The A-Z of Sewing Terms

The A-Z of Sewing Terms

Wrapping your head around a new hobby means becoming familiar with a whole new language of terms and phrases! With sewing and crafting, that can be daunting at first, and it can make it hard to jump straight into making your first pattern. Luckily, you've come to the right place! We've gathered together the most common sewing words and phrases and explained them in a clear, simple way. Sewing and DIY is for everyone and we believe that this means it should be easily understandable!


Alteration is the process of changing a pattern or item of clothing. For example, you can alter a garment by taking up the hem to make it shorter or letting down the sleeve fabric to make them longer.

Many professional sewists and tailors offer alteration services for a fee, which is useful if you are not confident about making the changes yourself. Simple alterations like adding a button or stitching up a loose hem require just basic sewing skills, whereas others, like adjusting the sleeve pitch of a suit jacket, require a lot more experience and skill.


Appliqué is a type of decorative sewing technique. A design, picture or pattern is created by stitching smaller fabric pieces onto a larger background.

Appliqué is a great way to add ornamental detail to garments and soft furnishings like quilts, pillows, and wall hangings. You can appliqué with pretty much any fabric, which means it is a good way to use up scrap fabric and off-cuts instead of throwing them out.


Backing refers to the base layer of a quilt. It can be made up of scrap material or material specifically for quilt backing.

Many people choose to incorporate a specific fabric into their backing, which means the quilt is reversible, as both sides look great! However, using up scrap fabric pieces, swatches or off cuts works just as well. And remember, it's important to make the backing bigger than the quilt top!


Batting is the second layer of the quilt. It goes on top of the backing and under the top layer. It can also be called wadding and is used to provide insulation. It’s what makes a quilt cozy!

Batting material is most often made of natural materials like wool and cotton, but can also be found in synthetic options like polyester. Its weight is measured by the loft value. In the same way that scrap fabrics can be used for other quilt layers, the same goes for the batting.


The bias of a fabric refers to the direction of a woven fabric, at a 45° angle to the natural grain.

This can be a tricky one to remember correctly, mainly because explaining it involves a lot of other sewing terms! In the picture above, the fabric comes together by weaving strands horizontally and vertically, the line diagonal to this bias.


A bobbin is a small spool of thread that is found under the needle-plate of a sewing machine.

When you sew using a sewing machine, you have two thread sources, the spool you can see, that's threaded through the needle, and then the bobbin thread. The needle picks up this thread and stitches are made! 'Threading the bobbin' simply means loading the spool with thread before locking it into position under the plate.


A cutting mat is a flexible mat that has grid-like markings which make it easy to measure and cut fabric and paper accurately. Most are 'self-healing', which means that after using a scissors or blade, the markings disappear from the mat.

Using a cutting mat improves the accuracy of what you are cutting, as the measurements are there to guide you as you cut. They are available in many different sizes, according to what they are used for.


Cross stitch is a type of decorative needlework that involves criss-crossing thread stitches into ‘x’ shapes to form the pattern.

It is different from embroidery. Cross stitch is done with a tapestry needle and a woven fabric, like linen or even-weave, that is more similar to a canvas than to fabric. The pattern is usually in a very precise, grid-like format.


Darning is a sewing technique that is used to fix and repair holes.

It differs from simply stitching the gap in fabric back together as with darning you repair the hole by interweaving yarn. It is normally used to repair knitted items.


A dart is a fold that is incorporated into the design and sewing of an item to give it structure and shape.

Darts are most often seen in tailored and fitted items of clothing, for example in the picture above, the darts give a more defined shape to the bust of the dress.