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Sewing glossary

4-WAY STRETCH (BI-STRETCH): a fabric which stretches lengthwise and crosswise. 

ACRYLIC
: a synthetic fiber created by DuPont in 1941. Because of its wool-like appearance, it is often used to imitate cashmere or other wools. Unlike genuine wool, acrylic yarns can be machine washed, however, they are considered of lower quality.

ARMHOLE (ARMSCYE)
: the opening on a garment where the arm goes through and where a sleeve is attached to.

BACKSTITCH
: a stitch made backward at the beginning and end of a seam to secure it.

BALLPOINT NEEDLE
: a needle adapted for knits. Its rounded tip will slide between the yarns instead of piercing it.

BAR-TACK
: a short and closely set zigzag seam added to reinforce a seam. Bar tacks are commonly featured on jeans fly, pocket openings or on each side of a welt pocket.

BASTE
: to sew a stitch set to the longest length of your machine to temporary hold two pieces together. Basted stitches are usually unpicked once the pieces are sewn.

CHAMBRAY: a type of fabric which consists of a weft and warp thread each dyed in a different color, mostly blue and white. Chambray fabrics often resemble denim because its canvas, originally white, is dyed blue on one side, making both colors visible. Unlike denim, chambray has more drape so it suits casual shirts.

CHIFFON: a shimmering and slippery fabric. Lightweight and see-through, chiffon garments often require a lining or features gathers. These fabrics were produced in silk, but are nowadays woven with nylon or polyester.

DART: a wedge of fabric stitched together to add shape to a piece of fabric. A dart is often added to contour the waist or the bust, but some darts are also decorative. The most common dart shape is triangular, with its widest part on the fabric edge. A fish-eye dart is diamond-shaped and is added to a shirt or dress with its widest part matching with the waist level.

DIRECTIONAL FABRIC: a fabric with a motif which has elements pointing in one direction only. When a directional fabric is rotated, its motif will look different, so the pattern pieces can only be placed in one direction. Because of that, directional fabrics may require extra fabric.

EASE: when drafting a sewing pattern, it's the measurement added to the body measurements to make the garment functional (wearing ease) or to change its style (design ease). As a rule of thumb, the wearing ease equals to 25mm (1") and is added to the bust, waist and hip girth. Anything above this measurement will modify the silhouette to create a  more relaxed fit. On the contrary, a negative ease is used to create a garment that is smaller than the body measurements. This technique should only be used with stretch materials (stretch denim, jersey...).

EDGE-FINISH: generally, sew with a zigzag stitch over a fabric edge to prevent it from fraying. This can also be made using an overlocker (serger) machine. Several techniques can be used depending on the fabric type and weight.

EDGE-STITCH: see TOPSTITCH.

FACING: a piece of fabric sewn to the garment, with right sides together, and folded to the wrong side to finish an edge. Facings are often fused with interfacing and are used to finish necklines, armholes and waistlines.

FUSE: to apply a fusible interfacing to the wrong side of fabric piece using heat.

GABARDINE: a twill fabric with a stiff drape used in tailoring for trousers, jackets and coats and was popularized by Thomas Burberry in the late 19th century. The fabric was originally woven with wool, but nowadays it is more common to use cotton or polyester. Bi-stretch gabardine has a small amount of stretch in length and width and suits closely-fitted garment. 

GRAINLINE: corresponds to the warp thread, which runs along the fabric selvage. The grain line is often represented by a straight line or an arrow on each pattern pieces.

HEM: the finishing method of raw edges to prevent fabric fraying such as folding the edge in and stitching it down. To conceal the raw edge, it possible to fold the edge twice. The curvier the edge is, the narrower the distance should be between the folded edge and the raw edge.

INSEAM: on trousers, the seam going from the crotch to the bottom of the leg opening.

INTERLOCK: a type of knit fabric. Its two faces are identical and its edges don't curl, unlike jersey.

JERSEY: a type of knit fabric which originally comes from the island of Jersey. Knitted in wool since medieval times, it's now produced using viscose, polyester, nylon and obviously, cotton. Unlike some other knits, the raw edges of a jersey tend to curl and has an obvious wrong and right side. Thanks to Coco Chanel, jersey predominates the apparel industry, however, there used to be a time when its purpose was only for underwears.

KNIT: a textile with looped yarns, which produce softer and stretchy fabrics, unlike weaving. Jersey and interlock are the most common knits. Double knits such as Ponte or Neoprene consist of two layers of textile knitted together, resulting in firmer and thicker knits.

LAMÉ: a type of fabric which has metallic fibers added to its weave or knit. It's shiny and futuristic appearance is often used for costumes or party dresses.

LINE: a measurement indicating the width (diameter) or a button. Trivia: lines are also used by watchmakers to measure the movement of a needle.

MICROTEX NEEDLE: a needle adapted for slippery fabrics such as chiffon, viscose fabrics or silk. It is sharper and thinner to pierce the fabric without damaging the weave.

MODAL: see VISCOSE.

NAP: the direction in which a pile lies over a fabric, such as velvet or corduroy. Like directional fabrics, a piled fabric will look different when rotated and the pattern pieces can only be placed in one direction, generally so that the pile runs to the bottom of the garment. Otherwise, the finished garment will look darker or lighter in some places.

NEOPRENE: see SCUBA.

NOTCH: a small slit or dent on the edge of a seam that should be matched with another one. Notches are useful when working with long seams to help you feed the fabric correctly and should be added roughly at every 30cm. Single notches are placed on the front pieces and the double notches to the back ones.

ORGANZA: a sheer fabric in a plain weave and a stiff drape. Organza is available in nylon or polyester and is used mostly in formalwear like wedding gowns. Its stiffness makes it great with bags and curtains.

POLYESTER: a synthetic fiber commonly used with cotton and can be woven or knitted. Polyester is highly versatile and used in several industries. However, fabrics made of polyester are less breathable and fire resistant.

RAYON: see VISCOSE.

RECOVERY: the ability of a fabric to retain its shape once stretched.

RISE: the distance between the bottom of a crotch to the waist level. This measure is taken when the subject is sitting on a chair with a straight ruler. The rise of trousers will depend on its design and may range from 30cm (natural waist) to 18cm (low rise).

SCUBA: a variety of knit fabric with a double knit structure. It is similar to Ponte knit, but is made with polyester instead of cotton/viscose. Because of its heavier weight than regular knits, scuba will suit bodycon dress, skirt, leggings and structured garments. It is not a fluid material.

SELVAGE: the finished edges on each side of the fabric to prevent fraying. They run parallel to the warp.

SHOULDER PAD: a piece of wadding shaped in a half-circle and sewn inside jacket shoulders to accentuate and lift the shoulder slope.

SLEEVE HEAD: 1- the part of the sleeve to be attached to the garment, above the biceps level. 2- a trim made of a thicker material which can be added inside the top of a sleeve to add body and to soften the bulky seams.

SLIP STITCH: a hand sewing technique used to close seams or make invisible hems, by slipping a needle through each side. A slip stitch should catch only a few threads of the fabric, making it unnoticeable.

SPANDEX (ELASTANE): an artificial and transparent fiber added to some fabrics to make them more elastic. This fiber also improves the recovery of fabrics and knits. Lycra is a brand of spandex.

STAY-STITCH: a stitch made at 3mm (⅛") from the seam line, in the seam allowance, to stabilize and prevent seams from stretching out when sewn together. A stay-stitch should not be visible from the outside.

TEXTURED THREAD: a very soft thread made of nylon or polyester filament, usually wound around a cone-shaped spool. It has more stretch than a regular thread and is recommended with knits. To use this thread, wind it in the bobbin of your sewing machine or the loopers of an overlocker (serger) machine. Be sure to make a tension test beforehand.

TOPSTITCH: a row of stitches which are meant to be visible and to strengthen a seam. This is why they are often made in contrasting and/or thicker threads (topstitch or denim threads) and are sewn over the seam allowances. For best results, topstitches should be made on the right side of the garment. Topstitching is usually made at 6mm from a seam and edge-stitching is made closer, at about 3mm from a seam.

TWILL: a type of weave characterized by its diagonal parallel ribs. Denim and chino are fabrics woven with a twill weave.

UNDER-STITCH: lift the facing and sew over the seam allowances, close to the seam, to prevent the facing from rolling out of the garment. This seam should not be visible from the outside.

VISCOSE: a semi-synthetic fiber made from chemically treated cellulose produced by various plants such as sugar cane, bamboo or soy. Viscose fabrics and knits are very soft, fluid and breathable.

WEAVE: the way that yarn or threads are interlaced. The three main weaves are plain, satin and twill.

WEFT: the thread going across the fabric width. It is perpendicular to the selvage.

WOOL: the fiber obtained by shaving the coat of certain animals, including alpaca, angora (rabbit), merino (sheep), cashmere or mohair (goat).