Self Assembly Required

DIY dressmaking + crafts with Emily

Sewing Dictionary

The sewing world can sound a bit intimidating with all the weird terminology used. Here’s a basic stitch-tionary to guide you!

Stuff to do with patterns

Sewing pattern – This is your blueprint for the item you want to make. It guides the shapes you’re going to cut out of your fabric and has marks (notches) to help you put it together.

Cut on the fold – This pattern piece needs to be placed on a folded piece of fabric so the cut piece is double the size of the paper. The end of the pattern that need to be on the fold is usually marked with arrows.

Cut one pair (can also be written as cut 2 or x2) – Garments need a left and right side and the quickest way to get a matching set is to lay your paper pattern piece on fabric folded in two and cut around it. This leaves you with two fabric pieces which are the mirror image of each other

Darts – These are (usually) triangles on the pattern around the bust and waist. The “legs” of the triangles are sewn together to shape the flat piece of fabric around the curves of your body

Pleats – Folds of fabric held in the seams. The most common use is a pleated skirt where the pleats add shape and volume.

Gathers/ gathering – Using a long stitch (basting stitch), pull on one of the tail ends of the thread to push the fabric together. This will creates lots of little puckers all along the fabric and is another way to create volume and shape. To control the position of the gathers, try sewing two or three lines of basting stitches and pull them together.

Hem – This is the the finishing of a raw edge of fabric and can be done in multiple ways such as folding the fabric once or twice and hand or machine stitching it down, using bias tape or a rolled hem.

Seam allowance – This is the excess given around the exact shape of each pattern piece which allows you to sew it together. The majority of patterns will include this but there are a few which don’t. Always make sure to check if it does and how much the seam allowance is! It’s not standardised and can vary.

Clip/ notch a curved or angled seam – In order to allow curved or angled seams to lie flat, snip into the seam allowance at regular intervals up to (but not through) the stitch line.

Ease – A fitting term telling you how much extra fabric there is going around your body. It’s what allows you to move about (and eat!) in your clothes. A garment with zero ease would be skin tight to your body. Negative ease is used for stretchy fabrics as you’ll make the garment slightly smaller than your body.

Easing in a seam – Some patterns will have a seam where one side of the fabric is longer than the other. The longer side is “eased in” to the shorter side and due to the fluid nature of fabric it’s possible to do.

Stuff to do with fabric

Woven fabric – Fabric made from thread woven across each other in 2 directions. This is usually a non-stretch fabric unless there is some lycra/ elastane added.

Knit fabric/ jersey – This is a stretchy fabric made from thread finely knitted into each other. Your t-shirts and sportswear are made from this kind of stuff. You can find in made out of many different types of fibre and thickness.

Drape – The way a fabric falls is called the drape. Soft, thin fabrics like chiffon, voile, viscose challis will waterfall from the hand (lots of drape) but thick, stiff fabrics like coat fabric, taffeta would not (no drape).

Grainline – Woven fabric is made up threads going side to side and top to bottom on a loom. The grainline is the direction of the long threads that go top to bottom along the whole length of the fabric. Your pattern piece will normally have a long double ended arrow in the middle of it which should be placed parallel to these threads. The majority of pattern pieces need to be cut on the straight grain i.e. placed along the length of the fabric.

Bias – This is diagonal direction to the lengthwise grainline. Of fabric is cut on the bias, it will have some stretch and fluidity.

Bias tape/ binding – Long thin strips of fabric cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric which are usually folded lengthwise. You can make your own or buy pre-made lengths. These are used to finish the raw edges of a garment.

Selvedge – The finished side edges of the fabric by the manufacturer. This will sometimes have a border if the print doesn’t go to the edge and for many cottons, may also have the manufacturing details on it.

Interfacing – This is a material that helps to stiffen or reinforced certain areas of a garment. It’s usually comes with glue on one side which is ironed on to the back of your fabric, though you can find “sew-in” versions too. Common places to use it are collars, button bands and cuffs.

Stuff to do with your sewing machine

Bobbin – The little spool of thread that goes into the lower part of your sewing machine.

Straight stitch – The most commonly used machine stitch that creates lines of stitching. Mostly used for woven fabrics.

Back stitch – Using the reverse button/ lever on your machine, sew a few stitches in the wrong direction before continuing your line of stitching. This prevents the threads from unravelling and your outfit from falling apart!

Baste/ basting stitch – This is a long stitch that temporarily holds two pieces of fabric together. It can be done by hand or on a sewing machine using the longest stitch possible.

Stay stitch – This is a simple line of straight stitches often used on curved pattern pieces and within the seam allowance. It prevents the fabric from stretching out of shape when manipulating it, for example, at the neckline.

Zigzag stitch – The second most commonly used machine stitch. The machine needle moves left to right as the fabric is fed through creating a zigzag. This is used for stretch fabrics to prevent the thread from snapping and can be used to finish the edge of the fabric.

Overlocker/ serger – This is a separate type of sewing machine which finished the edges of fabric to prevent fraying. It can also be used to sew seams together especially useful when sewing jersey as it maintains the stretch of the fabric.

Coverstitch – This is a separate type of sewing machine (which can sometimes be combined with an overlocker) that finished and hems the edges of jersey fabric.

French seams – This is a neat way of finishing a seam. It requires sewing each seam twice to encase the raw edges inside the seam allowance. This is usually used in high end garments.

Flat felled seams – A seam where one raw edge is folded over the other and stitched down to create a strong reinforced seam.

Twin needle – A type of machine needle which has two needles attached to one shank. It’s used in the same way as a regular needle and is used to finish the hem of knit garments.

If there’s anything you think I’ve missed and you want added to the list, just drop me a comment below and I’ll add it!