Glossary of Sewing Terms

Applique         Attaching a (usually) decorative fabric item onto another piece of fabric by fusing and/or sewing. When done with Steam a Seam or another fusible, the edges can be satin stitched in place to finish the raw edges. The more familiar method is sewing a piece of fabric atop another after folding under a small bit of the fabric to create a clean edge. When done by machine, many use a satin stitch (tight zigzag). By hand, blind stitching is often used.
Backstitch      Used at the beginning and end of a machine sewn seam to anchor the seam in place; it involves a couple of extra stitches back and forth. (Also known as back tacking.)
Baste/basting  Temporary stitching used to hold a sewing project in place and is removed when the permanent sewing is done.
Bias      Runs diagonally to the straight grain of the fabric (45 degrees from the straight grain). This is the stretchiest part on the fabric. Bias tape Strips of fabric cut on the bias, often turned under and pressed, and used for bindings, facings, or other application where there is a need for stretch or accommodation to curves. Often found finishing the edge of a blanket or quilt.
Blind-hem stitch       Sewing stitch that is not meant to be seen on the right side of the fabric, usually accomplished by picking up one thread of the fabric at a time rather than going through the full fabric to make a stitch. The best finish is done by hand, but many sewing machines come with a blind hem attachment and the manual is the best guide for how to use it and produce virtually invisible hems
Casing     Fabric envelope of sorts for en"casing" elastic, a drawstring, or similar material, usually along a waistline, cuff, hem. Elastic waist slacks have a casing into which the elastic is woven. Sweat pants have a turned up casing into through which elastic is encased (if there are not ribbed cuffs).
Fold line   Many pattern pieces are placed on the fold of a piece of fabric. This is the actual fold of the fabric off the bolt or a fold of your own creation; the goal is to have a pattern piece that is cut out without a center seam.
Fuse/Fusible (webbing, interfacing, etc.) Has the characteristic of being able to be ironed on, usually permanently, with or without reinforcement by stitching, due to a heat-activated "glue" on one or both sides. (Not all interfacing is fusible!) Some brands of fusible used for sewing/applique application are Steam a Seam, Heat and Bond and Stitch Witchery (sometimes used for quick hems). There are others that work as well.
Gather   Gathering allows for making a long piece of fabric to fit with a shorter piece of fabric and also is a method of easing a seam to allow insertion of sleeves and other rounded pattern pieces or to make a cute ruffle! To gather a seam, a line of stitching is sewn on the right side of the fabric.   Long tails of thread are left for gathering. The bobbin threads (on the wrong side of the fabric) are held on either end of the seam and gently tugged, gathering the fabric evenly on the threads.   This usually makes a pretty cute ruffle!!
Grain   Direction of the fabric that runs parallel to the selvage (a stretchier grain is found running perpendicular to the selvage). Commercial patterns have an arrow on them <-----> indicating direction of the grain to assist in laying out the pattern pieces correctly.
Hem    Fabric that it turned up on the lower edge of a garment or sleeve to provide a finished edge. Often extra fabric is left in the hem with children's clothing to allow for growth (especially skirts and slacks).
Interfacing    A material (available in a variety of weights/thicknesses/flexibility) used between layers of fabric to provide stabilization and form. Usually used in collars, cuffs, plackets, some waistbands and pockets, and facings. It is available in a fusible or sewn in form.
Overlock         An overcast stitch to prevent raveling of fabric. There are sewing machines made to do overlock stitching. See "serger".
Overcasting, overstiching   Stitching done over a seam to prevent raveling. This can be done by hand or machine.
Raw (edge)   The edge of fabric that is not stitched or finished.
Right side        The right side of the fabric is the design side. There are instances of fabric with no right or wrong side visible, and the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing.
Satin stitch    A very tight zigzag stitch that is available on most sewing machines. If it is not automatically available, the stitch length can be set to almost zero (0) to achieve a satin stitch with a plain zigzag machine.
Seam   The result when two pieces of fabric are sewn together along a line.
Seam allowance       The fabric between the edge of the fabric and the line of stitching, about 3/8” to 5/8" for most patterns.
Serger     A type of sewing machine that stitches the seam, encases the seam with thread, and cuts off excess fabric at the same time. These are used for construction of garments with knit fabrics mostly, or to finish seams of any fabric, especially those which might ravel.
Straight stitch     Stitching made with single stitches moving in a line. This is the regular stitch (the lock stitch) that most sewing machines make
Top stitch       A sometimes decorative, sometimes functional stitch that is usually 1/4" from the edge of a seam. It is visible because it is done on the top of the item. For instance, one may stitch 1/4" from the edge on the top of the garment to provide a bit of stabilization. This can be done in same or contrasting thread, depending on the decorative effect one wishes to achieve.
Wrong side   The wrong side of the fabric is the side upon which there is no decorative design, such as a print. There are instances of fabric with no wrong side visible, and the determination and appropriate markings are then made by the person doing the pattern cutting and sewing.
Zig-zag     A stitch that goes one way (zig) and then the other (zag) and provides a nice finish to a seam to prevent raveling, can be a decorative addition to any garment, and can allow for give with knits. A very short to nonexistent stitch length with zigzag stitching is the same as a satin stitch. Stitch length for zigzag is the same as with regular straight stitching; it refers to the number of stitches per inch.