Basic Sewing Terms

Because English is the official language of the internet and The Internet is a place full of resources which can always help us advance with our project, today we are going to go through the basic sewing vocabulary. So next time we need to look for something online, we’ll know how it’s called.

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Terms for the sewing machine components




You wind thread around the bobbin, which is then used to create the lower part of the sewing machine stitches.



Bobbin case

Bobbin Case


A bobbin case holds the bobbin in place. The bobbin case in this picture is a removable side load bobbin case. There are also drop in bobbin cases, which are usually built into the machine and cannot be taken out.



Bobbin winder

Bobbin Winder

The bobbin winder is a small cylindrical metal piece where you place your bobbin when you want to wind on it the yarn needed to create the lower part of your stitch. Newer sewing machines have the bobbin winder on top, older ones have it on the right side, below the hand wheel (like in the picture).


Feed Dog

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The toothed metal piece which moves back and forth in slots in a sewing machine’s needle plate. Its purpose is to pull (“feed”) the fabric through the machine, in discrete steps, in-between stitches. Good boy!

Foot Pedal

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It’s a plastic thing that looks like any other pedal, which you must step on in order to put your machine in motion. Hands off the wheel on this vehicle!


Hand Wheel

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It’s a rounded wheel found on the right side of your sewing machine. You move it (always) towards you, any time you want to adjust the needle height.



Presser Foot

Presser Foot.png

It may seem connected to the Foot Pedal, but it’s not. This is the metal part of the sewing machine surrounding the needle. Its role is to hold the fabric steady during stitching. It can be pulled up and down to secure and release the fabric, using a lever found behind the foot or by pushing a button found in the front.


Reverse dial/button

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It’s a button that changes the direction of your stitching. You use it in the beginning or in the end of your sewing process, to prevent your stitch from unwinding.


Seam guides

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The guides are found on the metal plate of your sewing machine. They are markings representing different measurements supposed to help you keep the fabric straight, while also helping you make the stitch at a certain distance from the side of the fabric.


Spool Pin

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It’s a cylindrical plastic or metal piece, placed either vertically or horizontally, on the upper part of your sewing machine. Here is where your spool of yarn should be placed.




Stitch length

To put it simply, the stitch is that dotted line made of thread which you see on the fabric after you used your sewing machine. The stitch length is how long or short the lines from your dotted line are. It’s all influenced by how much fabric is transported by the feed dog between the stitches: shortening the stitch length reduces the amount of fabric that goes under the needle before it comes down, while lengthening the stitch increases the amount of fabric that goes under the needle before it comes down.

Take up lever

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The take up lever is found behind the presser foot and its role is to lift the presser foot or to make it go down.





Thread Cutter

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A cutter which is placed strategically on the machine to help you cut the thread after you finished sewing. (If you are looking for it on yours and you can’t find it, don’t despair – it’s a more recent feature and not all machines have it. And you can totally live without it.)

Thread Guides

Thread Guides.png



The thread guides are those metal pieces on your sewing machine, with little holes through which the tread must pass before reaching the needle, in order to form the stitch.





To put it as roughly as possible, tension influences how tight your two pieces of fabric are being stitched together. Tension can be adjusted for the upper thread, as well  as for the lower thread.

Tension Dial

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It’s the little wheel with numbers ranging from 0 to sometimes even 9, which determines how tight the upper stitch will be. The smaller the number, the looser the tension.





General sewing terms

Belt loop

Belt Loop.png


It’s that strip of fabric placed perpendicular to the cord of your pants, through which belts are supposed to be inserted for a better stability of the pants on the waist (or sometimes just for the sake of fashion).




In tailoring, the bodice is the upper part of the woman’s dress, from shoulders and neckline going down until the waist.







The perfect explanation comes from Cambridge Dictionary: “a dart is
a small fold, becoming narrower towards one end, that is sewn into a piece of clothing to make it fit better.” Case closed.


Ease is what you add to a pattern in order to have a garment that is comfortable to move in. For example, when you hold your arm straight, the sleeve seems to need just the same amount of fabric as your arm’s circumference. But when you bend the arm, you realize that you actually need a larger sleeve width to allow the movement. That extra measurement called “ease”.




“The edge of a piece of fabric, such as the bottom edge of a skirt or dress, that is folded over and sewn so that it does not develop loose threads”, says Cambridge Dictionary.



Hook & Loop

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It’s one of the most common closing systems consisting of a hook that goes into a loop. Fun fact: in Romania the hook and loop is called ”old man and old woman”. God knows why.





According to, interfacing is a support fabric used in areas that need more stability than just the fabric weight. Interfacing can be thinner, like a smooth net or considerably stronger, like a piece of paper. The interfacing is usually fused (glued) to the wrong side of the fabric using an iron or steamer.



As the name implies, the interlining is a piece of fabric added between the outer layer of the garment and the lining. It’s most commonly used in winter jackets, consisting of either fleece, feathers or batting fabric.



Lining is a layer of fabric used to hide the construction details found on the inside of a garment. Linings are usually silky and smooth and not only they give a nice finish to a piece of clothing, but they sometimes also make it easier or more comfortable to dress – ex. when there is a thick wool fabric it may tickle the wearer if worn without a lining.


A notch is a V-shaped cut in a hard surface. There are notches in patterns, which indicate that little cuts should be made in the fabric to help while sewing. There are also notches in presser feet – for example, the blind hem presser foot has two notches – little tunnels through which the zipper passes.


Pattern 1.png



The patter is the technical drawing on paper that shows how the fabric should be cut in order to create a garment. Patterns are the basis of sewing, as they can indicate with precision how a piece of clothing should be created in order to fit a certain size and design.




Seam allowance

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The seam allowance is the distance between your stitch and the side of the fabric. In any sewing project, a seam allowance is necessary – otherwise, the stitch is to close to the sides and can easily be loosened.


Seam line

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The line formed by joining two pieces of fabric together.


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Is the action of using a serger or overlocker – a sewing machine used for finishing the raw edges of the fabric. A serger/overlocker trims and encloses the edge of the fabric (seam allowance) inside a thread casing, all in one step.






A slit is a cut or an opening in a garment. You have a slit in the front of the pants or in the back of a dress.








We call a “sloper” a basic fitting shell – a pattern that shows a fitted shape of your body. Patter slopers are used as a basis for creating more complex patterns.









A cardboard or plastic cylinder on which yarn is wound.




To quote the Cambridge Dictionary, the stitch is “a piece of thread sewn in cloth, or the single movement of a needle and thread into and out of the cloth that produces this”. To put it simply, the stitch is that dotted line of thread which you can create on the fabric either by hand or with a sewing machine.

Zipper coil

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The zipper’s coil is the metal or plastic part of the zipper where the teeth are laid.




Zipper tape

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The zipper’s tape is the strip of fabric found on the sides of the zipper, right next to the coil.








Thread. The long continuous thread of interlocked fibers, which is used for sewing.





Types of stitching

Anchoring stitch

As the name suggests it, the anchoring stitch’s role is to make sure the stitch doesn’t pull out right when it begins or it finishes. With the sewing machine the anchoring stitch is done by going back and forth 2-3 times in the beginning and end of your stitch.


Back stitch

Reverse dial button

Your machine has a button (the Reverse Dial Button) which changes the direction of the stitch when pressed. Usually, the fabric is pulled in the opposite direction from you while the needle comes towards you, forming the stitch. The back stitch is done by commanding the needle to go in the opposite \direction from you.


Basting stitch

The basting stitch is a long, loose stitch created to help you keep the fabric in place. It can be done by hand or with the sewing machine. Because it is so loose and easy to pull out, it’s perfect to use when you are not sure about a certain cut or when you want to just secure a part that is harder to sew.\


Looper stitches

Serge overlock



The stitches formed by a serger or overlock machine that get tangled in loops, covering the fabric.




Straight Stitch

The regular, most common stitch with which two pieces of fabric are usually sewn together. As the name implies, it goes straight, creating a dotted line of bigger or smaller lines.

Hidden Stitch

As the name implies, the hidden stitch is any type of stitch which is not visible on one or both sides of the fabric.

Blind Hem Stitch

Hidden Stitch

It is a type of hidden stitch used for finishing hems. In woolen garments, for example, it is common that the hem’s seam line is not visible on the outer side of the fabric.

Top stitch

A stitch applied to the top of the garment either for stabilizing a piece (like in necklines) or just for decorative reasons. As opposed to the hidden stitch, the top stitch is intentionally visible on the outer side of the fabric.

Zigzag Stitch

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It is a type of stitch that goes in a zigzag shape instead of straight. The zigzag stitch is used when working with knitted fabrics. It is also used to finish fabric edges, instead of a serger/overlocker.


Decorative stitch

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Decorative stitches come in many shapes and types and their sole purpose is aesthetic. Most probably, besides straight stitch, buttonhole stitch, hidden stitch and zigzag stitch, all other types of stitches found on your sewing machine are decorative.




Fabric terms

Warp & Weft

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To turn yarn into fabric through weaving, one needs the threads to come somehow in a cross. The longitudinal threads are held in place by the loom, while the transverse threads are drawn through and inserted over and under the longitudinal threads. This two directions of the yarn are called warp (longitudinal) and weft (transverse).


The straight-grain is parallel to the warp of the fabric. Many garments are cut with the straight-grain going from top to bottom, because this direction of the fabric falls straight on the body, as opposed to the cross-grain which moves easily and can distort the intended shape.


The grain refers to the orientation of the warp and weft in a piece of fabric. The cross-grain is parallel to the weft of the fabric and to the selvedge. Cross-grain usually has more stretch than the straight-grain, offering better movement, which is why clothes are cut with the cross-grain covering the body transverse.


The bias is the direction of the fabric found in between straight-grain and cross-grain. When looking at a piece of fabric cut in a square, the bias goes from one corner of the square to its opposite corner, forming a 45 degree angle with the warp or the weft. Dresses and skirts that need a wavy look are usually cut on bias, as this direction of the fabric is stretchy and flexible.





The word selvedge comes from “self-finished edge” and refers to the sides of the fabric, parallel to the weft which come with a finished edge from the factory.


Fabric fold

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This term refers exactly to what you think: the fold of the fabric. It is used in the cutting process, when some patterns are placed on the fabric after it is folded in twice.

Raw edge

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The raw edge is the edge of the fabric that hasn’t been serged/overlocked or hemmed and which can easily develop loose ends through pulling.


Right side

The right side of the fabric is the side that will be seen in the exterior of the garment. Some fabrics look differently on the inside and the outside, that is why, when offering sewing instructions, one must specify how to place the fabric: on the right side or on the wrong side.

Wrong side

The wrong side of the fabric is the side which will be seen in the interior of a garment.

Right sides together

Right Sides Together



Usually , when sewing two pieces together, they are both placed facing each other’s right sides (right sides together).





Sewing operations



Threading refers to the process of running the yarn from the spool through all the orifices found on the sewing machine up until the needle, in order to prepare the thread for the process of stitching. But threading is not done only on the upper part of the machine, but also on the lower part, involving the bobbin and the bobbin case.

Adjusting tension

Tension Dial





Adjusting the tension dial/wheel to make sure the upper thread is released with a certain pressure





Adjusting stitch length

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Adjusting the stitch length wheel in order to have longer stitches.




Finger pressing

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Ex. You just folded the fabric and you would like it to take the shape of the fold – the first instinct is to press with your finger to keep the fabric in place. And the fact is, the heath from your body will give the fabric a shape just by finger pressing.



Gathering the fabric

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Giving the fabric a series of creases by stitching it and then pulling the stitch tight.




Guiding the fabric

Helping the fabric take the direction you want while sewing. Many beginners tend to pull and push the fabric, when, in fact, there is no need: the fabric is transported by the presser foot and you just have to guide it to follow the desired seam guide.


Finishing the side of a fabric to prevent it from developing loose threads, by folding it.


Inserting pins into the fabric in order to fix it before sewing.


Applying interfacing (a glued layer of fabric destined to add more stability to the initial fabric) by ironing it.


Finishing the raw edges of a fabric by using a serger/overlocker machine.

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