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 T-Z

Tailor’s Ham

helpful sewing tools: Tailor's ham

Made of wool and cotton, stuffed with sawdust and shaped like an actual ham, a tailor’s ham is an essential tailoring tool. Use it for pressing curved edges and shaping collars.

Tailoring

Tailoring is a process of sewing techniques that build permanent shape into a garment. All of these techniques use special interfacings, particular sewing and especially pressing. The result is a garment that has a structure to it that it would not have otherwise.

Learn all about the essential tailoring interfacing, hair canvas.

Tension

sewing machine tension on different fabrics

Stitching tension refers to how much pressure is on the thread as it passes through your sewing machine. When the tension is good, the front and back of the stitch should look the same.

A lot of sewing beginners get frustrated with balancing the tension because it can be tricky.

Learn how to fix sewing machine tension without chucking your machine out a window.

Topstitching

Topstitching is any stitching done on the right side of a project. This stitching can be purely decorative or it can help edges lay flatter, or both. Topstitching is usually done with a longer than usual straight stitch, sometimes with decorative thread. You can also topstitch with any stitch you feel like.

It’s common to see multiple rows of topstitching such as on jeans. In the case of jeans, the extra stitching helps flatten heavy denim as well as looking sharp.

Get the best topstitching hacks in How to topstitch.

Tracing wheel

tracing wheel, tracing paper and fabric

A tracing wheel is a basic sewing marking tool that you use to transfer pattern detail elements like darts to a piece of fabric. Used together with tracing paper, a tracing wheel can be a good solution with certain fabrics that may be hard to mark wih other methods.

Check out more fabric marking tools you should try.

Trimming

Trimming is anytime you need to cut away excess fabric. Usually this means cutting away extra fabric once you’ve sewn a seam to remove bulk.

The heavier the fabric, the more important it is to trim seams. That way seams sit flatter and aren’t lumpy. To start, trim away some of the width on a wider seam.

Patterns will often tell you how much to trim away, but in general, trimming a seam to about 3/8″ or a little less is good.

Trimming is always the first step before you grade a seam or if you’re making a French seam.

Trimming is also combined with clipping and notching. This is especially important on a piece where you have tight interior corners like collars. An untrimmed, unclipped, unnotched collar is not a pretty sight.

On corners, trim away the point on an angle.

Tubular knit

Unlike fabrics with selvages, tubular knits are made in a tube.

Tubular knits are excellent for waistbands, cuffs and necklines on knit garments.

Just be aware that whatever the width is, it will be double that number when you cut open the tube. So a 22″ wide tubular knit would give you 44″ wide of fabric.

Twill tape

A basic plain tape made from cotton. Twill tape is excellent for stabilizing shoulders on jackets, making simple zipper pulls or just for decoration. It is also used in tailoring for holding lapel lines in place.

Underlining

Underlining is when you take a secondary fabric and baste it to your outer fabric, treating them afterwards as one. You use underlining to give support to the fabric, add opacity, or prevent stretching in stress areas. It’s an excellent technique when working with lace or other sheer fabrics.

Understitch

Understitching is a technique you use when you’re working with facings. To understitch, sew the facing to your project. After the seam is trimmed and graded, press the seam towards the facing. Finish it off by running a line of stitching close to the seam (this is understitching). When you flip the facing towards the inside, you won’t be able to see the understitching.

Understitching is used to help keep a facing from flipping towards the outside of a garment.

Heather Handmade has a very nice tutorial on understitching.

V-neck

A popular v-shaped neckline for tops and dresses, especially in knit t-shirts.

Velvet

stretch velvet and tools for how to sew stretch velvet

Velvet is a soft fuzzy fabric that you just want to run your hands over! It has a distinct nap or pile that reflects light differently whether you run you hand up or down it. When you cut velvet, use the “with nap” layout.

Velvet can be either woven or knit. Both require some special handling so that you don’t crush the pile of the fabric.

Get some velvet sewing tips. Learn how to sew stretch velvet without fear.

Waistband

A waistband is a strip of fabric at the top of skirts and pants. It can be cut as a straight waistband or have a curve to it (contoured waistband). Contoured waistbands tend to fit curves better as they combine darts that fit especially the back waistband much more closely than a straight waistband.

Welt pockets

single welt pocket with hidden zipper

A classic pocket style you’ll see on tailored jackets and coats. There are single welt pockets where one strip of fabric sits over a pocket opening. Double welt pockets have two strips of fabric that lead to the pocket opening. There are also welt pockets with a flap which you see a lot on coats. This type of pocket takes a little preparation and practice to sew well, but once you learn, they will be a favorite.

Whipstitch

Whipstitches are a looping stitch that connect 2 layers of fabric. Knot your needle, bring up needle to right side. Next pierce the other side, letting the fabric loop between layers. Bring up the needle close to the first stitch and make another looping stitch.

Whipstitches are great for working with felt and other fabrics that don’t fray.

Practice your whipstitching: How to sew felt: the beginner-friendly fabric you’ll love.

Also check out How to sew a doll with adorable doll panels.

Yard/meter

A yard is the unit of measurement used when you go to buy fabric. If you’re not in the US, you’ll buy fabric by the meter. When you buy a yard of fabric, it will be 36″ long x however many inches it is wide (45″, 54″, and 60″ are the most common widths of fabric). A meter measures 39.37″ or 100cm.

Patterns always let you know how many yards or portions of yards (meters) you need for a project. Before you start work on a project, look for that number.

Yardstick

A yardstick is a basic ruler that should be in any sewing room. It measures 36″ long and is an excellent tool for helping you check grainlines, draw straight edges and much more.

Learn more about essential measuring tools for sewing.

Yoke

shoulder yoke on dress

A reinforced, fitted part of a garment from which the rest of the garment hangs. You’ll see yokes on skirts and shoulders especially on button down shirts. The burrito technique is a fun way to sew yokes on shirts where you sew everything inside a tube to make a clean finish.

Zigzag stitch

3 step zigzag stitch on nylon tricot

Another essential stitch on any sewing machine. A basic zigzag stitch looks like a Z and is helpful for sewing knits, finishing seam allowances, and stitching on trims like lace.

Deep dive into more about the zigzag stitch here: Stitches for knits: no serger required.

Zipper

A zipper is a basic sewing closure made of metal, plastic, or nylon teeth attached to two pieces of tape. Types of zippers include nylon zippers, jeans zippers, separating zippers, invisible zippers, and plastic zippers.

Learn how to shorten a zipper every which way to Sunday.

Need some fancy? Learn how to sew an invisible zipper.

Get your feet wet sewing zippers with the 7 minute DIY zipper bag.

Conclusion

So that’s a whole lot of sewing terms. Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful, and if you do, feel free to share it out via social media etc.

What’s your favorite sewing word? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to geek out a little with you!

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.

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