Sewing Terms: What Do They Really Mean

It happens to many of us who are just learning how to sew. You are following the instructions to a pattern and then some term trips up your mind. "Overstitch?" "Notions?" You end up spending more time finding your dictionary to look up the words than you do actually using your sewing machine

We have gathered together some of the common terms that you may hear when working on your sewing projects so you can have an easier time when using your sewing machine.

Sewing Terms Dictionary



Applique is a small embellishment that is put onto the face of a larger piece of fabric. It involves cutting out a small piece of lace or decorative fabric then stitching this small piece onto the larger fabric project.



Backstitch is a technique where you go back over a previous stitch to strengthen it or to secure a seam. When performed on a sewing machine, a sewist will stitch forward, then place the sewing machine in reverse and go over the stitches that are already in place. Then the sewist would begin stitching forward again.



A baste is a temporary stitch that is placed into fabric when a sewist wants to hold the fabric in place. This long stitch will be easy to remove later on so a final stitch can be done.


Feed Dog

The feed dog is found on a sewing machine beneath the pressure feet as it looks like several small metal or plastic teeth pointing upward. When the pressure foot is lowered onto the fabric and the stitching begins, the feed dogs will pull (feed) the fabric along until the sewist reaches the end of the desired stitch.



Gathering is a type of sewing technique used when sewing two pieces of fabric together that may not be of matching length. One piece of fabric will be gathered to make it shorter so the length matches the other piece.



Interfacing is a type of textile material used to stabilize or stiffen a piece of fabric that you are working on. Certain types of interfacing can be sewn onto the fabric or ironed on as they are available in different weights.



Notions can refer to the types of sewing tools that a sewist will use such as a seam ripper, sewing pins, measuring tape and other items. The term can also refer to accessories that will be used in a sewing project such as buttons or zippers.


Overcasting Stitch

An overcasting stitch can be done by hand or with the use of a sewing machine on unfinished fabric to prevent the fabric edges from unraveling.


Right Sides

Right sides will refer to the fabric side that will most often face outward. The right side may have designs or colors that look bolder and vibrant versus the other side of the fabric.


Right Sides Together

Right sides together will refer to a sewing technique where two pieces of fabric are sewn together with the right sides facing each other. The right sides will be on the inside when the pieces are pressed together.


Wrong Sides

Wrong sides will refer to the side of the fabric that most often will not be seen when the sewing project is completed. The wrong side may appear as if the fabric is a faded color or the design can be barely seen.


Wrong Sides Together

Sometimes the project instructions will say to place the wrong sides together when sewing. This technique is where each wrong side of two pieces of fabric will face each other with the right sides facing outward.



On lengths of fabric will be a tightly woven edge placed on by the manufacturer to give the edge a finish so that the fabric doesn't unravel. This pre-woven edge is called a selvage as some fabric manufacturers may place their company name and the name of the fabric on this woven edge.

Completing a sewing project doesn't have to be a confusing experience because of all the different terms used. Hopefully this handy glossary of common terms will help you to figure out sewing techniques, stitches and other items you may run across when reading the project's instructions.

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