Glossary of Sewing Techniques
Backstitching is done at the start and end of each seam you sew. When beginning a seam, sew a few stitches forward, and then press the reverse button on your sewing machine to go back over the first stitches made. Continue sewing forward until the end of the seam, and then sew a few stitches in reverse to go over the last few stitches made. The backstitch is also a hand-sewing stitch.
Basting is a temporary stitch that can be done by machine or by hand and is usually removed when an item is completed. It comes in handy when you need to keep things in place before stitching them together permanently. To baste by machine, set the straight stitch length to the longest setting and sew as usual.
The bias grain runs diagonally, at a 45-degree angle, between the length and cross grain of the fabric. To cut on the bias, make sure the grain line on the pattern is placed at a 45-degree angle to the selvage. When fabric is cut on the bias it becomes slightly stretchy and has a bit of give.
Binding is made with strips of fabric that are used to encase the raw edges of a project, creating a finished edge. The binding strips can be cut on the cross grain or on the bias. The strips cut on the cross grain are used on straight edges. The strips cut on the bias are used on curved edges, such as a neckline or an armhole. Binding strips may be folded in different ways to achieve different effects.
Cut on the Fold
Some pattern pieces represent only half of the complete piece; you are meant to fold your fabric before cutting, so that you will have a full-size piece after cutting. If a pattern piece instructs to cut on fold, fold the fabric and place the edge of the pattern marked “Place on fold” along the folded edge. Cut around the outer edges. When you finish cutting and unfold the piece, each half of the piece will be a mirror image of the other half.
Edge stitching is a form of topstitching that is done very close to an edge or a seam—usually 1/16 in/ 2 mm to 1/8 in/3 mm from the edge or seam.
You’ll want to finish the edges on any seam allowance that’s exposed on the inside of a garment or on an item that will be washed frequently; it’s necessary for a clean, finished look and to keep the edges of the fabric from fraying. There are many ways to finish the edges of the seam allowance, but the three most common methods are serging with a serger, zigzagging with a sewing machine, and trimming with pinking shears.
Gathering is done when you want to attach a larger piece of fabric to a smaller piece—for instance, when you sew a full skirt into a fitted bodice. Gathering can also be used to create visual interest and draw attention to a certain area, like a neckline or a sleeve, and to make ruffles.
Grain of Fabric
The grain of the fabric is the direction of the woven threads that make up fabric. Length grain runs the length of the fabric, from cut edge to cut edge. Cross grain runs the width of the fabric, from selvage edge to selvage edge. The bias grain runs diagonally across the length and cross grain.
Notches are the small triangular markings on the cutting lines on the pattern pieces. They’re used as a guide for matching up seams and for placement of items along the seam (for example, they might show where to place gathers or straps).
Pivoting is used to change direction in sewing: to turn a corner or continue the stitching in a different direction. To pivot, you simply stop stitching, with the needle in the down position; this will hold the fabric in place. Then raise the presser foot and rotate the fabric in the direction you want to sew. Drop the presser foot and continue sewing.
A running stitch is one of the most basic hand stitches you can do. It isn’t a particularly strong stitch, so it is best suited to use as basting. To do a running stitch, insert the needle into the fabric and then pull back up through fabric at regular intervals.
The seam allowance is the area of fabric between the sewn seam and the raw edge. The seam allowance can be pressed to one side or the other, or it can be pressed open. See individual project instructions for the recommended pressing direction of the seam allowance.
Topstitching is an additional row or rows of stitching worked near a seam, using your sewing machine. Topstitching should be done with the project right-side up, so you can be sure that the stitching is straight and parallel to the seam. You will also want to be sure that the seam allowance, on the wrong side, is caught in the topstitching. Topstitching adds a decorative touch and some extra strength to a seam. The instructions in each project will specify how far the topstitching should be placed from the seam.
Under stitching is used on the inside of a project. It helps to keep seam allowances and linings in place, but it is not visible on the right side of a project. To under stitch, press the seam allowance in the direction specified in the project instructions, and then stitch on the side of the seam allowance, very close to the seam line.
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