When you learn any new skill there is always some basic terminology that you’ll need to learn before you can fully understand what you’re doing. Sewing is the same way! In this post, I’ll go over some basic sewing terms you need to know to make sewing that project easier!

Once you know these terms then so many other things about sewing will be easier. Often there are instructions for the project you want to complete and those instructions and patterns will have terms you may not know.

What Terms Do I Need To Know?


The seam of the fabric is where two pieces of fabric meet and sewn together. The line the stitches make is called the seam. Some seams are sewn using a regular sewing machine and some are done with a serger.

Seam Allowance

The seam allowance is the distance between the raw edge of your fabric and the needle of your sewing machine. When you leave a ¼’’ seam allowance you are leaving ¼’’ between the edge of the fabric and the stitch line.

Presser Foot

The sewing machine presser foot is the little foot that comes down onto your fabric and holds it down against the feed dogs to guide the fabric through. There are many different types of feet and each has its own purpose.

Beginner sewists will likely only use the basic presser foot that comes with every machine. Experienced sewists may like to have on hand these different types of feet:

  • Button hole foot
  • Zipper foot
  • Walking foot

But these aren’t needed when you’re just learning!


Bias is another sewing term you need to know. The bias of the fabric is a line that is at a 45 degree angle from the raw edges of the fabric. You would cut something on the bias when you want it to stretch, like when you sew a bias strip to attach to the curved neckline of a dress.

Back Stitch

Back stitch the term used to describe the backward stitches you do at the beginning and end of a line of stitches you make. You back stitch 3 or 4 stitches using your reverse button and then proceed to stitch forward in the direction you need to go.

Back stitching locks in your stitches so that they don’t come apart. If you don’t back stitch your project could fall apart at the seams.

Raw Edge

The raw edge of the fabric is the edge that the fabric was originally cut from the bolt of fabric. It often has a bit of fraying and needs to be sewn to stop it from fraying if you’ll be using it for a finished project. You sew the raw edges when you sew your project; you don’t need to sew the edge ahead of time.


The selvedge of the fabric is the finished edge of a raw piece of fabric. In woven fabrics, this edge would have been the original edge that was woven when the fabric was made and it does not fray.

Stitch Length

Some patterns or fabric types require you to change the length of the stitch you use to sew your project together. The term stitch length simply means the length of your individual stitches. You can change the stitch length on any machine by pressing a button or turning a dial.


To clip means to cut small cuts into the fabric to allow it to curve once the fabric is turned. If you’re sewing a curve that will later be turned then you will likely need to clip notches into the fabric before turning it. This makes the stitch line lie flat and not become bunched.

Press Seam

When the instructions of a project tell you to press the seam they want you to iron the seam. Some patterns call for the seams to be pressed to one side and some need you to press the seam open. This depends on what project you’re doing.

I hope these terms will make it easier for you to understand the instructions and patterns you’ll use to complete your project! Learning all of the different sewing terms you need to know can be intimidating, but once you know them it will make sewing much easier!

If you’re wondering what tools you’ll need to get started sewing check out this post!