Terminology and Historical Stitches

I am based in the UK and enjoy making and researching historical costumes so sometimes I will be using the historical term or a UK-based term for sewing technique, fabrics, etc. Here’s some definitions to avoid confusion and help those for whom English is a second language.

Note: This is updated as I go along.


carbage — also known as cabbage; the scraps and pieces of fabric left over when cutting out a pattern. The terms dates back to the 17th century. The Dreamstress has a very good blog post about the history of the term here.

mock-up — to avoid confusion, I usually don’t use the term toile or muslin as these are also the names of types of fabrics. Instead, I use the term ‘mock-up’ for the practice making up of a pattern using a cheaper fabric to test for fit.

muslin — I’m in the UK. In Modern British English, when I go to a fabric shop and ask for ‘muslin’ I get a sheer, loose-weave cotton aka cheesecloth. When making late C18th and C19th gowns, this is a more closely woven, sheer cotton aka voile.

Antoine Raspal, The Sewing Workshop, 1760, Musee Reattu: Arles, France.

Historical Stitches

I make C18th and C19th costumes, so my sewing techniques and terminology is based on these periods. I really recommend the pdf of Hand Sewing Help: Stitches for 18th Century Reproduction Clothing by North West Territory Alliance (2017) for a list of historical hand stitches, illustrations and links to demonstration videos.

combination stitch; sometimes called running back stitch — A running stitch with a backstitch for strength. Do a running stitch by taking several even stitches on the needle at once. Once the needle is pulled through, take a backstitch and start again. This is often used for skirt seams because they do not take a lot of strain. From my research, I do not believe that the term ‘running back stitch’ was used in the C18th. Therefore, I use the term combination stitch.

Le point a rabattre sous la main — so called by Diderot. Its eighteenth-century English name is not known. It creates a very neat stitch with a whip stich on one side to hold down the lining, and a running stitch on the other. There is a very useful video tutorial by Koshka the Cat.

“The English Stitch” Seam Technique — American Duchess have a video of the technique here and Abbie Cox has a photo tutorial and discussion here.

Plate IX: Tailor of Suits, ‘Stitches’ from Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, vol. 9 (1771).

References and Sources