101 Sewing Terms S
A seam allowance is the distance between the raw edge of a pattern piece and where you stitch. Most commercial patterns include 5/8″ seam allowances, though some seam allowances may be smaller or larger even.
Always check a pattern to know what the seam allowance is before you start working on a project.
When you sew a seam, there’s raw edges of your fabric hanging out on the inside of your work. Sometimes this is okay, but seam finishes are a way to make those raw fabric edges on your seams look pretty. Seam finishes can be as simple as trimming away extra fabric with pinking shears or as fancy as French seams.
Where you stitch is called the seamline or stitch line. The seamline is going to sit however wide the seam allowance is away from the raw edge of your pattern piece.
When you’re first getting started sewing, it’s not a bad idea to draw in the seam line with a ruler to get practice sewing straight seams.
A seam ripper is a little metal tool with a pointed hook that allows you to rip out stitches when you’ve made a mistake. Love them or hate them, sometimes they’re necessary.
But your seam ripper doesn’t judge you. Also tea + a seam ripper is better than a seam ripper alone.
And if you’re having a seam rippery kind of project, check out this Sewing encouragement for beginners from the pros.
A seam roll is a stuffed tube that helps you press long seams like you’ll find in pants and sleeves.
It’s a tailoring tool must have, and a great addition to your pressing tools.
Selvage: the finished edges of a length of fabric. This is where the fabric was attached to the loom. This edge will not fray.
Your good buddy that’ll get you through all your sewing adventures.
Take care of your sewing machine! Learn how to clean a sewing machine.
And if your sewing machine is giving you fits, here’s how to troubleshoot sewing machine tension.
Your best cutting tools for all your sewing projects should be a good pair of sewing shears. Use them to ONLY cut fabric and find a pair that fits your hands and your budget.
Need some good scissor recommendations? Here’s how to find the best sewing scissors for you.
Shirring is when you sew multiple rows of gathering as a decorative way of cinching in an area of a garment. This is often done with elastic for strong and comfortable finish. Shirring is great on necklines, sleeves, and waists.
The 80s did shoulder pads wrong. A good shoulder pad is a great part of a good tailored jacket, and they don’t need to be sky high or make you look like a linebacker to work. Above they’re peeking out under the tailoring guts of the epic tailoring project that was my husband’s 10th Doctor Suit.
A cool tool that helps you mark the hemline on skirts. Many sit on the floor and you set the level you want to hem the skirt at. Slowly turn, and your sewing assistant can pop a pin in at that level all the way around the skirt.
Use slipstitches any time you need an invisible stitch to connect 2 layers or close up a hole.
Knot your needle, bring up needle to right side. Make a tiny stitch on the right side next to where you brought up the thread, then poke the needle down towards the back, bringing up the thread at an angle in the second side of your hole.
Repeat making stitches like this for the length of the hole.
Snaps are small fasteners and great button alternatives. They are usually made from metal, though some are made from plastic. Each snap has 2 parts: one with a ball end, and one with a socket. For no sew snaps, you might have a decorative top like a pearl snap or just an exposed ring.
They require either a little hand sewing to install or no sewing at all. Use them any place you’d use buttons, using larger snaps for heavier fabrics.
A straight stitch is the default stitch for sewing machines. You can lengthen the default length for basting or topstitching, or shorten it for very lightweight fabrics. Simple and strong, you’ll use this stitch more than any other stitch on your machine.
Practice your straight stitching with these projects:
- Easiest. Quilt. Ever.: How to sew a quilt
- For DIY home decor: How to sew curtains the easiest way
- If you’re just getting started sewing: How to sew a pillowcase in 15 minutes
- Simple gifts: DIY drawstring bag tutorial
The stitch selector is the computer panel or dial where you can change the stitch on your sewing machine. Different sewing machines have more or less stitches to choose from.
Synthetic fabrics are made from chemical processes unlike natural fabrics/natural fiber fabrics (made from plants/animal material). They have special properties like extreme stretchiness (spandex), wicking (polyester), less wrinkling, or the ability to add lightweight insulation. That’s why you’ll often see sports companies relying on these technical fabrics.
Often, natural fibers are blended with synthetics to add some some of the beneficial properties of synthetics. A great example of this is men’s shirts which are very often mostly cotton with some polyester to cut down on the wrinkling.
You have to be choosy when you sew synthetics because a lot are not created equal. Polyester chiffon for example is a pale substitute for silk chiffon. Synthetics are often not as easy to sew with as their natural counterparts, as they do not press well and can melt.
It’s also very difficult to dye synthetic fabrics on your own because of their slippery surfaces and the need for high heat. Rit Dye More is the one synthetic fiber dye that does a good job.
Synthetic fabrics include polyester, spandex, nylon, and acrylic.
Learn more about some specialty synthetics: Sewing with fleece 101
Make your own cozy warm fleece leggings: The virtues of DIY fleece leggings
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.