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A Beginner's Guide to Sewing - Definitions

A Beginner's Guide to Sewing - Definitions

The world of sewing can be confusing at times as it comes with a whole new set of vocabulary that you have to pick up. Luckily I’m here to demystify you and help you tell your tension from your trimmings.



Fabric scissors – Large, sharp scissors used to cut fabric cleanly.

Embroidery scissors – Small, usually pointy scissors used for trimming threads.

Rotary cutter – A tool like a pizza cutter used to cut fabric quickly. Must be used with a cutting mat to protect surfaces.

Quilting ruler – A wide, clear plastic ruler with grid lines. Used with a rotary cutter to cut square or rectangular blocks.

Seam ripper – A sharp instrument used to unpick stitches quickly.

Tailor’s chalk – Comes in a variety of colours and is usually either triangular or in pencil form. Used to temporarily mark fabric, for example to show where you want to put a button. Washes out with water.


Haberdashery (small items used in sewing)

Trimming – A decorative addition to a sewn item, e.g. ribbon, applique.

Applique – A decorative patch of fabric attached to a sewn item, often in the shape of a letter or picture.

Bias binding – A strip of fabric cut diagonally and sewn on to a hem to provide a decorative edge.

Hook and eye – Metal fastenings often found at the top of zips.

Hook and loop tape – A generic term for Velcro.

Sewing pattern – A set of instructions to make an item with a template for cutting out fabric.



Gathering – Pulling threads tight so the fabric bunches along the stitches, for example to create a puffy effect on sleeves or a skirt.

Pressed – Ironed so that seams are facing the right way.

Baste or tack – sewn by hand without knots at the end of the line of stitching so that stitches can be pulled out easily.

Rouleau loop – A fine loop of fabric used in place of a button hole on bridal gowns.

Hem – The edge of a garment.

Seam – Where two pieces of fabric join together.


Types of fabric

Knitted – Fabric made from a single thread knitted together, e.g. t-shirt fabric

Woven – Fabric made from vertical and horizontal threads forming a tight net.

Bias – The ‘diagonal’ of a woven fabric.

Fibre – What the fabric is made from, e.g. cotton, polyester, nylon.

Right/wrong sides – The right side of your fabric is the side you want to be visible from the outside of

your garment or sewn object.


Sewing machines

Bobbin – The bottom thread from a sewing machine.

Tension – How tight the top and bottom threads are pulling on your sewing machine.

Overlocker or serger – A type of sewing machine that uses up to five threads to finish and cut an edge.


I hope this has increased your understanding of sewing terms and that you can approach your next project with more confidence. Next in the Beginner’s Guide to Sewing I will be walking you through the wonderful world of fabric!


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