15 words to learn before starting sewing

Taking up a new hobby can seem a little daunting. As with anything new, there is so much to learn! It's no different in the world of sewing: from learning how to use a sewing machine to understanding all the jargon that comes with the territory.

Here are 15 commonly used sewing terms for any new seamstress looking for a head start in the sewing room. These terms will help any beginner understand the basics of sewing and understand patterns and their instructions.


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A bobbin is a small round disc used in sewing machines to hold the bottom thread. Modern bobbins are usually made of plastic, but some sewing machines still use metal bobbins. Place the bobbin in the bobbin case under the sewing machine needle.

The bobbin thread will appear on the underside of your seam, so choose a thread color that will match the back or bottom of your project. For most sewing, it is best to use the same thread in the bobbin and needle. Fewer tension adjustments will be necessary. During the sewing process, the bobbin thread is interlocked with the upper needle thread to form stitches.

Back stitching

sewing techniques - 2 back stitches
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Backstitching is a sewing technique used to create a secure seam by sewing back and forth at the beginning and end of a seam. Most sewing machines have a reverse stitch button that must be held down while you sew a few reverse stitches. Then release the reverse stitch button and sew forward again along the same line. Overlapping stitches anchor the start and end of the seam and prevent stitches from coming undone.

Seam allowance

Seam allowance
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Seam allowance refers to the area between the sewn seam line and the raw edge of the fabric. The amount of seam allowance may vary depending on the model or project specifications. Refer to your pattern to ensure you are using the correct seam allowance.


hem sewing techniques
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One of the most familiar terms is “hem” – many already know this. This is the finished edge of a garment, which has been folded and sewn to prevent fraying.

Pinking scissors

pinking shears

Pinking shears are scissors with a serrated edge. When used to cut fabric, they can prevent fraying and cut notches in seams.


no more presser feet
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“Presser foot” refers to the attachment on a sewing machine that holds fabric in place while sewing. This metal or plastic accessory is located at the base of the sewing machine needle and is designed to press fabric against the machine's feed dogs.


dollar store notions
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The word “notions” refers to the various small objects and accessories used to complete a sewing project. These items are essential for both hand and machine sewing and include ribbons, buttons, snaps and other decorative elements.


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Selvage refers to the “self-finished” edge of a fabric. The selvedge is created during the manufacturing process when the edges of the fabric are finished to prevent fraying.


The hands of an elderly tailor basting and sewing men's jacket
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Basting is simply the temporary, rough sewing used to hold layers of fabric together before sewing them permanently. This is very useful when pins cannot be used or are inconvenient.

Polarization band

Close-up of bright pink folded bias tape pinned to fabric.
Image credit: Yati Yahaya / Shutterstock.com

Bias is a versatile sewing notion that consists of strips of fabric cut on the bias at a 45-degree angle, which is the diagonal direction of the fabric. This type of tape is typically used in sewing to finish or bind raw edges, providing both a functional and decorative element to clothing, quilts and other fabric projects.


Sew a dart
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A dart is a folded and sewn tapered seam used to shape fabric and give a three-dimensional contour to a garment. Darts are common in blouses, dresses and bags.


topstitch sewing techniques 2
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Topstitching refers to decorative or functional seams made on the right side of a fabric, usually visible on the exterior of the garment. This stitching is done parallel to a seam, edge, or other features and is often used to secure layers of fabric, reinforce seams, or add a decorative element to the finished piece.


Material collected
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A technique for creating controlled pleats in fabric for decorative or adjustment purposes.


Serge Points
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Overlocking refers to the process of using a serger or serger to finish the raw edges of a fabric, preventing fraying.


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Sewing a new garment isn't as simple as taking a few pieces of fabric and sewing them together. The fabric must be cut according to certain measurements to ensure optimal results. This is where a sewing pattern comes in, with a template or guide used to cut pieces of fabric to sew a garment or project.

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Disclosure: Some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links, I may receive a small commission, so please support SewCanShe when you shop! All opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂

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