Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's Your Favorite Sewing Word?

Sewing is full of fun terminology. From technical jargon to Frenchie fabric names, it's a word enthusiast's paradise.

My two favorites are rip and slash. First of all, because they're badass and totally rock star. Secondly, because the terminology is so melodramatic for what the words actually mean. Think about it: to rip something is to carefully remove the stitches. To slash something is to gingerly cut into it. But from the sound of it, you'd think they were stage directions in a gory horror film. (For example: She rips the zombie's skin off and then slashes its throat.)

Unfortunately, neither ripping nor slashing is as fun as it sounds.

There are tons of other amazing sewing and fashion words out there: organza, armsyce, mercerized. And then there are the terms of the sewing blogosphere: TNT, wadder.

And it's interesting to see the words that aren't really in usage today. Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing has a sewing dictionary, and there are some fascinating outdated terms. Instead of straight grain, they said straight of goods. Batting is referred to as wadding. Notions were called findings.

And then there are the word anomalies, like ravel and unravel, which both mean the same thing.

So what are your favorites? And why?

44 comments:

  1. Instead of straight grain, they said straight of goods. Batting is referred to as wadding. Notions were called findings.

    "Underlining" used to be called "piece lining" also. My mom learned how to sew in the 1960s, and it was called "piece lining" then, so she still refers to it as such.

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  2. Oddly enough, and this is perhaps due to reading a lot of older sewing books when I was younger, I use "straight of goods" and "straight grain" interchangeably. lol!

    I think my favorite sewing word is quite possibly godet. I haven't made a ton of projects utilizing the godet, but I think it's just a fun, elegant word. hehe!

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  3. I'm rathr fond of baste. It makes me think of a turkey every time I do it, and thinking about basting a turkey makes me feel a little better about basting slippery interfacing to a big chunk of fabric. Hopefully I won't ever mistake the two definitions...but I imagine weirder things have happened on Thanksgiving.

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  4. I'll throw in that haberdashery is just plain fun to say.

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  5. Gosh, I don't know the blogosphere words! What do TNT and wadder mean???

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  6. "Batting is referred to as wadding."
    See, I call batting wadding... maybe because I learnt these things from my gran, but I'd look at you strangely if you said batting and say 'do you mean wadding?'

    And argie:
    - TNT means "tried and tested" usually in relation to a pattern you've 'tried and tested' and modified so that you know it will come out well every time.
    - A wadder is an item/project that didn't quite come out as planned.

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  7. Lot of these old terms are still used in industry. I don't know why they changed in household use. (Usually for worse, as I see it.)

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  8. I will agree with emadethis. Haberdashery is fun to say. It is also my favorite type of sewing item to collect. I also enjoy your use of the word sewist.
    And speaking of old terminology, I rather like to refer to my knitting needles as pins.

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  9. I like toile instead of muslin. And I love armscye. It's much fancier than "armhole".

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  10. My favorite word is "Finished" but that's a kinda universal one isn't it! *LOL* So I guess my next one would be TNT - loves it!

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  11. I like boucle just because it's fun to say!

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  12. I like the word "bobbin". It sounds cute. And "armscye" is definitely an elegant word too. I learnt it from one of my books on pattern making and had no clue how to pronounce it at first. I'm not an English Native Speaker but all the sewing terminology I know is in English because I have always used English language sources (particularly the internet) to learn how to sew. So I feel like a fool when I go out to buy fabric or notions in my own language coz I just don't know the right words.

    But there is one term in my own language that I like much more than its English version. We say "Paspelierung" for "piping" and during the Austro-Hungarian Empire the piping on army uniforms was called "Passepoilierung" (it can still be used today), which is originally French I suppose and makes this type of embellishment look even more elegant.

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  13. I personally love all the differences between English and American terms. I used to say notions (American) but now I say haberdashery (English). Batting/wadding is the same; as is basting/tacking. I tried to go buy some soutache (a great word) and after some negotiation learned it was called "Russian braid".

    I have not yet understood how trimmings are different than haberdashery but I think they might just refer to ribbons and other types of trim. Underlining may be called interlining; dress forms are perhaps dress models. Sergers are overlockers over here. Straight grain is straight of goods. Thread is cotton, no matter what it's made of, and yarn is wool, also no matter what it's made of. Spools are reels. There are an infinitude more of different terms; a tailor told me that a welt pocket was called something else, which I have now forgotten. Garments also have different names - for example an English vest is an American undershirt and of course English pants are american underwear. One doesn't want to be seen outside in pants and a vest, i can tell you. Quite a different thing than trousers and a waistcoat.

    I believe Australia is blessed with a similarly different sewing dialect, including such garments as "rashies" (sun-protective swimsuits) and "trackie daks" (sweatpants).

    My mother used to call a material shop a piece goods shop, so I suppose some of the American terms have just fallen out of usage.

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  14. Oh I forgot my favourite -- "ease". Ha ha ha. A word which means its opposite.

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  15. I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't know what TNT meant (although I figured it was a good thing). And how DO you pronounce armscye? Although I've sewn for decades, I never heard that term until reading blogs this past year.

    When I was learning to sew as a kid, I was intrigued by the parts of the sewing machine like feed dogs and throat plate. Kids tend to think in literal terms and those words sure did not make much sense to me!

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  16. Gretchen, this is such an interesting post. You come up with the most fascinating subjects. No wonder your blog is so popular.

    Okay. Let's see. What can I add?

    rickrack for the flat, woven braid in a wavy zigzag pattern; voile for a lightweight, sheer fabric with a crisp, wiry hand.

    French:

    aiguille for needle; chemise for blouse; cousu main for hand stitched; fermeture for closing, clasp or fastener; haute couture for high fashion or creative fashion design; mode for vogue

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  17. Armscye. Purely because I love esoteric terms and jargon.

    Organza. Sounds so dramatic.

    "Baste the crotch" seams. Tee hee hee.

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  18. In English, my favorite is Baby Hem, so cute.
    In French, Peau de soie. So sensual.

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  19. Princess seam, and ruche. Ruche sounds like it should be some kind of chocolate bonbon!

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  20. When my sewing is going well, those french terms are luscious. But when a hoped-for TNT turns into a wadder I lean toward "the felled seam" as my sewing term of choice:

    Fell
    To kill: was felled by an assassin's bullet.
    To cause to fall by striking; cut or knock down: fell a tree; fell an opponent in boxing
    Of an inhumanly cruel nature; fierce: fell hordes.
    Capable of destroying; lethal: a fell blow.
    Dire; sinister: by some fell chance.

    I'm going to go fell a seam now... heh heh heh.

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  21. I learned sewing in a costume shop, so I learned terms phonetically. It wasn't until this year that I saw armscye spelled that way; I always assumed it was "armseye", as in you put thread through the eye of a needle, you put your arm through the armseye!

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  22. I, too, love the word armscye. And velvet. Just the sound of it makes me warm.

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  23. Weird, but I like the word "miter", though not when it is in my instructions!

    For fabric, crepon.

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  24. I like calling a dress form a dummy. People look at me weird when I do, since they either call it dress form, mannequin, or body.

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  25. Most of my favourite sewing expressions are Danish (my first language) - Danish sewing expressions tend to be weirder than English. For example the little placket on a shirt sleeve is called a "sleeve house" and a sleeve head is called a "sleeve fish". My favourite word is trensegynf which is a small strap on a traditional men's jacket and is supposed to keep the flower in the buttonhole in place. It tickles in the nose to say the word and it is such a strange name for so small a detail.

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  26. Dotted Swiss. Nothing else is close.
    The first dress I made was in dotted swiss. I remember how the material smelled, and felt. I remember the color. I have no clue what happened to the dress...

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  27. Bodkin. It's a cool word, whether it's your "pinchy" bodkin or your "sew in" bodkin. It's a useful little guy that gets the job done! My daughter is learning to sew, and she insists on calling it the "bobkin".

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  28. I think "peplum" is a wonderful word for the skirt on a jacket or blouse, plus I like the look as well. And I've always thought "fish-eye dart" was an unusual term. For fabric terms, I like "challis" and "pique."

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  29. I love all the different names for types of cloth (or fabric, stuff, material, goods, if you will). I think the appeal lies partly in the sheer deliciousness of words like organdie or dupion and partly in being able accurately to name things. It's not just fabric, it's broadcloth, tweed, satin, twill, corduroy, brushed cotton or silk jersey. I like the names as well because they hint at the history of the fabric (denim/De Nimes being the most obvious example) - and fabric is such an enormous part of history. Think of the Silk Road, or the cotton plantations, or the way the modern British landscape, say, is shaped by its 19th century mills and textile towns. I'm not saying all that goes through my head every time I look at the suggested fabrics on the back of a pattern envelope, but it does give the names in those lists an appeal beyond their purely poetic qualities as words in themselves.

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  30. and no one has mentioned dart or cuff

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  31. Gertie, I love this post! 'badass and totally rockstar' hell yes! It also made my boyfriend laugh, who uses 'badass!' all the time...

    @ejvc "I have not yet understood how trimmings are different than haberdashery but I think they might just refer to ribbons and other types of trim."

    Trimmings are for just that - trimming things. I think we use it mostly for stuff you'd edge a piece of fabric with, although I guess you could use it to describe anything that formed a decorative addition to a piece of work. Haberdashery is much broader - a 'haberdashers' being a shop to get sewing/milinery supplies - and includes everything from threads, fabrics, buttons/zips etc, and tools. For anyone heading to London, one of the best examples of an old-style haberdashers is MacCulloch and Wallis in the centre of town - I could spend hours (and thousands!) in there...

    Re: terms, I like 'nap'. Such a sweet little word!

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  32. "Sleeve fish"-- from Gry, that is as priceless & unforgettable as "whack whack" that entered my lexicon from the VoNBBS via this site! I wonder what the Danish word is, but I think I just adopted the English.

    "Peplum" is probably my favorite, Suffragette mentioned already too. One of those words that really bugged me when I first learned it, "pep-lum"-- just not very romantic or appetizing somehow, but I think from glamor of association has really grown on me, now it's kind of... a mascot word?

    "Pink" is a good one though too.

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  33. Well, my absolute favorite is "finished"!! (Ta da being another as I model my new creation.)
    Real sewing words - I like the word ric rac.

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  34. New to your blog through BurdaStyle, and thought I'd chime in on this...

    feed dogs has always made me giggle. It's so absurd!

    darning seems so fitting to me - such a tedious task

    Baste associates sewing with cooking for me, and since I love to cook too, it a great connection

    More than any thing though, names for fabrics are so much fun - shantung & dupioni, voile & toile, georgette....

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  35. This post and the associated comments are so helpful to me. I learned to sew from my mom who doesn't use terminology, she just sews. So most of my vocab comes from patterns (which doesn't teach pronunciation unfortunately). And most of my fabric vocab comes from working in a fabric store as a teenager.

    I have to agree that shantung is a great word (my wedding dress was made of silk shantung). And although I'd never heard of armscye until just five minutes ago, I think it's my new favorite. Thanks Anonymous for the pronunciation.

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  36. i adore the sound of a few notions especially ric rac, grosgrain, and buttons. Zig zag is rather whimiscal stitch name too!

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  37. I have to confess I had no idea what 'shantung' was - I've only ever known it as raw silk (and love both the term and the fabric)...

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  38. I personally love "slide fastner". While I realize it's a zipper, it's cooler to say.

    I also am rather fond of "treadle" since I am about the only person that can insert that into a conversation about sewing.

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  39. I'm a tech designer for a suiting company and we use the word "besom" (pronounced bee-some) in place a of "double welt". I think I prefer the latter.

    This is a fun post. I never new what TNT was before. Perhaps it's because I've had so many wadders! :)

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  40. I love peplum, it sounds so fancy and high-end. I also love ... gusset! It's kind of naughty and grandmotherly all at the same time.

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  41. armscye is pronounced 'arm-sigh', although my old sewing teacher used to pronounce the 'c' a bit more, like 'arm-sky'.

    when i first started fashion design and tech classes, one of the first thing we learnt was to 'bag out a corner', which is to turn out a corner or rounded peice, such as a collar point. when the teacher instructed us to 'bag-out your corners, we all stared in disbelief, and asked if she really wanted us to tease or abuse our corners (the aussie definition of 'bag out'). we also learnt how to grade patterns using 'sectional increments' - say that fast and it causes many giggles!

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  42. 'flang' i love the word flange... sounds kind of dirty!

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  43. My favorite term is "chartreuse charmeuse." Isn't that a tongue twister!

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  44. D├ęcolletage - I love this word, and the whole idea of the d├ęcolletage is so sexy and delicious, it makes the word all that more fun!

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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