illustrated sewing terms with pictures of basting lace, pinking shears, invisible zippers, linen

101 important sewing terms that every beginner needs to know

101 sewing terms F-N

Facing

A facing is a fitted piece of fabric that finishes edges like necklines or armholes. Interfacing is added to a facing before sewing, and understitching is often required so that the facing doesn’t flip to the right side.

Karina of Lifting Pins and Needles has this excellent video to give you some tips for sewing with facings.

Fry front zipper

A fly front zipper is the specialty construction for zippers you see on jeans and other pants. The zipper is sewn to extensions from the front crotch seam. After that a piece of fabric is sewn behind the zipper for a concealed finish. You’ll know a fly front by the curved topstitching on the front.

French seam

A French seam is a way to sew a seam that leaves a clean finish on the inside. It’s a great way to treat lightweight fabrics or sheers.

First, you put the seam wrong sides together. Sew the seam with half of the seam allowance width. That is to say, if your pattern has a 5/8″ seam allowance, use 3/8″ for your first side of the seam and 1/4″ for the second. Trim the seam down to a little less than 1/4″, then press the seam. Sew the seam right sides together with the other half of the seam allowance.

For more beautiful seams finishes check out 13 seam finishes to make your garments sing.

Gathering

Gathering is any time you take a piece of fabric that’s cut larger than the seam it needs to be sewn into. To make the two pieces fit, you sew a long stitch to gather up the threads. The result is some added volume and soft folds in your fabric.

dental floss and gathered fabric

Learn how to gather fabric 5 fail proof ways.

Grading seams

Grading seams is when you trim seam allowances different widths to cut down on bulk and help things lay flatter. To grade a seam, trim the seam allowance that falls nearest the outside of a garment the widest. When you’re finished, you’ll have a seam that sits flat without a visible bulky ridge.

Grading seams is something you do on jackets and coats and fitted dresses.

Grainline

The grainline in fabric refers to all of the threads that lay parallel to the selvage. On a pattern, you’ll see the grainline marked with an arrow. When you go to cut a pattern, you line up the grainline of the pattern with a grainline on your fabric. Be sure to check the arrow with a ruler to make sure that it sits an even distance away from the selvage all along the arrow.

Hem

A hem is any finished edge on the bottom of a project. The simplest hems have you fold up fabric on itself to enclose the raw edges and stitch. You can also use a facing for a hem, bias tape, or even a serger.

The type of hem you use and the depth of that hem will depend on what kind of fabric you’re using and if the hem is curved or not. Typically, curved hems have narrower hems since deeper hems create bulk on a curve.

Hem gauge

A hem gauge is a special tool that allows you to measure the depth of a hem quickly and easily. They’re usually metal or plastic with a slider. Other options for hem measuring include pressing aids like the Dritz EZ hem or the Clover hot hemmer. And my favorite hem aid is nearly free: strips of file folders.

Read my review of the Clover Hot Hemmer here.

See how I create the file folder strips + 14 other cheap sewing tools you probably have in your house.

Hem tape

Hem tape or hem facing tape is a simple way to finish a hem, especially if your hem is feeling a little short. Bias tape and lace hem tape are both good options for hem facings. If you make your hem tape from the same fabric, you’re guaranteed a beautiful clean finish.

bias tape hem
flip to the inside and stitch for a bias tape hem

Learn how to use bias tape (including for hems).

Interfacing

Interfacing is a fabric like material that is added to sewing projects in some places to add structure, support, stability, and cut down on wrinkling. It may be woven, or non-woven or knit. Most interfacings have a fusible glue that gets activated with the steam and heat of an iron.

types of interfacing for garments

Learn everything you need to know about interfacing.

Because there’s so many types of interfacing out there, I break down 13 types of interfacing to make all your sewing better. This article is a must read, especially since I give you all my secrets on where to find the best interfacing for the price.

Invisible Zipper

Made with fine nylon coils invisible zippers when sewn in correctly zip up a seam so that the zipper is hidden. You need to sew an invisible zipper with an invisible foot. Once you practice a few times, invisible zippers are probably the easiest and quickest zipper to sew into a garment.

invisible zippers and skirt

Learn how to sew an invisible zipper.

Knit band

Knit bands are strips of knit fabric that finish off a hem or a neckline on a knit garment. When you have a close fitting style like a turtleneck, it’s important to use a knit band with a lot of recovery or snap back like rib knit. That way you can fit the situation over your head without popping threads.

serged neck seam on t-shirt neckline

For more info on knit bands and other knit finishes check out 4 pro ways to sew a t-shirt neckline.

Knit fabrics

Unlike woven fabrics which are made of a grid of threads, knit fabrics are made of a series of interlocking loops. These loops give knits their stretchiness that’s oh so comfortable to wear. Knits range in stretch from not-very stretchy (ponte) to moderate stretch (cotton jersey) to extremely stretchy (swimwear nylon).

Special needles and stitches are required for sewing with knits if you’re sewing on your regular sewing machine. Check out Pick the best needles for knits and also The best stitches for knits: no serger required.

Check out the Special Fabric Guides for more specific knit types like sweater knits, stretch velvet, and fleece.

Lace

A sheer, openwork fabric, often on a net background. Lace has no grainline, so you can use the motifs as you like them and cutting layouts can be fun puzzles.

Since lace is sheer, you’ll have to use different construction techniques like underlining or use lace as a skirt overlay. These techniques can really make lace sing, so don’t worry that they take a little more effort. The results are 1000% worth it.

There’s endless varieties of lace from stretch lace to bridal laces and everything in between. Find patterns you like and try them out. Lace appliques are another fun way to place with lace and enjoy it’s decorative quality.

Speaking of lace appliques, learn how to sew a lace applique shirt and how to upgrade a basic tee with lace cuffs.

Leather

Whether faux leather or the real stuff, leather is a hard wearing fabric that’s great for bags, jackets, belts and more. Because leather naturally has a sticky surface, there’s some special things you must do when you sew with leather.

faux leather jacket

Get these simple tips for sewing with leather.

Lining

A lighter weight fabric used to cover over seams on the inside of a project. Linings can add warmth and elegance to a garment and make them look much cleaner on the inside.

Linings are not just for garments! Here’s how to make grommet curtains with a lining and how to make a lined zipper bag.

Measuring Tape

measuring neck seam width on raglan t-shirt

A classic basic measuring tool for all sewists. These inexpensive flexible tapes are wonderful for checking quick measurements on patterns and your body. You can even use them to make quick and accurate circles using the tape like a compass.

Check out more sewing tools for measuring.

Mitering/mitered corner

Miters are those spots where two square edges meet at a 45 degree angle. You see them on picture frames! Sometimes you’ll see mitered corners on napkins and tablecloths, but they’re a really easy thing to add to your garments as well. 

topstitch to finish the mitered corner

Any place where you have a square corner is an opportunity to sew a gorgeous miter.

Learn 3 ways to sew a mitered corner.

Napped fabric

Napped fabric feels different when you run your hand up it and down it. You’ll often notice a color change when you run your hand up vs. down on a napped fabric. It’s important to cut napped fabric so that all the pattern pieces have the nap facing the same way vertically. That way you won’t end up with an unintentionally two-toned velvet dress.

Sometimes cutting napped fabrics can be a messy affair. Learn how to sew faux fur sans fluff.

Careful pressing is required so as to not destroy the finish on the nap. That’s what a velvet board was made for. Velvet boards though are pretty pricey and unitasking, so this tip from Threads on a DIY faux velvet board is pretty cool. I personally save a scrap of whatever velvet I’m working with to serve as a faux velvet board.

On patterns looks for the “with nap” layout when you cut your project.

Napped fabrics include velvet, corduroy, faux fur, and some fleeces.

Want to practice working with velvet? First learn how to sew stretch velvet without fear. Then make this velvet twist headband or try your hand at making a simple velvet infinity scarf.

Faux fur fun on your radar? Make this detachable faux fur collar or DIY boot covers.

Natural fabric/natural fibers

Natural fabrics/natural fibers are made from plant fibers or fibers from animal materials. They are more breathable, longer lasting, and comfortable to wear typically than synthetic fabrics. Natural fabrics are also much easier to sew, making them perfect for beginners.

Examples of natural fabrics: cotton, linen, hemp, wool, silk, and hemp. Rayon, tencel, bamboo and modal are all fibers that are semi-natural. These fabrics start out as plant material but require many chemical processes (like synthetic fabrics) to become finished fabric. Still, rayon, tencel, bamboo and modal act and feel like natural fabrics.

Notching

Notching is similar to clipping. On inside (concave) curves, you cut out tiny triangular shaped pieces in the seam allowance being careful not to cut the stitching line. When the seam gets turned, the excess bulk that the notching removes will make for a nice flat piece.

If you collar is lumpy, notch that curve!

4 thoughts on “101 important sewing terms that every beginner needs to know”

  1. What a fantastic resource. It’s very generous of you to share this so freely. Much appreciated. Thank you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *