So you’ve chopped up all your fabric and you’re ready to sew everything together. Over the next couple of weeks we’re looking at the terms you find in the sewing section of a pattern:

Fabric Placement Terms

For an activity that seems to be, in the most part, creative and relaxing, sewing does have a number of codes and terms associated with it which might make you wonder if in fact you’ve wandered into a spy novel whereby signals are being sent to repel enemy agents. While I can’t absolutely guarantee that this isn’t the case, I can try and decode some of them for you below:


RST, or Right Sides Together is an instruction to place two named pieces such that the ‘right sides’, ie the sides with the pattern/texture on, are facing each other. The only fabrics where this doesn’t matter would be solid, linen or dyed fabrics where both sides are the same, but generally in bag making there will be some form of interfacing or interlining which will effectively create the ‘wrong side’.


RSO, or Right Sides Out is usually an instruction to turn something that you’ve sewn together with the right sides facing, so that it’s the correct way out and the seams are hidden on the inside.


WST, or Wrong Sides Together is the opposite of RST. It’s a rather less common term, but is used most commonly to create French seams where items are sewn WST then turned and the seam allowance from the first seam is caught inside a second seam. This ensures that there are no raw edges on the inside of something that you may not want to line.


WSO, or Wrong Sides Out can refer to leaving something the way it has been sewn, RST, before carrying out the next step. In bag making you’ll most often find this in reference to bags where the lining is left WSO and the outer fabric turned RSO, then the outer placed inside the lining to stitch a final seam. The most common example for this would be a simple rectangular tote bag where you would sew the side and bottom seams, leaving a turning gap in one of the lining seams, then, having turned the outer RSO, popped it inside the lining, which is still WSO, and sewing around the top seam before turning the whole thing RSO through the turning gap.

Stitching Terms

Top stitch

The main purpose of top stitching is to hold things in place at a seam, and it is done by adding a line of stitching with a longer stitch length than usual (I usually do 3.5 – 4mm depending on the thickness of the fabric, the thicker the longer) close to the seam on the right side of the item in question (it’s usually around 1/8″ in patterns). When I first started bag making, I just thought top stitching was a pretty seam finish (I had seen it described thus somewhere) but what I hadn’t appreciated, until I saw the bag I had made go all peculiar, was that it stops things being pulled out of shape. In my case I hadn’t top stitched around the top of the bag, and as I filled up the bag, the lining got pulled down, leaving the outer fabric curling over to the inside in a most unattractive way. Thankfully it was a simple fix for me because it was pretty much the final bit of stitching in the whole bag (what can I say, I was in a hurry when I made it!) but it’s not something you want to miss out in, say, a slip pocket on the side of a bag where you can’t get at it after the bag is assembled.


There can be times, when sewing a 3 dimensional something together, where you don’t want to sew every seam to the very end of the fabric, especially when you’re trying to ‘inset’ something. In this case you might find an instruction such as ‘sew to point X and pivot’. This does not mean sewing to point X, standing up and doing a pretty pirouette (although I would applaud you if you did so), it means sewing to point X and stopping with your needle down in the fabric, then lifting your presser foot and rotating everything until it’s pointing in the direction of the next seam to sew. An example of this might be a simple rectangular zippy pouch, where instead of sewing each side seam individually, you would stitch all the way around, pivoting at each corner. Many modern computerised machines offer the option to stop with needle up or needle down – sometimes you can set it by default, while with others you need to set it each time you turn the machine on. My Brother always stops needle down by default which means that when I travel with my Featherweights, which are entirely manual, I can find myself stopping to adjust something, fully expecting to have the needle in the fabric, only to find I managed to stop it with the needle up!