Vickers Company

Turning Vickers Guns into Sewing Machines

How one of the Leading Armament Manufacturers of Britain is applying a familiar biblical precept


NOTE: This very jingoistic and somewhat naïve article was written sometime around 1918. It is of historical importance however. Courtesy of Jenny Sims & Jan Cnossen

Was it worth it? When the German nation, in a sober moment, sits down to ponder over its national profit and loss account, and surveys the ruins of its former commercial and industrial prosperity, this reflection will defy submersion. Its persistent rise to the surface of thought will bring home to the contemplative Teuton, perhaps for the first time the depth of the pit into which his country has been flung as the outcome of the bout of world-power intoxication.

Germany’s disaster has proved Britain’s salvation. Today, likewise in a moment of calm consideration, we recognise the extent of our past folly in having patronised so freely the shop and manufacturer on the other side of the North Sea. We appreciate somewhat poignantly how one British industry after another has toppled and fallen before the insidious, invariably unscrupulous, aggression of the apparently complaisant Teuton carpet-bagger. British brains were fertile in evolving new ideas and opening up new fields for commercial activity and wealth, but almost without exception, it was the German who annexed the one to exploit the other, to our discomfiture.

Take the sewing machine as a case in point. I purposely select the inseparable companion of the housewife and the clothing manufacturer because it constitutes the theme of this story. It was a British brain which first conceived it to be far easier to sew by mechanical agency than by hand. But Saint’s sewing amchine was as far in advance of its day in 1790 as was Brunel’s Great Eastern in 1859. Another fifty years were destined to slip by before the world deemed it necessary to supersede tedious and laborious hand-needlework by the machine, and it was a combination of British and American brains which wrought the revolution. A new industry was founded in Britain to flourish amazingly for a few years.

Vogue of the Hire-Purchase System

But with the lapse of the master patent the outlook underwent an unexpected and dramatic change. A new rival, also American, appeared upon the scene to conduct commercial operations along entirely new lines. Heretofore the sewing machine had been sold upon the accepted cash basis, and the figure was relatively high. It appealed only to the somewhat exclusive public, for the most part finding a sale among the trades specialising in the manufacture of wearing apparel. It was virtually unkown in the home, mainly for the reason that it was beyond the reach of those to whom it would have meant so much.

The new American competitor set out to bring the sewing machine within reach of those classes of the community which the British industry had either overlooked or neglected, and more particularly the poor seamstress to whom it represented a means of improving a precarious existence. Needless to say, in the circles it met with a ready welcome, primarily because its acquisition by those slender of purse was facilitated by the introduction of the instalment or hire-purchase system. The weekly payment was purposely set attractively low to enable the cost of the machine to be defrayed out of the increased income which its employment enabled to be won.

This method of conducting the sewing machine business attained and enormous vogue, and the British trade was hit hard. Before long the bulk of the manufacturing side of the industry passed to the United States, where, by the adoption of elaborate standardisation methods, coupled with big-scale production, the cost of manufacturing the machine was forced down to a very low level to leave a very wide margin between the prime cost and the retail figure.

The German Invasion

Meanwhile the Germans had grown active. They had been taking stock of the whole situation as it prevailed in Great Britain and her colonies, and with characteristic ingenuity had resolved the success achieved byu the American company into cold statistics. The market was growing rapidly and presented illimitable possibilities. So the calculating Teuton decided to enter the lists.

The attack was prepared very carefully, excellently camouflaged, and driven home persistently, though unostentatiously, so as to arouse no suspicion of intent. There was no flourish of trumpets nor flamboyant display of advertising. That was not the German way to get a foot in. Peaceful penetration was the guiding principle, and the lines of least resistance were followed.

Yet the observant mind might have learned that the German aggressor was rapidly gaining ground. Additional sewing machine manufacturies commenced to spring up in the land beyond the Rhine. But the reason for their creation was cleverly obscured. Ostensibly they were being brought into being to feed the increasing home market, which certainly was becoming a force to be considered, but in truth, they were being provided to satisfy the rapidly-growing potentialities of the British and Colonial market, which was far more fertile.

A Romance of Energy and Imagination

Thirty-three years ago an energetic and imaginative young man in the City of London became attracted to the sewing machine market. Reconnoitring the situation he discovered that, despite the competition which was rife, an excellent, attractive and extensive field was still awaiting exploitation. A golden opportunity was open to the British industry to re-assert itself, and in no uncertain manner, if it were but boldly seized.

Chance threw this young man into the arms of a German firm which was keenly bent upon winning recognition in Britain. It was in search of a live man on the spot to enable it to achieve its end.

In the German manufacturer the Englishman found a kindred spirit. The issue was discussed in all its bearings, and when at last the anxious Teuton asked if the Britisher would handle the German machine, a prompt acquiescence was extended on the firm understanding that the manufacturer would provide and article strictly in accordance with the requirements of the market.

The young Englishman settled down to his work, and, as he had confidently expressed to the unsympathetic British members of the industry, the market was waiting for what he had to offer. His machine coincided with popular requirements, was so soundly constructed as to win the complete confidence of both the buyer and seller, and was sold at an attractive cash figure — one far below the prevailing price. He created a totally new outlet for sewing machines, opening up a field which hitherto had escaped attention, but which, as results proved, is one of the richest in the whole country. The Colonial market was equally responsive; it was offered what it wanted.

The German Triumph

It is possible to drive home the lesson which this combination of British selling brains and German producing enterprise teaches. The effect of British selling energy is reflected by the prosperity of the Teuton manufacturers. It directly stimulated the creation of a huge industry in the land across the Rhine.

The growth was so striking that by 1914 Germany could point to twenty big factories turning out sewing machines, in addition to ten equally imposing concerns specialising in nothing but spare parts. In the United States there were only seven companies devoted to this product. Germany had become the foremost sewing machine producing country of the world, the value of the exports — of complete machines and parts — exceeding £2,257,000 for the year 1913.

Today we are wiser. The declaration of war hurled the German sewing machine industry to utter ruin. Thirty-six years studious, unremitting cultivation of the British market was undone in one fell swoop. At this moment the British attitude towards any product of German origin is so hostile as to preclude all possibility of the error in the Teuton body politic and military being rectified for many years to come, if ever.

Other Times, Other Methods

Hostilities caught Mr. Pierssene, the enterprising Englishman in question, at a heavy disadvantage. On the one hand he was cut off from his source of supply, on the other hand there was a huge market hungering for the sewing machine he had been able to offer. Now was the grand opportunity for the British industry to step in and to recover the whole of the ground it had lost. Its most formidable competitor had been swept aside so that the issue for supremacy became narrowed down very considerably.

But as times had changed, so had the methods. The British sewing machine trade never could aspire to achieve a position comparable with that attained by Germany unless production was conducted along spectacular lines. The rapid deelopment of the industry in Germany and the United States, which had provoked acute competition, had brought about extreme ingenuity in the reduction of prime cost of production.

Intimate acquaintance with the situation in all its phases convinced Mr. Pierssene that, so far as Britain is concerned, manufacture could only be conducted with any prospect of commercial success, comparative with that recorded by the Germans, by a firm possessed of enormous resources in every essential direction — financial, material, mechanical and labour. The outlook for the British-built machine was never so promising; a wave of patriotism was sweeping the Empire.

From Battleships to Sewing Machines

There was only one firm in particular which, if it could only be perusaded to consider the new range of industry as a serious proposal, would be magnificently qualified to attack the problem. It was even more completely armed for the conquest than the German factories ever had been, inasmuch as it had control of the necessary materials from Mother Earth to the last stage of production and dispatch. Moreover there were the firm’s name and worldwide reputation, which alone would prove of inestimable value wherewith to assail the markets of the whole globe.

The firm in question was Vickers Limited. From ponderous super-Dreadnoughts and mighty 15-inch guns to puny sewing machines may seem a very far cry. But manufacture is purely a matter of degree. The production of a big or little gun calls for the handling of integral parts just as small as any incidental to the housewife’s mechanical friend and helpmeet, while the latter demands as fine work and strict adherence to the extreme minute fraction of an inch as the machinery of a battleship or the mechanism of its armament.

The proposal was submitted to the firm and was explained in detail. The opinion was confidently expressed that a machine of Vickers construction, coinciding with the desires of the purchasing public in questions of design and price, would succeed even more triumphantly in the future than had the German rival in the past. The firm listened and was favourably impressed, the circumstance that the sewing machine offered an attractive field for manufacturing activity and the utilisation of one or more of the many war factories which had been created proving a decisive factor.

Within a few days the project had been closely investigated, the possibilities of the potential market probed, and a decision reached. The builders of battleships and big guns would assume the production of a sewing machine, would bring all their many and varied resources to bear upon the enterprise to carry it to success, and would undertake manufacture upon a scale befitting the magnitude and capabilities of Vickers Limited — exceeding the limits previously recorded by the specially built and equipped German factories. Mr. Pierssene agreed to accept responsibility for the selling end and to pursue the lines he had followed so successfully with the Teuton article.

Re-establishing a Lost Industry

The famous armament firm is nothing if not ready to act at once. Sewing machines were in urgent request in all directions, not only by the civil members of the public throughout the world, owing to the German sources of supply having been summarily cut off, but for the equipment of the thousand and one factories which were being brought into being in these islands to make the innumerable textile articles demanded by the services, from uniforms to tenst, machine-gun belts to aeroplane wings, airships to mattresses.

The world was being ransacked for machines, and to ease the national situation the armament manufacturing organisation decided to extend practical assistance. The drawing office was set to work to elaborate the designs, Mr. Pierssene being requested to bring his accumulated experience concerning the subject to bear upon the evolution of what might be described as the last word in this realm of activity. Meanwhile architects were urged to complete designs for a large factory with all speed, while other members of the huge organisation were detailed to secure machine tools, jigs, patterns and material, as well as labour, so that the moment the new factory was completed and equipped the production of the new article might be launched and set in full swing without delay.

But the manufacturers had omitted to take the enemy, or rather the British military authorities, into consideration when maturing their ideas. The new factory had scarcely received its roof when along came the War Office with a request for more and more machine-guns. Why? The new building was splendidly adapted to increase the output of the quick-firing arm. Forthwith it was diverted from its avowed mission of peace to one of war.

Determined not to be denied in its intentions, the company started work on another building. While this was going up the demand for machine-guns took another startling turn, and one which threatened to leave supply hopelessly eclipsed. The sudden impressment of this second building to the quick-firing weapon brought home to the firm tha fact that the war would have to be finished before the sewing machine could be taken seriously in hand. So, with extreme regret, the undertaking was shelved for the time being, the salesman being requested to explain the situation to his anxiously waiting clients and to ask their forebearance.

Putting Interned Alien Mechanics to Work

But as the war pursued its fluctuating course the Vickers Company chafed at the necessity to postpone the sewing machine for an indefinite period. A magnificent opportunity was slipping through its fingers; it was even being denied the chance to turn a spell of enforced inactivity to the fulfilment of that phase of experimental work incidental to every new range of manufacture.

It was also being deprived of the ability to carry out what might be termed the educational side of the issue, to introduce the machine to the public, and to familiarise the latter with its outstanding virtues and capabilities. This handicap was particularly galling because it so happened that at the moment competition had reached its very lowest ebb, the importation of American machine to British civilian account having been prohibited, the home market thus being brought to a complete standstill.

The prevailing state of affairs prompted a further consideration of the whole situation. The firm had not a building, a tool or even a mechanic which it could spare to conduct the indispensable preliminaries — all had been impressed to fulfil work of vital national importance. Suddenly its attention was diverted to the army of interned German civilians, in the ranks of which were some skilled mechanics. They were twiddling their thumbs and kicking their heels in idleness behind barbed wire and living at the country’s expense. Why not give them the opportunity to perform useful work?

There was no logical reason why they should not be enabled to earn their own living if they felt so inclined. The chances were that the majority of those who were skilled would gladly seize the opportunity to while away the tedium of their confinement in remunerative occupation. It would at least offer an effective palliative against fretting. We were not disposed to emulate the example of the enemy who did not hesitate to compel his prisoners to assist in the fulfilment of direct and indirect military duties.

The authorities approached the firm and a practical scheme was submitted for consideration. The Government expressed its readiness to secure a suitable building coinciding with all the essential conditions of internment, and to offer steady, regular employment to all those who were disposed to secure the opportunity to occupy their time and mind to individual financial advantage. No sweating or other deprecatory tactics would be practiced. The men would be paid the standard rate of wages as settled by the union in connection with the employment of British employees, and if, after a time, a man should tire of his task, he should be permitted to return to his camp. No irksome conditions were to be attached to the employment regulations beyond those demanded by the authorities concerning adequate isolation from the outside world.

At Hackney Wick a building which had been provided originally to house the aged and infirm poorer members of the community, but which was no longer required for this purpose, an infirmary to wit, and which was excellently adapted to the scheme, was taken over. The essential alterations to adapt the institution to the new conditions were completed, tools were installed, and those aliens who were perfectly willing to continue the practice of their craft during their period of internment were transferred to this centre.

Educating the Public

In such a somewhat curious manner as this was born the lates range of the varied activities of the Vickers Company. Probably it is without a parallel in the whole range of industrial effort. From this extemporised hive of activity, where the men have been permitted to work practically as they felt disposed, free from all the pressure imposed by severe competitive conditions, and where they have been paid the same wages as they could have commanded had they been left free to pursue their occupations outside, has issued a steady stream of sewing machines.

True the contribution has not been heavy, but it has achieved the object of those fathering the undertaking. The machines which have been forthcoming have been strategically distributed throughout the wide market to which appeal is to be made eventually upon a large scale; have familiarised the patient buyers with the article and its salient characteristics; have introduced the name of Vickers in its association with this industry to the trade. Moreover, these manufacturing facilities, though limited, have enabled the company to overcome the many little difficulties as they became manifest, and have facilitated the embodiment of certain improvements in detail both as regards design and production. In a way the Hackney Wick establishment may be likened to a well-equipped and extensive laboratory — one which not only is devoted to experiment, but which is capable of fulfilling a certain measure of actual production as well.

This successful utilisation of interned alien labour supervised by skilled English mechanics has not met with unqualified favour on all sides. Effort has been made to turn to capital account the circumstance that while the machine is undoubtedly British in conception and is made from British materials, yet it is being made by foreign labour, and therefore to a certain degree is an alien product. Such a contention is peurile and likely to exercise and unwelcome boomerang effect.

In the past, to our national discomfiture, there has been too pronounced a willing tendency to make avail of foreign labour in our factories on the scarcely tenable, and certainly frail, representation that the foreign workman is more industrious than his British contemporary. As events have proved, firms utilising such labout have been selected especially by enemy rivals as fruitful ground for the planting of expert workmen in the confident knowledge that they would acquire all the requisite information to permit the rival in Germany to compete on a more even footing, the workmen having been the vehicle through which valuable and often secret details have been transferred from this country to that astride the Rhine. In this particular instance we are extracting a measure of satisfaction from effective retaliation. We are utilising the foreigner to assist in the restoration of an industry which he undermined some years ago.

“Built Like a Machine Gun”

As a matter of fact, there is no reason to conceal the circumstance that, from the hard-headed commercial point of view, the Hackney Wick factory cannot by any stretch of the imagination be construed into a businesslike enterprise. Certainly it would have been a useless weapon with which to have countered foreign competition had the latter been permited. Cost of production has soared to a height which could never have been tolerated for a moment in an orthodox factory conducted under normal conditions; it is the financial strength of the Vickers Company alone which has enabled it to be utilised as a means to carry on through a troublous time.

But the money has been fruitfully expended, because it has enabled many valuable lessons to be mastered and has allowed many tedious and expensive experiments to be conducted along more leisurely lines than would be possible under ordinary conditions. Whe the product is transferred from this centre to the well-organised, scientifically equipped and commercially conducted factory it will be possible to essay upon big-scale manuafcture without any preliminary exasperating delay, such as is generally incidental to the embracing of a new range of activity with an unfamiliar product.

This transference is to be carried out at the first favourable moment. The factories originally designed for this line at Crayford, together with every necessary machine and tool, as well as the labour expert in their manipulation. To the last-named it is immaterial whether the work in hand constitutes a component part of a Vickers gun or a Vickers sewing machine. The one can be made quite as easily, as expeditiously, and cheaply as the other. The probability is that the output will be increased. By adhering as closely to fine measurements in the fabrication of the sewing machine parts as is essential to produce the death-dealing weapon, the subsequent process of assembly can be facilitated and accelerated.

But the labour has become so skilled in working to the two-thousandth part or less of the inch, and that without demanding any more time for the fulfilment of the job, as to present the liklihood of “built like a machine gun” becoming the slogan of the revived British sewing machine industry and indicative of the exellence of its product. Indeed, it will be one of the strongest talking points, one which will sink deeply into the mind of the prospective buyer as representing the highest quality of work humanly possible.

Talking Points of the New Machines

And what of the sewing macine itself? This is the crucial question, and one which makes vital appeal to the seamstress, the factories in which textiles are worked up for commerce, and to the autocrat of the home. Indeed, it is to My Lady to which the strongest appeal must be made, inasmuch as she is representative of the largest section of the potential purchasing public. She has to be convinced. Place in her hands a machine offering the minimum of anxiety, free from liability to mishap under the most exacting conditions, which will stand up to its work through thick and thin, is not in constant need of repair or overhaul, and you have not only won a contented customer, but an admirer of unswerving allegiance who will never allow an opportunity to escape to impress the unsurpassable qualities of her mechanical sewing maid upon her friends.

The essential virtues are incorporated in the latest British sewing machines of which I write. Every feature has been made subservient to simplicity for the simple reason that simplicity spells freedom from breakdown and high efficiency. The most satisfactory sewing machine is that having the very simplest mechanism and possessing few working parts. Competition has accentuated this factor, and so, to secure an unassailable foundation, the company reverted to fundamental principles. In this way they have secured the simplest form of approved motion.

Materials then occasioned close observation. In this connection the unique experience of the company in matters pertaining to metallurgy, which is of a far-reaching character, resulting in the production of materials possessing the maximum of strength with the minimum of weight, has proved of inestimable value. These acheivements have enabled the machine to be transformed from a cumbersome and weighty article into one of pronounced lightness, yet absolutely rigid and capable of carrying out both light and heavy work.

Finally there comes the question of fabrication of the components, these being made with the precision of the integral parts of a quick-firing gun, giving extreme accuracy in fitting and perfect adjustment, together with perfect balancing. With these factors speed and silence in running is assured. This machine will work faster without any vexatious breakage of the cotton or disaster to the needle than is likely to be demanded by the average user, but nevertheless is free from any tendency to run away, being at all times under complete control.

These are the first and outstanding points to make appeal to My Lady. Their complete expression will not fail to arouse her severely critical eye and touch. She will then observe that, although this represents an entirely new machine, it is one completely free from what may be described as untried features. In reality it is the oldest and most trusty friend in a new and modern guise. The vibrating shuttle follows the simplest lines — those which have been proved as completely reliable through thirty years of accumulated experience and use. Novelty, at all events so far as the basic principles are concerned, is conspicuous by its absence, so that no apprehensions concerning working efficiency need be entertained.

Refinements which Count

Now we come to refinements — the elimination of little worries or the perfection of details which transform the manipulation of a sewing machine from drudgery to pleasure. In this machine all the latest improvements which have established their utilility and which contribute to superior and cleaner work have been incorporated. There is the reversible feed, whereby the operator is enabled to sew backwards or forwards without removing the work. The machinist may commence the work at any convenient point. By the movement of a small lever the machine, when started, will sew backwards to the very edge of the material. Reversal of the lever causes sewing to proceed forward in the usual manner. The end of the thread can then be cut off with the assurance that the seam will not come undone.

If there is one feature more than any other of the sewing machine likely to prove exasperating, it is the setting of the needle. Certainly it is a detail which has occupied prolonged study. To avoid rousing the machinist’s ire, it should be capable of being set with the utmost facility and celerity even in the most adverse circumstances, such as indifferent illumination. The new machine is so designed as to render the needle self-setting. It is held in a slot in the needle-bar and in such a manner as to prevent it being placed too high or too low. It can only occupy one position — that essential to work the machine.

The machine is symmetrically designed, a conspicuous feature readily appealing to the user being the ample space under the arm which enables large work to be fulfilled with the facility with which small work can be carried out. Of recent years considerable ingenuity has been displayed in adapting the sewing machine to a wide variety of work merely by the aid of suitable attachments. The new aspirant for appreciation is no exception to this rule, being provided with a set of sixteen attachments, instructions concerning the use of each of which are extended.

While the mechanism is the factor which counts, the user, particularly My Lady of the house, appreciates an attractive finish and compactness of the whole, more especially if it be a treadle model. This machine is well japanned and tastefully decorated, while it may be readily identified from the name of the manufacturers plainly imprinted on the arm. It is mounted upon an ample wooden base of solid wood finished in a substantial walnut veneer. In the case of the hand and treadle model, which is now being introduced to the market, a well is provided, into which the base of the hand machine fits, and in such a way as to bring the bed-plate of the machine flush with the surface of the table.

Catering for the Demand

The treadle attachment and table are of light though ample construction, one departure from the usual practice being the provision of a metal instead of a wooden pitman. Weight has been judiciously pared down without sacrificing the rigidity of the stand, thereby facilitating its movement about the room, while special attention has been devoted to rendering it as compact as conditions will permit, so that it does not occupy too much space. It is intended to modify the treadle type of machine to meet varying desires, as, for instance, the provision of a drop head where the machine may be rolled over to become nested in a well when not in use, thereby allowing the stand to be converted into a small occasional or side table.

Incidentally, in the bold decision to restore Britain’s lost sewing machine trade, Vickers Limited have introduced a new industry to these islands. This is the production of bent woodwork, which five years ago was virtually an Austrian monopoly. A sewing machine without a bentwood cover of pleasing lines would be akin to jam without sugar. Foreign supplies being cut off, the company was thrown back upon its own resources, which, however, in this as in other directions during the strenuous four years which have passed, proved equal to the occasion. The experimental staff and designers set to work and have succeeded in inventing new machinery capabe of carrying out this working in wood in a manner quite equal to the best which ever came from Austria, and which finds its first commercial expression in the production of the cover for the sewing machine.

While the Vickers organisation has concentrated its energies upon the production of a fully trusty typr of sewing machine of superior manufacture, it must not be thought for a moment that the company proposes to rest content with this model as a solitary expression of its capabilities in this field. The inventive side of the firm, recognising the undeveloped potentialities of the trade, have concentrated their cumulative powers of thought upon the perfection of a rotary shuttle sewing machine for which they hold patented improvements, and this is only a forerunner of other striking develpments which are under way.

Producing and Attractively-priced Article

Standardisation hs tended to stultify inventiveness in this realm. Yet it is one offering illimitable scope, especially to a firm which, new to the craft, is not bound by obsolete traditions and has nothing to forget in order to forge ahead. The rotary shuttle machine is ready for production the moment the works are ready to receive it. As a certain period of time must necessarily elapse before the Crayford factories will be able to get into their stride, the rotary model will not make its appearance until a later date.

When manufacture under scientific factory conditions is attached in grim earnest, effort will be concentrated rather upon speeding up produciton to the maximum. I happen to know what is the aim of the company in this connection, but it would not be fair to communicate it at the present moment. It must suffice to say that the figure is impressive. It should not only suffice to keep the German machine off the Imperial market, but it should render the Teuton reconquest of neutral markets a matter of extreme difficulty.

The cost of production in the German factories under pre-war conditions is fully known. Our ability to eclipse them under contemporary conditions cannot be doubted for a moment. The current prices for the Vickers sewing machine — £4 16s 0d for the hand and £7 13s 6d for the hand and treadle models respectively — may seem high in comparison with what the German rivals commanded five years ago. But it must be remembered that raw materials, wages, and other charges stand at higher levels today. Free recourse to standardisation and big-scale production by means of the latest time, labour, and money saving tools may possibly tend towards a modification of prices at a later date.

The circumstances that labour promises to be adequate, the the integral parts of the sewing machine can be turned out freely by the class of labour which achieved such distinct success in the production of munitions, and that the task imposes the minimum of demand upon the highly-skilled section of the labour market, is a happy augury for the future of the British sewing machine industry. We should certainly be able to regain the prestige which we have lost in this field and be in the position to satisfy that huge market which prefers to pay cash for what it requires so long as the price is attractive.

Seeing that it is the factories, machines, labour, and much of the selfsame materials which for four years have been utlilised to turn out an imposing stream of quick-firing death-dealing weapons, which are now to be diverted to the new range of human endeavour and upon an equally striking scale, onw may truthfully describe the new manifestation of activity as being one of “turning Vickers guns into sewing machines”.

Singer Sales Literature

I can now present for your delight both the Singer Illustrated Catalogue for 1933 and its accompanying Price List. There’s links to PDFs of the scans at the bottom of this post, but while you’re here, let’s just take a quick look at some of the contents.

Before we do though, here’s a few comparisons between then and now to help put prices into perspective. In 1933, the UK average wage was £3 12s 0d (£3.60) a week and a pint of beer cost 6d (2.5p). Today, the corresponding figures are £504 a week and around £2.90, so wages have risen faster over the last 79 years than the price of beer has. What I find quite remarkable though is that in 1933, a typical 3-bedroom house sold for £360, which was just less than two years’ average earnings. Now the average 3-bedroom house costs £243,000, which is over nine years’ average earnings. How come?

Whatever, it seems that life expectancy for women in this country has gone up from 60 in 1933 to 81 now and for men from 53 to 78, so it’s not all bad …

We start with the New Enclosed Cabinet No.46, which should be of particular interest to those who can never remember which cabinet is the 46 and which is the 51. As you can see here, the 46 is the one with the one-piece door with the rectangular drawer on the back of it. The later cabinet which is the same size and shape but has the two doors and the D-shaped swing-out drawer thingies on the back of the left-hand one is the 51, which Elsie and I much prefer. In our opinion, a nice 51 cabinet with modern castors under it and a properly set-up treadle mechanism driving a 201 on top of is a very fine thing to have in the house.

In 1933 you couldn’t yet buy a 201, but a shiny new 66K in a No.46 cabinet could be delivered to your door for a list price of £23 10s 0d (£23.50), which was more than 6 weeks’ average wages before tax.

On page 4, we see that by now the old cast-iron legs of the Cabinet Tables have given way to the new wooden sides. A 66K in a 5-drawer base like the one on page 4 was £18 5s 9d (£18.29) if paid for at the rate of 10/- (50p) per month, but could be had for just £15 8s 0d (£15.40) cash if you’d come into money.

Those Cabinet Tables are still quite common in England, but the One-Drawer Drop-Leaf Table on page 5 certainly isn’t. Does anybody know for sure if that’s the one in which the machine sat in the table in the wooden base which has the slot between the two belt holes so you could just lift the whole thing out and use it as a portable?

There’s no mention of either of these Cabinet Tables (or indeed of the 46 Cabinet) being convertible for use with an electric machine by means of the motor controller 194386 on its associated bracket, so I’m still no wiser as to when that was introduced in the UK.

I do love these illustrations of the portables. It seems that Singer could never come up with a convincing way of including the lid in a picture, so here we have it on a footstool of just the right size and shape on page 6, and on what I’m convinced is a pair of wheelbarrow tyres on page 7.

A nice hand-cranked 128 portable would have set you back £9 17s 6d (£9.87) in 1933, although for just thirty bob (£1.50) more you could have had its full-size sister the 127. A knee-lever 99K electric, on the other hand, was £14 if paying cash. That price included a Singerlight, but not a footstool or the tyres to put the lid on.

And now we have a knee-lever 66K electric in The New Model 40 Table which, it says here, is an “elegant article of furniture”. Be that as it may, have you noticed how the word “article” in this sense seems to be obsolescent nowadays in much the same way that “apparatus” does? It’s a shame. They’re both fine words.

Model 40 tables are decidedly uncommon nowadays, and I have to admit that as far as I’m concerned that’s not a bad thing. £31 12s 6d (£31.62) on Easy Terms, or £25 6s 0d (£25.30) cash to you, Madam. That was getting on for two months’ average wages …

The all-steel foot controller shown here on page 10 is a rare bird now too, which if you ask me is just as well because they’re a bit on the primitive side – and they do tend to stink when they start getting warm. Note how the mains lead is supplied with a bayonet connector on the end so that when you’d fitted the motor to your machine, you could plug it into any convenient light fitting once you’d taken the bulb out of it.

Any reader raising an eyebrow at that last observation might care to note that plugging a sewing machine (or a hairdryer come to that) into a table lamp or other light fitting was common practice at one time. When many rooms had only one mains socket in them (or at best a pair of them side-by-side on the skirting board), table and standard lamps often served as extension leads, and most households were possessed of an assortment of plug adaptors by means of which many light and power problems could be solved.

On page 11 we note that in 1933 the 15K was the “Dressmaker’s Machine”, and that the base shown is the “artisan” one with the bigger-diameter treadle wheel to facilitate higher stitching speeds.

And finally a couple of industrials. Note the cast-iron legs, which were by now obsolete as far as domestic customers were concerned. Note also the convention whereby women sew at home on domestic machines and men sew at work on industrials.

I don’t know anything about the 31K15 apart from the fact it’s got a knee-lifter, but that back leaf of the table certainly does look handy! The 29K53 is a fascinating machine that’s often referred to as The Patcher, and its variants always seem to sell for a decent price on Ebay nowadays. I love the way you can sew in any direction with it, and alternate between treadle and hand drive. It’s a very clever bit of engineering.

For scans of both publications as PDFs, click on the links below. I did them as two separate files so you can, should you wish, have the catalogue and the price list open at the same time for ease of cross-reference …

1933 Singer UK Illustrated Catalogue

1933 Singer UK pricelist

By the way, lest any of our overseas readers be confused by the bayonet connector, I should perhaps point out that not only are we on 220 volt here, but our light bulbs don’t screw into light fittings like yours probably do. Ours have a bayonet cap, about which everything you could ever wish to know is, as usual, on Wikipedia – see here

You can’t buy those bayonet connectors nowadays, unless of course you turn to this guy on Ebay. Those things were often used in conjunction with the Y-shaped two-way adaptor (a picture of which I couldn’t find), which plugged into a lampholder so that two bayonet connectors could be plugged into it. I suppose the theory was that they allowed you to use two light bulbs in one lampholder, but I never saw one used like that.

While I’m on this subject, I should perhaps explain that in England nowadays, you can’t even walk into a shop and buy an ordinary 100 watt incandescent light bulb, the manufacture of which has been banned by the EU in order to save the planet. We’re therefore hoping the 20 that I bought online last week will see us out, as we only need them for 3 lights in the house which are used intermittently and for which energy-saving fluorescents are neither use nor ornament.

And if making incandescent light bulbs obsolete as a token gesture in the direction of planet-saving seems daft to you, how about the singularly crazy legislation requiring a proportion of the light fittings in all new homes to be 3-pin bayonet lampholders into which neither traditional bulbs nor energy-saving fluorescents can be fitted? See here



The Singer convertible treadle base and motor controller 194386

And before I go any further, let me say that we’ve never been sure of the correct designation for the base shown in the following pictures. If you happen to know and can point us in the direction of the relevant brochure page or whatever, we’d love to hear from you!

OK, you can ignore the incomplete 66K which I plonked into this base just for the picture, because it’s only the base with which we’re concerned here. And yes, I totally agree with you – it would have been nice if whoever covered the top of this one with a coat of varnish had at least tried to quieten down those watermarks first.

But never mind. We happen to like these particular bases, and not only because of the very neat way in which the larger of those two inset sections of the top lifts off to form the extension. Mainly we like them because more often than not, they still have the bits on them which you need to make them convertible, in the sense that you can fit an electric head to one and then have the option to treadle it or use the motor as the fancy takes you.

If however the motor controller’s been removed from one of these bases, it’ll be just like any other late-type treadle base underneath.

If all this is new to you, note that that picture’s taken from the back of the base, simply because it’s easier to see how the Pitman rod (note technical term) connects the treadle plate to the crank, so as to make the wheel go round. What you see in that picture is what all these later domestic treadle bases look like – allowing for the fact that this one hasn’t got a belt on it!

If we look up from that angle and move round to the front of the base then hang a sheet over the back of it while we take some snaps, the underneath looks like this, which I admit is kind of boring. However …

While that’s fine for treadling your full-size (eg 15K, 66K or 201K) vintage Singer, what to do if you want the option to use an electric machine in this base? Well, you could just fit the head into the treadle base, plug in your machine plug and use your foot controller like you do with the machine on the kitchen table. But it will immediately become obvious that you can’t put the foot controller where it needs to be because the treadle plate’s in the way.

What you need is …

That’s Singer Motor Controller 194386, that is, with the correct bracket to fit it to the later-type treadle bases (as opposed to the ornate cast-iron ones, which need a different bracket), together with that curly doohickey at bottom right.

The 194386 is to all intents and purposes a normal foot controller with its button on the top replaced by a metal tongue with a hole in it sticking out of one end, as you might be able to see above. The hole at top left of the cover is the cable entry, and we will very shortly see what the doohickey’s for.

So OK, let’s say you’ve found yourself one of these treadle bases, and you rather fancy putting your 201K electric in it so you have the option of either mains or people power. What’s involved? As far as I recall from the last time I did it, this is what’s involved …

1 Check that you have the bits shown above, and also the black metal plate which goes to the right of the machine bed and fills the 45mm gap which would otherwise exist. You can see that plate in the top picture, but what you can’t see is that there are three holes in it – two for the treadle belt to pass through and one for the lead to the motor controller. The plate screws to the underside of your machine bed, so you finally get to see what those two threaded holes at the far right of your machine bed are for 😉

2 Screw the plate to the machine bed, put a rubber bush in the hole through which the mains lead will go, and fit your machine head to the base via the pins of the hinges, just the same way as it fits in its wooden base.

3 Make absolutely certain that you tighten the grub screws onto the pins of those hinges. Then check again that both are secure. If you don’t, guess what can happen the first time you lower the machine head into the base.

4 With the mains disconnected from the wall socket, open up your existing foot controller and disconnect the two wires of the lead which goes to it. Put both terminal screws back so you don’t lose them, then put the case back together.

5 With the mains still disconnected, plug your machine plug into the machine, and pass the lead you just disconnected from your foot controller down through the hole in that side plate.

6 Open up your Controller 194386, pass that lead through the hole in the cover, and fit the two wires to the terminals of the controller just like they were on your foot controller.

7 Now fit the 194386 to the treadle base by means of its bracket and the three screws, comme ça …

8 Undo the nut at the top end of your Pitman rod and disconnect the rod by simply twiddling it until it comes away from the crank

9 Hook the hook of the doohickey through the hole in the tongue projecting from the bottom of the controller, from back to front. Hold the doohickey there, screw the Pitman rod into it as far as it will go, then tighten the nut up against the bottom of the doohickey …

10 Check that when you press on the treadle plate, the tongue is pulled out of the motor controller and that when you release the plate, the tongue retracts.

11 Now try it with power on, and with any luck you’re in business. Note that you can to some extent adjust the slope of the treadle plate when it’s at rest by screwing the Pitman rod in or out of the doohickey.

12 If you’re sure that everything’s to your liking, tidy the excess mains lead out of the way for now, then power up and see how it goes.

13 When you have the electrical operation sorted, get yourself a nice new treadle belt and fit it.

14 Turn off the power. Disconnect the Pitman rod from the doohickey, re-fit it to the crank on the treadle wheel (screwing it in as far as it’ll go), pop the belt into the groove behind your balance wheel, ease the belt onto the treadle wheel, and savour the joy of sewing with a treadle machine.

And that’s about it. Unless you’re used to sewing by both mains and people power, it’s probably best to live with the electrics like this for long enough for you to know for sure that you’re going to keep the machine in this base. Then you can get rid of the excess length of mains lead and tidy things up – and that’ll be another blog post sometime!


Vintage Singer UK brochure featuring her with the frock – part two


OK, here’s the rest of that wonderful Singer brochure featuring Ann Droid and her stripey frock, and thanks to Alison we now know that this was almost certainly published in 1951. Our copy’s somewhat faded in places 60 years on, which is why these scans aren’t all that brilliant …

“Do you prefer cabinetwork of contemporary design?” indeed! As far as we’re concerned, the best thing about these Cabinets, which we always thought were Tables, is the fact that the legs are readily detachable. That’s a real boon when the machine you just brought home is in one of these things and you can’t quite bring yourself to take the table down to the dump recycling centre once you’ve taken the head out of it, so the only place left for it is in the attic alongside the other two.

Having said that, Elsie’s determined to get one of them down from the roof soon and take it with us next time we do a boot sale – unless of course by publishing this post I manage to whip up a demand for them that we’ll be pleased to meet. Which I very much doubt, but I live in hope.

Be that as it may, we’ve now got to the middle of the brochure, and because of the way the centre pages are laid out as a double page spread, it just doesn’t work scanned as two separate pages. I’ve had to link to it here so off you go now for a squint at that.

As you can see there, we’ve moved onto treadle machines, and the choice of head is simple – would Madam prefer a 15 or a 201? According to the printed text, the choice of base was equally straightforward – pick one of three variants of the “modern” (i.e. wooden legs) treadle base – 3-drawer, 2-drawer or 1-drawer.

So far so good. However, the notes added by the salesman (with his fountain pen, of course) muddy the waters somewhat. Judging by his sketch, he seems to have been offering a 7-drawer with wooden legs, to which his note “NEW £46” seems to refer, and that’s interesting because neither Elsie nor I can recall ever seeing such a thing. He’s also made a note of a “drop head with iron stand” at £20, which must surely have been old stock because the printed text actually states that the iron legs “have been superceded” by the wooden ones.

His note at the bottom right-hand says “Dressmakers model table top with cover £15”, and I’m not sure what to make of that because “Dressmaker” in this context was usually Singer staff talk for a 201. Even more puzzling, the top right-hand note says “modern style folding head with 7 drawers £28”, which would seem to relate to that base with the four extra drawers drawn in. But if it does, what’s with that “NEW £46” above it?

If anybody can shed any light on those notes and/or the pricing, do please let us know, but before we leave the treadles I’ll just clear up one thing. There was never a 99 treadle. If you do see one, it’s not kosher. It’s a DIY job.

OK … now we come to another double page spread, but this one does work as two halves …

Interesting that one of these “full size machines” is the 99K, which is of course a three-quarter size machine! And how about the claim that they “can be easily carried from room to room”? A hand-cranked 99 in its case weighs 14.5kg (32lb) and an electric 201’s heavier still at 20.5kg (45lb), which strikes me as a fair old weight for anyone to easily carry from room to room.

And look, there’s that “Brown Mission” again! If that’s not a daft name for the colour of a wood finish, I don’t know what is. And was the suitcase-type case really available in grey leather cloth? If it was, did it look as uninspiring as it sounds?

Whatever, note that the text on the page above says “Normally, these machines are all-electric, fitted with the famous Singer electric motor, Singerlight and Foot Control”, yet the 201 illustrated is a knee-lever machine!

Personally I’m convinced that this brochure is 1951, but here’s your proof that it’s definitely pre-1954. If it was any later, Stripey would be wanting to show you her new 222, not the 221 shown here. And at this point I’d better explain for those of you who aren’t Featherweight Fans (or even Pheatherweight Phans) that a Featherweight is either a 221 or a 222.

The 221 was introduced in the mid-1930’s, and Singer eventually made over 1,000,000 of the things. Then in 1954 they brought out the 222, which is just a 221 with a free-arm and feed dog drop, but they only made 100,000 or so of those, which is presumably why they’re sometimes advertised as “rare”.

Incidentally, many of its devotees think the 222 was the first domestic machine with a free-arm, but they are wrong. The Elna Grasshopper was the first, by a good 10 years. But I digress.

I just love the suggestion that a 221 is “easily carried wherever you go – from room to room – on a long trip – or just for an afternoon’s sewing at a friend’s house.” An afternoon’s sewing at a friend’s house? Who is the woman kidding? Or is that code for “so easy to cart about with you to show off to your friends and make them really jealous”? Whatever, Featherweights are undoubtedly cute and they certainly have a huge following with quilters in the States, but for our money they’re over-rated. There. I said it.

Lovely use of Proper English there, and interesting to think that 60 years ago that wouldn’t have been thought in the least patronising. Or boring. Back then, Singer were still on top of their game. They were the absolute masters at marketing domestic sewing machines, and there’s not the slightest hint anywhere in this brochure of the rot which was soon to set in

Oh look – she’s doing that sincere expression again, bless her.

Now, there’s a couple of matters arising from those pictures of the six attachments that were supplied with new machines in 1951 (or thereabouts). One is that, surprisingly, by this time the ruffler was not one of the standard attachments. And the other is the quilter. I really do wish they’d called it what it is i.e. a quilting guide. So many people seem to think that “the quilter” is some awesome attachment which does something really clever, when all it actually does is allow you, within certain limits, to sew parallel to and at a fixed distance from the last line of stitching in your quilt.

And finally we turn to the outside back cover …

with its cutaway of Mission Control. Which raises an interesting question – when did Singer shops in the UK finally stop offering the dressmaking courses, and for that matter the finishing service? If you happen to know, we’d love to hear from you.

Going off at a tangent now, when I first saw Stripey’s frock it immediately reminded me of a silly idea that Kodak UK came up with in the mid-1960’s. They thought it would be fun (or whatever) to have the women who worked in the shops which shifted the most Kodak films wearing very loud blue and white stripey frocks with a yellow Kodak badge on the left breast during the summer film-buying season.

At the time, my mother was one of those women, and I have this vivid recollection of her coming home from work one day with this large brown paper parcel in the wicker basket on the front of her bike. She was not happy. It was very nice of Kodak to give her two cloth badges, a pattern and more than enough material for two dresses, but if nothing else, when did they suppose she was going to find the time to make them?

If I remember rightly, she eventually got a neighbour to knock one up, tried it on, decided she wasn’t going to look like a deckchair for Kodak or anyone else, and that was the end of that …


“I am a typical Singer girl”


No you’re not, dear. You’re Ann Droid, a figment of somebody’s fevered imagination, and you freak me out with your weird expressions, your wooden poses and your eyebrows. Can’t say I’m a big fan of the frock either, but never mind.

Unfortunately we can’t date this brochure with any accuracy, but I think you’ll agree it has to be 1950’s. Early 1960’s at the very latest? Whatever, that very much of-its-time earnest expression coupled with the very properly-worded question on the cover sets the tone for the entire contents, as we shall see …

Good old-fashioned proper English, but obviously written by a chap who always wore his jacket in the office and still wore shirts with long tails and a separate collar. Arm-bands too, probably. Horn-rimmed glasses for sure, and always addressed as Mister Jones. Same seat on the bus into the office every morning, and not much longer to go before his gold watch and his pension.

But wait – what’s that snappy slogan going on there at the end of that block of text? “Where there’s sewing there’s SINGER and where there’s SINGER there’s service” indeed. Wow. Personally I think they should have kicked that idea round the block a few more times before going firm on it, but at least they made the effort to get a bit lively.

And finally we get down to the nitty-gritty. We learn that the 99K is “the smaller type of domestic machine” and has “proved ideal for normal sewing requirements”. Gosh, and to think that 50 or 60 years later the very same 99K is regularly touted on Ebay as a “heavy duty semi-industrial” machine. Maybe they improved with age?

Interesting that the 15K’s “designed for constant hard work in the home … or in the dressmaker’s workroom”, but the best they can say about the 201, which is nowadays considered to be the real workhorse, is that it does tricks by way of reverse and drop feed.

Ooooh look! The Queen Anne table, as often seen in those Eastbourne living rooms with the the patterned carpet, the Dralon three-piece suite with matching pouffe, the Bontempi organ in the corner and the framed print of Tretchikoff’s “The Chinese Girl” still on the wall above the electric coal-effect fire.

I love the bit about it being “a pleasing piece of furniture with many other uses” when the machine’s folded down and the top closed. Beyond standing a couple of framed snaps of the grandchildren and/or an arrangement of dried flowers upon it, I wonder what those “many other uses” actually amounted to.

But now we’re talking! The good old Enclosed Cabinet No.51, which I hadn’t realised was actually available in four finishes, one of which was “Brown Mission”. Don’t ask us. We haven’t a clue either.

Whatever the veneer, we like the 51 we do, because it’s eminently practical, it doesn’t take up much space, the treadle action’s nice on it, and it was available as a Convertible on which you can swop between treadle power and electric as the fancy takes you.

Elsie’s just read that last bit over my shoulder and says I shouldn’t big up the 51 cabinet any more in case people think I’m only saying how good it is because we have three spare ones in the house at present and wouldn’t mind seeing the back of a couple of them, but that’s not the case at all. We really do like them.


More deathless prose from Mister Jones and more of Ann Droid and her stripey frock to come when we do the remaining pages …


Buttonholers, zigaggers, foot controllers and a Lotus treadle


Just in case you rarely venture onto the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, here’s a quick update so you know what you’re missing.

Seeing as how in the last week we’ve sent a Singer USA 160985 zigzagger (that’s the big black one with the four red cams) to Birmingham, one of the big Ruby buttonholers to Canada and a Singer 160506 buttonholer to Germany, we’ve been toiling by night even as by day to replace them with more goodies for your consideration.

I’ve just listed a good Singer 161157 zigzagger, which is the third and final version of the one which started out as the 160985, another big Ruby in very fine condition, and another one of Elsie’s favourite buttonholer, the 160506.

There’s also a nice Singer 485910 buttonholer which is perhaps more common in the US than it is over here, a particularly good example of a Precision Built Button Holer B-3 in a nice tin (and unusually, this one’s complete with all its bits), as well as a bit of a rarity called the Zick Zack Kuli Rändelapparat.

Rounding off the new listings is the standard vintage Singer button-type foot controller. Hoorah! I finally remembered to mention that we can usually do you a nice one of these at a sensible price, and maybe even offer a choice of black or brown. Actually, now I come to think of it, maybe I ought to do a post about them on the home page before long?

On the Singers for Sale page we’ve added this gorgeous 1920 Lotus 66K treadle, which Elsie was all for keeping because it’s a lot prettier than the 1909 one in her harmonium (or, if you prefer, her later drawing room cabinet) …

Picture of 1920 Singer Lotus decal 66K treadle

In the end though, and unusually for us, common sense has prevailed. The Lotus which is in Elsie’s harmonium’s been in it for 102 years now so it really ought to stay here, and there’s no way that Elsie’s going to part with her favourite cabinet. Besides, as far as we can tell, this Lotus has always been in this base, so they ought to stay together too. And besides again, Elsie finally admitted the other night that perhaps (just perhaps) I was right after all, and we really do not have the space for her to add yet another machine to her collection.

I did intend to update you with the latest developments on the bicycle front but that needs pictures, which will have to wait until the snow and ice has gone from the lane. So more on our bikes anon …


Singer UK brochure and price list 1940


Or if not actually 1940, it’s certainly thereabouts. This comes courtesy of Colette, who very kindly scanned the booklet her Mum picked up from the Singer shop in downtown Pinner when shopping for her new sewing machine …

Singer Enclosed Cabinet no.51

I’m not sure when the No.51 Cabinet was introduced, but it certainly wasn’t long before the start of the 1939-45 war. Whenever, we like it lots because it’s both compact and very practical, and we usually have at least one of these in good condition listed on the Singers for sale page. It takes any full-size vintage Singer, the treadle mechanism works a treat, and it can be supplied as it could when new with the option to switch easily from treadle to electric power as the fancy (or the power cut) takes you.

Singer drop-head cabinet table with wooden sides

We often have one of these available too! This is the standard treadle base which replaced the ornate cast-iron one, and it was available with either three or five drawers. If it looks to you more like two drawers or four, that’s because Singer always counted the wide central tilt-to-open bit which runs across the front between the side drawers as a drawer. Which I guess it is, kind of.

Singer One-drawer Drop-leaf table with Cover

I don’t know quite how popular the one drawer table with the bentwood cover was, but you don’t see many of them nowadays. I could see the point if you could drop your portable into that table top, faff about a bit and start treadling, but you couldn’t, so maybe the idea was to use up a vast stock of bentwood case tops prior to the changeover to suitcase-type cases?

Singer No 40 table

The No.40’s not at all common nowadays, though you do see them from time to time – often in the sort of rooms which still have a dusky pink Dralon sofa, a Bontempi organ and a print of Tretchikoff’s “Blue Lady” on the wall. What’s far more common is the later, modern version – particularly the one which takes a 99 rather than a full-size machine.

Singer 201K2 and 201K3

This is one of the many things which puzzle me about vintage Singers – why did they run the 201K2 (potted motor) alongside the 201K3 (belt-drive motor)? I’d love to know what the sales pitch was! Note that these electrics are knee-levers, which apparently sold well for years despite the somewhat agricultural appearance of the knee-lever itself.

Singer 99K

Here’s the old faithful 99, which they were still making the best part of 20 years after this brochure was printed. Note that it’s no longer in a bentwood case, and that you could rent one or have one on free trial.

Have you noticed how in those days you always sewed with your right leg crossed over your left?

Singer add-on electric motor and foot pedal

“Any Singer salesman will gladly demonstrate this motor in your own home on your own machine if you will call or write to the local Singer shop.” I’ll bet – and no doubt talk you into part-exchanging your old 27 for a nice new 201 while he’s at it.

Note that apparently you don’t cross your legs whilst fitting a motor.

Singer 15K80 on "artisan" base

This is a rare bird nowadays – a 15K on what’s often referred to as the “artisan” treadle base. This is the base with the bigger-diameter treadle wheel for faster sewing, which I think evolved into the one with the knee-lever presser-foot lift used for the 1200. And you don’t see many of those either!

Singer attachments in godzilla tin

The standard attachments are shown in this brochure in the black crinkle-finish “godzilla” tin, which raises the question as to which machines were sold with them in the cardboard box instead? I have no idea, but I do know that we can usually supply full sets in either.

Singer UK price list 1940

Now if this isn’t actually the 1940 price list, believe me it’s as good as. By this time they’ve moved on from quoting “list price” and “net cash price” to the much less confusing “hire purchase price” and “cash price”, but still with the discount for early settlement.

It’s difficult to give present-day equivalent costs because it all depends on how you do the calculations, but if we take for example a bog-standard 66 in a 5-drawer cabinet table, that’s listed here at £18 13s 6d cash or for our younger readers £18.67. If we go by the Retail Price Index, that’s £795 today, but if we use instead average wage values, it would cost you £2370. Either way, it just goes to show that these things were never cheap – and that buying a good one now is a real bargain!


Vintage Singer cabinets, treadle bases – and 1929 UK prices


Hurrah! I finally got the scanner working properly again and Elsie’s just found the 1929 Singer Illustrated Price List after I put it back in the wrong place in The Sewing Room, so here we go with a look at some of it. By the way, when Singer said “List Price” they meant the total price when bought on “Singer Easy Terms”, and “Net Cash Price” is what it cost when paying with folding money.

That’s the later and final version of the 1900 Drawing Room Cabinet (the one that Elsie got for her birthday which I posted a snap of the other week). We’ve also just got one of these from 1920, but more of that anon. All we need now is some artistic furniture for it to harmonise with.

Just to give you some idea of how expensive these things were in 1929, if we take for example the 66K in a 5-drawer priced at £18/10/0 on HP or £14/16/0 for cash and base the calculation on average earnings, according to the equivalent cost today is £3530 on HP and £2820 for cash! In other words, something like twice the cost of a really good bicycle, which actually sounds about right to us.

Picture of Singer 201K in 7-drawer cabinet table (treadle base)

While we’re on the subject of cabinet tables, here’s a snap of Elsie’s 7-drawer, which currently lives in a corner of the front room with her 1940 201K in it. I’m not sure what the original machine was, on account of the lady who sold us the treadle base had sold the head for a fiver to “a woman who advertised a couple of years back wanting old sewing machines to go in shop window displays”. A pox on All Saints!

In case you’re wondering, the wire that’s plugged into that socket goes to a Singerlight which you can’t see on the back of the machine, that recess is exactly 48 inches wide, and yes the belt is a bit loud but that’s ‘cos it’s a brand new one I put on last week. It’ll soon quieten down.

That’s the 1929 incarnation of the Victorian treadle machine i.e. the coffin-top one. Until we acquired this price list, I always thought that when they introduced the fold-down treadle machines they discontinued the “put the lid on it” ones, but obviously not. OK, it was a cheaper alternative to a 3-drawer cabinet table, but surely it must have seemed a bit old-fashioned?

Love the way you could get a free home trial or rent one by the week, but most of all I just love that footstool carefully placed to show off the lid …

Ahah! So if you’ve got an electric portable, you put the lid on a pouffé! Either that or it’s a couple of spare wheelbarrow tyres. Whatever, note that these are electrics with knee-lever control (as opposed to foot pedal).

I don’t know if these tables were popular at the time, but I do know that you don’t see many of them nowadays.

This is a new one on me, and I wonder why there’s no model number? Anyhow, as I understand it, you drop your portable electric still in its base into a big recess on the top of the table, and presumably the knee-lever attaches via a hole in the front of the table. Seems a bit pointless to me, because surely the only advantage over just plonking your portable on the kitchen table is that the bed of the machine is now flush with the table top? And against that you’ve got a table which can’t be used for anything else because when you’re not using the machine, you put the lid over it.

It seems a poor thing compared to that cabinet table which used to be available with the recess into which you dropped your hand-crank portable (still in its base) to turn it into a treadle machine. And if you’re wondering how on earth that worked, the answer is that at the time, some of the portable bases had two big holes in them under the handwheel, with a slot between. Drop your machine into the cabinet table, run a treadle belt down through one hole, round the treadle wheel, back up through the other hole and over the pulley, trim and join belt in the usual way and flick the “finger” of the hand crank out from between the handwheel spokes. Bingo – your hand crank portable is now a treadle machine. (And having faffed with the belt like that to get it in place and the right length , it’s all set up so you don’t need to repeat the performance.)

To revert to hand-crank portable, you just slip the belt off treadle wheel then lift it clear of handwheel. Lift the machine out of the recess, the belt slips through the slot between the two holes, and off you go, pausing only to grab the lid from off that matching footstool, When it’s treadle time again, you just reverse the process.

Anyhow, that’s the main part of the 1929 price list, and I’ll do the 1940’s one before much longer, courtesy of Colette …


The Singer Enclosed Cabinet No.51


Picture of Singer Enclosed Cabinet #51

I’ve been meaning to mention for ages that thanks to Colette having kindly scanned for us a Singer brochure which her Mum picked up around 1940, we now know for certain that what we thought was Enclosed Cabinet No.46 is in fact Enclosed Cabinet No.51.

It looks like the bloke in the Singer shop who wrote “in New Enclosed Cabinet 46” on the receipt we have for a 201 


How to remove a vintage Singer from its base and how to replace it – single-handed


Before we get stuck in, let me say that there is an alternative way of removing and replacing a head in a wooden base, but you need more of a toolkit to do it that way and you could screw up the finish round the hinge bodies on the base. Besides, this way’s not complicated, it just seems that way when you explain it.

First off you need to slacken the chromed thumbscrew on the base so you can move the little catch thingy out the way and swing the head back on its hinges. Do be careful though, because the head is heavy and if it’s loose on the hinges, it might not move quite how you expect it to. If you’re a bit worried about this, put some kind of padding on the table behind the base such as a folded towel, and at least then if it flicks over onto its back, you’re unlikely to bend anything. Or dink the table.

If you’re confident, all you need is something of such a height that you can lay the head down on it and all will be held at a convenient angle for you to furtle about under the bed. For this lovely 99K which followed us home from Dartford yesterday, a couple of Elsie’s old books was just right (since you asked, the 1931 Womans Own Book of the Home and The Complete Illustrated Household Encyclopaedia) …

Picture of underneath Singer 99K sewing machine

The next step is to locate the two grub screws (for that is what a small bolt without a head like this is called) which lock, or at least should lock, the machine securely to the two hinge pins. Note for pedants – yes, I do know that a grub screw is actually a set screw and not a bolt. Not everybody knows what a set screw is though, so just chill, dude.

As I was saying, you need to unscrew the two grub screws, if indeed they are not already unscrewed. Or missing …

Picture of removal of left grub screw from Singer 99 machine bed

Picture of removal of right grub screw from Singer 99 machine bed

You don’t need to take those screws out, only unscrew them enough so that you can slide the head off two two hinge pins, but if you over-do the unscrewing and they fall out, it’s no biggie because they will (should) just drop into the machine base. Whatever, you can now try lifting the head off the hinges, remembering that you need to take the weight and lift the thing up and towards you at the same time. This is the point at which you wish you’d planned ahead and worked out where you were going to put the head down once it’s out the base, but such is life.

Rear view of Singer 99K mounting point

There’s your grub screw unscrewed almost to the point of falling out, and you can see above it the hole into which the hinge goes.

Picture of wooden base of vintage Singer sewing machine

That screwdriver, by the way, is the Singer one which was supplied with some machines, and if you have one of those, you have the ideal thing to do with your grub screws. The blade’s the right size, it’s just the right length, and you can get a good grip on it. Anyhow, having put the head down somewhere sensible, you can now fully appreciate all the little fluff bunnies in the bottom of the base and also ponder on quite how all those pins ended up there.

Now, if you lift those two hinge parts up, you’ll almost certainly find that they fall down again. They won’t often stand up on their own, which could make it really awkward to replace the head in the base without some obliging soul helping you out, because you need to slide both pins into the holes at much the same time. It can be done single-handed, but there’s a definite knack to it. There is though a sneaky way round the problem, for which you need one of those nice red rubber bands which kindly post persons sometimes drop outside your front door on those occasions when they do actually favour you with a delivery …

Picture of vintage Singer wooden base

OK, it doesn’t have to be red, but if it is, it goes nicely with that cheap paint they used inside the bases. Whatever the colour, now your hinges will stay like that while you carefully line them up with the holes in the back of the base, then let the head down all the way on the pins. And if you forgot to do so, it’s at this point that you wish you’d remembered to check whether the two grub screws are in place, screwed in just a turn or two …

All you have to do now is lower the head down carefully until the front of it’s just above the top of the wooden base, then pull it towards you a bit (like 1/4 inch or so) so it rests there rather than dropping down into its final position. You can then cut the rubber band and swing the head up and back again, letting it drop down all the way onto the hinges, then hold it there while you tighten up the two grub screws.

Picture of Singer sewing machine head and base reassembly

And that’s it! It can be a bit nerve-racking the first time you do it single-handed, particularly if the machine’s a heavy old cast iron 201, but hopefully now you know what’s involved, you can at least see that it’s possible. Having said that though, I’m the first to admit that another pair of hands makes things so much easier …



How to open a Singer sewing machine case lid without the key – and how not to


Some people call them domed lids, and on the internets you’ll sometimes see them called doomed lids, but what we’re on about here are properly called bentwood case lids. Specifically, Singer bentwood lids and how to open one without the key. And if you’re thinking that surely any fule kno how, I can assure you that they don’t.

So, somebody’s inherited that old sewing machine of Grannie’s, and quite naturally they want to have a look at it now they’ve got it home. But oh dear there is no key, so how will they get in it? Enter the Man About The House, who takes stock of the situation, and in entirely typical fashion says “Leave it to me” as he reaches for his toolbox. Naturally he can’t find in it the small chisel he had in mind for the job, but a Stanley knife and a screwdriver will do the business no problem …

damage - wrong way to open locked singer bentwood case

Having hacked away enough 70-year old polished oak to reveal what’s what, it’s immediately apparent to our hero how it all works and what’s called for, which is a small hacksaw blade with which to saw through the tongue of the lock, et voilà! With a bit of jiggling, the lid lifts off …

picture of damaged lock on singer bentwood case

Of course the lock is now useless and the base of the machine is damaged in such a way that it would take a skilled cabinetmaker to restore it, but hey, you can’t win ’em all. The idea was to get the lid off, and the lid is now off. Sorted!

picture of damaged base of singer sewing machine

What a shame our hero didn’t try the obvious …

photo showing how to open a singer sewing machine case lid

OK, what you need to know is that the locks on most Singer bentwood case lids are much of a muchness. The keyhole in the lids we’re on about is round as shown above as opposed to keyhole-shaped, and if you take the lock out by undoing those two screws seen in the second picture, it looks something like this …

picture of lock from singer bentwood lid

That oblong hole that you can see through in the middle of the lock is the hole into which the end of the key fits, and it’s actually in a part which is sandwiched inside the lock casing. On some of these locks the hole in that outer casing will be a bit smaller than this one, on some a bit bigger and on others it’ll be chewed up, but it makes no difference as far as we’re concerned here. Also, the (rusty) sticky-outy bit at the bottom shown above is only one of the two that should be there, because matey sawed the other one off this particular lock.

There should be one of those danglers facing each way. When the lock’s locked, they hook under the ends of the slot in the metal plate in the end of the base, and that’s what locks your case lid. When you unlock it, the two sticky-outy bits move back towards each other, so the hooks clear the end of the slot and you can lift the lid up. It’s about as simple as it could get, but it works extremely well.

picture of key for singer bentwood case lid

Now, there’s no prizes for spotting the similarity here between the proper Singer key and the small screwdriver which most owners of Singers in bentwood cases use instead. Yes indeed, all you need to open one is a flat-bladed screwdriver like that with a tip that’s about 3mm wide, and having armed yourself with one of those, the correct procedure is as follows:-

Look into the keyhole (using a torch if necessary) to get an idea of the size of the slot and see which way it’s aligned.

Poke your screwdriver into it. If there’s no way you can feel it locating in that slot, try a screwdriver that’s a bit narrower.

Once you’re fairly sure your screwdriver’s in the slot, turn it clockwise. It will probably be harder to turn than you were expecting it to be.

If you’re sure your screwdriver’s engaged properly but the lock won’t turn clockwise, try turning it the other way.

If still no luck, show somebody else this blog post and let them have a go.

If all else fails, apply a few drops of thin oil (or better still penetrating oil) and try turning one way then the other several times as the oil soaks in.



Glossary Sewing Machine Parts

The Parts of a Sewing Machine Defined
These are parts common to many sewing machines. However, since there are so many sewing machine models
out there, these parts may or may not be on your particular machine.

Sewing machine parts glossary:


The spool that sits in the lower part of the machine. It holds the thread that makes the underside of a

Bobbin Case

The part of the machine that houses the bobbin.

Feed/Feed Dogs

The metal teeth that stick up above the needle plate. They move the fabric forward as it’s being

Hand Wheel

The wheel on the side of the machine that can be turned manually to adjust the height of the needle.

Needle Bar/Needle Clamp

The part that holds the needle.

Needle Plate

The flat surface below the needle that the needle goes down through when making a stitch. It can be
changed for different stitching jobs. Also called a throat plate.

Presser Foot

The piece that sits below the needle and holds the fabric down as it’s being stitched. It can be
changed for different stitching jobs.

Slide Plate

The cover that opens to allow access to the bobbin.

Spool Holder

The spindle that holds the top spool of thread.

Stitch Length Regulator/Selector

The mechanism that allows you to adjust the length of your stitches.

Stitch Width Regulator/Selector

The mechanism that allows you to adjust the width of a wide stitch, such as a zigzag stitch.

Take-up Lever

Part of the upper threading sequence, it helps control the flow of thread. It’s the part that goes “up
and down” as you sew.

Tension Disks

Disks that the upper thread is placed between that regulate thread tension.

Tension Regulator/Adjuster/Dial

The mechanism that allows you to adjust the tension of your upper, and sometimes bobbin, thread.

Thread Guides

Part of the upper threading sequence, they direct the flow of thread.

Throat Plate

See Needle Plate.

Sewing Terminology

A-Z Sewing Terminology You Need To Know

1. Anchoring stitches

These are machine stitches that are sewn with zero stitch length, to keep from pulling out. This term can also be used to refer to when you stitch backwards for a couple of stitches, to anchor it.

2. Applique

This comes from the French word “appliquer,” which means to apply or put on. In sewing, applique is used to describe the process of applying one kind of fabric on top of another layer of fabric. This is fixed into place by sewing or by another fusing means. It can also refer to a surface embellishment.

3. Armscye

The opening in a bodice to which the sleeve is attached; also known as an armhole.

4. Ballpoint needles

A type of sewing machine needles that are specifically designed to be used when sewing knit fabrics. The rounded tip prevents piercing, that would damage the knit.

5. Baste

Temporary long running stitches, made by either hand or machine, that holds the fabric together before permanent stitches are applied.

6. Bias

A direction of a piece of woven fabric. Usually referred to as “the bias.” This is a 45 degree angle to the gain line, or diagonal direction of the fabric.

7. Binding 

A narrow strip of material which is sewn around the edge of a garment, a bag or even a quilt.

8. Blanket stitch

A hand stitch used for finishing a fabric edge.

9. Bobbin 

The thread that comes up from the bottom and meets the thread from the spool to form the stitch. Bobbins need to be wound up and inserted properly into a sewing machine.

10. Bumblebunching 

That annoying tangled loop of stitching on the bobbin side of the fabric, that is a result of improper tension applied to the sewing machine.

11. Buttonhole

A small cut in the fabric that is bound with small stitching. The hole has to be just big enough to allow a button to pass through it and remain in place.

12. Casing 

A folded over edge of a garment, which is usually at the waist. It is used to enclose a way of adjusting the fit – for example for a drawstring.

13. Cord 

A twisted fibre, somewhere between rope and string.

14. Crochet 

A method using yarn and a hooked needle to make a garment, fabric or lace.

15. Crossgrain 

The line of fabric perpendicular to the selvage edge of the fabric.

16. Cross stitch 

A needlework stitch that uses 2 stitches that cross over to create a cross shape.

17. Cutting mat 

A self-healing board used for cutting fabric on. They are often marked with measuring grids.

18. Dart 

A common technique used for shaping garments. They normally appear around the waist and bust.

19. Darn (or darning) 

Usually refers to the repair of a small hole, most often in knitwear, using a needle and thread. It is often done by hand, using a darning stitch. It can also refer to any number of needlework techniques that are worked using darning stitches.

20. Double needle 

2 machine needles attached to a single shaft, that sews 2 parallel rows of stitches at once with 2 spools of thread and a single bobbin.

21. Drape 

The fluid way that the fabric hangs in a garment.

22. Dressmaker 

Someone who makes custom clothing for women.

23. Ease 

The allowance of space in a pattern for fit, comfort and style, over exact body measurements.

24. Edge stitch 

Straight stitching very close to the edge of a seam, trim or outer edge.

25. Embellishment 

A decorative item added to improve the look of a garment or other project. Embellishments can include buttons, beads, jewels, ornamental stitching etc.

26. Embroidery 

An ancient variety of decorative needlework. Designs and images are created by stitching strands of one material onto another.

27. Face 

The front of a piece of fabric (the right side).

28. Fat Quarter 

A quarter of a metre of fabric measuring 18 x 22 inches. Used for patchwork and other craft projects.

29. Feather stitch 

Hand stitch used to smoothly join 2 layers of fabric. Can also be a form of decorative hand stitch.

30. Feed-dogs

Small jagged feet that sit under the presser foot of a sewing machine. By lifting and lowering them, you have the ability to use the machine for free hand embroidery.

31. Frogging

The art of unpicking stitches.


A way of gathering the fabric to create fullness in the fabric, such as ruffles. It is a technique for shortening the length of a strip of fabric, so that the longer piece can be attached to the shorter piece.

33. Grain 

Describes the direction of the warp and the weft in a woven fabric.

34. Hem 

The finished bottom edge of a garment. The hem indicates the edge which is usually folded up and sewn, thus creating a neat and even finish.

35. Hooks and Eyes 

Small and sturdy fasteners used at the points of a garment opening.

36. Interfacing 

A term for a textile used on the unseen (wrong) side of fabrics. They support and stabilise the fashion fabric of the garment.

37. Jeweller’s knot 

A simple knot tied on a strand of thread and then pulled down on a pin or needle to the base of the thread.

38. Ladder stitch 

This is a stitch used to close large openings, or, alternatively, to join 2 pattern pieces seamlessly. Stitches are made at right angles to the fabric, creating a ladder-like formation.

39. Lapped seams

Seams lapped one over the other – wrong side to right right – with seamlines meeting in the middle.

40. Lining 

A piece of material used to finish the inside of a garment. Linings can hide the seam and make the garments easier and more comfortable to wear.

41. Long stitch 

A stitch for tapestry or embroidery which can cover 1 – 12 threads in a single stitch.

42. Match point 

A point marked on one pattern piece so it can be matched to a similar point on another pattern piece.

43. Nap 

A fabric texture that runs in a particular direction, and requires all other pattern pieces to be cut facing the same orientation.

44. Needlework 

A term for the handicraft of decorative sewing.

45. Notions

All of the accessories used in sewing projects. Think zippers, thread, buttons, hooks, ribbons and so on.

46. Overlay 

This refers to the top layer of fabric, when there is a different one underneath.

47. Overlocker 

Also known as a serger, this is a specialist sewing machine that trims and neatens the edge of fabric.

48. Patchwork 

A form of needlework that involves sewing together small pieces of fabric to create a patchwork like effect. This is very popular for quilting. Can be done by hand or by machine.

49. Pattern 

A template on paper or cardboard from which all of the pieces of the garment are traced onto fabric. All the parts are then cut out and assembled to create the final piece.

50. Pintuck 

A narrow, stitched fold of fabric. This style is usually seen in multiples and creates a stylish and smart finish.

51. Pleat 

A type of fold in the fabric created by doubling the material back on itself and securing it in place. When ironed, they create a sharp crease.

52. Presser foot 

A small piece of metal near the needle on the sewing machine. It is the function that keeps your fabric in place while you sew.

53. Princess seam 

A vertical seam line which gives shape to a garment in place of darts. Usually found on bodices, dresses, jackets, and blouses.

54. Quilting 

The art of making a quilt – a decorative piece of bedding or wall hanging made from small pieces of fabric sewn together in batted layers.

55. Raw edge 

The edge of the piece of fabric after it is cut but before it is hemmed. If left raw, the fabric might fray.

56. Right side 

The front, or face of the fabric. This is the side of the fabric designed to be on the outside of the garment.

57. Ruching 

Also known as gathering. Sections can be gathered into seams.

58. Running stitch 

A hand-sewn stitch that weaves in and out of the material. This creates a dashed line effect.

59. Seam 

The line where 2 pieces of fabric are held together by the thread.

60. Seam allowance

This is the width of the fabric beyond the seam line. The standard seam allowance is normally 1.5cm.

61. Seam ripper 

A small tool used for unpicking stitches.

62. Selvedge

The woven edge of the fabric that runs parallel to the lengthwise grain – also called “selvage.” They are the finished edges that do not fray.

63. Serger 

A type of sewing machine that can seam, trim, and overcast raw edges.

64. Staystitch 

Stitching placed on or just outside the seamline. It is used to stablise the fabric and prevent it from stretching out of shape.

65. Straight stitch 

A simple, straight stitched line.

66. Tacking 

Big stitches used to hold 2 pieces of cloth together to make it easier to sew. These temporary stitches are removed once a permanent seam is completed.

67. Tailor’s chalk

A piece of chalk used to mark fabric.

68. Tambour needle 

A pointed hook that is very thin and sharp. It is used to apply beads or sequins, or even chain stitches.

69. Termination point 

The place where 2 seamlines end.

70. Thimble 

A protective implement worn on the finger or thumb when sewing.

71. Top stitch 

A line of stitching parallel to a seam or edge, sewn from the right side. These can be decorative or can be used to add strength to an item.

72. Tuck 

A stitched fold of fabric. This can be used for decorative purposes or to add shape to a garment.

73. Underlay 

The layer of fabric underneath another layer of fabric.

74. Understitch 

When the seam allowances are stitched to the facing along an edge.

75. Vertical bobbin 

When the bobbin moves back and forth to pick up the thread.

76. Wadding 

A fibrous material used for filling items such as quilts. Can also be known as batting or filler.

77. Walking foot 

A presser foot that steps across the fabric, as opposed to sliding.

78. Warp 

The lengthwise thread in woven fabric.

79. Weft

The crosswise threads in woven fabric.

80. Wrong side

The inside or back of the fabric. The side that isn’t on show.

81. Yarn 

A continuous length of interlocked fibres. Can be made from natural or synthetic fibres.

82. Yardage 

A term for an undefined length of fabric.

83. Yoke

A panel across the shoulders or the waistline.

84. Zigzag stitch 

A zigzag stitch is a literal stitch made with a zigzag pattern. Often used to sew along raw edges to prevent them from fraying.

85. Zipper foot

An attachment for a sewing machine that is designed for installing zippers.

Glossary Dictionary

Sewing Glossary

When you start to sew you can come across a lot of confusing terminology. Our glossary below will help you make sense of the common sewing terms. 

A – Applique – From the French verb ‘appliquer’ which means to apply/put on this term is used to describe a sewing technique of applying a fabric design/shape on top of another layer of fabric and then fixed into place, either by sewing or using a fusible agent.

B – Ballpoint needles –  are sewing machine needles specially designed for sewing with knit fabrics. They have rounded tips, specially designed to slip in between fabric fibres and to prevent piercing them, which would damage knits.

    Baste – (verb) – to hold a garment/item together temporarily using large running stitches in order to check fit and stop fabric slipping before permanent stitching. You can also baste quilts

     Bearding – A quilting term for when the wadding comes through onto the top of the quilt.

    Bias Binding – Narrow strips of fabric used to neaten edges of hems and quilts. Can be handmade or bought ready to use.

    Binding – a narrow strip of material which is sewn around the edge of a quilt, bag or item of clothing. The fabric for the binding can be cut on the straight grain or on the bias.

    Bitsy bag – This bag hang from your sewing table by means of an attached pin cushion. The bag is used to put all your bits of threads and little bits of fabric. Saves them going onto the floor. Also you have a pincushion very handy for your pins.

   Blind Hemming – This is when you turn up the edge of a garment and stitch so they are hidden from the surface/outside of the garment.

    Boning – Boning is stiff metal or plastic strips that are used for support. It is normally used in strapless dresses or corsets, but boning can also be used for such things as stabilizing a square neckline, shaping a waist area, and even helping form a sleeve.

   Broderie Perse – This is a form of appliqué, where designs or motifs (a bird or a flower, for example) are cut from a piece of printed fabric and then sewn onto another piece of fabric. It can be useful for ‘rescuing’ elements of a patterned fabric that is damaged, or for highlighting parts of a pattern that may be lost if the patterned fabric is too ‘busy’.

  Bumblebunching – The tangled loops of stitching on the bobbin side of the fabric that result from improper tension when machine sewing.

  Buttonholes – A sewn hole in the fabric made deliberately to allow buttons to pass through to fasten the item securely closed. Can be worked by hand or machine (with or without specialist foot).

C – Charm Square – Ready cut 5″ squares pieces of fabric used for patchwork. 

    Crazy quilting – The art of using every last scrap of leftover fabric in a productive manner, totally disregard any “rules of patchworking and simply stitch and enjoy

    Cross Stitch – A popular needlework stitch that uses 2 stitches that cross over to produce an X in shape.

    Cutting mat – Used in conjunction with a rotary cutter this self healing board is used for cutting fabic on, because it can self heal it is not left damaged or marked by the rotary cutter.  They are often marked with measuring grids to help you cut your fabric to size.

D – Darn (or darning) – Usually refers to the repair of a small hole, often in knitwear. The warp and weft of the fabric are recreated by making large horizontal stitches across the back of the hole, then weaving the thread over and under these stitches in a vertical direction. (See Warp, Weft, Invisible Mend)

    Dissolvable Fabric – A range of versatile water soluble fabrics, perfect for freeform machine embroidery. They completely dissolve on contact with water leaving only the stitch and other embellishments in place.

    Dressmaking Pins – Designed to hold fabric and interface or two pieces of fabric in place, prior to sewing.

    Dropping the feed dog– the feed dogs help hold the fabric in place and keep the stitches even. Free machine embroidery (as made popular by Poppy Treffry) is achieved by dropping the feed dogs, allowing the fabric to be moved freely in any direction. The machine will no longer regulate the stitch length for you, so you need to move the fabric carefully in order to achieve the length of stitches you require. It is best if the material is held firmly in an embroidery hoop when using this technique.

    Duck cloth – from the Dutch word doek meaning cloth. A very useful, high quality, utility fabric, similar in feel and weight to canvas, available in different weights.

E – Echo Quilting – The outline of a shape repeated in quilting lines often used for appliqued tops.

    Embellishment – An embellishment is a decorative item added to improve the aesthetic appearance of a craft project. This can include beading, ornamental stitching, buttons, patches and so forth.

    Embroidery hoop – Is a frame used to keep fabric taut and help maintain an even tension while stitching. Frames may be two wooden rings adjusted by a screw fitting on the outer ring or a metal springform hoop which fits into an outer plastic ring; these are particularly recommended for machine embroidery.


F – Fat Quarter – a quarter of a metre of fabric, measuring 18×22″. Mainly used for patchwork but great for other craft projects.

    Feed-dogs – They are the little jagged feet that sit under your presser foot. If you can lift and lower these on your machine you will be able to use your machine for free hand embroidery.

    Felting –The craft of compressing and condensing raw strands of wool to make felt items. Specialised needles can be used to creat 3D felted objects or brushes can be used to create flat felt fabrics.

    Flexible Curve – a length of flexible metal covered with a square rubber sleeve that can be drawn round. This item is used in pattern drafting for neckline curves, armhole shapings, adding curves to any seams to allow them to follow the body’s natural contours.

    Foot Pedal – The part of a sewing machine that controls the speed at which the needle enters the fabric. It is controlled by the foot of the machinist and usually attaches to the machine via a lead.

    Free machine stitching – this means to drop the feed dogs or apply a darning plate then attach a darning foot.  Doing this allow you to freely move your project in any direction creating your own free hand design.

    French seam – with wrong sides together stitch your seam, turn wrong sides out (i.e. right sides together), press (optional) and restitch the seam, using a slightly larger seam allowance.  This results in a neat seam with no raw edges to finish.

    Frogging  – The art of unpicking. Name attributed to the croaking sounds of frogs croaking ie rip-it, rip-it.

    Fusible Fleece –  An iron on interfacing made from soft, lightweight synthetic material. One side has an adhesive surface that when ironed bonds to other materials. Used to give volume and structure to projects such as bag making. It can be washed and tumbled dried.

    Fussy Cut – this term is used to describe a method of cutting shapes out of printed fabric which puts a motif or design in a particular place on your shape. For example, if you are working on a patchwork quilt made up of squares and you want a rose in the centre of each square you could use a clear plastic template to fussy cut your square, making sure that the rose is at the centre of the square before you mark and cut your fabric.

G – Grade – to trim back the seam allowances to reduce bulk when turning (used most often when sewing facings).

    Grain – a woven fabric has a lengthwise and crosswise grain which have no stretch, therefore it leads to a stable fabric. Ensuring pattern pieces are laid out on the correct grain line will lead to a garment that hangs correctly, as your pattern intended. Some pattern pieces are intended to be cut on the bias grain, diagonally, and they will drape, stretch, drop and will allow for manipulation around curves, i.e., necks and armholes.


H – Hem – term used to describe the finishing of the lower edge of a garment. The hem can be a single or double fold of the fabric secured by hand or machine stitches.

    Hooks & Eyes – Hooks & eyes are small but comparatively strong fasteners though they are most often applied at single points of a garment opening, such as waistband or neckline, they can also be used to fasten an entire opening.

I – Interfacing –  is an additional layer applied to the inside of garments, in certain areas only, to add firmness, shape, structure, and support to areas such as collars, cuffs, waistbands and pockets; and to stabilise areas such as shoulder seams or necklines, which might otherwise hang limply.

    Interlining – a lovely soft, slightly brushed fabric used to add structure, weight and insulation to handmade curtains. It is attached between the top fabric and the curtain lining during making up, and is available in a variety of thicknesses and fibres. ‘Dommette’ is usually woven from cotton and is suitable for light to medium weight fabrics. ‘Bump’ is much thicker, also woven from cotton and used with heavier fabrics. A non-woven interlining made from man-made fibres is also available.

    Interlocking Stitch – used in soft furnishings to hold all the layers of an interlined curtain together. Interlining is interlocked to the wrong side of the top fabric down the length of the curtain, across every third or quarter of each width of fabric used. The lining is then interlocked to the interlining in a similar fashion. The tiny stitches form a knot with a long loop of thread between each one.

    Invisible Zip –  These zips still have the 2 parallel rows of teeth but they are located at the back, behind the zip tape. If you choose an invisible zip that matches your fabrics colour then when inserted correctly only the slider will be visible and this is usually in the same colour, so will not stand out. This type of zip is usually found on formal garments, especially dresses.

    I-Spy quilt – made from fussy cut fabrics (see fussy cut)often novelty prints for children to ‘spy’ in the quilt.

J – Jelly Roll –  created by Moda, Jelly Rolls are a pack of precuts which are 2.5″ x 44″. They can also be called Roll Ups.

K – Knife Pleat – A single pleat turned in one direction.

     Knitted fabric –  Is a stretchy fabric that is not made by weaving yarn but by using stocking stitch on fine yarn and is often used with elastic fabric to produce swimwear and t shirt fabric.

L – Ladder stitch – used to close large openings or join two pattern pieces invisibly. Very useful for knitwear and rigid pieces of work.

     Layer cake – a pack of pre-cut 10 inch squares used for patchwork, which can be cut again to create different shapes.

     Lock stitch – This is the most usual and common type of stitching performed by sewing machines. A lock stitch is where two threads, one from the bobbin and one from the main thread are kept on their own side of the material, but literally ‘locked’ together each time the needle enters the fabric. The lockstitch is a secure stitch, that wont come undone once the material is removed from the machine. The alternative to a lockstitch is a ‘chain stitch’. Most children’s toy machine’s perform this stitch. It is not a secure stitch as it needs to be sewn in and tied once removed from the machine to prevent it from unravelling.

    Long-Arm quilting – Machine and frame used together to allow sandwiching of layers and free-motion quilting eg: for larger quilts.

    Long Stitch –  An embroidery/tapestry stitch which can cover from 1 to 12 threads in one stitch. Can be horizontal or vertical and be done with any number of threads or yarn.

M – Mannequin – Or tailors dummy a synthetic human body that you can use to create patterns on by draping fabric onto it rather than cutting a pattern first. 

    Muslin – a loose weaved and light weight fabric that has a linen type weave.

N – Nap – applies to fabrics that have a pile, such as velvet, velour, corduroy. It is important to ensure that these fabrics are cut out with the pile running in the same direction as fabric is lighter if you run your hand in one direction and darker if rubbed in the opposite direction.

    Notches – Diamond shaped marks that stick out beyond the edge of the pattern, to help you to line up all the pattern pieces when you sew the garment. They come in pairs to be matched up.

    Notions – all those little things that mean so much when embarking on a sewing project. Think zips, thread, elastic, interfacing, buttons, hooks and eyes, ribbon and binding. Sometimes overlooked when purchasing the fabric, but all very essential for the end result to be perfect.

O – Open-Ended Zip –  These zips still have the 2 parallel rows of teeth, however the ends are not joined and finish in a small box & pin mechanism to join the 2 sides at the base. These types of zips are most commonly used in jackets and coats.

    Overlocker (Serger) –  a specialised sewing machine that trims and neatens the edge of fabric. Some models can also be used to make a decorative flatlock stitch used on hems and decorative seams.

P – Pattern Master – A Pattern Master is a specially shaped ruler used to aid pattern cutting. It is made of clear plastic and displays several markings and measurements required in creating or altering patterns. The Pattern Master works like an advanced Graders Set Square, but has a curved edge to further assist pattern cutters in their drawing.

    Piecing – When two pieces of fabric are sewn together usually using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

    Pinking shears – Scissors that cut a zigzag edge thereby reducing the risk of fraying.

    Pin Cushion – a place to put pins and needles, available with wrist straps to make them accessible. Other pin cushions have materials to aid sharpening of pins and needle on use.

Pleats –  Pleats are folds in fabric that provide controlled fullness. Pleating may occur as a single pleat, as a cluster, or around an entire garment section.

 – Quarter Inch Machine Foot – A special sewing machine foot, supplied either with the machine or bought as an optional extra, great for sewing exact 1/4 inch seams, has a metal guide for fabric placement, perfect results for quilting projects.

    QST – Abbreviation of quarter-square triangles.

    Quick Unpick – a small tool that has a sharp pointed end, that when slid between stitches, will cut and unpick them. Makes for speedy work.

    Quilting – The stitching which holds together the 3 layers of a quilt. This can be done by hand or by machine.

    Quilt Label – A label to record the name of the maker, year, and recipient/s of quilt for future information

R – Raw Edge – This is the piece of material when cut, before hemming. If the raw edge is not ‘hemmed’ the edge may fray.

   Ripping – An essential skill for a beginner quilter – the act of unpicking (or ripping) seams which are not precisely 1/4 inch, derived from muttering ‘Got to rip it all out AGAIN” under one’s breath!

     Rotary cutter – A really useful tool for cutting material quickly and easily. It can cut throug several layers of fabric at once and is best used in combination with a quilting ruler or other straight edged implement.

    Run and fell seam – With wrong sides together, stitch a straight seam, 5/8″ from edge. Trim one seam allowance to 1/4″ and press seam open with both seam allowances to one side with wider seam on top. Fold this wider allowance over trimmed edge and top stitch down along fold. Used in denim jeans.

    Ruffler – An attachment to your sewing machine that you fit instead of a foot. It can be used to gather/pleat the fabric as you sew. It differs from a small gathering foot as the gathers can be adjusted in length and frequency of tucks.

S – Satin stitch – a short zigzag stitch that forms a solid line, often used in applique.

    Scraps – all those left-over pieces of fabric that you keep for future projects.

    Scribble – A continuous machine stitch which is useful for covering large or small areas of quilting when a specific design is not required. The lines of stitching should not cross or join with each, producing a meandering stitch which will suit any type of quilt.

    Seam allowance – the distance between the edge of the fabric and the stitched line – common seam allowances are 1/4″ (for patchwork) and 3/8″ or 1/2″ (for dressmaking).  Amongst patchworkers the ‘scant quarter inch seam’ can be particularly tricky and could be described as ‘infamous’ rather than ‘popular’!

    Selvedge: The finished edges of fabric which do not fray. These edge are created during the weaving process by the horizontal weft thread as it loops back from the end of one row to the beginning of the next. Some selvedges have a different weave, or do not feature the print or pile of the main fabric, and so may not be not used in the construction of the final item. Selvedges sometimes also feature makers marks. For some garments, or fabrics where the selvedge is not significantly different from the main fabric, it can be used as a structural component – for example for hem edges.

    Sew Together – often used to indicate that the next step will be to sew the fabric right sides or wrong sides together. Can also be used when organising a group of like minded people to meet at a certain time to enjoy beverages along with cake – cake is very important – and enjoying each others company whilst sewing.

    Shirring – Shirring is formed with multiple rows of gathering & is primarily a decorative way of controlling fullness. In contrast to gathering, in which fullness is controlled with a seam, the fullness in shirring is controlled over a comparatively wide span. 

    Smart Edges – meaning to overlock.

    Smocking – Smocking consists of fabric folds, decoratively stitched together at regular intervals to create a patterned effect. The folds may be pulled in when the stitching is done, or the fabric may be first gathered into folds & then smocked.

    Snips – scissors deisgned to be used in one hand to cut threads

    Snippeting – The collectable snipets of information saved for future projects.

    Spit – a little bit of moisture used on finger and thumb which makes it easier to roll fabrics, tie knots etc.

    Stash – Fabric which has been smuggled into the house without the knowledge (or consent) of your partner, and which is produced after a reasonable time has elapsed, when you can honestly say ‘I’ve had it for ages’

    Stay Stitching – A straight line of stitching within the seam allowance and is used on curved or bias edges.  It makes it easier to put in sleeves and collars using stay stitching.

    Stitch n flip –  To sew the pieces together and then flip over and press.

    Stitch in the ditch –  A term used to describe sewing along a seamline from the right side after the seam has been pressed open.

    Stitch Unpicker – A small tool specially designed to slide under and cut through unwanted stitches.

    Stumpwork – Stumpwork is an embroidery technique originating in the 17th century. Individual elements of each design are raised up from the background by using padding or by applying the shape to wire before stitching to the background thereby creating a 3D effect.

T – Tacking – Very large stitches used to hold two pieces of cloth together to make sewing easier. The tacking stitches are removed once the permanent seam has been sown.

    Tacking Thread – is very easy to break thread, designed for tacking and transferring markings from pattern to fabric. It is great for temporarily marking or stitching fabric as it can be easily removed – it breaks very easily and can be torn by hand. Because of this, it isn’t really suitable for anything other than tacking.

    Tailor’s chalk –  A piece of chalk used to mark fabric. 

    Toile – from the French meaning cloth, a toile is a test garment made up by a seamstress or dress maker out of cheap fabric to test the cut, size and shape of a garment and to check for any alterations before cutting the more expensive fashion fabric.

    Top stitching – stitching close to the edge of a seam (on the right side, or ‘top’ of the piece) to stop seam allowances and facings from rolling or moving.  Gives a professional finish, particularly useful when making bags and is also often used on necklines.  Top stitching can either be decorative (use a decorative ‘fancy’ stitch or contrasting thread) or ‘invisible’ (use matching thread).

    Tracing Wheel – used with dressmakers carbon to transfer information from the paper pattern to the fabric, such as positions and sizes of darts, circles, etc.

    Twin Needle – An attachment for your sewing machine that produces parallel rows of decorative stitching in one easy step.

U – Understitch – when a line of stitching is made on a facing close to the seam through the facing and all the seam allowances. This encourages the facing to sit smoothly and not roll to the outside.

      Unpicking – Something that we don’t like to admit to having to do, but when we do have to do it, it can take as long (if not longer) than the sewing in the first place.  Usually occurs when in a hurry to complete something or when a very small stitch has been used.

V – Variegated thread
 – multi-coloured used for top stitching or quilting to create a different look or interesting effect on a garment or quilt.

    Vertical Bobbin –The bobbin moves back and forth to pick up the thread.

W – Wadding –  Wadding refers to a fibrous material (such as cotton, wool or bamboo) used for filling items such as quilts, wall hangings and placemats. It comes in various thicknesses depending on the level of insulation required and can be purchased in a selection of pre-cut lengths or cut off the roll for a unique size. Also known as batting or filler.

    Warp – The threads that run down woven fabric.

    Whipstitch – Visible stitches, wrapped around two edges, to join them together. Useful for sewing up soft toys.

    Whoopsadaisy – A meandering machine stitch which has crossed and merged with other lines forming the shape of a flower, typically a daisy.

X – Xilinous – An obscure adjective relating/pertaining to cotton.

Y – Y-adjustment – One type of method for a full bust adjustment and described by Palmer/Pletsch.  Takes its name from the shape of the alteration lines which run from i) the armhole notch to the bust apex, ii) the middle of the shoulder seam to the bust apex, and iii) vertically from the bust apex to the hem.

    Yo-Yo – also known as a Suffolk Puff or a Rosette, this is made by running stitches around the edge of a circle of fabric and pulling them tight to draw the fabric up. Turning the edge of the fabric over as you stitch, towards the wrong side, gives a neater look. Tie off your thread and apply the yo-yo, drawn side up, to your project. Amy Butler’s ‘Bloom Quilt’ shows these off beautifully

Z – Zig-Zag Stitch –  
The stitch can be used for decorative purpose or for tidy up of seams; adjusting width and length allows you to achieve all sorts of effects; some modern machines allow patterns that involve zig-zag stitches.

     Zip –  These are a closure method that uses 2 parallel rows of teeth that are attached to fabric tape. These are then stitched into an opening and closed using a slider which locks the teeth together. Standard zips are usually closed at the end of the tape – often in the form of a staple holding the 2 fabric tapes together.

Glossary Sew

This glossary of sewing terms for the beginner is an A-Z guide that explains many terms but also includes some tips and tricks that I think you might find handy. The list is a work in progress and I’ll add links to tutorials, images, and videos when I create them. Let me know in the comments if I missed a crucial sewing term you would like to know about.

The armscye or armhole is the opening in the bodice where you attach the sleeve.

Backstitch / Back tack
2 or 3 reverse stitches to secure the stitches at the beginning and end of a seam. A backstitch or a back tack will secure the stitches and prevent your seam from coming undone. If you are working on a delicate, thin, or unstable fabric it’s sometimes better to dial down the stitch length for 1.5cm /1/2″ at the beginning and the end of a seam to prevent the fabric from jamming or bunching up into the feed dogs.

Bar tack
a small row, of narrow zig-zag stitches to reinforce or keep a facing in place. They are used on a jeans fly, jeans belt loops, and buttonholes.

Temporary, loose stitches to gather fabric or hold something in place. You can do it by hand or by using the longest stitch length on your sewing machine. When you are machine basting, loosen the top tensions for easier removal.

Bias refers to the diagonal direction of a piece of fabric, drawn at an exact 45-degree angle to the selvage or grain line. Woven fabric has the greatest amount of stretch in this direction even when it is a non-stretch fabric.

Bias Binding
Strips of fabric cut on a 45-degree angle to the selvage. In this direction, the fabric is stretchy and it adjusts well to curves, making it a great finish for necklines, (curved) hems or armholes. The strip is used to encase the raw edge of a hem or a seam. By using a contrasting or a piece of patterned fabric you can add a pop of colour to the inside of a garment.

Beeswax is used to coat thread for hand sewing. You can do this yourself by pulling the thread over a block of beeswax a couple of times and then run it through your fingers to set the wax and remove the excess beeswax. It should now make a squeaky sound if you pull it between your fingers. Alternatively, you can buy a pre-coated thread.

Coated is used to hand sew buttons, buttonholes, for quilting and goldwork embroidery.

Why use waxed thread? It strengthens your thread, makes it easier to thread your needle, and because it’s smoother it will tangle less.

Use waxed and coated thread for hand sewing only because the thread will gum up your sewing machine.

A small spool that goes into your sewing machine to supply the bottom thread in your stitches. It’s loaded into the bobbin case and then inserted into your sewing machine.

Bound seams
With bound seams, you use double-fold bias binding to finish the raw edge of the seam allowance after it’s pressed open or to one side binding seam allowances together as one. This is a lovely technique but it adds a bit of bulk to your seam allowance. The Hong Kong seam creates a less bulky seam.

Button band/button stand
A button band or button stand always consists of two panels, one side holds the buttons and the other side has buttonholes. The button band is either a separate piece of fabric or an extension of the panel it’s attached to.

A reinforced hole in the fabric slightly bigger than the button that needs to pass through it. Most sewing machines have a buttonhole foot and can make a beautiful buttonhole in 4 steps. Or you can make them using a zig-zag stitch on a sewing machine or by hand using a blanket stitch.

Whatever the project is, always make a few test buttonholes to see if you need heavier fusible interfacing to get a good result. Making a test buttonhole is also a good way to see how the colour thread you chose looks with your main fabric and to check if your button easily passes through the hole.

You need to make the buttonholes and open them up first before you place the buttons. Line up the edges of the two button stands, and poke a marking pen through the buttonholes to mark the button placement. It’s easy and you will always have the buttons line up perfectly with the buttonholes.


A woven fabric from unbleached cotton. The fabric often has little brown specks in it from the husk of the cotton plant. It’s a fairly cheap fabric making it very suitable to test the fit of a garment.

Clip / notch

Clipping and notching will give you better results in convex (scalloped hem) and concave (neckline) curves. A clip is a snip towards the stitching and a notch is a v-shaped (wedge) cut out towards the stitching. To get the best result, cut close to the stitch line but not through.

A notch can also mean a marking on the pattern to help align two pieces on a long seam or curved pattern pieces.

Cut on fold
When a pattern tells you that you need to cut a pattern piece on fold, it means you need to align that edge to the fabric fold. That way you only have to cut out half of the pattern piece (don’t cut the fold!), but when you unfold the fabric you have a full symmetrical piece of your garment. This is often the case for a bodice front without a center seam or a bodice back without a cornerback seam.


Darts are used to shape the garment around the waist, bust, shoulders, and sometimes sleeves. They are often shaped like triangles or diamonds.

Double-fold hem
A hem that’s folded towards the inside of the garment, for the first fold you fold the raw edge toward the wrong side of the fabric, and then a second fold again towards the inside of the garment encasing the raw edge.


Ease / wearing ease / design ease / negative ease

Ease is the room in the garment that allows you to move and sit. Patterns are all designed with different amounts of ease.

In short, a pattern is made up of:
Body measurements + wearing ease + design ease

A minimum or wearing ease is around:

  • 5cm / 2” around the bust
  • 2.5 cm / 1″ around the waist
  • 3.8 cm / 1 1/2″ around the hips

And on top of wearing ease, design ease is added. There are no rules, it’s up to the designer or your personal preference.
Negative ease
Negative ease is used in knit garments. Negative ease is when you end up with a garment that is smaller than your body measurements, but the stretch in the fabric will provide ease and room for movement.

Easing in
When one of two pattern pieces, that need to fit together, has extra fabric you need to ease in. For example, sleeve caps often have extra fabric than needs to be eased in. You can gather the extra fabric slightly, but without creating pleats, to distribute the extra fabric evenly before you set in the sleeve. Or you can use a technique called crimping.
Crimping is when you sew a line of stitches, just inside the seam allowance, next to the stitch line, in the pattern piece that needs to be eased in, and you force more fabric into those stitches. While sewing you put your finger just behind the presser foot, letting the fabric bulk up between your finger and the presser foot. This way the fabric is slightly gathered but in a very even manner. Leave the gathers intact until you start pinning.
Feed dogs are another tool to help you get a good result when you are setting in sleeves. Unless you have a walking foot, the feed dogs will always pull the lower fabric through the machine a little bit faster than the top fabric and you can use this to your advantage when you are setting in sleeves or easing in fabric, by always sewing with the larger piece on the bottom, against the feed dogs.
A line of stitches close to the edge of a seam, hem, or pocket opening. often only a needle width away (0.15 cm / 1/16″) from the edge.
Feed dogs
The feed dogs are the teeth that transport the fabric through your sewing machine. They are located under the presser foot and can be dropped when you are sewing buttons on your sewing machine.
feed dogs on a sewing machine
Finger press
When you use your fingers, fingernail, or another flat and smooth object to flatten or open a seam.
French seams
French seams are a great way to finish your fabric if you don’t have a serger because the French seam encases the raw edge of your fabric.
The technique is mostly used on straight seams, but with a bit of practice, the technique works well on curved seams. If you venture into curved seams, I suggest you keep the seam allowance narrow, because wider seams will pucker easily. Snipping your seam allowance around the curve will also help prevent puckering. In general, you can use a narrow seam allowance for lightweight fabrics and a wider seam allowance as the weight of your fabric increases.
Facing is a way to finish the raw fabric edges, stabilize, add structure, and strength. They are a partial lining often made from the main fabric and are used on necklines and armholes. Facing can be a separate panel or cut-on facing. Cut on facings are part of the panel they are facing. Cut on facings are often used in a waterfall neckline or a button band. Facings are often used in combination with interfacing
Fusible interfacing
Fusible interfacing can be permanently fused with the wrong side of the fabric to add strength and structure to your garment. It’s often used in button bands, buttonhole areas, welt pockets, collars, cuffs but it can also be used in entire panels.
One side has a glue on it that will fuse with the fabric, you should be able to feel small bumps where the glue is. The fusible interfacing is fused by applying heat and pressure for a certain amount of time, this depends on the type you bought.
Always use a press cloth to apply the fusible interfacing to avoid the glue fusing with your iron. After applying the fusible interfacing let it cool down before you move the piece you’ve just fused.
There are many different kinds and weights that you can and should use depending on your project and fabric.
It’s sold in sheets and in tape form. The tape can be used to reinforce and stabilize a curve before sewing.
Fusible interfacing relatively easy to use, but for tailored garments like jackets and heavily textured fabrics you often see sew-in interfacing sometimes in combination with fusible interfacing.
Gathered fabric is used to create fullness or ruffles. You sew one or two lines of gathering stitches just inside and/or outside the stitch line.

Use a long stitch length (5mm and up) on your sewing machine and loosen the top tension on your sewing machine for easier gathering.

Don’t back tack when you start stitching and leave long thread tails. Anchor the thread tails on one side around a pin, and carefully hold the loose (top or bottom) thread tails and slide the fabric you want to gather along the thread.
Cut seam allowances in graduated widths to eliminate bulk and prevent a ridge from showing on the right side of the garment. Trim the top layer to 0.3cm / 1/8″ and the bottom layer to 0.6cm / 1/4″and interfacing close to the stitching.
Grain / Cross grain
Grain describes the direction of the warp and weft of a woven fabric.

  • The grain or lengthwise grain of the fabric runs parallel to the selvage. This direction has little to no stretch.
  • The cross-grain runs perpendicular to the selvage. This direction has a little stretch

The long line with an arrow printed on the pattern. Most of the time this line should be placed parallel to the lengthwise grain/selvage / the length of the fabric. This is also referred to as, on-grain, straight of grain. In general, always place pattern pieces on-grain and in the same direction, because if the fabric has a nap (velour, velvet, fake fur, corduroy, etc.) you will see that they seem to have a different colour or shade in when light hits the fabric.
In some cases, you can also use the crosswise grain. For example; if you want to create a fun design detail with striped fabrics, and play with the direction of the print on a yoke or a pattern.
Another time to experiment with lengthwise vs crosswise grain placement is when you don’t have enough fabric and need to get creative with your yardage.

Hong Kong seam
Hong Kong seams or a Hong Kong finish use a strip of bias-cut fabric to encase the raw edge of your fabric, but the binding on the wrong side of the seam allowance is left raw so it’s less bulky than bound seams.
The bottom edge of a garment often folded up towards the inside of the garment.
An additional layer of fabric that is used to stabilize, add structure, “crispness” and strength. It lays between the lining/facing and the outer fabric of a garment.
A layer used to add warmth to your garment. It sits between the outer fabric and the lining.
Invisible zipper
This zipper is sewn with a special presser foot and seams. when it’s done right it’s hard to see the zipper in the seam, hence the name.
Knit Fabric/knits

Knit fabric is a very stretchy material and it’s made by a series of interlocking loops. Knit fabrics are made in the same way as that scarf you tried to knit for your doll when you were seven, but much finer threads and needles 😉
Sewing knits on your sewing machine – Tips & Tricks

A layer of fabric on the inside of a garment to hide construction seams and details, add warmth and make it more comfortable to wear and easier to put on.
Machine basting
Temporary, loose stitches to gather fabric or hold something in place. You can do it by hand or by using the longest stitch length on your sewing machine. When you are machine basting, loosen the top tensions for easier removal.
Transferring pattern symbols and markings to fabric. There are many ways to do this.

  • Using dressmakers carbon paper and a tracing wheel (check the instructions, mine doesn’t allow ironing)
  • Tailors tacks are made with thread
  • Chalk
  • Water-soluble fabric markers
  • Pins
  • A small clip in the seam allowance. I like to cut out tiny triangles. I make an angled cut (max. 0.5 cm / a scant 1/4”) and then make another angled cut, cutting out a small triangle.

You can sharpen your tailor’s chalk with an Exacto knife

Muslin 1.
Light and loosely woven cotton fabric, undyed and often used to make test garments.

Muslin 2.

Test garment or toile, made out of muslin fabric, unbleached cotton or simply a cheaper fabric. Sometimes sewers talk about a wearable muslin, this is when you make a test garment in a cheaper but nice fabric and keep your fingers crossed it turs out nice enough to wear.
the surface of a fabric with fibers that lie in a certain direction. When using napped fabrics make sure all pattern pieces are laid out in the same direction. Fabrics like fake fur, corduroy, and velvet have an obvious nap or direction. But many fabrics that like knits, satin, and woolens that have a shine should be cut like a napped fabric.
Notch / Clip
Clipping and notching will give you better results in convex (scalloped hem) and concave (neckline) curves. A clip is a snip towards the stitching and a notch is a v-shaped (wedge) cut out towards the stitching. To get the best result, cut close to the stitch line but not through.
A notch can also mean a marking on the pattern to help align two pieces. You can often find notches on a long seam or curved pattern pieces.
When a pattern calls for notions it’s items like buttons, zippers, hooks, lace, elastic, etc. All the small accessories you need to finish your garment.
There are many different pins. They can vary in length and thickness, with colourful ball-shaped glass heads or without.
A partial button band/button closure. You see these plackets in sleeve cuffs, polo shirts, and pop over shirts and anoraks.
Preshrink your fabric by washing and drying as you would with your finished garment. Many fabrics shrink when you wash them. It is not uncommon for cotton fabric to shrink 5% in length.
Use an iron to press seams open or to one side. Do this while you work on your garment to get the best results. This is different than ironing the fabric, so lift the iron slightly when you move then press down.
Don’t over press! Your fabric may become shiny or the seam allowance will cause ridges on the outside of your garment. I always take extra care when I’m working with woolens. I apply minimal pressure with my steam iron, just enough to open the seams, then I give it a final burst of steam, remove the iron and (once the heat is bearable) use the pressure from my hand to hold the seam open and let it cool. When A fabric has a lot of texture, you can also use a thick towel on top of your ironing board.
Press cloth
A thin, preferably sheer, piece of fabric to protect your fabric when pressing. You hold it between the iron and your project or garment, if you don’t have a steam iron you can dampen the pressing cloth for better results. Why use a pressing cloth? A pressing cloth will help prevent shine on your fabric and markings from your iron and it will protect your iron when you are using fusible interfacing. I simply use a piece of cotton voile or cotton batiste as a pressing cloth.
Presser foot
It presses the foot against the feed dogs of your sewing machine while you sew.
Raw edge
The raw, raveling, and unfinished, cut edge of the fabric.
Right side / Wrong side
The right side of the fabric or the face of the fabric is the side you see on the outside of the garment.
The wrong side is the backside of a fabric and the inside of the garment. Sometimes they look the same; in that case, pick a side and stick with it.
Running stitch
A simple hand-sewn stitch that weaves up and down through the fabric, creating a dashed line of stitches. Use this for basting or gathering fabric.

The line where you sew together two pieces of fabric. There are different seams
Seam allowance
The fabric between the edge of the fabric and the stitch line. The width can vary between pattern companies and in a garment. Always check the pattern descriptions and pattern pieces.
Some commonly used seam allowances are:

  • 0.6 cm / 1/4″
  • 1 cm / 3/8″
  • 1.6 cm / 5/8″
  • 2.5 cm / 1″

Narrow seam allowances are great used on curves and for special seam finishes, like a French seam. Wider seam allowances can also be used for certain special finishes like French seams on heavier fabrics, flat-felled seams, or when you might want to adjust the fit.
Seam finish
This can be done in many different ways and it’s handy to learn a few different techniques. A seam finish prevents the raw edge of your seam from raveling.
If you have a serger you can simply overlock the edges. If you only have a sewing machine you can use pinking shears or a zig-zag stitch along the edge. Other options include French seams, bound edges, Hong Kong seams.
Seam ripper
A small tool to unpick a row of stitches. Replace these occasionally when the knife is dull.
Serger / Overlocker
A specialized type of sewing machine that can trim and overlock raw edges all in one go. It has 3, 4, or 5 needles and creates a stretchy seam finish, making it very suitable for knits.
Sew-in interfacing
Sew-in interfacing is sewn in by hand and is mostly used in structured and tailored garments like jackets.
Stay stitch
A line of stitches to stabilize the fabric before it’s sewn into a garment. The stitches should be just inside the seam allowance, very close to the final stitch line.

Where to use stay-stitching? Stay stitches are mostly used around bias-cut seams, armhole curves, necklines, or even crotch seams to prevent it from stretching out of shape. These are all places where fabric easily stretches. So, while you are handling your cut out fabric pieces, moving them to and from the sewing machine, turning your partly sewn garment inside out for sewing or pressing there is a chance of these curves distorting and stretching. A stay stitch will help prevent this.
Straight stitch
The most basic machine stitch, that produces a single row of straight, even stitches. It’s used to construct a garment and for topstitching.
Stretch percentage
When you are working with a knit fabric you should check how much the fabric can comfortably stretch and check that against the required stretch percentage of the pattern that you are making. Make sure you do a stretch test before you cut into your fabric. Don’t use the raw edge for the test, because it likely stretches more than the rest of the fabric. The fabric should comfortably reach the desired stretch percentage.
Stitch in the ditch
Stitch in the seam line, pulling it slightly open on both sides. By stitching in from the outside of the garment, through all the layers, you can invisibly secure a facing or a turned-up sleeve cuff. You can also stitch-in-the-ditch when you are attaching bias binding.
Stitch length
Length of a stitch. The length will depend on your fabric, project, and the purpose. For clothing construction, 2.5 mm is a good starting point. When you are working with thicker fabrics or 3 mm is a good starting point. For topstitching a longer stitch length of 3 mm / 3,5 mm often looks better. Always do a little test to see if you like how it looks.
Tailor’s tacks

Loose hand sewed stitches to transfer pattern markings on to the fabric.
Tailor’s ham or dressmaker’s ham
A firm cushion for pressing. It’s used to shape collars, sleeves, darts, and curves.
Thread Tension
Thread tension on a sewing machine is controlled in two spots:

  • Top – Where the top thread travels through the tension discs, they are at the top of your sewing machine.
  • Bottom – In the bobbin case.

The top tension can be easily adjusted, often with a dial on the sewing machine. This needs to be adjusted for buttonholes and for thicker and thinner fabrics.
The bottom tension can also be adjusted, by turning the small screw on your bobbin case…but this is rarely done or necessary if you are working with regular all-purpose sewing threads. But if you are using thicker or thinner threads in your bobbin, you need to adjust your bobbin tension. And sometimes after a few years of use, the screw on your bobbin tightens or loosens itself.
I find it a good test to load a bobbin into the case as normal and let it dangle from the thread, it should only slide down slowly, bit by bit as you tug and shake the thread. If it slides down on its own, without you shaking it, it probably too loose, and if it won’t budge it’s probably too tight.
Many of us are told never to touch the screw on the bobbin, but if it needs adjusting…it needs adjusting. I find it helpful to think of the screw as a clock and only turn 10 or 15 minutes at a time. And a good way to remember which way to turn, lefty loosy and righty tighty.
The French word toile can refer to canvas or linen but is often used to describe a test garment or muslin


topstitching is a line of stitches on the outside of a garment. Topstitching can be used for different purposes:

  • Decorative, like on back pockets on jeans.
  • Added strength.
  • Help to flatten a seam, like an inseam on jeans.
  • Secure facings, pockets

Cut a seam allowance to a narrower width. This will eliminate bulk and help with curved seams.
Twin Needle / Double Needle
Twin needles feature two needles and it sews two rows of parallel stitches simultaneously. They can be used to do topstitching on seams or to hem T-shirts.
Under stitch
Helps to keep facings (lining or bias binding) in place and prevent them from peeping out on the outside of your garment. Press seam allowance towards the facing. Stitch both seam allowances and the facing close to the seam line on the facing. Press your facing to the inside.
Underlining an extra layer of fabric cut as a duplicate of a section in a garment. When the garment is sewn, there two pieces are treated as one. Underlining is used with sheer fabrics adding an opaque backing. It can also serve as a backing for an unstable fabric.
Woven Fabric

Woven fabrics are made by weaving together many threads. There are lengthwise threads (warp) and crosswise threads (weft). The most basic weave is a plain weave; where each weft thread travels through the warp threads by going over one, then under the next, and so on. Then on the next pass, it will repeat the same pattern but alternate threads, producing a checkered surface.
Woven don’t stretch unless they are used on the bias or an elastic is woven into the fabric, like elastane.
Walking Foot
A presser for that helps feed multiple layers of fabric through your sewing machine more evenly. A walking foot is often used by quilters because it helps to evenly transport the layers trough the sewing machine.
Warp / Weft
Warp is the lengthwise thread in a woven fabric and weft are the crosswise threads in a woven fabric.
So, the warp is parallel to the selvage and goes up and down. The weft is woven through the warp and goes from left to right. Weft…left 😉
Wrong side
The back of the fabric and usually the inside of the garment. If it’s hard to see which side is the right or wrong side of your fabric, use pins or chalk to mark the fabric.
If you have trouble seeing the backside of your knit fabric, remember that the raw edges tend to curl towards the right side of the fabric.
Zigzag stitch
Z-shaped stitch that can be used on knits, stretch fabrics, to sew buttonholes and as a finish for raw edges.
Zipper Foot
When attaching any zipper, you need to sew close to the edge of the zipper teeth and a zipper foot will help you do just that. A zipper foot can be snapped onto the left or right of the sewing foot ankle, as needed

Glossary Terms

Ultimate List of Sewing Terms to Know


Fabric Terms

  • Bias – the diagonal direction of the fabric
  • Cross Grain/Crosswise Grain/Weft/Fill – threads that run from left to right; always perpendicular to the selvage 
  • Drape – the way that the fabric falls and forms to the body
  • Fabric Grain – the direction of the threads used in weaving the fabrics
  • Face – the front (or right) side of fabric
  • Fold Line – refers to folding right sides together to prepare fabric for cutting and pattern piece arrangement
  • Hand – the texture or feeling that a fabric has 
  • Length(wise) Grain/Warp – threads in woven fabric that run the length of the fabric and are parallel (same direction) to the selvage
  • Nap – the direction that fibers in textured fabrics lay down
  • Selvage – the tightly woven edge of fabric in a roll that doesn’t fray before being sold
  • Wrong Side – the backside of fabric

Garment Construction Terms

    • Clip – small snips placed in curved or angled areas of pattern pieces to add ease and keep the area smooth
    • Cutting Line – solid lines printed on patterns that show where to cut out the pattern
    • Darts – triangular wedge-shape that’s folded and sewn into areas that have more fullness to achieve a better fit (often found at the bust, waist, and/or hips)
    • Dots – marks placed at seam intersections, dart points, collars, and more on pattern pieces to locate where garment pieces should line up 
    • Cut On Fold Symbol – an open ended rectangle with a double edged arrow; this symbol specifies when a piece needs to be cut on fold
    • Ease – space in a pattern allotted for fit and style, according to the body’s specific measurements 
    • Grade/Layer – to increase or decrease the sample size of a pattern to make a complete size range
    • Hem – bottom edge of a garment that is raw and then finished by being folded and sewn
    • Iron – to move the iron backward or forward against a finished garment in order to create crisp seams and help the garment lay correctly
    • Layout – a printed portion found in pattern instructions that helps to organize pattern pieces when placing on fabric for cutting 
    • Marking/Tracing – to transfer trued lines and guidelines from muslin or pattern over to pattern paper using a marking tool or tracing aid
    • Notch – triangle shaped cuts or marks placed into pattern pieces that help align pieces for sewing
    • Pivot – a sewing technique used for corners where the needle is lowered into the fabric and the fabric is rotated to the desired position
    • Pre-shrink – to launder fabric normally before sewing if the content is prone to shrinkage
    • Press – to lift and lower an iron onto pattern pieces to release wrinkles or to set in the seam
    • Seam Allowance – the width of fabric between the seam line and the edge of the fabric that allows room for fraying and wearing ease 
    • Seam – a series of stitches that holds two or more pieces of fabric together 
    • Tack – a stitch type used for reinforcement at points of stress such as pockets or zippers
    • Trim – to cut down the sewn seam allowance to reduce bulk
    • Yoke – an element added for fit that is usually added across the shoulders or to the waistline

Sewing Machine Parts

  • Bed – the flat part of the sewing machine where the fabric rests when it’s being sewn
  • Bobbin – a bottom thread fed through the machine to meet the spool to make the stitch 
  • Bobbin Case – holds the bobbin in place, allowing the machine to unravel it neatly
  • Bobbin Cover/Slide Plate – covers the bobbin case and keeps it in place
  • Bobbin Winder Spindle – a mechanism that is typically moved to the right to wind thread from the spool to the bobbin 
  • Bobbin Winder Thread Guide – used to wind the bobbin evenly
  • Feed Dogs – 2-3 metal bars on a sewing machine bed that feed fabric through the machine 
  • Foot Pedal – regulates the start/stop of the machine through the use of the foot
  • Free Arm – a detachable piece that’s a part of the machine bed; it’s used to sew small or circular areas
  • Guidelines – measurements located on the throat plate used to guide the edge of fabric to keep seam widths even
  • Hand Wheel – large wheel found on the right side of the machine that raises and lowers the needle
  • Needle Clamp – small, flat screw that keeps the needle in place
  • Power & Light Switch – turns the sewing machine and its light on/off
  • Power Socket – where the power cord is placed into the machine
  • Presser Foot – uses pressure to hold fabric in place as it meets the feed dogs
  • Presser Foot Lever – used to raise and lower the presser foot
  • Reverse Stitch Button or Lever – a button/lever that creates backstitches to lock the seam in place
  • Sewing Needle – special needle designed for use in a sewing machine rather than for hand sewing 
  • Spool Pin – small extendable rod on the top of a machine that holds thread and keeps it in place 
  • Stitch-Length Control – a dial or button that controls the distance between stitches
  • Stitch Pattern Selector – a dial or screen that allows the user to choose a stitch type
  • Stitch-Width Control – dial that controls the width between stitches or the position of the needle
  • Tension Control – a dial that controls the amount of pressure that’s applied to the thread
  • Thread cutter – a knife found to the left and behind the needle that is used to cut threads after a seam is sewn 
  • Thread Guides – guides the thread from the spool to the needle
  • Thread Take-Up Lever – a metal hook that pulls back thread after each stitch to prevent tangles and feeds thread from the spool to the needle
  • Throat Plate – metal part of the machine located under the presser foot that protects the bobbin/bobbin case

Basic Seam Types

    • Bound – appears to look like a french seam from the right side and from the wrong side it has neatly enclosed stitches 
    • Double Stitched – a plain seam with two lines of stitches
    • Flat-Felled – a double stitched, closed seam that is durable and conceals raw edges which lie flat
    • French – Encloses the seam allowance so that no raw edges are visible; best used on thin fabrics to avoid bulkiness
    • Lapped – right sides of fabric face up and overlap 
    • Plain – the most basic seam; any seam that attaches two pieces of wrong facing fabrics together 
    • Superimposed – edges that are placed one over the other and sewn along the edges

Basic Stitch Types

  • Back Stitch – reverse machine stitching done to the beginning and the end of a seam to secure the stitch from unraveling 
  • Baste – a temporary set of stitches that hold a seam in place before permanent stitches are applied, usually sewn with a long stitch length and no back stitching
  • Edge Stitch – a series of straight stitches placed about ⅛” from the edge of the trimmed seam or outer edge
  • Reinforced – small stitches made at corners or high tension areas to reduce stress
  • Serged – closely interlocked stitches that will finish raw edges, often used for knits and jeans
  • Stay Stitch – stitches used to stabilize fabric placed on or just outside the seam
  • Stitch in the Ditch – where seams are joined; facings are hand tacked or machine stitched in the “ditch” to hold in place and partially hide stitches
  • Straight Stitch – a basic line of simple stitches
  • Top Stitch – a line of decorative stitches sewn ¼” from the edge on the right side of fabric that is parallel to a seam or edge
  • Understitch – seam allowances that are stitched to the facing along the outer edge 

Garment Types

Skirt Silhouettes

  • Sheath – form fitting style that commonly hits right at the knee but can vary in length
  • Trumpet/Tulip – fitted from the hips to the knees with a peplum style bottom

Skirt Lengths

  • Maxi – reaching ankle length
  • Midi (Tea-length) – a mid-calf length skirt, typically with a lot of fullness 
  • Mini – fitted style with a mid-thigh length

Outerwear Styles:

    • Balmacaan – often made with raglan sleeves and a wide and full fit
    • Battle – short in length and fitted at the cuffs and waist originally made to take the place of original army jackets 
    • Blazer – traditionally hip-length with a notched lapel and single or double breasted buttons; can have a tailored or boxy fit
    • Bolero – open front style hitting just above the waist in length 
    • Cardigan – a long-sleeved knitted sweater with a button front 
    • Chesterfield – made of simple vertical seams with a trench length
    • Polo/Camel – a tailored coat similar to a trench style with a sheath dress fit
    • Reefer – a fitted double-breasted style with a trench length 
    • Safari – belted jacket with a collar and utility style pockets
    • Spencer – long-sleeved fitted style that ended at the waistline 
    • Trapeze (swing) – made with ½ or ¾ length sleeves, a lengthened lapel, and an a-line cut
    • Trench – double-breasted having pockets, shoulder straps and a waist belt, ranging from ankle to knee length
    • Wrap – a style that ties at the waist where one side overlaps the other

Bottoms Styles:

    • Ankle/Cropped/Cigarette – a style that hits right at or above the ankle
    • Capri – mid-calf length with a fitted cuff
    • Culottes – mid-calf length, similar to the capri, but with a slightly loose fitting leg
    • Harem – soft, loose fitting pants with a fitted cuff
    • Hip hugger – waistband sits at the hip region
    • Jumpsuit – the joining of a top and bottom incorporated into one garment
    • Palazzo – loose, wide-legged style
    • Pleated – creases that are sewn and folded before being attached to the waistband
    • Raised-waist – sits slightly above the hips
    • Straight leg – a fit that does not change and falls straight from the thighs to the hem
    • Tapered – style that becomes more slim as it reaches the ankle
    • Wide-leg – very loosely fitted pants from hips to cuffs

Shorts Styles:

  • Boxer – loose fitting shorts that reach the mid-thigh 
  • Jamaica – a knee length style with a body skimming fit
  • Tailored – style with belt loops, a body skimming fit, an upper mid thigh length, and a cuffed hemline
  • Walking/Bermuda – body skimming style with a hem that can be cuffed or uncuffed, reaching about 1” above the knee

Garment Elements

Lapel Styles:

  • Notch – conventional style where the collar and lapel meet to form a V
  • Peak – sits closely to the collar with a dip that comes up to form a peak, this style resembles a paper plane edge 
  • Shawl – curved style commonly found on tuxedos

Blazer Pockets:

  • On (In) Seam – a concealed pocket covered by the other layers, and is nearly invisible with no closures
  • Patch – a separate square-like piece of separate fabric top-stitched onto a garment
  • Seam to Seam – style that reaches from the princess seam to the side seam of the garment and usually includes a closure like a button 
  • Welt – bound pockets with a reinforced border along the top edge of the fabric

Pants/Shorts Pockets:

  • Jeans – flat pocket reaching from the side seam to the bottom of the waistband in a rectangular shape with a rounded bottom edge
  • Scoop – flat pocket reaching from the side seam to the bottom of the waistband in a semi-circle fashion
  • Trouser – flat pocket forming a diagonal triangle from the bottom of the waistband to the side seam of the bottoms
  • Western – flat pocket reaching from the side seam to the bottom of the waistband forming a 45 degree angle


  • Interfacing – a fabric used for support in areas of stress
  • Interlining – material added between the fashion fabric and the lining; usually for warmth 
  • Lining – an inner layer that can be decorative- added for greater opacity, warmth, structure, or comfort
  • Underlining – sewing fashion fabric to a backing fabric to provide stability

Collar Types:

  • Buttoned Down – style with a buttonhole on either collar point that attaches to the shirt
  • Classic – easily identifiable by the small amount of spread from the collar edge to the button
  • Club – style with rounded edges
  • Hidden button – style with an extra layer on the corner to conceal a hidden button hole
  • Long Point – made with long pointy edges
  • Mandarin – small, upright collar that is closely fitted to the neck
  • Pinned – a style held down on either side by a pin
  • Two Button – features 2 buttons at the top of the button placket to provide extra height or stiffness to the collar


  • Boat – wide neckline that sits slightly below the collar bone
  • Cowl – heightened neckline with a loose fit 
  • Crew – close fitting, round neckline 
  • Funnel – high neck style that does not have a seam
  • Halter – a style held up by a tie that wraps around the neck
  • Jewel – higher rise scoop with a slight curve
  • Mock Turtle – similar to a funnel neck, but shorter and more fitted 
  • Oval scoop – style with a deeper scoop
  • Square – style that resembles a half square shape
  • Strapless – a top with no straps or sleeves
  • Turtleneck – fitted, high collar that folds over 
  • V-neck – style with two lines that meet to form a V

Sleeve Types:

  • Bishop – a long sleeve with gathering at the bottom finished with a cuff
  • Dolman – attached to the body of the garment without seams, being very loose at the shoulder and tapering to a more fitted style towards the wrist
  • Drop Shoulder – the sleeve is lengthened past the shoulder edge and the bottom of the sleeve is shortened 
  • Mutton – very wide towards the shoulder and fitted from the elbow to wrist 
  • Peasant – gathered at the shoulder and the cuff
  • Puffed – gathered at the top and the cuff with fullness in the middle
  • Quarter Length – extends in length between the elbow and wrist
  • Raglan – having a diagonal seam that begins under the arm and reaches to the collar bone with a closely fitted sleeve that extends past the elbow
  • Set-in – sleeve seam that starts at the shoulder edge and continues around the armhole
  • Sleeveless – absent of sleeves
  • Strapless – a top with no straps or sleeves
  • Tapered – loose at the armhole and closely fitted down the sleeve towards the wrist


  • Bound – a decorative buttonhole made with a rectangular lip from its front side
  • Keyhole (cord or grip) – reinforced with 2 lines of tight stitches that have a circular shaped end resembling a keyhole
  • Oval Bound a version of the bound buttonhole with an oval shaped lip
  • Slit – simple buttonhole with a rectangular fence of stitches to control the hole width
  • Zig-zagbasic machine sewn buttonhole consisting of two parallel lines of zig-zag stitches

Closure Types

  • Cord Locks – a cylindrical device that can retract and expand to allow or stop a threaded drawstring from slipping; typically found in waistbands or jackets hemlines
  • D-Ring or O-Ring – adjustable buckles that are great for connecting straps 
  • Hooks/Hook & Eyes – consist of 2 metal pieces – one that resembles a rounded omega sign and a flattened hook that interlock and keep small edges together once they are sewn in place
  • Toggle – a loop and a T-shaped piece that interlock together- great for outerwear or adding a fashionable element to garments
  • Zippers – having two strips of flexible fabric with teeth that interlock and can be sewn to garments 

Fit Silhouettes

  • Natural – fitted with ease and room for movement 
  • Over-sized – loose, having little to no shape
  • Relaxed – less fitted and shapely 
  • Slim – fit that follows the body
  • Stretch to fit – a fabric with give that fits closely to the body

Glossary Sewing

Appliqué: The process of stitching a piece of fabric to another piece of fabric, and sewing close to the edges of the shape. Typically cut into a fun shape and then fused in place and sewn around the edges of the shape. Used frequently on quilt blocks.

Back Stitch: The process of stitching backwards over the loose threads at the beginning and end of a project to secure the threads so they don’t come loose and the fabric pieces come apart.

Bar Tack: A short reinforcement of threads used on parts of a garment or project that are especially stressed, such as belt loops or buttonholes. Also known as a tack.

Baste: The technique of hand stitching or machine stitching with a long stitch length to temporarily hold two pieces of fabric together before they are stitched together permanently. A backstitch or a knot is not used in case the threads need to be pulled out and removed.

Bias: A woven fabric does not have a stretch across the grain line from left to right, and up and down. There is no stretch in the grain. However, diagonally across the grain is the bias, where the fabric will give a bit, which is why making garments “on the bias” or “cross-grain” give a woven a nice drape.

Bias Tape: Pre-made strips of fabric in various sizes that are cut diagonally across the grain to give the fabric some movement so it will turn curves nicely.

Binding: In sewing, binding can refer to finishing a seam to hide it (using bias tape, for example). In quilting, it is the use of a thin strip of fabric (similar to bias tape, but not necessarily cut on the bias) to hide the raw edges of the quilt to give a nice finish.

Blind Hem (also known as Invisible Hem): The technique of sewing a blind hem stitch, which consists of several straight stitches followed by a zig-zag stitch, across the hem of a garment so that the thread on the right side of the fabric is nearly invisible to the naked eye. Can be done by hand or machine with a Blind Hem foot.

Casing: A small “tunnel” of fabric through which a drawstring or length of elastic can be threaded through. For example, on the waistband of a skirt, you can fold the fabric down ½” (to hide the raw edge), then down again 1″, and stitch near the fold to create a channel for the elastic to stay along the waistline.

Clipping Corners: The process of snipping the triangular piece of seam allowance off of the corner of a seam to prevent bulk in the corner when turned right side out.

Clipping Curves: The process of removing small triangular pieces of fabric to allow a seam to lay flat along a curve when turned right side out. Alternatively, small slits can also be made along a curve so it is allowed to spread apart when turned right side out to keep everything laying flat. This is also known as notching.

Crosswise Grain: The threads of woven fabric that run perpendicular to the selvage.

Darning: A technique used by “scribbling” the needle over a torn section of fabric or a hole to do a repair. This requires a darning foot so the feed dogs will not direct the fabric.

Darts: A wedge-shaped fold in the fabric used to shape garments to the body.

Ease: Distributing the fabric on a curve evenly to join to another curve (usually going in the opposite direction) to get a good fit. Commonly used in sleeves.

Edge Stitch: The process of stitching on the exterior side of a project near a fold or seamed edge to keep them in place. Also known as Top Stitching if done slightly away from an edge.

Embroidery: A hand-sewing technique used to decorate fabric with needlework designs. Can also be done on a sewing or embroidery machine.

Eyelet: Small rings made of metal or plastic that are inserted into the fabric with a special pair of pliers to reinforce a hole. For example, on the back of wedding dresses that lace up, the laces go through the eyelets. Also refers to a type of fabric with holes as the design, and each hole is created and reinforced by embroidery.

Facing: The fabric used to finish the raw edges of a garment such as the necklines, armholes, and waistbands. This is used to make the finished edge look nice and lay flat.

Feed Dogs: The feed dogs move the fabric under the presser foot of the sewing machines and control the length of the stitch.

Finger Press: The heat and force of your fingertips can easily put a crease in the fabric without using an iron.

Free-Motion Quilting: The use of a darning, hopping or free motion foot, with the feed dogs lowered, so you can move the fabric freely under the needle and effectively “draw” on the fabric with the thread in whatever shape comes to mind.

Gather: A gather is created by running a thread along the length of the fabric, and then shortening the fabric along the thread by scrunching them together to make a ruffled effect.

Godet: A triangular piece of fabric inserted into a skirt to widen the bottom to add movement and fullness. Is also used in sleeves and bell-bottomed pants.

Grading: A process of trimming the seam allowance in order to reduce bulk in the seams.

Grain: The direction of the threads running through a woven fabric.

Gusset: In a garment, a gusset is a triangular piece of fabric inserted into a seam to add roominess. In bags, a gusset is used to pinch in the corners to create a bottom from the sides.

Hand: A term used to describe the feel and texture of a fabric. “This fabric has a nice hand to it.”

Hem: The act of finishing the bottom of a garment so no raw edges are seen.

Interfacing: The term for a variety of materials that are used on the wrong side (either fused or sewn in) of a fabric to give it more stability or loft or whatever the desired effect may be.

Interlining: A lining used on the back of a fabric, but sewn together with the fabric so the two fabrics act as one during construction.

Lining: An inner layer of fabric that provides a “slippery” layer underneath a garment to allow it to move freely around the body when worn. Linings are also used to cover seam allowances.

Muslin: An inexpensive, normally un-dyed fabric used to create pattern pieces, or to test out a garment before using the more expensive fashion fabric.

Nap: Some fabrics, like velvet or velour have a pile, and the fibers don’t quite lay vertically, but in a particular direction. This is known as the nap. You can feel the nap if you run your hand back and forth across the fabric. The nap should run downwards in the project.

Neaten Edges: The technique of finishing a raw edge in whatever manner you prefer; using pinking shears, a zig-zag stitch, an overlock stitch, or serging the edge. When a pattern asks you to neaten an edge, you choose the manner in which the edge is finished.

Notions: Small accessories used to aid in sewing: scissors, needles, thread, seam ripper, zippers, etc.

Patchwork: The art of sewing small pieces of fabric together to make a larger fabric or design. It is then usually quilted.

Pattern: A set of sewing instructions with sized templates used to assemble a sewn item.

Piping: A trim of fabric-wrapped cording inserted into a seam to embellish a garment or project. The cord is wrapped in bias tape so it will curve easily around all seams.

Placket: An opening in the upper part of trousers, skirts, or sleeves. These allow the garments to open up to make room for the garment to be slipped on easily.

Pleat: A fold formed by folding over the fabric and stitching it to itself to secured the fold in place. Used in garments to fit narrower parts, or in drapes for texture.

Pocket: A rectangle (or other shape) of fabric inserted into a garment accessible from the finished outside edge of the garment to hold small items.

Pressing: Using an iron to press wrinkles from a fabric or press a crease in place.

Pre-Wash: After a fabric is purchased, it can be pre-washed. This is an important step if it is going to be made into a garment or project that will be machine washed and dried. This way the fabric will be pre-shrunk before constructing the garment. Typically, pre-washing of the fabric is done in the same manner that the garments is going to be washed when completed.

Quilting: A method of sewing (or tying) two layers of cloth together with an inner layer of batting between it.

Right Side: The “front” side of the fabric; usually the printed side of the fabric.

Ruche: A pleated or gathered strip of fabric used to embellish a garment or project.

Scrim: A term used in batting where a thin layer of polyester is added to the cotton to be needle punched into, this gives stability to your batting so it won’t break apart within your quilt. Scrim can also add polyester to your batting so it will no longer be 100% cotton.

Seam: The line where two pieces of fabric are joined together by sewing them with thread.

Seam Allowance: The small space of fabric between the raw edge and where the seam is sewn. Common seam allowances range from ¼ inch to 5/8 inch. Woven fabric can fray, so the seam needs to be sewn away from the raw edge for security.

Seam Ripper: A tool used for picking or ripping out sewing stitches.

Selvage: The edge of a woven fabric produced during the manufacturing process. This edge keeps the fabric from raveling.

Serging: A method of looping threads over the raw edge of the fabric to finish the edge to prevent fraying.

Shirring: Several gathered seams in a row next to each other. This can easily be achieved by using elastic thread.

Smocking: A technique in which pleats are gathered and folded in a variety of formations to make texture.

Stay Stitch: Pre-sewing along the edge of a curve to help prevent the fabric from stretching along the “bias” when assembling a garment. Often used on the curves of sleeves for stability during garment construction.

Stitch-in-the-Ditch: A quilting term used to describe the method of stitching along existing seams in a patchwork piece or quilt top in order to quilt it together with the batting and backing.

Tension: The amount of “pinching” done to your thread as it flows through your sewing machine. Thicker fabrics need a higher tension (a harder pinch so the thread doesn’t flow out too quickly), and thinner fabrics need less tension (a lesser pinch to let the thread out easily to prevent puckering).

Top Stitch: The process of stitching on the exterior side of a project to finish seams or folds to keep them in place. Usually paired with a longer stitch length which looks more professional and can make it easier to go in a straight line. Also, known as Edge Stitching if it is done near a fold of fabric.

Trim: A pre-made ruffle, fringe, or other decorative embellishment that can be sewn into a garment or sewing project to add visual interest.

Under Stitch: Sewing a line of stitching along the seam allowance to the facing or lining to help keep it flat and prevent it from popping up and creating bulk under a seam.

WOF: Width of fabric. You will find this abbreviation in many quilting patterns.

Wrong Side: The “back” side of the fabric; usually the opposite side of a distinctly printed fabric.

Glossary (wiki)

This glossary contains terms used in sewing, tailoring and related crafts. For terms used in the creation or manufacturing of textiles, including spinning, knitting, weaving, and individual fabrics and finishing processes, see Glossary of textile manufacturing. For terms used in dyeing, see Glossary of dyeing terms.

Sewing is the craft of fastening or attaching objects using stitches made with needle and thread. Sewing is one of the oldest of the textile arts, arising in the Paleolithic Era. Although usually associated with clothing and household linens, sewing is used in a variety of crafts and industries, including shoemaking, upholstery, sailmaking, bookbinding and the manufacturing of some kinds of sporting goods. Sewing is the fundamental process underlying a variety of textile arts and crafts, including embroidery, tapestry, quilting, appliqué and patchwork.


The armscye is the opening in the bodice to which the sleeve is attached.


To baste is to join fabric together with long removable stitches. Also called “tacking” in Britain.

The bias direction of a piece of woven fabric, usually referred to simply as “the bias”, is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads. Every piece of woven fabric has two biases, perpendicular to each other. Non-woven fabrics such as felt or interfacing do not have a bias.

bias tape
Bias tape or bias binding is a narrow strip of fabric, cut on the bias. The strip’s fibers, being at 45 degrees to the length of the strip, makes it stretchier as well as more fluid and more drapeable compared to a strip that is cut on grain. Many strips can be pieced together into a long “tape.” The tape’s width varies from about 1/2″ to about 3″ (10mm to 75mm) depending on applications. Bias tape is used in making piping, binding seams, finishing raw edges, etc. It is often used on the edges of quilts, placemats, and bibs, around armhole and neckline edges instead of a facing, and as a simple strap or tie for casual bags or clothing. While bias tape can be handmade, it is also available in pre-packaged lengths (although usually only in basic colors).
Binding is used as both a noun and a verb to refer to finishing a seam, edge or hem of a garment, usually by rolling or pressing then stitching on an edging or trim.


Cord is twisted fibre, usually intermediate between rope and string.
A casing is a fabric tunnel through which elastic or a drawstring can be threaded to pull in or draw up the fabric.


A dart is a common technique used for shaping garments. Darts are created by stitching out a wedge-shaped fold of fabric. They vary in width and length and can be tapered at one or both ends. They frequently appear around the bust and waist.
1. Darning is a technique for repairing holes or worn areas in fabric or knitting using needle and thread. It is often done by hand, but it is also possible to darn with a sewing machine. Hand darning employs the darning stitch, a simple running stitch in which the thread is “woven” in rows along the grain of the fabric, with the stitcher reversing direction at the end of each row, and then filling in the framework thus created, as if weaving.
2. Darning also refers to any of several needlework techniques that are worked using darning stitches, including pattern darning (a type of embroidery), net darning or filet lace, and needle weaving, a drawn thread work technique.[1]
darning mushroom
A darning mushroom is a tool used for darning clothes, particularly socks. The sock can be stretched over the “cap” mushroom, and gathered tightly around the stalk to provide taut surface for darning.
1. A dressmaker is a person who makes custom clothing for women, such as dresses, blouses, and evening gowns. Also called a mantua-maker (historically) or a modiste.
2. Dressmaker as an adjective denotes clothing made in the style of a dressmaker, frequently in the term dressmaker details which includes ruffles, frills, ribbon or braid trim. Dressmaker in this sense is contrasted to tailored and has fallen out of use since the rise of casual wear in the mid-twentieth century.
drop shoulder
A shoulder seam which extends past the actual shoulder point.[2]


Embroidery is an ancient variety of decorative needlework in which designs and pictures are created by stitching strands of some material on to a layer of another material. See also:Machine embroidery.
Eyelet may refer to a metal, plastic, or rubber ring that is inserted into a hole made through another material; in this case it is synonymous with grommett. They may be used to reinforce the hole, to shield something from the sharp edges of the hole, or both. An eyelet may also be the hole itself, held open with stitches.


The “front” of a piece of fabric having a distinct front and back; same as right side.
A facing is fabric used to finish the raw edges of a garment such as at neckline and armhole. Shaped facings are cut to match the edge they will face, and bias facings are strips of fabric cut on the bias or cross-grain and shaped to fit edge.[3][full citation needed]
fusible interfacing
Commonly referred to as simply “Fusible” it is an interfacing fabric with glue on one or both sides that is ironed onto either a lining, facing or body fabric to provide structure.


Gathering is a technique for shortening the length of a strip of fabric so that the longer piece can be attached to a shorter piece. It is commonly used in clothing to manage fullness, as when a full sleeve is attached to the armscye or cuff of a shirt, or when a skirt is attached to a bodice. In simple gathering, parallel rows of running stitches are sewn along one edge of the fabric to be gathered. The stitching threads are then pulled or “drawn up” so that the fabric forms small folds along the threads. Multiple rows of gathering are called shirring.[4][5]
Six-gore skirt with godets.

A godet (/ɡoʊˈdeɪ/ or /ɡoʊˈdɛt/) is a piece of fabric wider at the bottom than at the top, often a circular sector, inserted into a garment to add fullness for ease of movement or as a design feature. Usually found in sleeves and skirts, but also in very full bell-bottom trousers.[6][7] Compare gusset.

A gore is a shaped segment, narrow at the top and wider at the base, extending from the waistline to the hem of a skirt. Flared skirts can be made of 2 or more gores.[8] Four-. six-. and eight-gore skirts are common.
1. The lengthwise and crosswise grain of fabric refer to the directions parallel to the warp and weft, respectively.
2. With the grain indicates parallel to the threads of a woven fabric, lengthwise or crosswise.
3. Dyed in the grain refers to dyeing with kermes, a red insect dye.[9]
A gusset is a triangular or square piece of fabric inserted into a seam to add breadth or reduce stress from tight-fitting clothing. Gussets were used at the shoulders, underarms, and hems of traditional shirts and chemises made of rectangular lengths of linen to shape the garments to the body.[10]


A haberdasher is a person who sells small articles for sewing, such as buttons, ribbons, zippers, and other notions.[11] In American English, haberdasher is another term for a men’s outfitter.[12] A haberdasher’s shop or the items sold therein are called haberdashery.
header tape
Drapery header tape is a stiff fabric band sewn along the top edge of a curtain to provide stiffness and stability to the fabric so that it does not sag.[13] To simplify the task of gathering pleats across the panel, the tape can be made with pleat pockets.[14] It can also be used to conceal drapery hooks.[15][16] It is sometimes used in conjunction with gathering tape, and can be sheer to help stiffen delicate fabric.[16][17]
1. To hem a piece of cloth (in sewing), a garment worker folds up a cut edge, folds it up again, and then sews it down. The process of hemming thus completely encloses the cut edge in cloth, so that it cannot ravel.
2. A hem is also the edge of cloth hemmed in this manner.


Interfacing is a common term for a variety of materials used on the unseen or “wrong” side of fabrics in sewing. Interfacings support the fashion fabric (“shell fabric”) of the garment and may be selected to change the hang of the fabric in some portions of the garment; for instance, a shirt collar has an interior stiffening from interfacing.


Jersey is a stretchy knitted fabric.


1. Lining is an inner layer of fabric, fur, or other material that provides a neat finish; conceals seam allowances, interfacing, and construction details; and allows a garment to slip on and off easily.[18][19]
2. The process of inserting a lining layer.


Mantua-maker is an 18th century term for a dressmaker.
Millinery is women’s hats and other articles sold by a milliner, or the profession or business of designing, making, or selling hats for women.
Muslin is the American English term for a test garment, frequently made from this fabric. The equivalent British English term is toile.


Needlework is another term for the handicraft of decorative sewing and textile arts. Anything that uses a needle for construction can be called needlework.
Notions are any small tools or accessories used in sewing.


The top layer of fabric when a different fabric is underneath. Lace will often be an overlay and have a lining under to prevent being see through.


Patchwork is a form of needlework or craft that involves sewing together small pieces of fabric and stitching them together into a larger design, which is then usually quilted, or else tied together with pieces of yarn at regular intervals, a practice known as tying. Patchwork is traditionally ‘pieced’ by hand, but modern quiltmakers often use a sewing machine instead.
In sewing and fashion design, a pattern is an original garment from which other garments of a similar style are copied, or the paper or cardboard templates from which the parts of a garment are traced onto fabric before cutting out and assembling (sometimes called paper patterns). Home sewing patterns are generally printed on tissue paper and sold in packets containing sewing instructions and suggestions for fabric and trim.
Piping is a type of trim or embellishment consisting of a strip of folded fabric inserted into a seam to define the edges or style lines of a garment or other textile object. Usually the fabric strip is cut on the bias or cross-grain, and often it is folded over a cord. It may be made from either self-fabric (the same fabric as the object to be ornamented) or contrasting fabric, or of leather.[20]
1. A placket is an opening in the upper part of trousers or skirts, or at the neck or sleeve of a garment Plackets allow clothing to be put on or removed easily.[21]
2. A stomacher. Also spelled placard.
3. A slit to allow access to a hanging pocket, or a petticoat or skirt pocket.[21]
A pleat (older plait) is a type of fold formed by doubling fabric back upon itself and securing it in place. It is commonly used in clothing and upholstery to gather a wide piece of fabric to a narrower circumference.[22] Pleats are categorized as pressed, that is, ironed or otherwise heat-set into a sharp crease, or unpressed, falling in soft rounded folds. Pleats may also be partially sewn flat and allowed to fall open below.
A pocket is a bag- or envelope-like receptacle either fastened to or inserted in an article of clothing to hold small items. In older usage, a pocket was a separate small bag or pouch.[23]


1. Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating batting in between.
2. A bed covering or similar large rectangular piece of quilting work is called a quilt.


right side
The “front” of a piece of fabric having a distinct front and back; same as face. Sometimes called the “public” side.
A gathered overlay. The fabric is gathered on two parallel sides and stitched to an underlay, creating a shelf effect. It is often done in sheers, like chiffon
running stitch
A running stitch is an embroidery stitch that passes in and out of the fabric in a straight line. This stitch can be used to baste fabric pieces together.


Plain seam

A seam, in sewing, is the line where two pieces of fabric are held together by thread.

seam allowance
A seam allowance is the area between the edge of fabric and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of material being stitched together. Seam allowances can range from 1/4 inch wide (6.35 mm) to as much as several inches. Commercial patterns for home sewers have seam allowances ranging from 1/4 inch to 5/8 inch.
seam ripper
A seam ripper is a small tool used for unpicking or cutting stitches.
A seamstress is a woman who sews and finishes garments, as contrasted with a dressmaker.[24]
The selvage (US English) or selvedge (British English) is the term for the self-finished edges of fabric. In woven fabric, selvages are the edges that run parallel to the warp, and are created by the weft thread looping back at the end of each row. The selvage of commercially produced fabrics is often cut away and discarded.[24] Historically, garments were frequently constructed of full loom-widths of fabric joined selvage-to-selvage to avoid waste. In knitted fabrics, selvages are the unfinished yet structurally sound edges that were neither cast on nor bound off.[25]
Serging is the binding-off of an edge of cloth.
Sewing is an ancient craft involving the stitching of cloth, leather, animal skins, furs, or other materials, using needle and thread. Its use is nearly universal among human populations and dates back to Paleolithic times (30,000 BC). Sewing predates the weaving of cloth.
sewing circle
A sewing circle is a group of people, usually women, who meet and work on sewing projects together.
A sloper is a base pattern used to develop other patterns. Often called a Block or Master Pattern. This pattern is highly developed and very accurate pattern that is designed to fit a specific set of measurements. This pattern is used in turn to create other more stylized patterns.[26]
A stitch is a single turn or loop of the thread or yarn in sewing, knitting, and embroidery. All stitches made with a sewing needle with an “eye” or hole are variations on seven basic stitches: running stitch, backstitch, overcast stitch, cross stitch, buttonhole or blanket stitch, chain stitch, and knot stitch.[27] Sewing machine stitches are classified by their structure: chain stitch, made with one thread; lockstitch, made with two threads; and overlock, made with one to four threads.
A surplice is a neckline formed by overlapping the left and right bodice pieces to form a “V”.[28]


A tailor is a person who makes, repairs, or alters clothing professionally, especially suits and men’s clothing. Although the term dates to the thirteenth century, tailor took on its modern sense in the late eighteenth century, and now refers to makers of men’s and women’s suits, coats, trousers, and similar garments, usually of wool, linen, or silk.
tailor-made (from the second half of the twentieth century usually simplified to tailored) refers to clothing made by or in the style of clothes made by a tailor, characterized by simplicity of cut and trim and fine (often hand) finishing; as a women’s clothing style tailored is opposed to dressmaker.
Thread is a fine type of yarn.
A thimble is a protective shield worn on the finger or thumb.
third hand
A third hand is a clamp that holds the fabric to be sewn.
Toile is the British English term for a test garment. The equivalent American English term is muslin.
Trim or trimming in clothing and home decorating is applied ornamentation such as gimp, passementerie, ribbon, ruffles, or, as a verb, to apply such ornament.
twill tape
Twill tape is a flat twillwoven ribbon of cotton, linen, polyester, or wool.


wrong side
The “back” of a piece of fabric having a distinct front and back.


Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibers, suitable for use in the production of textiles, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving and ropemaking. Yarn can be made from any number of synthetic or natural fibers.