Definition of Sewing Terms and Stitching basics

Hi ladies,

Today, we will be learning some basic sewing terminologies and seeing some videos of how to do some simple stitches.

Let’s begin, shall we?


According to Wikipedia, “The selvage (US English) or selvedge (British English) is the term for the self-finished edges of fabric.  The selvages keep the fabric from unraveling or fraying.”
Also, the fabric designer and/or the fabric company are often printed right along the selvage…..making it easy to remember what type of fabric you purchased. In most fabric stores, you will find fabric folded in half lengthwise and then wound around a bolt.  And then you’ll see rows and rows of bolts of fabric.  When the fabric store cuts fabric for you, they will cut you off a piece that is perpendicular to the selvage.  So you will always have a selvage along both sides of your piece of fabric.


Backstitching is sewing backward over your stitches to keep the ends of your thread from unraveling.  Generally, you will sew forward a few stitches, then backstitch a few stitches, and then continue on forward sewing. You don’t want to backstitch back and forth too much or you’ll create a big lump of thread and will likely pucker your fabric.  So, I generally sew forward 3-4 stitches, backstitch the same amount, and then continue sewing forward.


sewing backstitch



A basting stitch is a set of long stitches (as in turn your stitch length up to the longest possible) that are usually used to hold something together temporarily.  For example, sometimes you’ll baste two pieces of fabric together to keep them in place while you sew those 2 pieces to another piece of fabric.  Or sometimes you’ll baste an applique onto your fabric to keep it in place while you then sew the edges down permanently.  I probably baste the most often when I am creating gathers or ruffles.  You can baste by hand or set your machine to its longest stitch and do a machine baste.  (I hardly ever baste by hand.)  I also use the basting stitch quite often as a decorative stitch or as a border around different shapes on my projects.


sewing basting stitch



Sewing a topstitch is when you sew along the top (or the “right” side) of the fabric.  Generally, it parallels a seam or the edge of your fabric, to give the item a more tailored or professional look.  I like to increase my stitch length just a bit when sewing a top stitch and this is because the needle hops over more of the fabric and doesn’t stretch out the fabric as much, but also allows for more thread to show with each stitch.  (Sometimes you will hear the word edgestitch.  This is basically the same thing….but really close to the edge of the fabric, like a hem.)

sewing topstitch



A seam allowance is the distance between the edge of the fabric and the sewn line.  When sewing any project, a pattern designer always includes some sort of seam allowance into the pattern pieces, so that the finished project will turn out with the intended measurements.  A very common seam allowance is 5/8 inch and this notch is usually the most visible sewing line on the sewing machine.  (However, my machine below displays every measurement the same.)


sewing seam allowance

***The same measurements are to the left of the needle.


However, smaller projects usually call for smaller seam allowances.  And I actually prefer using smaller seam allowances because it’s less to trim off later.  But, different people prefer different things, and that’s okay! But whatever the seam allowance, check your machine for your seam allowance guide or mark a line that you can line up the edge of your fabric with, and sew an even seam allowance along your fabric.


sewing seam allowance2



The hem is the edge of the fabric that has been folded under and sewn to keep the raw edge hidden and from unraveling.  There are different techniques to hem fabric but the most common way is to fold the edge under once, another time, and then sew in place.  The amount you fold the fabric under for your hem, depends on the author of the pattern you’re using, or personal preference.

sewing hem


Gathering is a sewing technique used to shorten the length of your fabric piece so that you can then attach it to a shorter piece of fabric.
sewing gathering stitches



This is pretty self explanatory…hand stitching is done with your hand.  And a needle and thread.  Whenever possible, I use my sewing machine but sometimes, there are things that need to be sewn with a needle and thread.  And when that happens, it’s important to know how to do that.



Common terminologies in sewing

How to sew a basting stitch

How to sew bias to fabric