Definitions of Terms
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Definitions of Sewing Terms

We recognize not everyone is going to understand the terms we use about sewing and patterns... so we'll put definitions here.  For now it will mostly be just links to discussions on the Yahoo board... but hopefully it will grow up as we have time.

Contribute by either asking for a definition, writing up a definition, or providing some links... and categories


Fabric Types

Anyone have a link for a good dictionary of fabric???  Definitions here are at a sewing 101 level.

  • Jacquard
    •  the name of the guy who invented the type of loom that makes them... Brocade, damask and tapestries are all types of Jacquard fabrics. 
  • Brocade
    • A woven, patterned fabric using multi-colored threads.  A raised pattern in relief against the background.  May use metallic treads as part of the pattern.  Used in upholstery and clothing.  Normally is a heavier fabric
  • Damask
    • It is similar to brocade but is finer, thiner. A woven, patterned fabric, using all one color - think fancy white cloth napkins. Usually silk, linen, cotton, rayon or synthetic blends.
  • Matelasse
    • another type of Jacquard weave, with a quilted effect,
      usually silk, cotton, rayon or wool.  Looks a bit like truponto, can be a bit stretchy depending on the weave.
  • Velvet
    • Rich looking fabric with a thick pile (ie woven w/ lots of threads sticking up.)
    • Silk Velvet
      • ... is not pure silk.  It's a silk backing with a rayon pile
      • A great definition <here>
    • Embossed velvet
      • design is normally heat pressed or chemically press to flatten some of the pile
    • Voided velvet / Acid-Etched velvet / Devore /Fabric Etch
    • Care and feeding... includes ironing velvet, types of velvet, fixing crushed velvet, etc... Check this link... half way down the page.
  • Looking for fabric samples by weave? This site has weave examples.

Out on the web resources for fabric

Fabric Identification / Burn Test

Fabric Definitions and Identification

Tailoring Vocabulary


Types of Clothing and clothing piece descriptions

Whole separate page now!  <here>

Sewing Terms / Techniques

  • Bag lining
    • Sew around a hem (and possibly the sides), right sides together, one of the fashion fabric and one of the lining.  Turn inside out.  Press carefully.  The remaining seam can be treated as one, or the outside can be machine stitched and the lining side tucked under and closed.
      • Instructions for bag lining a skirt:
        • Prep the fabrics.  Pre-wash if they're not going to be dry cleaned.  Hang long pieces to let them stretch.
        • Sew the skirt pieces together. Sew the lining together. Pin them right sides together. Stitch them together at the hem. Turn them right-side-out, press. It looks like a bag.
        • The balancing of the hem takes place at the waist. There it can be treated as one piece of fabric or separately.
  • Flat lining - what is it? how to?
    • Flat lining is sewing with the lining flat against the inside of the outer fabric, at the same time. The seams show inside this way. Victorian bodices are often flat lined, and the raw edges are neatly finished on the inside.
    • Example:
      • With flat lining it is very important that the fabrics to be prepped.  If the garment is going to be washed, both fabrics should be washed the same way for pre-shrinking.  If they are long pieces of fabric, both should be hung out to let the fabrics stretch
      • Place each piece of the pattern wrong side together.  Smooth them out and pin carefully all around the  piece.
      • Stitch them together, stitching slightly inside the sewing line using a slightly looser stitch than normal.
      • After they are secured together, remove the pins and treat as one piece of fabric...  The fabric will now have a heaver hand and work better where heavy fabric is required.
      • Yes, you can get away with not securing the pieces completely, but you'd better make sure you've pinned all your layers together very smoothly.  The wrinkles with be various obvious if they're not lined up right.
  • What are princess seams?
    • Princess seams are shaped seams that run down the front side of a dresses or shirt to fit a garment closely.  Use them in place of darts. They are very elegant.  Check out this picture... the dress has long princess seams running down the front.
  • What is an empire waist?
    • Higher than normal waist seam.  Fits under the bust.  Seam ends either under the bust or a few inches down
  • What is a gusset?
    • This is a small square or triangular shaped piece of fabric that is inserted to help shape a garment and give more movement.  These were mainly used when patterns were cut mostly out of square and rectangles to conserve hand woven fabrics. 
      • A square gusset would be attached under the sleeve where it joined the shoulder. 
      • A skirt or a top could be widened out to go over the hips with flare by adding a triangular piece of fabric.
    • How to put in gussets and gores
  • What are set in sleeves?
    • These are the standard sleeves you see in most garments today.  The armhole is curved in so the top of the sleeve actually sits at your shoulder top.  The sleeve cap (top of the sleeve pattern) curves out to smoothly fit the sleeve.  The method of fitting a sleeve into a top give a better range of movement and less bunk of fabric under the arm.
  • What is an inkle weave?  (like for Frodo's suspenders)
  • Tips and techniques from a wonderful site called Alternate Windows.  It's more for curtains and home decorations, but translates into 5 languages.
  • What is a Sloper?
    • A sloper is a close fitted basic pattern from which you can make a whole range of patterns by altering it with darts, gathers, added ease, etc.
    • You can make a sloper either by draping it to your body or by taking a range of measurements.
    • Here's a great link with a lot more info on slopers from "The Sloper Lady"

Groups - misc terms

  • What are F-costume and H-costume
    • f-costume and h-costume are mailing lists.
      • F-costume is a "fantasy" list, traffic varies from nothing for a week to intense chatter when a topic comes up. Good knowledge base of folks out there. Good for about any level.
      • H-costume is a historical list. Traffic is high, so I suggest digest mode (much higher than we are this week, though this is a high week for us). Large group of serious historical costumes. Mostly intermediate and advance
  • Who is the SCA and ICG/Guild?
    • They are various costuming groups
      • SCA: the Society for Creative Anachronism - medieval re-enactment. Level varies from casual medieval knights and ladies at a picnic to what's-the-thread-count-of-your-underwear by group. Real live group all over, heavies focus is in the US, but fairly world wide. I won't even begin to tell ya what list to try there. They have many.  Start here:
      • ICG: International Costumes Guild - Groups of costumes in North America and Australia.  Events vary by area.

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This page was last updated 04/22/08