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5 Sewing Words Every Sewists Should Know

Back when I started sewing, some sewing words used to confuse me so much. It took me quite a while to understand the language of sewing and today I want to share 5 words every sewist should know. As confusing as some of these words may be, I'll try to explain them in an easy to understand way.

Click image below to watch video version and scroll down to read the list:

5 Sewing Words Every Sewists Should Know


Tension is one of the most mysterious settings on a sewing machine. Definition of thread tension is ‘the amount of thread that can pass through the machine to create the stitch’ - I’ll be honest, for the longest time I didn’t understand what it actually means. 

So let’s do a little experiment to see what thread tension actually is. On my top and bobbin I’m using contrasting color threads, so that you can see differences better. First, set your sewing machine tension setting to zero - this means lowest tension setting. Lower the presser foot and try pulling the thread - thread can be easily pulled. Now let’s make a straight stitch seam and see how 0 tension setting will affect the seam - here we can see that because top thread has no tension, it’s very loose and stitches are not laying close to the fabric; in fact we have so much top thread in the seam, that top thread loops are even visible on the wrong side of the fabric. This means that there’s too little tension in the seam. 

Let’s do the opposite test and let’s increase tension to max, which is setting 9. Lower the presser foot and try to pull thread - the thread is very tense and you can barely move it. When we sew a seam using this tension setting, we can see that the thread is very tense and it’s so tight that it even pulls the bobbin thread to the top. This means that the thread tension is too high. 

So what would be a normal tension setting? Our sewing machines want us to succeed, so they usually have markings, showing which tension setting would be used most often and on this particular sewing machine, the regular tension setting is marked in gray, meaning that your tension should mostly be between 3 and 5, when sewing medium weight fabrics. Let’s try sewing a seam using a tension setting 4 - and now we have created a well balanced seam. The thread is laying nicely on top, the bobbin thread is not visible from the right side of the fabric, and on the inside we don’t see any top thread loops

Fabric top view: seam with 0 tension; 9 tension and 4 tension
Fabric bottom view: seam with 0 tension, 9 tension and 4 tension

In most of your sewing projects, keep thread tension on medium setting, and general rule is that if you start seeing bobbin thread on top - decrease tension, if you see top thread at the wrong side of the fabric - increase tension. 


This next word - ease - used to confuse me so much! I couldn’t understand why pattern bust, waist or hips have different measurements than body measurement. 

So let’s do an example of what ease is. Take waist measurement for example - waist is measured at the most narrow waist point, in a relaxed position. Let’s hold the measuring tape at body measurement and let’s try take a deep breath, bend over or sit down - that’s uncomfortable and we can feel measuring tape squeezing into our sides. 

Now let’s add 2cm on top of body measurement and hold the tape - now we can move, breathe much easier. That’s because we added ease

When working with fabrics and designs that has no stretch, remember that bust, waist and hip measurements will have a bit of extra measurements added to give you that comfort of wearing; that measurement is called ‘ease’. 


You may have heard the word ‘interfacing’ and you may be wondering ‘what’s that?’. 

Interfacing is an additional layer added on the inside of the garment and it’s main purpose is to strengthen, add sturdiness and help shape fabric. 

Fabric without interfacing has a little bit of stretch, it drapes quite easily. When we added interfacing, the fabric is much more firm, it feels sturdier, it holds shape better. 

Strategically adding even a tiny bit of interfacing to neckline, collars, armholes, pocket sides - will help elevate garment quality to the next level. 

If you’re interested in learning more about interfacing, I have 2 videos on YouTube with my favorite interfacing tips: watch first video here and second video here.


Another word you’ll hear quite often is ‘woven’, referring to woven fabric. So what’s that? 

To put it very simply, as sewists, we classify fabrics into 2 main categories: woven fabrics and knit fabrics (there are a few more types, but mostly used these two types).

By construction, these 2 types of fabrics are very different - woven fabrics are constructed by weaving, when we have a big loom with vertical threads and then add horizontal threads, creating a weave; while knit fabrics are constructed by knitting - imagine knitting using knitting needles, but of course in factories knitting is done by machines - and in knitting, the fabric is created by making yarn oops that are interwoven with other loops. Because of these two different constructions, woven and knit fabrics behave very different: knit fabric naturally have stretch because of the loops, while woven fabrics do not have stretch, unless it has elastane added into it. 

Knit fabrics are stretchy and because of that we can create even closely fitted silhouettes and still be comfortable; while with woven fabrics we need to add darts to turn a 2d fabric into 3d shape to fit our bodies. 

Not only does knit and woven fabrics have different patterns and designs, but they also have different sewing method - this is why knowing about woven and knit fabrics is one of the key sewing essentials. 


I left the most confusing term for last - what is bias? 

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of fabric: fabric has a lengthwise running edge which is called selvage. Parallel to selvage, we have vertical running threads, called lengthwise grain (warp); crossing vertical threads we have horizontal threads that are called cross grain (weft). Diagonally from selvage, at 45 degree angle) we have bias, which is where the fabric has most stretch.

Anatomy of the fabric: selvage, lengthwise grain, cross grain and bias

If we cut fabric strap horizontally and try to bend it - it won’t give us the shape we want. But if we cut strap at the angle - aka bias - and try to arch it then, we get a nicely shape silhouette. 

Bias cut strap arches (top), while horizontally cut strap does not

Bias will give us flexibility, stretch even on non-stretchy fabrics - this is why it’s often used in creating a beautiful seam finish. It will also drape very nicely and on some designs, it will create a very beautiful look. 


These 5 sewing words are core sewing essentials. If you want to learn sewing, understanding sewing essentials is a great place to start. Check out my sewing course for beginners, where I teach all sewing essentials that will help you start sewing your clothes in 2 weeks!

Thank you for reading and wishing you a creative week ahead,


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