Sewing Terms

Does learning to sew feel like learning a new language? Well, in a way it is. But don't worry. It's one you can learn. Here are some sewing terms to help you make sewing less of a mystery.

Seam Allowance

Most comercial sewing patterns have a 5/8" seam allowance. But be sure to read the directions as this may not always be the case, especially with Indie patterns. It also depends on what you are sewing. Some sewing techniques require a 1/4" or 3/8" seam allowance. So what is seam allowance? It's the space between your seam (where you sew) and the edge of your fabric. A generous seam allowance makes it possible to make changes to your garment if you need to. But will also make it difficult to sew curves. Smaller seam allowances are best for sewing curves.

Straight Stitch

This is straight forward. As the name suggests, it's simply a stitch that is straight vs a zig-zag. This is the most common stitch you will use in sewing. The standard settings are a stitch width of 0 and a stitch length of 2.5. Although I prefer 3. It's totally up to you. I just think it's a little easier to unpick if I need to.


You don't want your garment to unravel at the seams, so you'll want to secure the beginning and end of your stitching. This can be done by reverse stitching a few stitches at the beginning and end. This is known as a backstitch. If you have an older machine that does not have a reverse function, you have a few options. You can set your stitch length to the lowest setting and sew a few short stitches, then set it back to 2.5-3. Do the same at the end of your stitching. Another option is to leave long thread ends at the begging and end. After you are done sewing your seams, you can tie knots. This is done for darts as well. One more option is to sew a little bit, make sure your needle is all the way down, then lift your presser foot and pivot your fabric in the opposite direction. Sew a little bit and again lift your presser foot and pivot your fabric. Then continue sewing. Do the same again at the end.


Set your stitch length to the longest setting. This can be used in several scenarios. If you are making a garment for the first time and are unsure of the fit, you can first baste the pieces together. Try on the garment. If you need to make changes, unpicking will be easier since the stitch length is longer. It does not need to be backstitched in most cases. This stitch is also used to gather.


To gather fabric you would sew two basting stitches parallel to each other. Then you would take the top or bottom threads and pull them. I prefer the bottom bobbin threads. Seams easier. As you pull those threads, your fabric will gather. Checkout this video.

Zig Zag Stitch

This has many applications. Finishing seams to prevent fraying, working with stretchy fabrics, gathering fabric, sewing on patches, decorative stitches, appliques, etc. Be sure to have the correct presser foot. Don't want a broken needle! Standard settings are a stitch width of 3 and a length of 1.5. This can be adjusted to your liking.

What sewing terms would you like to learn more about? Comment below.

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