’t let these new words prevent you from exploring your creativity. Let us provide you with a quick reference guide and soon you will know your give from your grading!

Everything from A-Z

The world of sewing has its very own language and translating it can sometimes be a challenge. Here is a rundown of the key words that you should get familiar with. Learn this off by heart and you will be up and running!
  • Alteration – exactly as it sounds changing a garment to make it fit for the purpose it is designed for.
  • Baste – basting is a loose and easy stitch that is used to join two or more pieces of fabric together.
  • Clean finishing – if you tuck under the edge of the fabric and stitch, you will be clean finishing. It is the process of creating a clean line.
  • Directional stitching – if you see this term in a pattern guide, it means that stitching must be conducted in a particular direction. If you see this instruction, make sure you follow it. Deviate at your peril! You may find that the pattern shape distorts if you don’t!
  • Ease – when you are making clothing, you need to be aware of easing. This is essentially an allowance that should be added to all core body measurements (bust, waist and hips) to ensure that the item will fit, after all it is better to make an item slightly too big rather than one too small!
  • Edge stitching – this type of stitch appears as a row on the edge of the fabric and typically it involves using a thread the exact colour as the fabric.
  • Finger pressing – if you don’t have an iron handy but need to open your seam allowance, you will need to finger-press. That’s really all it is – opening the seam allowance with your thumbs!
  • Give – if fabric has give it will have a high amount of elasticity. Lycra for example has more give than denim. Give is a term that can apply to both fabric and threads. The opposite of give is stability.
  • Grading – it’s important to produce a precise seam allowance; you don’t want to create unnecessary bulk. Grading is the process of trimming the allowance to a smaller width.
  • Hand – if you hear someone refer to the hand of the fabric, all they are referring to is the feel and drape of the fabric; literally how it feels to the touch
  • Notch – if you are asked to do a notch basically it means making a small cut in the seam. What this does is allow the fabric to bend slightly at the corners, removing harsh lines from the overall shape.
  • Seam allowance – seams are essential and you must learn all you can before embarking on a project. A seam allowance refers to the space between the stitching and the edge of the fabric. Some items will require a greater seam allowance than others so make sure you get those measurements exact!
  • Selvage – you would have definitely seen a selvage before but you may not have known it! It is simply the edge of the raw fabric that you might buy at the store. This is where the company and fabric details are written.
  • Top stitch – topstitching is a row of stitch, which is then visible. They finish an item off and can be decorative – feel free to use complementary thread colours when top stitching.


There are of course plenty more terms that you will come across. These are the basics. If you know these, you can bluff your way through any sewing guide out there!

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