Sewing Glossary

Here's a great place to start on your mission to become a sewing expert.


All-over design A fabric or wallpaper motif that has no obvious directional emphasis.

Baste To hold pieces of fabric together temporarily with long, loose stitches, usually made by using the longest stitch length on your sewing machine; basting may be used as a guide for permanent stitches and removed after stitching permanently.

Batting Cotton or polyester batting is commonly packaged for quilters and is readily available at crafts and sewing shops.

Bias The diagonal of the weave or a line across the grain of a fabric, drawn at a 45-degree angle to the selvage edge; cloth cut on the bias will stretch, allowing a smoother fit around curves.

Clip To make snips or tiny cuts into the seam allowance, up to but not through the stitching, so the seam will lie flat. On a concave curve, make triangular notches to allow for flattening the seam easily.

Cord with lip A type of ready-made upholstery trim featuring a ropelike cord attached to a fabric lip; the lip is installed in the seam so the cord rests on the seamed edge of the item.

Crosswise grain The welt, or grain of the fabric going across the width of the fabric from selvage to selvage.

Cut length The measurement of a piece of fabric that includes allowances for hem, header, any gathers or pleats, and fabric repeat; the length to which you need to cut fabric before you begin sewing.

Cut width The measurement of a piece of fabric that includes allowances for hems, gathers, or pleats; the width to which you need to cut the fabric before you begin sewing.

Directional pattern A fabric design that has an obvious top or bottom; the direction used to distribute two unequal fullnesses of fabric in order to join them in a smooth seam; to curve a trim around a corner, changing a square corner to a rounded one.

Edgestitch To stitch close to the folded edge of the fabric with medium-length to short stitches.

Facing A piece of fabric or nonwoven material stitched to the raw edge of fabric and then turned to the wrong side; it produces a stiffer, more substantial edging than simply hemming a raw edge; it is often incorporated into a design to conceal raw edges.

Filler cord A mesh-wrapped fiber tube used to make welting or piping. Filler cord is available in a range of closely graduated sizes; the most common size for pillow trim is 6/32-inch.

Gimp A flat braid or round cording used to trim pillows, curtains, or upholstered pieces.

Grade To trim the layers of fabric in a seam to different depths in order to eliminate bulk and create a smooth transition from the seam to the outside edge of the seam allowances.

Gusset In home sewing, a strip of fabric inserted between two panels to provide flexibility; the gusset creates a boxlike side edge between the front and back of the pillow.

Hem A finished edge; an edge of the fabric that is folded over and stitched. Usually the hem is understood to be the bottom edge.

Hemstitch Worked by hand from the wrong side of the fabric, hemstitching secures a folded edge to the fabric by means of diagonal stitches. Draw the needle through the folded edge from underneath, pick up one or two threads of the flat fabric, then insert the needle in the folded edge and draw it through. Continue in this manner to secure the hem; the stitches should be nearly invisible from the front.

High-density upholstery foam Firm polyurethane foam pads for use in cushions, bolsters, or pillows. Foam pads referred to as high density are resilient and resist crushing with heavy or prolonged use.

Interfacing Nonwoven fabric, available in varying weights, that is used to stiffen fabric and strengthen seams.

Invisible thread Nylon thread that is clear or smokey in color. When used in the top of the sewing machine, the stitches blend into the fabric.

Lengthwise grain The grain of the fabric that runs parallel to the selvages.

Lining A firmly woven, smooth-finish cotton used to back decorator fabric for a smoother, more finished appearance.

Liquid ravel preventer (seam sealant) A clear liquid adhesive applied to the cut edges of fabric or cording to prevent fraying.

Lockstitch At the beginning or end of a line of stitching, take a few stitches in the same place with the sewing machine.

Notch On a concave curve, to make triangular clips to allow for flattening the seam.

Paper-backed fusible web A heat-activated adhesive product that is used to bond fabric or fabric to other porous surfaces.

Passementerie A French term for fancy trims such as fringe, braid, cording, and tassels that add texture and color to home decorating projects.

Pillow form A ready-made cushion in one of a variety of standard shapes and sizes; the filling may be down, feather/down, or polyester fiberfill.

Pivot Leaving the sewing machine needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot, turn the fabric at a sharp angle, lower the presser foot, and continue stitching. Pivoting at corners and points is necessary to make a crisp point on the finished piece.

Pleat To fold fabric back on itself in a regular pattern at desired intervals to make a trim or a finished design. Also the finished folds made in this way.

Prominent pattern An obvious motif, such as a large floral bouquet set against a plain background.

Repeat The vertical length of a design or motif.

Right sides The patterned, printed, or figured side of a piece of fabric. This is the side that is intended to show.

Ruche A pleated or gathered strip of fabric.

Seam allowance The fabric between the raw edge and the seam line; usually 1/2 inch in home decorating projects.

Seamline The line on which you stitch to join two pieces of fabric.

Selvage The edge of a piece of woven fabric, finished by the manufacturer to prevent unraveling; the selvages are cut off before you begin sewing. Selvages provide information as to the manufacturer, the colors in the fabric, and the direction of the design or pattern repeat.

Spray fabric protector A chemical spray that may be applied to a fabric to help it repel soil and moisture.

Straight grain The grain that runs the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvages.

Tack To secure with a few small hand stitches.

Tassel fringe A decorative trim that consists of a gimp or braid portion combined with a fringe comprised of tassels.

Tension The balance between the bobbin and needle threads on a sewing machine; correct tension ensures a perfect stitch.

Topstitch A line of stitching worked from the right side of the fabric to reinforce a seam and/or to make a decorative effect.

Tuck A small fold or pleat in a fabric or trim. Turn under: to turn the edge of a piece of fabric to the wrong side, usually by a prescribed amount, such as 1/2 inch.

Welting Filler cord covered with fabric and used to trim edges or seams.

Wrong side The back of the fabric, not intended to be seen in the finished project.

Zipper foot A sewing machine attachment designed for installing zippers; the design of the foot allows the needle to stitch close to items such as zippers and cording.

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