Sewing Glossary

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An ever-growing glossary of sewing terms and techniques.

Want to see something added to the glossary? Email us at info@sewingschool.org

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baste

To baste in sewing is to make long running stitches by hand or machine.  Basting stitches are temporary and usually come out after you machine stitch a seam.

bias

bias

In sewing, bias refers to a 45 degree angle from the crosswise or lengthwise grain of the fabric. Cutting fabric on the bias grain will produce a piece of fabric with more flexibility than that cut on the lengthwise or crosswise of the grain. Bias binding is cut this way. It is often used to […]

bobbin

bobbin

Bobbins are special spools that sit inside your sewing machine.  Your machine will come with a few bobbins, but we recommend picking up more.  Most sewing machines will wind the bobbin for you with a few adjustments. It’s a good idea to wind a couple bobbins in the colour you’re using so you don’t have […]

commercial patterns

commercial patterns

Commercial Patterns are found in most mainstream fabric stores and craft stores.  Common brands are Simplicity, Burda and McCalls.  You can browse through the pattern catalogues at fabric stores or check their websites to see the selection. We recommend checking out reviews of these patterns before buying (a great website is www.patternreview.com)

fabric shears

fabric shears

You should get a pair of good quality fabric shears that you ONLY use for FABRIC. Cutting paper with your fabric scissors will dull the blade. But if your scissors do dull, bring them in to a pro for sharpening. Sharp scissors make a world of difference. Try to buy the best quality that you can […]

fat quarter

These are simply pieces of fabric that are cut into pieces that measure about 18″ x 22″ (just about a 1/4 yard).  Fat quarters are perfect for quilters.

hand sewing needles

hand sewing needles

Hand sewing needles come in a variety of shapes, lengths and sizes, each suitable for different fabrics, threads or purposes. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on three common types: sharps, milliners/straw, and betweens. You can buy a package containing a variety of needle types and sizes. As the size of the needle goes up, […]

interfacing

interfacing

Interfacing adds structure to your sewing project (for example, the collar of a blouse or the waistband of fitted skirt).  The pattern will tell you how much interfacing to buy.  There are a few types of interfacing (woven, non-woven, sew-in, fusible…) and you can buy it in black or white.  When in doubt, ask the […]

invisible zipper

invisible zipper

Invisible zippers have hidden teeth and a smaller pull than a standard zipper.  They are usually used for women’s clothing where you don’t want to see the zipper – hence the name.

measuring tape

measuring tape

Measuring tape is a very useful tool used for measuring… well, anything. You can get a retractable version that is always neat and tidy or opt for the loose version that you can hang around your neck.

pin cushion

pin cushion

Your pin cushion holds your pins and keeps them accessible. You can buy or make your own pin cushion. The tomato pin cushion from the fabric store comes with an emery to keep your pins sharp and clean.

pins

pins

Flat (metal) head pins have metal heads that are ‘flat’ on top and can be ironed. Use these if you don’t want the head to get in the way. Dressmaker’s pins have flat heads. Plastic head pins come in ball or flat shapes and are easy to see. Flat plastic heads lie flat under a […]

point turner

point turner

A point turner is usually made of plastic or bamboo and comes in a two basic shapes, but its main purpose is the same – to help you turn things right side out without damaging your fabric. Because of their different shapes, point turners can do double duty. Some include a button gauge while others […]

quilting ruler

quilting ruler

A ruler is great to have around. A metal ruler with a cork bottom stays put, while quilting rulers are wider, clear and made for precision.

rotary cutter

rotary cutter

A rotary cutter is an optional tool, but a very useful one. With a little practice, you can cut through multiple layers of fabric with ease. But be careful – the blades are extremely sharp. Of course you should use the rotary cutter ONLY for fabric and change the blades when they become dull.

safety pins

safety pins

Safety pins are always helpful to have on hand when sewing.  You can use them to thread elastics through casings or temporarily hold a hem while doing alterations.  They are also invaluable when quilting.

seam ripper

seam ripper

As much as it hurts, sometimes you have to undo a row of stitches. When this happens a seam ripper can be your best friend. It has a sharpened hook with one pointy end and one with a protective ball. You can also use this tool to cut buttonholes, and stitches. But for Pete’s sake use […]

self-healing cutting mat

self-healing cutting mat

You’ll use a self-healing cutting mat primarily with your rotary cutter, but it also protects your table top and has markings that help you measure things. Ideally, you want one that is about the size of your cutting table, but they can get pretty pricey. We suggest you get the biggest one that you can afford. […]

selvage

selvage

The selvage is the finished edge of a piece of fabric. Bolts of fabric are usually 45” or 60” from selvage to selvage

serger

A serger is a sewing machine that finishes a seam at the same time as sewing it.  You can sew a seam, overcast the edge and trim the excess fabric with one pass of your serger.  These machines are helpful in achieving a finished look on clothing, but there are alternatives, like a zig zag […]

sewing gauge

sewing gauge

A sewing gauge is a mini ruler. It has a sliding bar that helps your mark things like buttonholes, hems or pleats.

sewing machine needles

sewing machine needles

One of the keys to a smooth sewing project is choosing the right sewing machine needle for your project. As with hand sewing needles, machine needles come in different thicknesses and points each suitable for a different kind of fabric or thread. The shank of the needle will be flat on one side. Check your machine […]

tailors awl

tailors awl

A tailors awl is a pointy tool that you can use to punch holes into your fabric for things like snaps or grommets.

tension

tension

The tension settings on your machine control how taut the thread is.  You’ll most often adjust the tension of the top thread depending on the type of fabric or thread you are using. Adjusting Tension A properly threaded sewing machine with the correct tension settings should set you on your way to happy sewing.  But […]

thimbles

thimbles

Thimbles aren’t just the best Monopoly piece. They keep your finger protected while hand stitching and help you push the needle through the fabric. They come in a bunch of different sizes, shapes and materials (metal, rubber, plastic, leather…) so you can get the perfect fit. Some are even adjustable. A basic metal or flexible […]

thread

thread

Thread can be made of cotton, polyester, silk or nylon and comes on spools. Polyester will work for almost any project. It is possible to use the large cones of thread with a domestic machine, but a little adjusting is required. Read more about the different types of thread on this post: Know Your Notions: […]

thread snips

thread snips

Always keep a good pair of thread snips handy. You’ll most often use them for trimming your thread at the end of the project.

yardage

The back of your pattern will tell you how much fabric you will need (yardage) to buy based on your measurements and which version of the pattern you decide to make. Make sure that you’re aware of the units of these measurements (usually inches, but some European patterns will be in metric).  Also be aware […]

zipper

zipper

There are different types of zippers, so make sure you are buying the correct one for your project.  Closed end zippers are for pants, skirts, handbags or pockets. Separating zippers are for jackets, sportswear or sleeping bags.  Standard closed end and separating zippers have visible plastic or metal teeth and a metal or plastic zipper […]

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