This glossary will assist sewing beginners with terms used in basic, everyday sewing. The list is a work in progress and will be expanded. If there is a sewing term you would like to know about, please let me know!

Backstitch / Back tack 
2 or 3 reverse stitches to secure the stitches at the beginning and end of a seam. A backstitch or a back tack will secure the stitches and prevent your seam from coming undone. 

Temporary, loose stitches to gather fabric or hold something in place. You can do it by hand or by using the longest stitch length on your sewing machine. When you are machine basting, loosen the top tension for easier removal.

Bias refers to the diagonal direction of a piece of fabric, drawn at an exact 45-degree angle to the selvage or grain line. Woven fabric has the greatest amount of stretch in this direction even when it is a non-stretch fabric.

A line of stitches close to the edge of a seam, hem, or pocket opening. often only a needle width away (0.15 cm / 1/16″) from the edge.

Raw edge
The raw, raveling, and unfinished, cut edge of the fabric.

Right side / Wrong side 
The right side of the fabric or the face of the fabric is the side you see on the outside of the garment.
The wrong side is the backside of a fabric and the inside of the garment. Sometimes they look the same; in that case, pick a side and stick with it.

The line where you sew together two pieces of fabric. 

Seam allowance
The fabric between the edge of the fabric and the stitch line. The width can vary between pattern companies and in a garment. Always check the pattern descriptions and pattern pieces.

Seam finish
A seam finish prevents the raw edge of your seam from ravelling. This can be done in many different ways and it’s worthwhile to learn a few different techniques.
If you have a serger you can simply overlock the edges. If you only have a sewing machine you can use pinking shears or a zig-zag stitch along the edge. Other options include French seams, bound edges, Hong Kong seams.

Stay stitch 
A line of stitches to stabilize the fabric before it’s sewn into a garment. The stitches should be just inside the seam allowance, very close to the final stitch line.

Straight stitch 
The most basic machine stitch, that produces a single row of straight, even stitches. It’s used to construct a garment and for topstitching.

Stitch length
Length of a stitch. The length will depend on your fabric, project, and the purpose. 

For clothing construction, 2.5 mm is a good starting point. For thicker fabrics, 3 mm is a good starting point. For topstitching a longer stitch length of 3 mm / 3,5 mm often looks better.  Always do a little test to see if you like how it looks.

Topstitching is a line of stitches on the outside of a garment. Topstitching can be used for different purposes:

  • Decorative, like on back pockets on jeans.
  • Added strength.
  • Help to flatten a seam, like an inseam on jeans.
  • Secure facings, pockets

Woven Fabric
Woven fabrics are made by weaving together many threads. There are lengthwise threads (warp) and crosswise threads (weft). The most basic weave is a plain weave; where each weft thread travels through the warp threads by going over one, then under the next, and so on. Then on the next pass, it will repeat the same pattern but alternate threads, producing a checkered surface.
Woven don’t stretch unless they are used on the bias or an elastic is woven into the fabric, like elastane.

Warp / Weft
Warp is the lengthwise thread in a woven fabric and weft are the crosswise threads in a woven fabric.
So, the warp is parallel to the selvage and goes up and down. The weft is woven through the warp and goes from left to right. 

Wrong side
The back of the fabric and usually the inside of the garment. If it’s hard to see which side is the right or wrong side of your fabric, use pins or chalk to mark the fabric.
If you have trouble seeing the backside of your knit fabric, remember that the raw edges tend to curl towards the right side of the fabric.

Zigzag stitch
Z-shaped stitches can be used to finish raw edges. It is a good stitch to use on knits, stretch fabrics as the z-shape threads will not break when the fabric is stretched where a straight stitch will.