Essential Sewing Terms
When you start out learning to sew, there many sewing terms used to both provide instruction as well as describe various processes. After you have been sewing for a while these become self-explanatory however if you haven’t reached that stage just yet, the following glossary provides an explanation of some of the most common terms for you.
This is a long and loose stitch that can be undertaken by hand or on a sewing machine. Its purpose is to hold fabric in place until you stitch it or gather it. Both ends are not knotted or anchored in any way because you will need to remove it when you complete your project. If you use your machine, remember to set the stitch to the longest setting.
The bias refers to fabric when it is placed at a 45% angle from the straight grain of the fabric. You cut fabric on the bias when making skirts for example so it will hang a certain way.
Also known as Heat ‘n’ Bond, it is used to stick one piece of fabric to another one. You iron it onto one piece of fabric, peel off the backing paper and then iron it onto the other piece of fabric.
This process is used if you want to create ruffles. You need to start out by using a basting stitch on the relevant piece of fabric. Then holding one end firmly, pull the other end of the thread so that the fabric ‘gathers’. If you have use a machine basting stitch, you just hold the threads at both ends, slowly pulling the top thread while at the same time, holding the bottom one firmly. As you pull, a ‘gather’ will be created. When you have the desired amount of gathering, you then stitch it permanently into place.
This relates to the way the threads in the fabric run up and down and sideways to each other.
You create a hem to finish off the bottom of a piece of sewing, such as on an item of clothing or curtains for example. You just need to fold the bottom ½ inch or sometimes ¼ inch under and press it. Then you fold it over again by 1/2 to 1 inch to eliminate all raw edges, press into place and then stitch by hand or using your sewing machine.
Interfacing is a special type of fabric that you use to stabilize your main fabric by way of strengthening it. You need to sew it onto the inside of the fabric. Some patterns will tell you that interfacing is needed, as well as the specific weight to use. Occasionally a pattern will ask for fusible interfacing to be used and this type irons on and will save you needing to stitch it into place.
This is a layer of fabric that goes underneath your project, such as a skirt. It is used to prevent seeing through the outer fabric if it is very thin and transparent. Fabric lining is generally a color that naturally blends in with the outer fabric.
These are the accessories required for various projects, like a zipper, buttons, thread and maybe bias tape for example. Sometimes it can refer to a seam ripper and pins.
This refers to the raw edge of your fabric when you cut it.
The right side of the fabric refers to the side that has a pattern or a design on it.
This is the fabric that lies between your stitching and the edge of your fabric. ½ and ¼” seams are the norm.
You use this sharp pointed tool to rip out a seam when you make a mistake. The sharp point should go underneath the stitch so you can break the thread.
The selvage refers to the finished edges of your fabric that you can see when you first buy it.
This is a finishing stitch on top of a seam you have already sewn. It strengthens a seam and can also be used as a decorative finish.
Sometimes a pattern will tell you to sew the right sides of a project together and then turn it. You will need to pull the fabric through an opening that you have left along the seam-line so the right sides of the fabric face out when you finish turning.
This refers to the underside of the fabric.
Choosing the Correct Sewing Machine Needle for Your Project
While it may not seem so, there are a many differences between sewing machine needles and to produce a great result with your project, it is a good idea to observe the differences. Many brands of sewing machines generally have their own brand needles so this will be a major determining factor. You can also seek out suppliers who manufacture and sell generic sewing machine needles and these will often be suitable for a variety of sewing machine brands. The type of fabric you are using and the project itself can also be major considerations when you are going to choose the best sewing machine needle.
Sewing Machine Needle Sizes
Machine needles come in a variety of sizes and broadly, they range from very thin to quite thick. The reason for these sizes relates directly to the type of project you are working on. For example, if you are trying to sew through many thicknesses, such as with a quilt, a tiny, thin needle will not do the job. You will need a specialized needle specific to the task and the brand of sewing machine you are using. Sometimes, you might even need a ‘double’ needle such as those that come with some machines and are used for quilting.
Fabrics Can Determine Needle Size
This is pretty much common sense if you can imagine the differences between stitching a repair on a tent for example, or making a pair of denim jeans and the fine work required if were making a prom dress or a baby’s christening gown. The general rule of thumb is the finer the work the finer the needle and if you stick to this, you can avoid frustrating things like breaking fine needles when you are sewing course fabrics. Think for a moment too, how you might actually see the needle holes from a thick needle in the seams of a satin prom dress.
Sewing Machine Needles for Knit Fabrics
To choose the best sewing machine needle for stretch fabrics, simply choose to purchase ball point needles. Sewing machine needles are typically sharp so they can pierce through the fabric. Ball point needles are necessary for knitted fabrics so they don’t pierce the fabric, but rather, slip between the weave of the fabric. Piercing a knitted fabric with a regular needle can result in a risk of breaking a thread in the weave and having it unravel. This can result in a small hole developing in your garment and you don’t need something like that to ruin your project.
So you can see that there are several factors that can influence the selection of sewing machine needles. To choose the best sewing machine needle, you need to look at the particular project you are going to be working on, the brand of sewing machine you will be using and the fabric you will be using. If you are able to take these factors into consideration, you will make a good choice and the finished product will reflect it.
Sewers of all levels take advantage of sewing patterns to create clothing, accessories, quilts, pillows, costumes and many many other sewing projects. Patterns can be a big help when it comes to creating things that you haven’t had an opportunity to make in the past, but the pattern templates can be confusing to someone new to sewing. Hopefully, I can help you understand how to read a sewing pattern so that you feel comfortable creating new and exciting projects.
Choosing a sewing pattern
That are literally a limitless number of sewing patterns available. You can find them at sewing stores, fabric shops and online. Down the road, you may even want to make your own sewing patterns.
Sewing patterns are usually categorized by type so it is easier to find the pattern you are looking to purchase. For example, a catalog may have patterns listed by type, such as dresses, tops, pants, men, women, children, etc. Something similar to a library card catalog. The pattern you choose will have a pattern number, you will need to take this number and find it in the appropriate store display which can be a large filing cabinet or display table.
Once you find your pattern, you need to locate the appropriate size, which is usually in a range of sizes. Some patterns are entire outfits and others are separate pieces; blazer, skirt, etc. If you are new to pattern sewing, you will want to find patterns that are marked for beginners.
Reading a sewing pattern envelope
Sewing envelopes always have a common format. There are pictures or drawings on the front of the pattern envelope displaying the finished product usually on a model. On the back of the envelope you will find instructions and measurements for the pattern.
Usually the pattern will come with a few fashion options, let’s say you are planning to make a shirt, there might be options for long sleeves, short sleeves or no sleeves, or pants might have options for pleats or no pleats. You will need to know this information so you can purchase the correct amount of material for your project. Once you have decided on the pattern options, which will be displayed in a column on the back of the pattern envelope, match it up with your clothing size and you will find the appropriate amount of fabric you will need to buy for your project.
Many patterns will suggest the type of fabrics that will work best for your sewing project. The width of the fabric varies depending on the material chosen. For example, some fabrics are 44 to 45 inches in width and some 58 to 60 inches. Usually the pattern will provide the yardages you will need to purchase based on the fabric choice, but if not, you can find help at a fabric store or on a sewing forum online.
The pattern envelope will also list other items you will need to purchase for your project such as buttons, zippers, snaps or trim. You will want to try to match the accessories with fabrics, but you can also be creative.
Inside the envelope you will find the instructions and many sheets of tissue like paper which is the pattern itself.
How to read the layout guide
The pattern sewing instructions will show you different diagrams corresponding to any options the pattern may have. It also takes into consideration different sizes and various widths of fabric.
You will want to pick the appropriate diagram based on the size of the garment you are creating. The diagram will also show you the correct position of the different pieces of the pattern so you can cut out the various sections of fabric that will eventually make your finished sewing project.
It is best to follow the diagram and instructions as precisely as possible. If you fabric has a pattern or stripe you also need to take this into consideration as you layout and cut your fabric because these will need to be lined up so the pattern or stripes match.
Reading the sewing pattern pieces
As you might assume, the pattern pieces match up to the pattern instructions and are numbered. There will be additional markings on the pattern that will indicate where the pattern should be place for a fold or a grain. You will also notice notches, these are used to line up different pieces of the pattern. There will also be different type of lines that indicate size, for example, a dotted line might be a size 6, dashed a size 8, etc.
How to read instructions for sewing patterns
The first time you use a pattern for your project might be a little daunting, but take it slow and follow the directions and you should be fine. You can also enlist someone that has experience with sewing patterns to show you the ropes. The good thing about patterns is that they can be used over and over as long as you pack them away carefully.
Sewing machines are one of the most useful gadgets on the planet and since the original Singers came into the marketplace, there have been many technological developments which have impacted on the materials from which they are made, as well as their mode of operation. However, the basic principles remain the same and today it is easier than ever to use a sewing machine. Regardless of what you want to use your machine for, if you are starting out with sewing, learning how to use a sewing machine has never been easier.
Thread the Machine
Aside from plugging the machine in and switching it on, the first essential process which must be completed is threading the machine. Any lesson on how to use a sewing machine will focus on this and it is easier than it sounds, particularly on modern sewing machines. You should always start out by referring to the machine’s user manual because it will specify the exact process to follow to thread your machine. You will also find that there will likely be a series of directional arrows on the machine itself so that it becomes a matter of following the steps, one by one.
Fill the Bobbin
After you have threaded the machine, the other essential process is to fill the bobbin and again, this is very easy with modern machines. It usually involves clipping the bobbin onto its designated spot, attaching the thread to the bobbin, selecting the ‘bobbin’ function on the machine and let it fill. Again, individual machines will have the process outlined in the user manual and if the directional instructions on the machine itself aren’t clear, you can always go step by step with the manual.
Once you have everything threaded, you now need to select your stitch of choice. On modern sewing machines, this is usually a matter of pressing a button on the control panel of the machine and you are ready to sew. It’s always a good idea to use some sample fabric and practice sewing until you have the hang of it. For instance, if you are doing seams, you will want to sew straight. There is often a guide on the needle plate which you can use as a guide to help you with this. Likewise if you want to use a zig-zag stitch for example, practice on a sample first before you try it on a project.
There is no mystique as to how to use a sewing machine and it doesn’t take long to become proficient. At its most basic level, a sewing machine takes the upper thread and the bobbin thread and loops them together so that the stitches are strong enough to hold your project together. Modern sewing machines make it very easy to accomplish this and for anyone starting out with sewing, it doesn’t take long to move from practice samples to real projects. Learning how to use a sewing machine could be one of the most useful things you do.
If you love quilting, there is a good chance that at some stage you will be tempted to purchase a sewing machine which specializes in all those seemingly difficult stitches which could add a special touch to the labor of love which goes into making a quilt. Many of the newer machines on the market have features which might send you into a quilter’s heaven. The truth is though, that while these features, such as a stitch regulator, can make some quilting tasks easier, they do not necessarily magically turn you into a good quilter. The machines which are laden with technological features are great if you can afford it, but when it comes to quilting, some things are more important than others and many older machines actually already have the necessary features.
The Right Machine for You
If you are going to quilt, you will be spending a lot of time with your machine. You literally need to love it like your best friend. Quilting tasks are repetitive and there are lots of them, so if you don’t like your machine, you are not going to want to sit at it to do those tasks. Nor will you want to spend time practising to improve your skills. You could have the most expensive sewing machine in the world, but if you don’t feel comfortable using it for long periods of time it’s not the best sewing machine for quilting.
Sew a Straight Stitch
This might sound pretty basic, but it’s absolutely essential for piecing and quilting. A lot of small fabric pieces go into making a quilt and they must be pieced perfectly if the overall effect is to be pleasing to the eye. The only way to find out is to go and test the machine. Features always look great in print, but they don’t prove that the stitches will be straight. You should take some small fabric samples, threads and batting which you would normally use for your projects and test them on the machine you are thinking of buying. You should be able to easily adjust the tension to ensure the stiches are straight and not puckered, on all thicknesses of the various materials you have brought to test out.
Techie Must Haves on the Machine
These often come as generic but it is best for quilting if you have a variety of machine feet which have been specially designed for the particular brand of machine you are thinking of buying. The feet you will need as a minimum are a walking foot, a free motion or darning foot, an edge stitching foot, and an open toe applique foot. The edge stitching foot will ensure you produce an accurate ¼ inch seam when piecing. If it isn’t available for your brand, then the ¼ inch foot will also work. The open toe applique foot will be necessary for decorative stitching should you wish to decorate individual fabric pieces before piecing.
Blind Hem and Zig Zag Stitches
These are necessary for any applique work you might want to do and will require you to adjust the tension, length and width of stitches. Most machines will have this feature.
A Sound Motor
When you are quilting, you will be stitching without stopping for long periods. It is imperative that the motor in the machine does not overheat while you are doing this. When you are piecing, you will not be constantly running the machine because you need to trim and press as well as stitch. When quilting, you could be stitching for hours.
The Ability to Disengage the Feed Dogs
You need to do this if you are free motion quilting. On new model machines, you can press a button to lower and raise them. Older machines will generally have a cover which you can put on to keep them out of the way. Either way, you need to be able to have them out of the way for free motion quilting.
Needle Position Control Should be Adjustable
You will need to be able to adjust the height of the needle when stopping the machine and you will need it when piecing, appliqueing and quilting. Ideally, you should be able to choose have the needle in either the up or down position when you stop the machine.
This is excellent for chain piecing. You can raise the presser foot a little while the needle in down in the fabric when you stop the machine.
This is a useful function to have for free motion quilting to aid control. It will allow you to place a limit on the speed of the machine when the pedal is pressed completely down and can save you from making mistakes which could take hours to fix.
Your machine will come with a regular one with an oval hole and the needle will pass through it while you are stitching. You can get a single stitch throat plate which comes with a small round hole instead and it helps to create perfectly straight stitches, especially with free motion machine quilting.
The Bells and Whistles
Yes they are wonderful, but not entirely necessary and if you cannot afford a machine which has them, your quilting will not be any the worse for wear. There are basically three features to consider.
Some sewing machines which are designed for quilting will typically have a larger area than usual to the right of the needle.
This is a biggie. If you buy a machine with one of these, you will be able to do free motion quilting with the feed dogs down and still do even stitching. Sewing machines for quilting are frequently advertised with this feature. It is however, very expensive. If you have the features as per above, you can learn to do free motion quilting with some practice (as well as the dedication and time to do the practice).
If you are going to make crazy quilts and nothing else, this can be a very useful feature. However, if you are doing piecing, applique, free motion and walking foot quilting, it really isn’t necessary.
The best sewing machine for quilting is one you can afford which has the features you need. The only thing to really think about other than this is that you will be using the machine a lot and your skill will increase with practice Saving a couple of hundred dollars today, may cost you in the long run when you find you need a machine with a few more features. On the other hand there is a big difference between useful features and bells and whistles – often a couple of thousand dollars.
The best machine for quilting isn’t necessary top of the range, a big brand name or even new for that matter. It has to has to be a machine you can afford, has the features you want and one you have personally tested out and know you will feel comfortable with.