The Tailor’s Terms: A Beginner’s Glossary

The Tailor’s Terms: A Beginner’s Glossary

March 4, 2022
By Lacey Nakashima

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Whether you’re wanting to learn to sew and take in your items or you want to go to a professional, there are terms you need to know. Altering clothes takes time and patience, so don’t go at this the wrong way.

Queenly is here today to give you a little beginner’s guide to terms and processes. Key definitions and measurements that you’ll need to get the job done right and wear your clothes faster. There’s nothing worse than buying that cute little red dress you’ve been eyeing only to find out an hour before your date that it’s a little too big. Now there’s no time for altering and you’re without a dress to wear.

Don’t panic; it was just a what-if. Thankfully you’ve got us to keep nightmares like this from happening!

Where To Start

First things first, you’re going to need to take your measurements

First things first, you’re going to need to take your measurements. Sizes by number vary by designer. If you know your measurements ahead of shopping, you will be able to shop anywhere at any time using their sizing guide. Every designer uses these to take more accurate measurements so you can base your size choice on the actual measurements of your body.

Here’s an example:

You found the perfect pink gown. Wedding season is upon us and with quarantine over and so many brides finally getting their moment, you’ve got more formal invites than you expected. This dress would kill all of them and save money. But you’re not sure if it’s the right size. Queenly has a size chart available on website!. Since you know your measurements, you’ll be able to figure out if this dress is right for you. We really hope it is!


Measuring your bust should happen at the fullest part of your breasts. Be sure to wear a bra similar to what you would wear with the outfit. If that’s not an option, at least wear a bra that puts your bust where it’s most comfortable for you. If you don’t you’ll end up with an inconsistency for the outfit you’re altering. Take this measurement when relaxed; holding your arms straight out isn’t the right way. Lastly, make sure not to pull too tight, your bust will thank us later.


Your natural waist is the smallest part of your midsection. Again, take this measurement a few times to account for any errors. Don’t suck in your stomach, doing this will give you a smaller measurement than you need for your body and you won’t be able to breathe in your garments. Make sure to stand straight up, keep the tape measure flat against your body, and DO NOT let it hang at an angle.


Hips are the opposite of your waist, they need to be measured at the widest part of your body. This means that you’ll need to take this measurement around your hips, but that includes your backside. Pull the tape snug, but don’t pull it tight. You want to measure against your skin but pull too tight and you can’t walk.

Pro Tip: If measuring alone, use a mirror to check that the tape measure is straight and hits your body in the right areas.

If You DIY

If you are the type of go-getter that wants to DIY their tailoring, be sure to practice first. Try out a few stitches and finishes on old clothing or on old towels that you use for rags. You can get some good practice in and give old clothes new life.

The Technical Terms

While there is a plethora of information and knowledge you need, there are a few key terms that you’ll need to know regardless of where your tailoring journey takes you. Let’s go over them now.


Backstitch: A stitch done over a stitch you just completed. Used primarily as a strong and secure way to close seams.

Baste: A stitch that’s used temporarily. Typically a stitch that is put in to give you a guide for the finishing stitches.

Blanket Stitch: A finishing stitch, but it’s done by hand. Most high-end fabrics require hand sewing.

Edgestitch: A stitch that is sewn very close if not literally on the edge or seam of a fabric. Secures the seam or edge and strengthens it from wear and tear.

Featherstitch: A hand stitch that is used to combine two fabrics in a very delicate way. Can be used as a decorative or fashionable stitch.

Float stitch: A stitch that tailors your clothes, but only lightly and not entirely permanently. They are loosely added stitches that alter a garment. If you want to make a long gown a cocktail length, for example, you might want to add floating stitches to the dress and take them out later.

Finishings and Looks

Applique: A jewel or sequin patching or overlay that is added to a dress. Some dresses are made of specialized fabrics, others feature appliques that add embellishment to dresses.

Box pleat: Pleats that face the same way. Think of pants, the two pleats on one leg face away from each other but face the same way as the pleat on the other leg on the same side.

Dart: A stitched fabric that is sewn in such a way as to give the garment a natural shape.

Dolman sleeve: a sleeve that is cut from the same one piece of fabric as the rest of the top. It will usually have a slouched armpit area that hangs lower than other tops.

Drape: "Drape" or "drapery" is a term used to describe how fabric naturally hangs on your body.

Peplum: A top that is fitted through the waist, and darts out to the hips. Think of an A-line dress, but this is just on top.

Other Important Terms

Important Tailoring Terms

Beeswax: Beeswax is a term for wax used to strengthen the thread needed for hand-sewing.

Bodice: Bodice is a term referring to the part of your top or dress that runs from the bust to the waist.

Clean finish: What's called a "clean finish" describes the finished look of the edge of a fabric.

Hem: Finished edge of the garment. If you are having something taken in or taken up this is what they’re cutting to create a new edge to your garment.

Lining: Fabric, usually silk or higher-end light-weight material, that is sewn in underneath garments that have a sheer factor to them.

Seam tape: Tape that is used along an edge of the fabric to help with creating a seam.

You’re All Set!

Ok queen, that’s everything you need to know to start your tailoring journey. Even if you choose to take it to someone else, knowing these terms and phrases will help you get your outfit altered right the first time. We are confident you’re ready!

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