15 Common Sewing and Stitching Idioms Everyone Uses – Even If They Don’t Sew

The English language is full of interesting idioms and short catchphrases that we use in everyday life without thinking about their literal meaning or the origin of the saying.

Here are 15 examples of sewing and stitching-related idioms that can indeed apply to sewing but, more often than not, are used by many of us daily for their figurative meaning.

Measure twice, cut once

Woman cutting out a pattern paper in linen fabric. Seamstress sewing on the sewing machine in small studio. Fashion atelier, tailoring, handmade clothes concept. Slow Fashion Conscious consumption
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The concept of measuring twice and cutting once can, of course, be applied to sewing. It’s essential to be sure that any measurements are correct prior to cutting a piece of fabric, especially if it’s a costly one.

However, this idiom is used in a much broader sense. The saying emphasizes the importance of careful planning and double-checking everything before taking any irreversible actions.

Cut from the same cloth

Oven mitts in the same cloth
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In the world of sewing, it certainly is relevant to talk about garments or items made using material cut from the same cloth. This is pretty self-explanatory.

Outside of sewing, this idiom is used to describe people who are very similar in personality, characteristics, or beliefs, for example, “Those two troublemakers are cut from the same cloth!”

Needle in a haystack

Organized sewing room
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This is the first idiom that’s not directly related to sewing but could very well be used in a sewing context.

More often than not, however, this idiom is used in the context of finding something very small and difficult to locate, much like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Sew the seeds of

teaching kids to sew
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This phrase is often used to describe the process of initiating or starting something by dropping little hints or suggestions – planting an idea, so to speak. For example, “She sewed the seeds of creativity in her children.”

Hold the thread of..

Close Up Of Woman's Hand Sewing Quilt
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Sewing is all about taking a needle and thread to a piece of fabric, and control of the thread is crucial to ensuring it gets sewn correctly.

The same rationale can be used in the broader sense, whereby the idiom of holding the thread can be used to express control or influence over a situation. For instance, “She held the thread of the negotiations.”

Cut a wide swath

happy seamstress cutting fabric
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When speaking about sewing, cutting a wide swath means using a broad, sweeping motion with scissors.

Outside of the sewing room, the idiom is used to describe someone who behaves in an expansive or pushy manner, resulting in significant influence due to their forceful impression.

In stitches

Close up view of sewing process. Female hands stitching white fabric on professional manufacturing machine at workplace. Seamstress hands holding textile for dress production. Light blurred background
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First used by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, this idiom is often used to express the act of suddenly laughing uproariously.

While not directly related to sewing, the origins of this saying do, in fact, come from the needle: just like a prick from a needle results in an outburst of pain, a comedian, for example, can cause an outburst of laughter, and have the audience ‘in stitches’ with whatever story they are telling.

Patch things up

scrappy patchwork quilt
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Another sewing related idiom that refers to the act of repairing or reconciling a relationship or situation, just like how you would patch a hole in the fabric.

Fit to be tied

Woman tying knot
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Learning to tie some knots, such as a finishing knot, is an important part of the sewing process.

However, this expression has a far more somber origin. First appearing in the early 1880s, the saying is often used to express extreme and uncontrollable anger. For example, “Dad was fit to be tied when I crashed his car!”

The term was (allegedly) used to refer to certain patients in mental institutions with uncontrollable outbursts that required being tied up with rope or cloth. Fortunately, this outdated form of restraint has been replaced with more appropriate measures; however, the expression still remains to this day.

Come unraveled

Tangled thread on black background
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In sewing, to unravel is to separate or disentangle threads. This saying is also used outside of the world of sewing, albeit with a similar meaning.

If something or someone ‘comes unraveled,’ it means they are falling apart or losing composure, just like a poorly sewn seam.

Tangled web

Colorful tangled thread
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Though not directly related to sewing, this idiom is often used to describe a complex and confusing situation, much like a web of threads.

One might have been sarcastically told, ‘What a tangled web we weave!’ referring to how they might have overcomplicated a situation.

Measure up

Seamstress checking quality
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This phrase, although not exclusive to sewing, can be related to ensuring something meets a particular standard or expectation, much like measuring fabric accurately. “Measure up to the task at hand!” an employer might say to her team.

A stitch in time saves nine

focused blonde caucasian female seamstress sits using modern sewing machine. Dressmaker works in textile workshop. Tailoring, sewing as a small business or hobby concept. sewing process
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If you’re lucky enough to catch a small hole in a piece of fabric and repair it before it becomes a bigger problem, you might have saved yourself replacing that garment.

This proverb explains just that, and outside the world of sewing, it suggests that addressing a problem early can prevent it from becoming larger and more difficult to fix – just like fixing a small tear in the fabric.

Sew up a storm

Handsome fashion designer sewing with a sewing machine
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In a comical way, this idiom could indeed refer to a sewist who is sewing energetically. However, it can also be applied metaphorically to denote intense or rapid activity in any context.

The word sew could also be replaced with a multitude of other words to match the situation better, such as ‘cooking up a storm,’ ‘dancing up a storm,’ ‘talking up a storm,’ etc.

Leave no loose ends

buttons at market
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To ‘leave no loose ends’ refers to completing a task thoroughly, without leaving anything unresolved or open to questioning, akin to finishing a sewing project with all loose threads neatly secured.

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