Meaning of Common Sewing and Crafting Terms- Sewing Glossary

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As with all hobbies, sewing – or crafting in general – isn’t without its technical terminology. If you’re just starting, all these terms can be incredibly daunting.

We’ve got your back! Here’s a glossary of common sewing and crafting terms to help you whenever you stumble across something you don’t know. Let us know if there are any we’re missing and we’ll add more as time goes on!

Afghan

A knitted, or crocheted, woolen blanket. They can be used as bedspreads, throws, or even as decoration.

Afghan Hook

While similar to crochet hooks, Afghan hooks are much longer and designed with a cap on the end – like knitting needles – to hold stitches as you work. As the name suggests, they’re used to make Afghans.

Backstitch

A type of stitch used in embroidery and cross-stitch. Unlike running stitch, backstitch forms an even, smooth line and is great for outlining and adding fine details. Since it doubles back on itself as you work, it’s one of the stronger stitches.

Baste

Designed for temporarily holding fabric pieces together, basting is a loose running stitch.

Bias

A diagonal line that runs at a 45-degree angle across the cross-grain and straight grain of the fabric. Cutting along the bias, or diagonal grain gives the fabric a little extra stretch. Bias cut fabric can be used decoratively to create the appearance of chevron style patterns when using striped fabrics. It can also be used to great effect in forming figure flattering skirts. 

Bias Binding

Thin strips of fabric cut along the bias to make a binding for fabric edges. For clothing, it’s used to finish hems, neck and sleeve edges, and for decoration. Bias binding can also be used to seal the edge of quilts, hot pads, and oven mitts. 

Binding

Refers to the method of finishing a seam or hemming a raw edge.

Blanket Stitch

A wide, looping hand stitch used to reinforce the raw edge of heavy materials, such as blankets, that are too thick to properly hem. It’s also used for decorative purposes.

Bobbin

A small round spool made from plastic or metal. It holds the lower thread in a sewing machine.

Bobbin Case

A small metal case that houses the bobbin. It slots into the bobbin race in a sewing machine and holds the bobbin in place. A bobbin case is only found in side-loading or front-loading machines. The bobbins they contain can be metal or plastic. 

Bobbin Race

The area of the sewing machine that houses the bobbin case in front loading and side loading sewing machines. It houses the bobbin in drop-in or top-loading machines. 

Clip The Curves

A method to create a smooth inside curve and reduce bulk. Without cutting through the seamline, you cut perpendicular lines into the seam allowance, allowing the fabric to move more freely.

Crochet

A method of creating toys, garments, or blankets using yarn or another, similar, material. Unlike knitting, crochet uses a single hook and the resulting project resembles chains of small knots.

Crochet Hook

The tool used in crochet. Made out of either plastic, metal, or wood, they come in various sizes for different projects.

Cross Grain

Refers to the grain following the width of a piece of fabric. The cross grain of fabric has a small amount of natural stretch or give. Because of this, the fabric is usually cut so that the cross grain goes around the body. 

Cross-stitch

Used in needlework, the stitch itself forms an X. It can be used as a temporary measure to hold pleats in place or as a type of decorative embroidery stitch.

Cutting Mat

A rectangular mat made of a durable material like rubber or vinyl. They’re marked with measurements and enable you to cut fabric pieces flat on a surface with a rotary cutter.

Curve

Refers to the inside or outside curve of a pattern. A neckline is an example of an inside curve, while a hat is an outside curve.

Darning

A method of mending holes in fabric that aren’t on a seam or are in an otherwise awkward spot where a patch would be uncomfortable. The technique uses the ‘darning stitch’.

Darning Foot

Also called a ‘free-motion’ foot. A sewing machine attachment that allows you to decide the direction and speed of your sewing, unlike other sewing machine feet that limit you to forward and back. 

Darning Stitch

A flat, interwoven stitch used to mend holes in fabric. It can also be used for decorative pieces.

Darts

Used mainly on women’s clothing, darts are folds stitched into the fabric. They’re designed to tailor the garment to the wearer, fitting the material to their body shape without puckering. They also give a flat piece of fabric a more dynamic appearance.

Drop-in Bobbin

Located on the bed of the machine, just in front of the feed dogs, a drop-in bobbin is one where the bobbin is literally dropped in. These bobbins are normally plastic and do not need a bobbin case. Also known as top-loading bobbins. 

Edge Stitch

A straight stitch along the edge of a fabric or the seam of a garment. Although it can be used as decoration, it’s designed primarily as reinforcement and, therefore, isn’t as noticeable as top-stitching. 

Embroidery Floss

Silk or cotton thread used in embroidery. It has six strands which allows the user to variate the thickness of their stitches.

Fat Quarter

A piece of fabric measuring 18 x 22 inches often used to make quilts.

Feed dogs

Located under the needle of a sewing machine, the feed dogs are parallel lines of metal with ridges. When the sewing machine makes a stitch, the feed dogs pull the fabric under the presser foot, towards the back of the machine. 

Free Motion Quilting

A method of applying decoration to your quilt. It refers to the technique of dropping the sewing machine feed dogs, allowing you to move the fabric in all directions and using a darning (free-motion) foot to create freehand designs.

French Seam

Used for delicate fabrics such as silk, the French seam creates a neater finish on both the outside and the inside of a garment. First, it is stitched on the right side and then again on the wrong side. 

Front Loading Bobbin

A bobbin with a metal case, designed to be loaded into the front of the machine. Usually behind the storage tray. 

Gathering Stitches

Two parallel rows of loose stitches that, when pulled tight, gather the fabric. Used for sleeves, ruffles, and waistbands.

Godet

A triangular piece of fabric (although some can be semi-circular) set in a garment’s hem. Usually used in dresses or skirts, godets add fullness.

Grading Seams

The layers of fabric in an enclosed seam are tiered to allow the garment to lie flat. Starting with the lining, you cut the seam allowance to steadily increasing lengths. This is particularly useful for bulky fabrics or anywhere you don’t want a ridge to show through to the right side of the fabric.

Grainline  

The weave of the fabric. Normally this term is used on patterns to indicate the direction of the straight grain which runs parallel to the selvage. It will be represented by a long thin line with arrow points at each end. 

Knit Fabrics

Knit fabrics don’t technically have grainlines as they don’t have warp or weft threads. They are formed through a process called knitting. In much the same way as hand knitting, a single piece of yarn is stitched together forming loops or knots. Knit fabric includes jersey fabric, sweatshirt fabric and is used for tee-shirts and leisurewear. 

Knit fabric is stretchy. It can come in a two-way stretch, where the width has flexibility and the length has less. There is also a four-way stretch where it can stretch equally lengthways or widthways. There are different amounts of stretch depending on what kind of knit fabric you are using. It is important to test the amount of stretch when choosing a knit fabric for your project. 

Knitting Needles

The tools used to make knitted crafts, such as scarves. Made of wood, plastic, or metal, knitting needles are tapered at one end and capped at the other. They’re basically giant sewing needles but not sharp. Unlike crochet hooks, they’re used in pairs. 

Knit Rule

A handy gauge or ruler found on all patterns designed for knit fabrics. Usually located on the back of sewing pattern envelopes. The ruler helps you measure the amount of stretch in a knit fabric to make sure it will work for the pattern.  

Needle Bar

Located on a sewing machine, it holds the needle in place while you’re sewing. Is also known as the ‘Needle Clamp’.

Needle Plate

Alternatively called the ‘throat plate’, the needle plate is the flat surface underneath the needle at the base of the machine. When making a stitch, the needle passes through the needle plate. It can be changed depending on your project.

Needle Felting

A craft that uses specially designed barbed needles to create woolen sculptures, most often animals. The needle pushes the yarn in without drawing it back out and, as a result, allows you to fuse the fibers together.

Notches – Curves

Similar to clipping the curves, notches are used to allow the fabric more movement and to smooth out the curve. Notches that look like little V’s are cut along curved seam allowances to reduce bunching allowing the seam to lay flat. 

Notches – Pattern Pieces

On a sewing pattern, notches are used to show which pattern piece lines up with another. They are portrayed by small triangles printed on the pattern tissue. One notch represents the front of a pattern piece. A double notch, or two notches close together, indicates the back. The triangles are usually on the outside of the cutting line. These need to be cut out as part of the pattern. Or marked with tailor’s chalk. For instance, on a sleeve head, one notch is used to indicate the front and two notches show the back. There will be a similar notch on the front and back bodice sections. This way, by lining up the notches, the sleeve can be set into the seam the right way round. 

Pleats

Commonly found in skirts, pleats are even folds stitched in place that adjust the shape of the waistline. In the case of other materials, they allow the fabric to fall in more pleasing ways.

Presser Foot

An attachment for sewing machines. The presser foot holds the fabric in place, and flat, as you sew.

Quilting

Quilting is the process of sewing three layers of fabric together. The top layer is usually decorative, there is a middle layer of batting, and the base is normally plain. Quilts are often decorated with intricate stitches and make good bed coverings. The quilting process can also be used to make scatter cushions and wall hangings. 

Rotary Cutter

Often used by quilters, rotary cutters are circular, rotating blades attached to a plastic handle (like a pizza cutter). Used in conjunction with a cutting mat, the rotary cutter allows you to cut fabric without lifting it off the table making for a more accurate cut.

Running Stitch

Also known as ‘straight stitch’, running stitch is the most basic stitch in hand-sewing and embroidery. Forms a broken line of even stitches. Can be used as a basting stitch.

Satin Stitch

Used in embroidery as a filler stitch. It is used to cover large areas of fabric through long, tightly packed, parallel lines. 

Seam Allowance

Whenever you cut fabric to create a garment (or another project), the seam allowance is the extra amount allowed to create the finished edge without cutting into the finished project. Seam allowances can vary in size. 

Seam Ripper

A hooked tool designed for undoing stitches like the seams of garments.

Selvage

The finished edge of manufactured fabric that stops the material from fraying. It often contains the manufacturer’s information and runs parallel to the straight grain. 

Serger

A type of sewing machine used for hemming the raw edges of fabric. They often cut off the unused material.

Smocking

Rows of gathering stitches traditionally used to scrunch fabric together before elastic was invented. The gathered stitches allow the fabric to stretch. Stitched by hand, or by machine, the stitching forms multiple rows of parallel lines. Historically used for cuffs, bodices, and necklines where buttons would be a problem. Modern use tends to reserve the practice for the bodices on dresses for young girls. 

Stay Stitch

Stitched through one layer of fabric, particularly at the edge of the seam allowance. Stay stitching reinforces the fabric and prevents the risk of stretching.

Straight Grain

The straight grain runs up and down the length of fabric, parallel to the selvage. Unlike the cross grain, the straight grain does not have any noticeable give. The straight grain is nearly always used for length in a garment or in areas that do not require extra space to get in and out. 

Topstitch

Designed to be noticeable, topstitch is used for both decoration and functionality. It’s used to outline features of a garment such as a neckline and hems. 

Understitch

A stitch used to secure the lining in place and allow the right side of the fabric to lie flat. Kept to the inside layers of a garment, it doesn’t show on the outside.

Universal Needle

Can be used for all sorts of sewing projects for all kinds of fabrics, whether woven or knit. They have a slightly rounded tip.

Walking Foot

A type of sewing machine presser foot. It’s designed to provide an extra set of feed dogs on the top layer of fabric to keep the material steady while you’re sewing.

Woven Fabrics

A piece of woven fabric is formed through a process called weaving.  The fabric has a straight grain and a cross grain. Normally only stretchy along the diagonal, woven fabrics are durable and hard-wearing. Cotton and linen are examples of woven fabrics.  Woven fabrics can be mixed with fabrics like lycra to give some stretch. 

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