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Accent colors

Contrasting colors that look good next to each other. Usually from opposite ends of the color wheel.


A design cut out of fabric that is sewn onto or otherwise attached to another piece of fabric. This is often done with a satin stitch around the edge.

Balloon shade

A shade made with inverted pleats, which gathers into a series of puffy festoons when raised.

Ballpoint needle

This sewing machine needle has a slightly rounded point that allows it to go through tightly woven fabric without cutting the threads.

Bar tack

A series of close stitches designed to reinforce a point on a seam. Most often used on garments.

Baste or basting

A series of long, loose stitches used to temporarily hold together two pieces of fabric during construction.


Filling used for quilts or bedcovers. It's made of cotton, wool or synthetic fibers and comes in sheets or bats.


A diagonal line in comparison to the up-and-down and side-to-side weave of a fabric.

Bias tape

A narrow strip of fabric that has been cut out diagonally from the material. The strip's fibers are at a 45 degree angle to the weave of the fabric, making it stretchier.


A strip of fabric sewn along the edge of an item like a blanket or tablecloth. It finishes and decorates the edge.

Blanket stitch

A wide stitch used to bind the raw edge of the material. Often used on blankets, it can be decorative as well as utilitarian.


A specially designed spool which feeds thread from underneath the needle plate, completing each stitch. Usually, bobbin thread shows only on the back side of your fabric.


The large rolls of cloth you see at the fabric store. Widths are vary from 44" for dress fabric up to 60" for upholstery fabric.


The hole a button goes into. Can be a hole, slit or even a loop.

Cafe curtains

Curtains that cover the lower part of a window to give privacy. Often used in the kitchen.


A strip of fabric folded over and sewn to provide a covering for a cord, drawstring or elastic.

Charm pack

A charm pack is most frequently one 5" x 5" square of each fabric from a specific fabric collection, so the number of squares in a pack varies. Occasionally duplicates of some prints are included, and occasionally charm squares are other than 5" squares.

Clip a curve

Making a series of small cuts after you've sewn a curved seam so that when turned right side out the fabric will lay flat without puckering. You don't need to clip if you use a serger to finish your seam.


Colorway is a textile industry term used to describe versions of the same design produced in different colors.

Cording (or welting)

A piece of cotton cord wrapped in fabric that is sewn into a seam to create an accent. Often used in slipcovers.

Covered button

A button which can be covered in a coordinating fabric. A back piece secures the fabric over the top.

Crosswise grain

A fabric woven perpendicular to the selvage, giving it a slight amount of stretch.

Cutting mat

A mat designed to be used with a rotary cutter. They are often made of self-healing material and have grids printed on them.


What you yell when you've sewn your sleeve to your project. Also, a repair made to a fabric hole by repeated stitches going back and forth.


The way fabric hangs on an item. Most often used to describe garments.


A formal window covering which hangs from a rod.


A stitch made very close to a folded edge, generally 1/8" or less.


Adding decoration to an item. Includes embroidery, appliqué, decorative stitching, beading, sequins, needlework, etc.

Fabric blends

A fabric made with any combination of fibers: cotton/polyester, wool/polyester, silk/cotton, wool/cotton, etc.

Fabric repeat

The distance between the beginning of one complete motif, and the beginning of the next one. It can be horizontal or vertical.

Fat quarter

A generously proportioned "quarter yard" of fabric that measures 18" x 22". To understand this you need to do a little math. Fabric is measured in yards. A yard is 36". When you ask your fabric store to cut a yard of fabric, you get 36" by the width of the fabric. Quilting cottons are usually 44" wide. So, if you buy a yard of quilting cotton, you'll have a cut piece that measures 36" x 44". Now, if you'd stepped up to the counter and ordered a quarter yard of fabric, you'd get a piece that is 9" (36" divided by 4) by 44". But a Fat Quarter is actually a full quarter of that original piece we got when we ordered our single yard of fabric (36" x 44"). If I divide that original piece (36" x 44") into four equal pieces, each one will be 18" x 22". A Fat Quarter.

Feed dog

The "teeth" under the needle which pull the fabric forward in synchronization with the stitch.

Finger pressing

Pressing open a seam with your finger where it may not be appropriate to use an iron.

Finish (a edge)

Turning under an edge and sewing or serging it so it doesn't ravel.

Flat felled seam

A seam that is flattened by having one seam allowance trimmed close to the seam and the other seam allowance sewn over the top of it. Often used to reduce bulk in a seam.

Fold line

Some patterns will have pieces that are placed onto a folded piece of fabric in order to get a piece double the size of the pattern. The fold against which you place the edge of your pattern piece is the fold line.

Foot or presser foot

The foot-shaped piece the sewing machine presses down against the fabric to allow it to be moved by the feed dogs. Sewing machines use many kinds of presser feet, which are specialized for different types of sewing.


Having the ability to be permanently attached by ironing. Fusible items use a heat-activated glue.

Fussy cut

You fussy cut when you select and cut out a specific motif on printed fabric. For example, a quilt where you cut each square to showcase a specific element of a fabric's overall pattern. It may also be a single element, like a big flower that you want centered on a throw pillow. Fussy cutting requires additional fabric.


Pulling fabric into miniature pleats either to compress it in size or for a decorative effect. To create a gather two parallel basting stitches are sewn on the right side of the fabric ¼" apart. Long tails of thread are left for gathering. The bobbin threads are gently tugged, evenly gathering the fabric.


The direction on the fabric that's parallel to the selvage.


A piece of fabric inserted to enlarge or add strength. In garments a gusset is often inserted to add freedom of movement.


A layer of material that goes between curtain fabric and the lining. In home decor It's used in panel curtains.


Material that goes on the back of shades or curtains. Linings can allow more or less light through as desired. For instance blackout lining is desirable for bedroom window coverings.

Machine embroidery

Generally, any decorative stitch made by a sewing machine. Includes running stitches and embroidery designs sewn in a hoop.


A miter is a corner seam that comes together at a precise 45˚ angle, like a picture frame.


A design composed of one or more letters, typically the initials of a name, used as an identifying mark. Often embroidered on fabric to personalize articles of clothing or home décor.


A basic cotton fabric often off-white in color and inexpensive.


Nap refers to the short raised fibers on the surface of certain fabrics such as corduroy, velvet and velour. Fabric with a nap looks different from different angles, and therefore pattern pieces must be cut with nap going the same direction.


The sharp item which the machine uses to push the thread through the fabric to form a stitch. There are many different types of needles for different types of sewing. Rule of thumb: Start each project with a new needle.


Any item used for sewing other than the fabric or machine.


A stitch done on the edge of fabric to keep it from raveling.


A stitch made by a serger that finishes the fabric edge. Sergers are sometimes called overlockers outside the U.S.


  Patchwork or "pieced work" involves sewing together pieces of fabric into a larger design.  

Pattern notches

Pattern notches are the marks (usually triangle shaped) printed on a pattern's cutting edge. They are used to line up two or more pieces of fabric that you will be joining together.


The nap or raised surface or of a fabric. Fabrics with a nap include velvet, terrycloth and corduroy.

Pillow insert

A ready-made cushion in one of a variety of standard shapes and sizes; the filling may be down, feather/down, polyester fiberfill, or bamboo.


Many different kinds of pins are used in sewing. Home decor sewing requires basic versions like straight pins and safety pins.


Narrow, raised rows of fabric, created for a decorative look. Can be created by stitching with a pintuck foot.


A length of cord covered in fabric. Often used around the edge of pillows and seat cushions.


A fold in fabric created for functional or decorative fullness. The fold is sewn at one end of the fabric and allowed to gradually relax such as in pleated drapes.


Washing and drying a piece of fabric before using it in a sewing project. Preshrinking is important if the finished item is ever to be washed.


Using an iron to smooth out a section of fabric.

Presser foot

See foot.

Raw edge

The edge of fabric that has not been stitched or finished.

Reverse appliqué

Sewing a piece of fabric to the back of another piece of fabric and then cutting a decorative hole in the top fabric to reveal the fabric underneath. The bottom and top layers are then blindstitched together.

Right side

The side of the fabric with the design. In cases where both sides of the fabric are identical then either side can be chosen for the right side.

Roman shade

A fabric shade that forms neat rows of folds when drawn up.

Rotary cutter

It looks a little bit like a pizza cutter. The blade is round and razor sharp. Used with a cutting board, it allows you to cut fabric more quickly and accurately than with shears. A rotary cutter works well for cutting more than one layer of fabric at a time.


Ruching is a technique used to gather fabric or ribbon. It is often formed into a shape, such as a flower, and appliquéd to a background fabric.


A straight edge with standard and metric measurements marked out. Sewing rulers are often clear. A popular size is 2" wide by 18" long.

Running stitch

A simple stitch used for basting or for marking a decorative stitch.


A piece of embroidery demonstrating skill with various stitches.

Satin stitch

A very short zigzag stitch used for appliqué and other decorative effects. Most machines have a built-in satin stitch. But if not, It's possible to create one by setting a zigzag stitch to a length of almost zero.


The line created when two pieces of fabric are stitched together.

Seam allowance

The amount of space between the edge of the fabric and the line of stitching. Most home decor projects have a ½" seam allowance.

Selvedge (selvege or selvage)

The edge of the fabric that comes finished from the manufacturer. It is often marked with information such as color code and other identifying data.


A special type of sewing machine that finishes the edge of fabric while it cuts off the excess. A serger often has more than one needle and is sometimes referred to as an overlocker.

Shank button

A button with an extension on the back by which it is attached to the fabric. The shank may be a loop and creates a space between the button and the fabric.


Some fabrics become smaller when washed and dried. If a home decor item is going to be washed at any time (like a slipcover) the fabric should be laundered before it is cut out to make sure It's done shrinking.


A light starch finish that gives fabric a little bit of rigidity without being too stiff.

Slip stitch

  A Slip Stitch is a stitch created with a hand sewing needle rather than your sewing machine. It joins two folded edges (or a folded edge and a flat edge) together in such a way that the stitches are not visible. This stitch is commonly used in pillows to close seams after stuffing. It is also good for bindings, to close a lining, or to hand-appliqué invisibly.  


An open part of a seam often at the bottom. For example, the slit on a skirt.


A small cylinder thread is wound onto. Spools can be wooden, plastic, metal or cardboard.


The collection of fabric you hope to use some day.

Stitch in the ditch

Stitching close to a seam allowance or in a seam itself to hold it down.

Stitch length

The length of each complete stitch. Stitch length is measured in millimeters on most machines.

Stitch width

The distance across a stitch. A straight stitch is very narrow. A satin stitch can be wide.

Straight stitch

The standard sewing stitch made by most machines without a specialty foot.


A stitch used to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together. Tacking can also refer to repeated stitches at the beginning of a seam for added strength.


The amount of resistance your sewing machine gives to the thread in your sewing needle and lower bobbin. Some sewing situations will call for you to adjust the upper thread tension on your machine. If this is specified, consult your machine manual.


A little cap worn on your finger or thumb to protect it from the needle during hand sewing. Thimbles can be made of wood, metal or plastic.


A fine cord of spun out fiber used by a needle to create stitches. Thread may be made from cotton, polyester, silk, wool or other fibers and combinations.

Thread (verb)

The act of inserting thread through the eye of a needle. This term applies to sewing machine and hand needles.

Tie back (or tieback)

A device for holding curtains or drapes off to the side so that they are not hanging in front of the window. As its name implies, a tie back may be a strip of fabric that is tied, or it can be a strip of fabric with hooks or velcro, or even an open metal loop.

Top stitch

A stitch that is ¼" from the edge of a seam, sometimes done in a coordinating thread color for decoration or a matching thread color for stabilization.


A decorative item such as ribbon or lace that is added onto a home decor project.

Trim (verb)

To cut away excess fabric with scissors.


A fold or pleat that is sewn into the fabric.

Universal needle

A sewing machine needle designed to work with most types of woven fabrics. The needle tip has a slight ballpoint.


A decorative treatment that covers the top of a window. A valance can be made from draped fabric, a wooden or styrofoam box covered in fabric, or other materials.

Walking foot

A special sewing foot used to move multiple layers of fabric under the needle. This foot adds pressure from above and "walks" the fabric along in unison with the feed dogs below.



Wing needle

A machine needle that has "blades" on either side of the shaft to make a wider hole for a decorative look.


WOF is an abbreviation for Width of Fabric. This means that you would cut pieces of fabric as long as the width of the fabric, or the width from selvedge to selvedge. For much cotton fabric, this would be 45". Home Dec fabric will come in 54" and 60" widths as well.

Wonder Under ®

A popular fusible product made by Pellon ®. It allows you to affix a fabric design on another piece of fabric using a hot iron.

Wrong side

The side of the fabric with no design. If you can see no difference between the sides of your fabric, you can pick which is the wrong side.

Zigzag (or zig zag)

A wide stitch that crosses back and forth over the seam in a zigzagging pattern. Can be used as a decorative stitch.