71 Sewing Terms Explained (Sewing Terminology Vocabulary)

When you are new to sewing, it is like entering another country. The language used by experienced sewers may sound like English but those words have a totally different meaning behind them. The best thing to do before you start sewing is to learn as many of the terms and what they mean as possible so you do not get lost when someone tries to explain things to you.

When it comes to vocabulary what one word means in one industry does not mean the same thing in another. For example, the term ‘bating’. In cooking, it means to pour juices over the meat while in sewing it means to use a specific stitch pattern.

To learn different sewing terms you need to know, before you ask for help with a sewing project, just continue to read our article. It has as many definitions that can be placed in an article of this size. It is worth the read especially when you are new to sewing.

Basic Sewing Terms

1. backstitch- used at the beginning or end of a seam and you add extra stitches going back and forth to strengthen the hold

2. baste or basting- temporary long stitches that are used to hold the fabric in place so you can do your final stitches

3. bias edge- this is a 45-degree angle cut to the selvage, it is also the stretchiest part of the fabric

4. clip- these are little notches in the seam allowance that helps the fabric go around corners

5. cording- a little strip of fabric wrapped, then sewn around a cord. When used on pillows, etc., it is called piping

6. Finger press- using your finger to apply pressure to a specific part of the fabric

7. right or wrong side- this is the front pretty side that is seen by everyone as opposed to the back not so pretty side that usually is not seen by everyone

8. seam allowance- this is the amount of folded fabric between the cut edge of the material and the stitches.

9. Selvage- the factory edge of the fabric that runs lengthwise on both sides of the material

10. serge stitch- this is a stitch pattern sewn when using a serger sewing machine

Words Related To Sewing

1. applique- this is when you sew one piece of fabric on top of another using a sating stitch

2. bias tape- used to edge clothing items and it is already cut on the bias

3. bobbin- the bottom thread on a sewing machine that helps create the stitch

4. buttonhole- a hole created to allow for a button to be pushed through

5. fat quarter- a yard of square fabric divided into 4 equal parts

6. foot pedal- the device operated by your foot to make the sewing machine sew

7. fusing- material used to attach one piece of fabric to another, usually through the adhesive on the fusing material

8. gather- you gather your fabric when you want to create ruffles which are held together by a basting stitch

9. grain- just like wood, fabrics have a grain to them

10. hem- the folded fabric found at the bottom of a dress, skirt, or pair of pants

Tailoring Terms

1. baby- stuffed cloth on which the tailor works his cloth

2. banger- wood-handled item that draws out steam from the cloth when ironing

3. board- the tailor’s workbench

4. clapham junction- a paper design with numerous alterations or additions

5. crushed beetles- badly made buttonholes

6. drummer- a trouser maker

7. gorge- where you attach the collar

8. kill- a ruined job that can’t be rescued

9. mangle- a sewing machine

10. scye- the armhole

To see more tailor terms just click here

Vintage Sewing Terms

1. binding- finishing the hem or edge of a garment

2. darning- fixing a hole in a garment or sock

3. darning mushroom- the tool to use when darning

4. eyelet- the metal piece inserted into holes to stabilize the holes

5. godet- a piece of fabric wider at the bottom than at the top and inserted into a garment to add fullness

6. gusset- a triangular or square piece of fabric inserted into a garment to add breadth or reduce the stress caused by tight-fitting clothing

7. haberdasher- a store that sells little sewing items like needles, buttons, ribbons, zippers, and so on. In America, it is a men’s clothing store

8. mantua maker- is the word used in the 1700s for dressmaker

9. millinery- a maker and seller of women’s hats

10. surplice- the overlapping of the left and right bodice to form a V look.

Sewing Terms And Their Meanings

1. interfacing- a piece of material that is used to make your main fabric more sturdy. It is sewn on the inside of the primary fabric

2. knot- this is when you finish your stitch and then go back and forth over that stitch several times until the area looks like a knot

3. lining- this is a layer of fabric that goes underneath your primary fabric. It should not be seen when you are done

4. notions- these are the little accessories you need when sewing different projects. They are found at haberdashery-buttons, zippers, and so on.

5. pins- just like the word says but usually, these are straight pins to hold your fabric together

6. pin cushion- a little bit of cloth stuffed with other cloth to hold your pins when not in use

7. press- this is when you iron your fabric. The words press and iron can be used interchangeably

8. presser-foot- this is a little metal piece that presses the fabric down so it will go smoothly through the needle

9. raw edge- this is the cut side of the material, not the factory side

10. satin stitch- this is a close, tight zig-zag stitch

11. seam allowance- this is is the part where you sew the fabric together and finish the dress or blouse, It is a little different from the hem allowance but works in the same principle

12. seam guides- these are little guides on the sewing machine that help you find the right seam allowance. The markings are near the needle

13. seam ripper- a sharp tool, like a knife, that cuts the stitches without harming the fabric

14. straight stitch- a straight line of simple stitches

15. topstitch- a finishing stitch that is sewn over a folded piece of fabric that has already been sewn with another stitch

What Does Baste Mean in Sewing?


If you have to be living in Britain or a British influenced country you may know this term by the word tacking. All basting does is place a removable stitch on the fabric to hold it together temporarily.

This stitch takes a little time to master as you do not want to harm your material by placing too many holes in it. The stitch is long and just secure enough to keep the two fabrics from moving away from each other.

You do not want to go too short and you do not want to go too long when you baste fabric.

What is Batting in Sewing Terms?

You will come across this term most often when you are doing quilting. It is a term used to describe the insulation used between the top and bottom layers of your quilt fabric. Another term you can use to describe this step is ‘filling’.

Batting helps make the quilt warmer for cold months or more breathable for hotter months. You get to control how much batting you place in your quilt as long as every section gets the same amount.

The batting should be evenly distributed throughout your quilt to be effective as well as being very comfortable.

What is a Nap in Sewing Terms?

This is another one of those terms that has a vastly different meaning than the one applied to it by sewers. The tern nap in sewing means the direction of the raised fibers. It is the texture of those fibers you see when you rub your hand across different fabrics.

This is one of the items you have to be careful about as when you are joining two fabrics that are the same, you will want the nap to run in the same direction and not run in different directions.

Velvet, velour, fleece, and corduroy are just some of the fabrics that have nap. You may find nap in some suede leather materials as well.

What is Binding in Sewing Terms?


In sewing, this term is used both as a noun and as a verb. It describes the part of the garment that has been finished as well as describing the action you need to do to bind a garment.

The term itself means to finish a garment. That means you sew up your seams or hem after you have folded or rolled them into place. You do binding on the seam or hem allowance and the width of those allowances depend on the pattern and how much extra fabric you want present on the dress etc.

Having a little extra fabric on the hem allows you to take the hem down when it is too short.

What is Contrast in Sewing Terms?

It may be easier to understand this term’s definition if you think of painting a room. When you use two different colors of paint in the same room you are painting a contrast between the walls.

For sewing, all you are doing is adding a different color and type of fabric or embellishment that is different from the main fabric used in your sewing project. Contrast fabric can be used creatively to make an innovation to your dress or another clothing look.

It takes a little sewing talent to use contrasting fabrics or embellishments effectively.

What is Interfacing in Sewing Terms?

Not all fabrics are sturdy like canvas or denim or leather. That is why you need interfacing. This little or large piece of fabric helps stiffen those more flimsy materials like silk, satin, or other lightweight fabrics that won’t stand up or drape well.

Some places where you will find interfacing will be in collars, plackets, cuffs, and when the fabric needs to have body added to it. You sew it on the wrong side of the primary material so no one will see what you added to your garment to make it look good.

What is Facing in Sewing Terms?


When you want a professional touch and look to the sewing project you add facing. What facing is, is a small piece of fabric that is either a separate piece or part of the fabric you are using which helps you finish the edges of your garment.

The standard places facing is used are necklines, armholes, hems, and other openings. It is up to you and your pattern if you are going to use facing on your project. You can also use it in quilts and curtain hems if you want a very professional style to your work.

What is a Dart in Sewing Terms?

Even though sewing darts have points, they are not like the darts in a dart game. These are just folds in the fabric to help take in the ease and provide more shape to the garment.

They can be used in different garments freely and they are used to accentuate the wearer’s figure. Or they can be used to create an innovative shape to your garment and have it stand out from the crowd of garments at your event.

In a flat piece of fabric, the two important properties are the point and the intake. The intake is the amount of fabric removed or taken in.

What is a Yoke in Sewing Terms?

The term yoke does not have very good definitions unless you are using it to refer to a part of the garment you are making or want to alter. And like those other yokes, the sewing one is normally found around the neck and shoulders.

Some times it is placed on a pair of jeans or a skirt and the main purpose of the yoke is to support looser parts of the garment. The modern use of the yoke was first done in the 19th century with the creation of the bodice and the yoke skirt.

The yoke is found in different men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and is a vital part of their construction.

What is a Notch in Sewing Terms?


No, you are not making a notch on your sewing machine when you have finished your latest sewing project. A notch is a key sewing move that helps you get the fabric to go where you need it to go.

A notch is the same as a clip and it is a little cut in the fabric so you can match up the corresponding fabrics and sew a lot easier. You can also figure out which fabric pieces go together by matching the notches you placed in all those fabric pieces.

These make sewing a lot easier and less frustrating. It is also a technique that should have your sewing time go a little faster as well.

What is a Fat Quarter in Sewing Terms?

You already know what the word quarter means. Not the coin but how something is divided. If you have 4 people and 1 pie, you divide it up into quarters so everyone has an equal share of the pie.

The same principle applies here. A fat quarter is simply 1 square yard of material cut into 4 equal sizes. So out of one u yard of material you get 4 quarters. These are usually used when you are dong quilting and you need equal sizes for every square you are lacing in the quilt.

Fat quarters make filling the measurements of your quilt a lot simpler and your quilting time should be kept at a good pace throughout the process.

What is Drape in Sewing Terms?

There are 4 good definitions of the word drape that can and do apply to sewing and fabric. The first is to cover or adorn with folds of cloth. The second is to hang or stretch out loosely.

The third is to arrange in flowing lines or folds and the best one that describes drape when it comes to fashion is the way fabric hangs or arranges itself in folds. Having the right drape will flatter a woman’s figure just right and make her more attractive.

Of course, drape also refers to curtains and how they hang over your window. Fabric can be draped in many ways to make sure you get the look you want whether out in public or in your home.

Sewing Terms For Gathering


It is really hard to present clear synonyms for the word gathering when it comes to sewing as any synonym can be used for other definitions of the word. Then every person or cultural area of the country may have their own terms that are not listed.

However, you can use some of the following terms to refer to gather-- group, collect, amass, bunch, band together, heap, muster, pile, round up, get together, jumble, accumulate, and assemble.

We may have left some terms off of that list but that is okay. Some of those terms are better than others when it comes to referring to the sewing action of gathering but most give you an idea of what you need to do when gathering the fabric in your skirt, etc.

In Sewing Terms What is Boning

When you apply the boning technique to your sewing project you are making the extra effort to make sure certain parts of your clothing item maintain its shape as well as resist wrinkles.

The most often clothing items you will find boning is in bustiers, corsets, swimsuits, and strapless gowns. Also, boning can be used strategically in other clothing items if the need arises. Those places can be collars, necklines, or keeping folds and pleats in place.

Boning is not something you should exclude when you are trying to make an innovative design. It is a help, not a hindrance. Also, it may be a little bit more work but the effort will be worth it when you start getting compliments on your looks and the clothing item’s appearance.

Sewing Terms Beginning With A

There are a few sewing terms that begin with the letter A. Here are the ones we could find:

Anchor stitch- these are machine stitches sewn with no stitch length to them and are not meant to be pulled out. The anchor your other stitches

Applique- just a term describing your sewing one piece of fabric on top of another piece of fabric

Arm Scye- another term for this would be armhole and it is where the sleeve is attached on the bodice, shirt, blouse, or dress.

Armhole- see above

Adaptor- a tool on the sewing machine that allows you to change presser feet

A Line Skirt- the design of the skirt has the bottom wider than the top

Awl- helps you work with heavy fabrics

Some Final Words

There you have it a lot of new vocabulary to learn if you want to understand the instructions you get when you start to sew. This is not an exhaustive list and maybe we will do another one to cover those terms we left off of this one.

But like trying to communicate with someone from a different nation or culture, you have to know the meanings of the words used in order to communicate effectively and understand what is said to you. Sewing is no different.

Leave a Comment: