What Does That Mean? Beginners’ Sewing Glossary.

Here at Waves & Wild we like to design patterns “for beginners and beyond”. If you can thread a sewing machine, change the stitch and make it go then you can sew one of our patterns! And that’s also why our patterns have detailed step-by-step instructions with guide diagrams; it’s beginner friendly all the way and we really try to avoid any sewing jargon too. But sometimes you just have to use the correct term for certain steps or details, it’s simply unavoidable at times. So we’ve put together this Beginners’ Sewing Glossary to help with any of those sewing words that leave you scratching your head or heading to Google.



The fabric opening to which the sleeve is sewn. Similar to the armhole but the armscye is the fabric edge rather than the hole/gap itself.


Sewing backwards then forwards at the beginner and end of a sewn seam. Backstitching secures a seam and stops the stitches coming undone.


A temporary stitch to hold layers of fabric together. Basting (or tacking) stitches are much longer and looser than usual construction stitches. They can be done on a sewing machine or by hand, and are designed to be a quick row of stitches that are easily removed later.


The diagonal grain of fabric. When pattern pieces are cut “on the bias” it means they need to be placed diagonally on the fabric rather than straight. Woven fabric bias has more stretch/give than the straight grain.


A strip of fabric that is folded around the raw edge of a seam and sewn in place to finish the edge.


The small spool of thread that sits in the bottom of the sewing machine, below the needle. Bobbins usually have to be wound with thread by the user (although pre-wound bobbins are available in some colours/thread types). The thread that comes from the bobbin creates the stitches that show on the underside of the sewn seam.


A fabric tube made to enclose elastic, drawstring etc. Casing is often placed at the waistline and typically made by folding the top edge down leaving enough of a gap to fit the elastic/drawstring through and then sewn in place.


A type of sewing machine used primarily to create professional-looking hems. A coverstitch’s stitch looks like two parallel lines of straight stitches on the top with an overlocker-like multi-thread chain stitch on the back.

cut on fold

Used when a pattern piece is symmetrical. The full pattern piece is split down the centre with a vertical line; in W&W patterns this will have already been done for you. The fabric you are cutting from can be folded, the “half” pattern piece is place with the vertical edge on the fold, then you cut out the fabric. Cut on the fold pieces save on paper and printing and are also quicker to cut out as you’re cutting two halves of the fabric at the same time. Always be careful when folding your fabric that the vertical grain line (see later) stays straight. Also don’t fold your whole piece of fabric in half as this will waste fabric, instead only fold over enough to fit the pattern piece.


Essentially fabric folds sewn into the fabric that add shaping to a garment. Darts are often used in the bust area or at the waistline, but can be added anywhere.


The allowance of space in a pattern for fit, comfort and style, over exact body measurements.


A line of stitches used to neaten an edge or a seam. Similar to a topstitch (see later) but edgestitching is usually done very close to the edge/seam, usually 3mm (1/8 inch) from the edge.


A piece of fabric used to finish raw edges at the opening of a garment, like a neckline or armhole. A facing is used if you don’t want to hem the edge or can’t hem the edge due to the shape. It can be a separate piece of fabric added to the garment or an extended pattern piece which is folded into place. Usually the facing ends up on the inside of the garment.


Often used in reference to types of interfacing (see later) this means the underside is coated with glue which is applied, and fused/stuck, to the wrong side of fabric using the heat of an iron.


A way to create fullness in the fabric, such as ruffles. It is a technique for shortening the length of a strip of fabric, so that the longer piece can be attached to the shorter piece.


The direction of the weave in fabric. Woven fabric is created by weaving threads together at right angles to each other (also known as warp and weft). Length-grain runs top to bottom, and cross-grain runs left to right.


Both a noun, a garment can have a hem, and a verb, you hem a garment. Both refer to the same thing (the hem) and the action to create it (hemming). A finishing method where a fabric edge is folded, usually to the wrong side/inside of the garment, and sewn in place to create a neat edge and to stop the raw fabric edge from unravelling. Adding a hem also adjusts the length of that piece of the garment.


A material added to make certain parts of a garment more stable. It can add firmness, shape and structure, but can also be used to make fabrics easier to sew. Interfacing can be sew-in and fusible (stuck to your fabric when heat is applied), comes in lots of different weights and can be woven or stretch.
Top Tip: if a pattern tells you to use interfacing, don’t skip that step! It needs to be added for a good reason.


A piece of material used to finish the inside of a garment. Linings can hide the seam and make the garments easier and more comfortable to wear.

knits/knit fabric

Constructed from interlacing threads which are “knitted” together, unlike woven fabric where the threads are woven at right angles. Knit fabric is stretchy (but not all stretch fabric is a knit!) and the exact amount of stretch depends on the fabric’s weight, construction and type. Examples of knit fabric include cotton-Lycra jersey, French Terry and ribbing.


A pattern piece which is cut twice but in opposite directions…creating mirror-image pieces. When a pattern piece is labelled “cut 2 mirror image” that means you need to cut out the piece twice but end up with two opposite-shaped pieces. The best methods to achieve this are to either a) fold your fabric, place the pattern piece on top and cut it out giving your two mirror-image pieces, or b) place your pattern piece down on a single piece of fabric with the labels visible and cut it out, then flip the pattern piece over so you are looking at the back of the paper and cut again. Cutting pieces “mirror image” are often used for parts of garments like legs, raglan sleeves, hoods etc.


A small snip or wedge cut into the seam allowance on the edge of a garment piece. Notches are used so the correct parts are matched up in the correct position. They are commonly used in things like sleeves so they match up correctly with the main body piece. If you don’t want to cut into your fabric, making with a fabric-friendly pen or pencil also does a similar job.


A type of sewing machine, also known as a serger, used primarily to bind the edges of fabric or seams with a multi-thread chain stitch. An overlocker’s stitch can join pieces of fabric and finish the edges at the same time.

pinking shears

A type of scissors that cut the edge of the fabric into a zigzag to prevent fraying.


An opening or slit in a garment, covering fastenings or for access to a pocket, or the flap of fabric under such an opening.


Using and iron to create crisp fold lines for hems etc or to smooth the fabric along a seam. In sewing it is best to press down with your iron then pick it up, move and press down again. The combination of downward pressure, heat and movement all at the same time can distort fabric so try to avoid doing this when a pattern asks you to press.

raw edge

The unfinished edge of fabric, usually where it has been cut. Woven fabrics tend to fray at their raw edges, whereas knit fabrics are more likely to curl and not fray.


Securing two or more pieces of fabric together with a line of stitches.

seam allowance

The space you leave between the edge of the fabric and the stitched seam line. Always check your seam allowance before you start sewing a pattern as using the wrong seam allowance can have a big effect on the finished size and shape. Generally speaking, in Waves & Wild patterns knit fabric garments use a 6mm (1/4 inch) seam allowance and woven fabric garments use a 10mm (3/8 inch) seam allowance but always double check. You’ll find a pattern’s seam allowance at the beginning of the construction steps and also on the pattern pieces.


The full-width edges of fabric. On woven fabric the selvedge is usually more tightly woven to stop the edges from unravelling, and it may be labelled with the fabric make and designer information. On knit fabric the selvedge can be a little thicker or feel slightly stiff, and sometimes it is labelled.


A body measurement taken from the armpit vertically down to the natural waist.


Sewing machine thread is purchased on a spool which sits either on the top or the side of the sewing machine. The thread that comes from the spool creates the stitches that show on the top side of the sewn seam.


The greatest direction of stretch is usually on the crossgrain (left to right, rather than top to bottom) of the fabric. When cutting out stretch fabric garments it is important that the greatest direction of stretch is in the right place on the pattern pieces (usually it needs to go across the width of the body) to ensure the correct fit. Stretch direction (or grain) will be marked on pattern pieces with arrows and these indicate which way to pull the fabric to check the stretch is in the correct place. If a fabric is described as having two-way stretch, this means it only stretches along one grain (e.g. it will stretch left to right but not top to bottom). If a fabric is described as having four-way stretch, this means it stretches in both directions, usually of a similar amount.

Percentage of stretch shows how much the fabric will stretch. The higher the percentage, the more stretchy the fabric will be. If a certain percentage of stretch is required for a pattern, it will be mentioned in the recommended fabric information.

stretch fabric

Often a term used to describe knit fabric but you can also get woven fabric with stretch e.g. stretch denim. If a fabric has some elastic fibres then it is a stretch fabric. Stretch fabric requires a different type of sewing machine stitch than non-stretch fabrics because the stitch needs to stretch with the fabric.


Big stitches used to hold two pieces of fabric together to make it easier to sew. These temporary stitches are removed once a permanent seam is completed.


Also known as a muslin (and not to be confused with the fabric type muslin which is a loosely woven cotton), a toile is a draft version of a garment. A toile is usually made to test the fit of a garment using cheaper fabric before you cut into the “good” fabric. Decorative details and extra features like top stitching and pockets are often not used in a toile.


Added to the outside of a garment, close to an edge or pressed seam edge. In garments a topstitch is usually a straight stitch added for decorative purposes, but it can also add structure and strength.

twin needle

Two machine needles attached to a single shaft that sews 2 parallel rows of stitches at once with 2 spools of thread and a single bobbin.


Sewn along the edge of lining, in areas like necklines. An understitch secures the garment lining to the seam allowance so the line of stitching isn’t visible (unlike topstitching) and so the lining edge is kept hidden on the inside.


A fastener for clothes or other items, consisting of two strips of thin plastic sheet, one covered with tiny loops and the other with tiny flexible hooks, which adhere when pressed together and can be separated when pulled apart. Can also be known as hook and loop.

woven/woven fabric

Constructed from horizontal and vertical threads that are woven together at right angles, unlike knit fabric where the threads are interlaced/knitted together. Woven fabric can be non-stretch or stretchy. Examples of woven fabric include cotton lawn, linen, denim, corduroy and tweed.