Home Decorating Glossary

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In our home decorating glossary you will find common terms used in decorating for paints, curtains, drapes and window fashions.


Acrylic paint is water-based paint available in tubes; also called artist’s acrylic paint.

Alkyd (or solvent-based) paint is used mainly on wood and metal; use mineral spirits or turpentine as a thinner and cleaning agent.

Antiquing is the decorative process that adds an aged look to painted surfaces.

Applique fabric motif that is attached to another, larger area.

Backstitch is a hand stitch formed by inserting the needle behind the point where thread from the previous stitch emerges from the fabric. Used for a hand-sewn seam.

Baste is a long stitch used to hold the fabric in place prior to final stitching also called tacking.

Batting layers of raw cotton, wool or synthetic material used to line quilts and stuff pillows.

Bias tape is a narrow folded strip of cloth cut on the bias (diagonal to the grain of fabric) used to finished raw edges.

Border is a horizontal band of decoration ( usually wallpaper) hung around a room on a wall as an architectural detail.

Butt joint a joint where with two edges touch but do not overlap.

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Chair rail is fixed below the midsection of a wall where a chair back would touch.

Chintz is a closely woven, mid-weight cotton fabric with a glazed finish. Traditionally printed with a floral pattern.

Clip is to cut a V into seam allowance to help ease fabric around corners.

Dado rail is the decorative molding topping wainscoting; similar to a chair rail.

Decoupage is the art of mounting pictures or designs onto a surface and then coating them with several layers of clear finish (varnish or lacquer) to seal.

Denatured alcohol is the solvent for shellac.

Double-fold hem is where fabric is turned under twice by the same amount to enclose the raw edge fully.

Dragging is a special paint effect achieved by dragging a relatively dry brush over paint.

Edgestitch is a line of stitching placed close to any folded edge or seamline.

Fabric repeat is the area covered by one complete motif of the design, printed on or woven into fabric.

Facing is a piece of fabric used to finish raw edges.

Faux finish is known (literally as false finish) surface treatment created to imitate another material such as marble (faux marble) or wood (faux bois).

French seam is a strong seam stitched on both sides of the fabric to enclose all raw edges.

Frieze is a wide, elaborate border; often printed wallpaper cut can be sculptured plaster.

Fusible web is a network of glue-like substances that, when melted by a warm iron, holds two layers of fabric together, eliminating the need for stitching.


Gathering is drawing up fabric along two basted stitching lines to form closely spaced folds.

Gliding is a finish applied to metal or wood using thin sheets of gold leaf.

Glaze is a transparent or semi-transparent color applied over a base color of paint. Sometimes called a wash.

Grommet is the eyelet (usually metal) used to thread a tie that holds two items together.

Half-tone is a color that is halfway in tone between a given hue and white.

Hem is where the raw edge of the fabric that is turned back to the wrong side and stitched down.

Hue is the technical term for color. One hundred thousand can be mixed or made.

Indirect lighting is interior lighting produced by fixtures distributing 90% to 100% of the light upward.

Inlay is decorating the surface of the furniture with different-colored wood, ceramic or metal by the insetting flush with the surface.

Jamb is straight or vertical side posts of a door or window frame.

Joint is a point where two pieces of wood are joined together rather than glued or nailed.

Kapok is a fiber obtained from the fruit of the sild-cotton tree, used as a stuffing for pillows, mattresses, and sleeping bags.

Lacquer is any of a variety of clear or colored synthetic coatings used to seal–leaves a shiny finish.

Latex paint is a water-based, fast drying paint.

Linseed oil is a yellowish drying oil used in paint and varnish.

Marbling is a variety of paint techniques designed to recreate artificially the appearance of marble on walls and furniture.

Mineral spirits are petroleum distillate used to thin oil-based paint or varnish.

Miter is seaming two edges of fabric diagonally at a corner or cutting two lengths of wood at a 45-degree angle to form a right angle when they are joined.

Molding is a decorative strip made from a shaped length of wood or plastic.

Ninche is a small recess in a wall intended to hold an object.

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Oak is coarse, pale yellow-brown hardwood–often used to made furniture because of its durability.

Oil-based paint is made from synthetic resins. Has a longer drying time than water-based paint and must be cleaned with mineral spirits.

Pleat is the fold of fabric that provides controlled fullness. Pleats may be partially stitched or pressed down.

Plumb line is a string or cord with a weight at one end, that is used to determine a vertical line.

Polyurethane varnish is a special varnish for wooden materials; made with polyurethane resins which form a harder, more durable surface film than traditional oil varnish.

Primer is a preparatory coating of paint that blocks the color underneath while smoothing and sealing the surface.

Ragging is a three-dimensional paint effect achieved by dabbing glaze on or off with a crumpled rag.

Seam allowance is the distance from the cut fabric edge to the stitching line. Usually, 5/8 inch, though often 1/2 inch for ease of measurement.

Selvage is the finish on the side edges of woven fabric to prevent fraying.

Shellac is a clear, glossy sealing finish.

Shirring is a decorative way of controlling fullness, formed by numerous rows of gathers.

Slipstitch is an almost invisible hand stitch used to join two folded edges or one folded edge to a flat surface. The needle is slipped through the folded fabric edge, catching one thread of the fabric below.

(Spirit) level is a device that uses a bubble in liquid to determine a horizontal line or plane.

Sponging is an application of many layers of paint with a sponge, usually combining opaque and translucent colors.

Stencil is paper or plastic sheets perforated with a design for reproducing on other surfaces.

Stippling is removing a layer of glaze with a stiff brush to reveal the base color. It creates a soft, textured look.

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Template is a pattern used as a guide for cutting or drawing.

Trompe l’oeil is any painting technique that deceives the eye and looks like a three-dimensional object.

Toile de Jouy is a cotton or linen woven fabric, plain or twill, produced in France. Pastoral or mythological scenes are usually printed in one color on a beige background.

Valance is decorative drapery heading or border, usually made of shirred or pleated fabric, which is used by itself or to hide drapery hardware.

Veneer is a thin layer of decorative wood used as a surface layer or sandwiched between other layers.

Wainscoting is paneled wooden lining on the lower half of an interior wall.

Wall covering is a general term used for wall treatments, including paper, vinyl, and fabric.

Yellowing is a discoloration of a clear or semi-transparent finish due to gradual aging and light.

Zigzag is functional and decorative machine stitch used to keep raw edges from raveling–also used to hold applique in place.

Zipper foot is a sewing machine attachment that adjusts for positioning on either side of the needle, making it easy to stitch close to the bulk on one side of a seam (as when sewing zippers and cording).

If you have any suggestions for our decorating glossary, leave a note in the comments and we’ll try to get them added. Also, if you didn’t find what your looking in the decorating glossary, let us know and try our best to find the definition. We send you a rely via email.

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