101 sewing terms O-R
An overlocker or serger is a specialty sewing machine that makes a finishing stitch with multiple threads on the edge of fabrics. This stitch is primarily used as a quick and neat seam finish. Sergers are also used to sew knits together as the stitch has some built in recovery that allows knits to move without the thread breaking.
An overlocker/serger is not a machine that you need straight away when you start sewing. That’s right I put it in bold because I’m tired of beginners feeling like they need to rush off and get a serger the second they start thinking about knits [mini rant off].
It’s not true. Don’t believe me? Check out Can you sew knits without a serger?
Deeper dive, look at The best stitches for knits, no serger required.
And also Who would win?: sewing machine vs. serger.
A patch pocket is the simplest pocket to make. First you place a piece of fabric with turned under edges on top of a garment. Then you topstitch the pocket in place leaving the top of the pocket open. Patch pockets can be rectangular or other shapes with straight or curved edges. It’s even possible to invisibly stitch a patch pocket in place.
Look for patch pockets on aprons, jeans, skirts, coats and anywhere you want to add this easy to sew pocket. (P.S. pockets do make it better).
Pattern hacking is when you take a sewing pattern and drastically alter it to change up the details. Usually a pattern hack is more complicated than simple changes like lengthening or shortening a pattern.
Changing style lines, combining two patterns together, mimicking details you see in ready to wear design all fall under pattern hacking.
Flex your own pattern hacking skills with these projects.
Pincushions are little miniature pillows usually made from fabric that hold all your sewing pins. There’s many different types of pincushions including handy wrist pincushions and my personal favorite, magnetic pincushions.
Make your own DIY magnetic pincushion.
Pinking shears are specialty scissors that cut little triangles out of your fabric. They’re a great simple way to quickly finish seam allowances. This is the easiest seam finish ever and perfect for lightweight fabrics. Learn more about pinking shears here.
Pins temporarily hold two layers of fabric together while you’re sewing. People have strong opinions on what kinds of pins they like, so check out my pin recommendations. If you’re feeling adventurous, give sewing without pins a try and see why I sew with very few pins.
A placket is a place in a garment where an opening is made that makes it easier to take the garment on and off. A cut is made where specially prepared strips of fabric are sewn that finishes the edges. With some special folding, the placket overlaps itself, making a spot for buttons and buttonholes to be added.
Snaps can also be used on plackets for an easier no-sew option.
Plackets are common on button down shirt cuffs, and also on polo type shirts and henleys.
Learn how to sew a henley.
Pleats are folds of fabric that allow for movement and shape. You’ll see pleats especially in skirts (including the classic kilt), and jackets where controlled fullness is needed. Special, careful marking and pressing is needed to make the nicest looking pleats.
Types of pleats include knife pleats, box pleats, inverted pleats, and accordion pleats.
Pleats may or may not be topstitched to help keep the crispness of the pleating in place.
Structured woven fabrics do well with pleats. Think wool, cottons, and even linen.
Learn how to make pleated trim.
A point presser is made of wood and has a triangular shaped edge that helps you get into corners for pressing. This is a great tool for hard to reach places like the corners of collars. You’ll often see point pressers attached to a clapper.
This is an essential pressing and tailoring tool!
Preshrinking is the process of washing and drying your fabric before you sew it. With synthetic fabrics, preshrinking is not necessary.
It’s a good idea to wash and dry your natural fiber fabrics like cotton, silk, hemp, rayon before you start sewing with them. There’s nothing worse than making a pair of pants, popping them in the wash and then finding that they’re too small!
Special care needs to be taken when preshrinking wool because of it’s incredible ability to shrink. If you have a dry cleaner who will do this for you, you can save yourself some time. If you enjoy the process and really get serious about sewing with wool, Carolyn of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic has an excellent article on how to prepare wool crepe.
Presser feet snap or screw onto your sewing machine just below the needle. They hold the fabric in place while you sew. There’s many different types of sewing machine presser feet for various jobs like hemming, sewing invisible and regular zippers, buttonholes and more.
Because presser feet can get a little messy, check out this hack for organizing your sewing machine presser feet.
Pressing is the process of applying an iron to a seam or construction detail like a dart after you sew it.
We need to make a distinction here.
Ironing usually involves moving the iron all over the surface of a fabric. Pressing is different from ironing in that you’re using the iron to set the detail you’ve just sewn. You do not want to move the iron while you’re pressing either. The combo of steam and heat helps flatten and crisp up your work.
Pressing well is essential to good sewing as are these pressing tools.
Princess seams are specialized darts that combine a shaped seam with the hip and bust darts to create long elegant lines Look for these on jackets, dresses.
A quilt is quilt top + batting + backing fabric +extra stitches for decoration/to hold down the batting. Quilting stitches can be elaborate decorative designs or as simple as stitching in loops of yarn that you tie at intervals.
A quilt top is usually made of several different fabrics sewn (or pieced) together in designs.
Batting is a roll of cotton, polyester or other fibers spun together to make a fluffy inner layer. Batting adds warmth and dimension to the quilt.
Learn the easiest way to make a quilt.
Raglan sleeves are sewn into a garment with diagonal seams in the front and the back. This is a more casual fitting sleeve that you’ll find on jackets, coats, and even the classic baseball t-shirt.
Learn how to sew a raglan sleeve t-shirt.
Mastered sewing your own raglan t-shirts? Try one of these fun hacks in the raglan tee series.
Ribbing is a special type of knit fabric with small ridges. Ribbed knits have a great deal of recovery meaning you can pull it and it will return to its original shape when you let go. This makes ribbing a good choice for finishing necklines and cuffs on knit garments.
Because of the recovery of the ribbing, even close fitting necklines will fit over your head comfortably without stretching out of shape or feeling tight.
A rolled hem is a tiny hem. It’s called rolled because the fabric is rolled into a tiny roll as you stitch the hem. You can roll a hem by hand, or stitch a rolled hem by machine with the help of a rolled hem foot. The simplest way to sew a rolled hem is with a serger.
A ruffle is a long strip of fabric that is gathered, then sewn to create a decorative trim on a project. Ruffles can be narrow or wide. The longer a fabric strip, the more gathers will be in the final ruffle.
Learn how to sew a ruffle sweater.
A running stitch is a short eve stitch made by passing a needle in and out of fabric. It can be used for basting or gathering.
Running stitches are the beginnings of this fabulous yoyo overlay on this DIY wristlet purse.
Here’s how to teach kids to do a running stitch on a paper plate.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.
4 thoughts on “101 important sewing terms that every beginner needs to know”
What a fantastic resource. It’s very generous of you to share this so freely. Much appreciated. Thank you.
Glad to share. Thanks so much for reading!
Glad it helped you!