Sewing Techniques – Sewing 101

There seems to be so much sewing jargon and often sewing pattern companies  assume you know your selvage from your grainline and what RS means! We’ve compiled an A-Z of sewing terms, pattern and illustration key explanations to put it all in one place for you plus we’ll update it whenever we have something new to add! PS – get your hands on one of our sewing patterns as these are included in lovely a5 cards inside the envelope! Shop our patterns here



Baste – To “baste” is to make temporary stitching usually with a hand sewing needle or long stitch on a sewing machine. It holds a seam or trim in place until it can be permanently sewn, after which the basting can be removed. Often, it is easier to baste a garment piece in place, such as an sleeve in to an armhole, so that when you sew it with the machine those pesky pins aren’t in the way. It’s a good idea to use a different coloured thread that you can easily see when you are ready to remove it.

Basting a garment

Bias – the bias runs at a 45 degree angle across the lengthwise and crosswise grain. If you cut along the 45 degree angle you are cutting on the bias – you will notice that the fabric now has a stretch. Bias tape is made this way.


Center Front / CF – The line that runs vertically down the front of a garment is called the Center Front or abbreviated as CF. If your front garment pattern piece says to place it on the fold of the fabric you are essentially placing the piece down the CF of the garment – it’s advisable not to pin down the CF as you are pinning into the front piece of your garment and the pins could create holes / marks and nobody wants that!. It’s best to place weights down to hold it in place while you pin the remainder of the garment – have you seen our washi tape pattern weights tutorial?

Center Back / CB – The line that runs vertically down the back of a garment is called the Center Back or abbreviated as CB. See above for placing your pattern piece on the fold.

Cut on Fold – If you see this on a pattern piece it’s extremely important! You usually fold fabric in half before placing your pattern pieces. We always start placing our pieces that are “cut on the fold” first as these need to line up perfectly down the folded edge of the fabric. It’s important that the fabric is folded perfectly so that the folded edge is straight. Never pin pattern pieces down the actual fold line –  as you are essentially pinning into the front of your garment and could create holes / marks. It’s best to place weights down to hold it in place while you pin the remainder of the garment.

Clip (AKA Snip) – To help a curved seam lie better once turned to the right side, clipping / snipping into the inner curve gives the fabric more “give” so that it is able to create a beautiful curve on the right side. Be careful not to snip too far down to the seam allowance.


Easing – Sometimes you will have two pieces that need to be joined together where one piece will be slightly longer / wider. You will need to gently “ease” the longer/wider piece to fit the smaller piece – this is usually found with sleeve and armholes and yokes. The trick is to pin the notches (if there are any), then the two sides first and then work you way between these pins. Don’t be tempted to cut off the longer side!

This is a perfect example of a small amount of easing needed. On pinning the two pieces notches the edges of one of the pieces seem to “fall off the side”… see next picture

It’s important to then move to each side and line up the fabric so that it is flush at the point of where you are going to start sewing. In this example below our yellow pins are showing you where you will start and finish sewing on a 1.5cm seam allowance.

Can you see how when we turn this piece over one of the corners stick out. This is right! As long as your fabric is aligned at the point you are going to start sewing… see the next picture on how it looks once sewn and turned to the right side.

Ta daaaaaaa – from the right side you can see how clean the curve is at the neckline and the armhole.


Grainline – The grain is the way the fabric is woven or knit together. Lengthwise grain refers to the threads that run the length of the fabric. Crosswise grain are the threads that run across the width of the fabric. Your pattern pieces will have an arrow showing you the direction to lay your pattern on the fabric. You would normally lay your pattern pieces down the lengthwise grain. Sometimes your pattern piece may be placed in an odd angle as it may need to be cut on the bias.

Gathering – Similar to easing but you would have a lot more fabric to ease in to a smaller piece. Gathering is usually done two ways:

  1. Creating two rows of long stitches (either by hand or on the sewing machine) just inside the seam allowance. Keep the beginning and end threads longs so that you can gently pull on them which creates the gathered effect. The piece is then fitted in to the smaller piece.


Now that it is stitched, the gathering stitches can come out and you have a lovely armhole! Always check that no fabric has been mistakenly caught underneath.

2. Our favourite way of gathering, especially if you need a lot of gathering,  is by taking a piece of elastic that is the finished length of the completed gathered piece. You would then stretch it out on to the piece that needs to be gathered and sew as you stretch the elastic. Once sewn, the elastic creates the gathers – super easy and really effective as you will have perfectly even gathers. You can see the effect on our Gathered Dress and our You Tube Tutorial that explains it perfectly!


Notches – Each pattern piece will have notches (triangles or lines) marked on them. They correspond to the other pattern pieces to help you line up the pieces correctly before sewing.



Pivoting – A method of changing the direction of sewing without taking the fabric out of the machine – for example when you turn a corner. You can pivot at any point as long as you keep your needle in the fabric, lift your presser foot, turn to the desired direction, lower your presser foot and then continue sewing.

TIP – We usually reverse stitch at the corner to create some reinforcement.

Pinning – Pinning correctly can be overlooked – we see it as one of the most important stages of creating your own garments. Don’t pin too far away from the edge of the pattern piece – the purpose of the pins are to keep the fabric piece firmly on to the fabric so that when your scissors work their way around the pattern piece lies flat. This will ensure that your pieces are cut out accurately. Place pins strategically around your pattern piece and especially in corners, curves and areas that will be tricky to cut out.


Reverse stitching (AKA Backstitching) – Your sewing machine will have a button that, when pressed, will allow you to sew backwards -this secures the stitches and prevents the stitching from unravelling. Reverse stitching can also be used when you need to reinforce a section of your garment/project – such as corners on a cushion. You only need to “reverse stitch” a few stitches – you are essentially only needing to close off the first few stitches. So, when you start sewing your piece, already be ready to reverse stitch so that you don’t create too many stitches before you have to reverse.

RST / RS – Right Sides Together / Right Side – The “right” side of the fabric is the side you would see on the finished garment. You usually place the right sides of the fabric against each other and sew on the “wrong” side (WS). When you sew right sides together and turn the piece to the right side you don’t see the stitching


Stay Stitching – A row of stitches that holds the shape and prevents the garment stretching. The stitches are created within the seam allowance so that you don’t see these stitches once the garment is completed. A guide is 5mm from the edge of the fabric.

Seam Allowance – The seam allowance is the distance from the stitching line to the edge of the fabric. Our patterns have a 1.5cm seam allowance already included in them and a 1cm seam allowance around our necklines and sleeves. We’ve heard of pattern companies that don’t include the seam allowance so always ensure you check this before cutting your fabric.

Selvage – When you buy a piece of fabric it will be cut across the width. The sides of the width are the selvage of the fabric. Quite often, fabric companies print the fabric name down the selvage.


Topstitching – When you stitch on the right side of the garment – for example sewing a hem – this is called topstiching. Topstitching is seen on the right side of the fabric, so accurate sewing is crucial.

You might even want to try it in a contrasting thread colour for little extra detail.


Understitching – helps a facing or lining stay inside a garment. A line of stitching is made on the facing or lining and the seam allowance but not the main piece of fabric. The stitching is seen just inside the garment, for example on the facing, but not on the right side of the garment.


Wrong Side – this is the wrong side of the fabric or instructing you to place the fabric wrong sides together.

We hope you found this useful and we’d love to hear if there is anything you would like us to add or even share the way you do things!

Happy Sewing


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Founder of London based indie sewing pattern brand - The Avid Seamstress

4 thoughts on “Sewing Techniques – Sewing 101

  1. Thank you for this sewing techniques.It was very well authored and easy to understand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not that good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact, after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he enjoyed it as well.This I have to try. I’m just now waiting for the special sewing machine foot.So many beautiful projects in there! Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Your website and patterns are brilliant for newbies like myself. Very clear explanations and plenty of pictures to refer to.

    Thank you Lisa.

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