Sewing Terms Glossary
As a sewist, it's important to understand the terminology used in the industry. Here is a comprehensive glossary of sewing terms to help you get started. Whether you're just starting out or have been sewing for years, this list will help you become more familiar with the language of sewing. Happy stitching!
The bias grain of a piece of woven fabric, usually referred to simply as "the bias", is any grain that falls between the straight and cross grains. When the grain is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads it is referred to as "true bias." Woven fabric is more elastic as well as more fluid in the bias direction, compared to the straight and cross grains. This property facilitates garments and garment details that require extra elasticity, drapeability or flexibility, such as bias-cut skirts and dresses, neckties, piping trims and decorations, bound seams, etc.
The cross grain runs perpendicular to the selvage and parallel to the weft threads. The cross grain generally has more stretch than the straight grain since the weft threads are generally looser than the warp during weaving. Most garments (like pants or shirts) are cut on the straight grain with the cross grain parallel with the floor when the wearer is standing.
Embroidery is the craft of decorating fabric or other materials using a needle to apply thread or yarn, can be done by hand or machine. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as pearls, beads, quills, and sequins. Check out this DIY Embroidered Banner!
For woven textiles, grain refers to the orientation of the weft and warp threads. The three named grains are straight grain, cross grain, and the bias grain. In sewing, a pattern piece can be cut from fabric in any orientation, and the chosen grain or orientation will affect the way the fabric hangs and stretches and thus the fit of a garment. Generally speaking a piece is said to be cut on a particular grain when the longest part of the pattern or the main seams of the finished piece are aligned with that grain. Non-woven materials such as felt, interfacing or leather do not have a grain.
A hem in sewing is a garment finishing method, where the edge of a piece of cloth is folded and sewn to prevent unravelling of the fabric and to adjust the length of the piece in garments, such as at the end of the sleeve or the bottom of the garment.
Interfacing is a material used to give additional support or structure to fabrics. It's usually made from synthetic fibers, like polyester or nylon, and comes in both woven and nonwoven varieties. It's often used in garments to reinforce areas like the bust or waist, or in crafts to stabilize fabric for embroidery or applique. There are two main types of interfacing: fusible and sew-in.
Pinking shears are scissors with sawtooth instead of straight blades. They produce a zigzag pattern instead of a straight edge. Pinking shears are used for cutting woven cloth. Cloth edges that are unfinished will easily fray, the weave becoming undone and threads pulling out easily. The sawtooth pattern does not prevent the fraying but limits the length of the frayed thread and thus minimizes damage.
Seam allowance (sometimes called inlays) is the area between the fabric edge and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of material being sewn together.
A selvage is a "self-finished" edge of a piece of fabric which keeps it from unraveling and fraying. The term "self-finished" means that the edge does not require additional finishing work, such as hem or bias tape, to prevent fraying. In woven fabric, selvages are the edges that run parallel to the warp, and are created by the weft thread looping back at the end of each row.
An overlock is a kind of stitch that sews over the edge of one or two pieces of cloth for edging, hemming, or seaming. Usually an overlock sewing machine will cut the edges of the cloth as they are fed through (such machines being called sergers in North America), though some are made without cutters.
Also know as lengthwise grain, the straight grain is oriented parallel with the warp threads and the selvedge. The straight grain typically has less stretch than the crossgrain since the warp threads will be pulled tighter than the weft during weaving. Most garments are cut with the straight grain oriented top to bottom.