Thursday, December 31, 2009

French Sewing Glossary

I started this glossary in this post. I am pulling it out as a separate blog entry. I am continually adding to it as I use the Au Bonheur patterns.

Please let me know if you find any errors or come across any phrases that should be added. Thanks!

Last updated: 4/1/2016. Thanks to Bessie Crocker for clarifying several of the terms, particularly about different types of stitches!

  • avantbras - forearm
  • bâtir - to baste
  • boutons/boutonnières - buttons/buttonholes ("1 bouton pour la taille" = "1 button for the waistband")
  • boutons pression - snaps (the kind you press, or hammer, that show from the front, not the sew-on type)
  • les bretelles - straps
  • coté - side ("Fermer les cotés..." = "Close the sides..." or "...du coté plat de la poche..." = "... the flat side of the pocket..."). I also saw it used to describe a side gusset, on the tee pattern with the 4 hanging points that are tied into knots.
  • coucher - to place ("Coucher les coutures vers la poche." = "Place the seams towards the pocket.")
  • coudre - to sew
  • coudre à points de surjet - to serge (though it literally means "to sew back and forth joining stitches")
  • ceinture - waistband; also belt or sash
  • chevaucher - overlap
  • col - collar
  • col châle - shawl collar
  • coutures - seams
  • couture(s) du cote - side seam(s)
  • couture(s) de dessous de bras - underarm seam(s)
  • cranter - to notch
  • dessus - top ("sur dessus de poche" = "on top of the pocket", "dessus de manche" = "upper sleeve")
  • dessous - below or underside ("dessous de manche" = "under sleeve"); "dessous" can also mean lingerie (similar to "undies") or interlining
  • devant - front
  • doublure - lining
  • dos - back
  • droit fil - straight of grain
  • emmancher - to fit one part into another, often with a fiddly bit that needs to be adjusted, such as easing a sleeve into an armhole
  • emmanchure - armhole
  • empiècement - yoke. Note that in the directions for the skirt I made with the twisted drape, they refer to the drape pattern piece as an "empiècement." My French friend thought this strange. She said usually an empiècement refers to a sewn-in yoke, like on a cowboy shirt.
  • en piquant - (while) catching
  • éncarter - press ("éncarter les coutures au fer" = "press seams open")
  • encolure - neckline
  • endroit - right ("endroit con endroit" = "right side to right side")
  • endroit du patron - right side of pattern
  • endroit du tissu - right side of fabric
  • entoiler - to interface
  • entoilage - interfacing
  • entoilage thermocollant - fusible interfacing
  • entoiler - to interface ("entoiler les parementures" = "interface the facings")
  • entournure - armhole
  • l'entrejambe - inside leg ("fermer l'entrejambe" = "close the inside leg seam" (from ankle to ankle)
  • envers du tissu - wrong side of fabric
  • les épaules - the shoulders ("assembler les épaules" = "sew the shoulder seams")
  • double epaisseur - double thickness
  • épingler - to pin
  • faufiler - to baste
  • le fil - thread ("1 fil de couleur contrastante épais" = "1 [spool of] topstitching thread in a contrasting color")
  • finition - finishing
  • les flèches - arrows ("coucher les plis selon les flèches du patron" = "form the tucks according to the arrows on the pattern")
  • fond - background ("fond de poche devant" = "front pocket back", as in a front jeans pocket)
  • la fourche - crotch ("fermer la fourche" = "close the crotch seam (from bellybutton to bottom)")
  • le genou - knee
  • de hanches - hipline
  • haut - top
  • jupe - skirt
  • lainage - woolens ("tissu type lainage" = "wool type fabric")
  • laine - wool
  • lisiere - selvedge
  • liens - ties ("faire 4 liens" = "make 4 ties")
  • ligne de pliure - fold line
  • ligne de taille - waistline
  • largeur pied de biche - the width of the presser foot
  • maille - a knit stitch
  • maintenir - to tack (hold temporarily)
  • manche - sleeve
  • milieu - center ("faire la couture milieu dos" = sew the center back seam)
  • molleton - flannel or fleece—a fabric with some loft, perhaps a Pellon-type fleece or batting
  • les œillets - eyelets, as in the metal kind you press, or hammer ("Poser l'œillet selon repère du patron." = "Apply the metal eyelet where indicated on the pattern.")
  • ourlet(s) - hem(s)
  • pantalon - pants
  • la parement - facing
  • parmenture - facing
  • parmenture du meme tissu - self facing
  • parmenture de la talle - waistline facing
  • passepoil - piping
  • patron(s) - pattern(s)
  • des pattes de boutonnage - buttonhole placket (or tab) ("Entoiler la moitié des pattes de boutonnage" - "interface half of the buttonhole placket")
  • le pince/les pinces - dart/darts ("fermer les pinces" = "close the darts)
  • piquer - to stitch/sew (verb). While the Au Bonheur patterns use the verb "piquer" to indicate stitching, it seems to be a bit inexact. The actual translation of "piquer" is "to sting" or "to bite". "Piquer a la machine" = a machine stitch. The word for a particular type of stitch is "point".
  • piquer le bord - edgestitch
  • piqure de soutien - staystitch; literal meaning is "support stitch"—soutien means "support", soutien-gorge means bra, as in "supports the throat"
  • plaquer - flatten ("plaquer la poche" = "flatten the pocket")
  • les plis - tucks or folds ("piquer les plis" = "sew the tucks")
  • pliure - to fold ("dans le pli" = "on the fold")
  • point - stitch (noun)
  • point de croix - cross stitch
  • point de devant - running stitch
  • pointe de poitrine - bust point
  • poche(s) - pocket(s)
  • rabattre - to fold ("puis rabattre les plis" = "then fold the tucks")
  • rep - ribbing made from silk, cotton, or wool ("1m de reps pour les liens" = "1 meter of ribbing")
  • repasser - to iron ("repasser pour aplatir" = "iron flat")
  • les repères - marks ("utilisant les repères B et A" = "using marks B and A")
  • revers - reverse, as in reverse side of the fabric ("pull á col revers" = "pullover with reverse collar"). Also used to describe something that turns back on itself, such as a lapel, a cuff that is formed by folding back the sleeve hem, or a pocket that has a turned-down element.
  • scotcher - tape ("scotcher les pièces 6a and 6b..." = "tape pattern pieces 6a and 6b...")
  • le serre cordon - cord stopper (for round elastic)
  • simple epaisseur - single thickness
  • sous-piquer - understitch
  • surjet - whipstitch. While the translation for surjet is "whipstitch", most instructions using the term mean a serged stitch (using a serger or overlocker).
  • surjeteuse - a serger (overlocker)
  • surpique - topstitch
  • surpique nervure / surpiquées nervurées - topstitch the seam(s) close to the edge (edgestitch)
  • soufflet - gusset
  • tissu - fabric
  • tissu fantaisie - literally translates to "fancy fabric", but is used to mean "novelty fabric" or "contrasting fabric"
  • tissu souple - "supple" or "pliant" fabric - I think they mean knit fabric, but maybe drapey wovens as well
  • tissu uni - solid color fabric
  • triplure - underlining
  • valeur - amount or width ("surpiquer valeur pied de biche" = "topstitch the width of the presser foot")
  • veste - jacket
  • volant - flounce or ruffle
  • zip - zipper; this is not the "official" word for zipper, which is "fermeture éclair", but is used by these patterns ("le zip invisible" = "invisible zipper")

You might also check out this visual chart of hand stitches, or les points de couture.


  1. Thank you, thank you! Though I lived in Brussels for 6 years and had the fantastic experience of studying with a wonderful woman who worked in Chanel's workshop, my French is long-forgotten.

  2. Thanks so much, Re. Can you tell how much fun I am having??? lol How lucky to actually work with an actual "la Petite Main". I bet she had stories galore to tell you. I would want to just sit at her feet and absorb...

  3. What a wonderful resource! One thing I'm not sure about is "avant-bras". I believe that means "forearm" so probably not biceps. Can you check on that?

  4. You are quite right, Cathi. I have corrected it. Thanks!

  5. I just had my first experience making an ABdPM pattern. Your glossary was extremely helpful, especially with pied de biche which translated everywhere else as "crowbar" :-)
    Here are few words to add:
    bretelles - straps
    passepoil - piping
    rep - ribbed fabric made from silk, cotton, or wool (ie: 1m de reps pour les liens)

  6. Thanks for a wonderful resource! After your enabling :) I bought a couple of ABdPM patterns. While Google did a good job translating, your reference was particularly helpful with the sewing/construction side of things where Google was talking about horses and other nonsense. :) Thanks!!

  7. I forgot to say, what I found most helpful was the way you gave examples of the word in a sentence. I found many of these same sentences/phrases in my sewing instructions. It was wonderful to be able to translate these common sewing techniques so easily. Thanks

  8. Very helpful glossary! Found a few that came in handy. You may want to add to your definition of revers. Usually it's something that's turned back on itself or turned down such as a lapel, a turned sleeve cuff or a folded pocket cuff. You'd think they'd have more than one word for all those! If you'd like can also add:
    ceinture - belt or sash
    emmanchure - armhole
    empiecement - yoke
    encolure - neckline
    volant - flounce or ruffle

  9. Thanks, anonymous! Some of those I had already, but I added the new info.

    I have entournure as armhole and you provided emmanchure as armhole. Can anyone shed light on the difference?

  10. Thanks so much for this glossary! I have just bought a book by Astrid Le Provost Intemporels pour bebes to make clothes for a new grand daughter. My french is rusty and I have never learned technical terms anyway so it has been a challenge. You can see them if you search for Citronille. She also has adult patterns though I haven't tried these.
    I checked the two words you have in my Collins/Roberts dictionary and they both mean armhole.

  11. Merci beaucoup! I am sewing doll clothes from a book I picked up in Paris last year and although I speak French I am having trouble with some of the sewing terminology!

    1. You are most welcome, Maureen! If you come up with additional terms to include, please let me know!

  12. What is "molleton"? Google translation says duffel, but that reference doesn't make sense in my instructions. It says to cut 2 of tissu, (or fabric) and 2 of molleton. Thanks!

  13. What is "molleton"? Google translation says duffel, but that doesn't make sense in my instructions. It says to cut 2 of tissu (or fabric) and 2 of molleton. This glossary has been very helpful, Thank you!

    1. It's felt, or fleece. Like maybe a Pellon-type fleece or batting. Whatcha makin'? :)

  14. Thanks, I was thinking it was batting but I wasn't sure. I'm making a carrier for art supplies for my nephews and neices for Christmas. Thanks!

  15. zomg THANK YOU! I live in Switzerland and when I can't find something, it has been such a struggle to try and explain what I want.

  16. scotch=tape?? I know that is its normal meaning, but:
    on my pattern it is marked as if on the fold, when cutting out fabric, whereas I would expect what you say 'pli/pliure'.
    So what would the instruction 'scotcher' mean, along a dotted edge, when cutting out a pattern?
    Also, in the above comments, someone mentions 'pied de biche', as if they had found the meaning here, but it isn't in the above list - so what does it mean???

  17. Sorry, I've just seen 'pied de buche' further up the list regarding sewing machine foot.
    Thanks for this list - a life-saver!
    I'm trying to use a Makerist pattern - that's where the 'scotcher' instruction is.