Sew and Stitch Glossary

Learn the terms most commonly used in sewing, tailoring, quilting and other fabric arts.

B

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Backstitch

Backstitch Working from right to left, bring the needle up at 1 and insert behind the starting point at 2. Bring the needle up at 3, repeat by inserting at 1 and bringing the needle up at a point that is a stitch length beyond 3.

Backtack

Stitching in reverse for a short distance at the beginning and ending of a seamline to secure the stitches. Most machines have a button or knob for this function (also called backstitch).

Bartack

A line of reinforcement stitching often placed at areas of stress on a garment. Bartacks are created with short zigzag stitches (by machine) or whipstitches (by hand).

Basting

Uses long, loose stitches to hold something in place temporarily. To baste by machine, use the longest straight stitch length available on your machine. To baste by hand, use stitches at least 1⁄4" (6 mm) long. Use a contrasting thread to make the stitches easier to spot for removal.

Basting Stitch (Machine)

Using the longest straight stitch length on your machine, baste to temporarily hold fabric layers and seams in position for final stitching. It can also be done by hand. When basting, use a contrasting thread to make it easier to spot when you're taking it out.

Bias

The direction across a fabric that is located at a 45-degree angle from the lengthwise or crosswise grain. The bias has high stretch and a very fluid drape.

Bias Tape

Made from fabric strips cut on a 45-degree angle to the grainline, the bias cut creates an edging fabric that will stretch to enclose smooth or curved edges. You can buy bias tape ready-made or make your own.

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Blanket Stitch

Blanket Stitch Working from left to right, bring the needle up at 1 and insert at 2. Bring the needle back up at 3 and over the working thread. Repeat by making the next stitch in the same manner, keeping the spacing even.

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Blindstitch/Blindhem Stitch

Blindstitch/Blindhem Stitch Used mainly for hemming fabrics where an inconspicuous hem is difficult to achieve (this stitch is also useful for securing binding on the wrong side). Fold the hem edge back about ¼" (6 mm). Take a small stitch in the garment, picking up only a few threads of the fabric, then take the…

Buttonhole Sizing

To determine the length of your buttonhole, first measure the button across the width and then add 1⁄8" (3 mm). Some thicker buttons may require adding 1⁄4" (6 mm) to the width measurement. Mark this measurement with a fabric pencil where you want the buttonhole placed; always sew a sample buttonhole on scrap fabric to…

C

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Chain Stitch

Chain Stitch Working from top to bottom, bring the needle up at and reinsert at 1 to create a loop; do not pull the thread taut. Bring the needle back up at 2, keeping the needle above the loop and gently pulling the needle toward you to tighten the loop flush to the fabric. Repeat…

Clip the Corners

Clipping the corners of a project reduces bulk and allows for crisper corners in the finished project. To clip a corner, cut off a triangle-shaped piece of fabric across the seam allowances at the corner. Cut close to the seamline but be careful not to cut through the stitches.

Clipping Curves

Involves cutting tiny slits or triangles into the seam allowance of curved edges so the seam will lie flat when turned right side out. Cut slits along concave curves and triangles (with points toward the seamline) along a convex curve. Be careful not to clip into the stitches.

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Couching

Couching Working from right to left, use one thread, known as the couching or working thread, to tack down one or more laid threads, known as the couched threads. Bring the working thread up at 1 and insert at 2, over the laid threads to tack them down, bringing the needle back up at 3.…

Coverstitch

A stretchy hemming stitch used most often on knit fabrics, it hems and finishes the raw edge in one step. The stitch is usually created with a coverstitch machine, but is also a stitch option on some sergers. The stitch features 2 or 3 rows of straight stitching on the right side and a row…

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Cross Stitch

Cross Stitch Working from right to left, bring the needle up at 1, insert at 2, then bring the needle back up at 3. Finish by inserting the needle at 4. Repeat for the desired number of stitches.

D

Dart

This stitched triangular fold is used to give shape and form to the fabric to fit body curves.

E

Ease/Ease In

When a pattern directs to "ease" or "ease in," you are generally sewing a longer piece of fabric to a shorter piece or a curved piece to a straight piece. This creates shape in a garment or object without pleats or gathers. To ease, match the ends or notches of the uneven section and pin…

Edgestitch

A row of topstitching placed very close (1⁄16-1⁄8" [2-3 mm]) to an edge or an existing seamline.

F

Fabric Grain

The grain is created in a woven fabric by the threads that travel lengthwise and crosswise. The lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvedges; the crosswise grain should always be perpendicular to the lengthwise threads. If the grains aren't completely straight and perpendicular, grasp the fabric at diagonally opposite corners and pull gently to restore…

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Fly Stitch

Fly Stitch Working from left to right, bring the needle up at 1 and insert at 2, leaving the thread loose. Bring the needle back up at 3, keeping the needle above the thread and pulling the needle toward you gently to tighten the thread so that it is flush with the fabric. Tack the…

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French Knot

French Knot Bring the needle up at 1 and hold the thread taut above the fabric. Point the needle toward your fingers and move the needle in a circular motion to wrap the thread around the needle once or twice. Insert the needle near 1 and hold the thread taut near the knot as you…

G

Gathering Stitch

These are long stitches used to compress a length of fabric before sewing it to a shorter piece. To gather, set the machine for a long stitch length (3.0-4.0 mm; use the shorter length for lighter-weight fabrics) and loosen the tension slightly. With the fabric right side up, sew on the seamline and again 1⁄8"…

Grainline

A pattern marking showing the direction of the grain. Make sure the grainline marked on the pattern runs parallel to the lengthwise grain of your fabric, unless the grainline is specifically marked as crosswise or bias.

H

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Herringbone Stitch

Herringbone Stitch Working from left to right and bottom to top, and keeping the length of the stitches and the spacing consistent, bring the needle up at 1 and *insert at 2. Bring the needle back up to the left of 2 at 3, then insert the needle at 4 and bring back up at…

I

Interfacing/Interlining

Material used to stabilize or reinforce fabrics. Fusible interfacing has an adhesive coating on one side that adheres to fabric when ironed. Interlining is an additional fabric layer between the shell and lining, used to change the garment drape or add structure or warmth.

L

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Lazy Daisy Clusters with French Knots

Lazy Daisy Clusters with French Knots Create three-petal clusters of lazy daisy stitches as shown (with the center petal slightly longer than the others), with a French knot directly across from the base of each cluster.

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Lazy Daisy Stitch

Lazy Daisy Stitch Working from top to bottom, bring the needle up at 1 and create a loop by reinserting at 1; do not pull the thread taut. Bring the needle back up at 2, keeping the needle above the loop and pulling the needle toward you gently to tighten the loop so that it…

Lining

The inner fabric of a garment or bag, used to create a finished interior that covers the raw edges of the seams.

M

Miter

Joining a seam or fold at an angle that bisects the project corner. Most common is a 45-degree angle, like a picture frame, but shapes other than squares or rectangles will have miters with different angles.

O

Overcast Stitch

A machine stitch that wraps around the fabric raw edge to finish edges and prevent raveling. Some sewing machines have several overcast stitch options; consult your sewing machine manual for information on stitch settings and the appropriate presser foot for the chosen stitch (often the standard presser foot can be used). A zigzag stitch can…

Overcast Stitch (Machine)

A machine stitch that wraps around the fabric raw edge to finish edges and prevent raveling. Some sewing machines have several overcast stitch options; consult your sewing machine manual for information on stitch settings and the appropriate presser foot for the chosen stitch (often the standard presser foot can be used). A zigzag stitch can…

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Overhand Knot

Overhand Knot Make a loop with the thread. Pass the cord that lies behind the loop over the front cord, then through the loop and pull snug.

P

Pink

To trim with pinking shears, which cut the edge into a zigzag pattern to reduce fraying.

Placket

A finished garment opening, a placket is usually closed with buttons, snaps, or zippers.

Preshrink

Many fabrics shrink when washed; you need to wash, dry, and press all your fabric before you start to sew, following the suggested cleaning method marked on the fabric bolt (keep in mind that the appropriate cleaning method may not be machine washing). Don't skip this step!

R

Right Side

The front side, or the side that should be on the outside of a finished garment. On a print fabric, the print will be stronger on the right side of the fabric.

S

Satin Stitch (Machine)

This is a smooth, completely filled column of zigzag stitches achieved by setting the stitch length to 0.2-0.4 mm. The length setting should be short enough for complete coverage but long enough to prevent bunching and thread buildup.

Selvedge

This is the tightly woven border on the lengthwise edges of woven fabric and the finished lengthwise edges of knit fabric.

Sewing Kit

The following items are essential for your sewing kit. Make sure you have these tools at hand before starting any of the projects:  – ACRYLIC RULER This is a clear flat ruler, with a measuring grid at least 2" (5 cm) wide × 18" (45.5 cm) long. A rigid acrylic (quilter's) ruler should be used…

Shell

The outer fabric of a garment or bag (as opposed to the lining, which will be on the inside).

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Slip Stitch

Slip Stitch Working from right to left, join two pieces of fabric by taking a 1⁄16-¼" (2-6 mm) long stitch into the folded edge of one piece of fabric and bringing the needle out. Insert the needle into the folded edge of the other piece of fabric, directly across from the point where the thread…

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Split Stitch

Split Stitch Working from left to right, bring the needle up at 1, insert at 2, and bring the needle up near the right end of the previous stitch (between 1 and 2, at 3), inserting the needle into the thread to split the thread in two. When you're working with multiple strands of thread, insert…

Squaring Up

After you have pieced together a fabric block or section, check to make sure the edges are straight and the measurements are correct. Use a rotary cutter and an acrylic ruler to trim the block if necessary. Because you might trim off the backtacking on seams when you square up, machine-stitch across any trimmed seams…

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Standard Hand Applique Stitch

Standard Hand Applique Stitch Use this stitch for either the Freezer-Paper (or Template-Plastic)-and-Starch method or the Needle-Turn method. Cut a length of thread 12" to 18" (30.5 to 45.5 cm long). Thread the newly cut end through the eye of the needle, pull this end through, and knot it. Use this technique to thread the…

Stitch in the Ditch

Press a previously sewn seam open or to one side. Lay the seamed fabric right side up under the presser foot and sew along the seamline "ditch." The stitches will fall between the two fabric pieces and disappear into the seam.

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Straight Stitch + Running Stitch

Straight Stitch + Running Stitch Working from right to left, make a straight stitch by bringing the needle up and insert at 1, 1⁄8 to ¼" (3 to 6 mm) from the starting point. To make a line of running stitches (a row of straight stitches worked one after the other), bring the needle up…

T

Topstitch

Used to hold pieces firmly in place and/or to add a decorative effect, a topstitch is simply a stitch that can be seen on the outside of the garment or piece. To topstitch, make a line of stitching on the outside (right side) of the piece, usually a set distance from an existing seam.

U

Underlining

Fabric used as a backing for the shell of a garment to add structure and/or aid in shaping. It is also sometimes used to make a transparent fabric opaque. Underlinings are cut to the size and shape of each garment piece and the two are basted together and treated as one during construction.

Understitching

A line of stitches placed on a facing (or lining), very near the facing/garment seam. Understitching is used to hold the seam allowances and facing together and to prevent the facing from rolling toward the outside of the garment.

W

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Whipstitch

Whipstitch Bring the needle up at 1, insert at 2, and bring up at 3. These quick stitches do not have to be very tight or close together.

Wrong Side

The wrong side of the fabric is the underside, or the side that should be on the inside of a finished garment. On a print fabric, the print will be lighter or less obvious on the wrong side of the fabric. 

Z

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Zigzag with French Knots

Zigzag with French Knots Working from right to left, bring the needle up at 1 and insert at 2. Bringing the needle back up near 2, repeat for the next stitch, but work from left to right. Complete a French knot near the open end of each zigzag.