Common Sewing Terms That You Should Be Familiar With

Posted by Joseph Park on

Many of us old timers in the sewing business started out as mere beginners caught up in this deeply engrossing form of textile art that has been around for centuries. Perhaps it was an occasional hobby that grew on us, or maybe — one could say — it’s in the DNA of some of us. Whatever our motivation, sewing has undoubtedly become a major part of our lives.

As is the case with many other communities, we folks in the sewing business also use a parlance that is unique to our industry. If you’re just starting to sew, this short list of terms we compiled will introduce you to some of these words that occupy a special place in our vocabulary. It is by no means an extensive list, but we’re hoping this will prove to be useful for people who need it.  


Appliqué – An appliqué in sewing is a smaller piece of fabric that is attached to a larger piece of fabric or workpiece.

Directional stitching – Directional stitching means stitching in a specific direction so as not to mess up or distort the garment’s pattern shape.

Ease – The ease is the amount of room or allowance added to a garment’s measurements to ensure that it will fit the wearer or will be comfortable. For example, if a person’s waistline is 33, a pair of pants shouldn’t have a waist measurement that is exactly 33 inches. A tailor can add 3 inches of easing to make the pants comfortable to the person who will wear it.

Fat quarter – A fat quarter of a fabric is created when you cut a yard-long fabric lengthwise across the middle and then cut that one of the halved fabric crosswise along the middle. Basically, four fat quarters result when you cut a cross through a yard-long piece of fabric.

Finger pressing – Finger pressing is the simple process of flipping over a sewn piece of fabric and then running a fingernail along the length of the seam so that the seam allowance opens up. This is done as a temporary fix when a pressing iron is not available and you need to press the seam to smooth out puckers and unwanted thread tensions points.

Gathering – Gathering is a technique used to shorten the length of a fabric so that you can attach it to a shorter piece of fabric. It simply involves creating stitches along one edge of the fabric. The threads are drawn and the fabric is made to fold along the length of the thread so that it “gathers” and its length is lessened.

Give – You say that a fabric has a lot of “give” if it has great capacity to stretch or is very elastic. Spandex and lycra, for instance, are types of synthetic fabrics that have a lot of give.

Grading – Grading is the process of trimming the seam allowance in order to prevent bulky portions from appearing on the garment.

Interfacing – Sometimes, the fabric is so weak that it needs to be stiffened a little bit. This can be done through interfacing or the application of a more rigid textile on the wrong side (the unseen side) of the fabric. Interfacing is helpful when you want to strengthen a fabric, like the areas where buttons and pockets will be sewn or the underside of knit garments.

Staystitching – Staystitching is a row of stitches applied inside the stitching line, near the edge of the fabric, to prevent it from stretching during the garment construction process.

Tacking – To tack or baste means to create a quick stitch that is meant to temporarily hold pieces of fabric together until they are permanently sewn. It is usually done by doing a long running stitch either by hand or by sewing machine.


Woven fabrics – Woven fabrics are textiles made by weaving, which means threads or fibers are interlaced horizontally and vertically in order to form them.

Knitted Fabric – The construction of knitted fabrics is different from woven fabrics in that knits are made by looping the thread or yarn on itself over several courses. The meandering loop construction gives knitted fabrics their characteristic stretchiness and give.

Nonwoven Fabric – Unlike woven and knitted fabrics, nonwoven fabrics are not constructed by interlacing or looping threads. Instead, the fibers or filaments are entangled and held together usually by introducing a chemical, mechanical, or thermal treatment.


Grain – For woven fabrics, the grain refers to the orientation of the lengthwise and crosswise threads. The three grains include the lengthwise grain (straight grain), the crosswise grain (cross grain) and the bias grain, each of which will be explained below.

Selvage – The selvage or selvedge is the structurally sound edge of the fabric that is produced during the weaving or manufacturing process. The construction of the selvedge prevents the fabric’s threads from unraveling.

Bias – You can think of the bias grain of a woven fabric as a line that is at a 45 degree angle from the fabric’s lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (woof or weft) threads.

Lengthwise grain – The lengthwise grain or straight grain of a woven fabric is the one that runs parallel with the warp threads and the selvedge.

Crosswise grain – The crosswise grain or cross grain of a woven fabric runs parallel to the woof or weft threads, and it is perpendicular to the selvedge.

Raw edge – The raw edge of the fabric is the edge of the fabric that is cut and frays, as opposed to the selvage of the fabric.

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