introducing the sewing translator,

Hey friends!

One of the things that I’ve noticed about living in a new country is how difficult it is to read non-standard, or technical, terminology. For example, it’s nearly impossible for me to read a Spanish menu because there are so many words that don’t translate directly. My standby translation tools, Google Translate and Word Reference, choke when presented with some of the interesting things listed on the menú del día at the restaurant on our street. (No, the pun wasn’t intended, but now that I’ve noticed it I’m going to leave it in because it’s very appropriate!)

This applies to sewing, too. Feed dogs are not quite the same in French (nourrir chiens?) and Spanish (alimenta perros?), so if you are trying to read a sewing pattern or shop for fabric and notions while on vacation, it gets really difficult.

I mentioned this challenge to Todd a while ago and told him how nice it would be to have something that would reliably translate sewing terms. He and our developer Justin have spent a little time working on this idea to help me–and all of you–out. But they didn’t do it alone because between the two of them they speak a grand total of 1.75 languages (including English!). But more on that in a minute.

I’m pleased today to be able to introduce you to Sewing Translator. You can check it out for yourself at


Sewing Translator uses a custom dictionary of sewing-related terminology that includes fabric types, garment types, tools, notions, machine parts, etc. It allows you to translate those terms between any of 10 languages. It’s a very simple translator, but it does the one thing it’s supposed to do quite well!

What we have released here is a very first, extremely basic version of something we would like to continue to expand and develop. Right now it functions in a web browser and requires internet connectivity. It’s fully optimized so it works like a dream on your phone, tablet, or computer. In the future, we would like to turn it into, as well, stand-alone native iOS and Android apps that do not require connectivity to work. If we see that people are making use of Sewing Translator, we will continue to develop and expand it.

As I alluded to earlier, we could never have assembled all these sewing terms in all these languages if it were not for the help of the members of the global Oliver + S community. Many people, when asked, pitched in and provided translations for the languages they speak. And for that, we owe a big “thank you” to all our contributors: An, Ana Sofia, Annika, Eva, Evgenia, Gioia, Giulia, Ines, Juliette, Laura, Maria, Maria, Marta, Miren, Monica, Silvia, Susanne, Valentina, and Yuki. (Can you guess which languages each provided by her name?)

We would love to hear what you think of Sewing Translator. You can provide feedback by using the Feedback link on the site. And if you speak a language we haven’t yet included and would be willing to help us add it, please let us know! We would love to add more languages to the mix.

Update (10/12/2016): We have had several people provide feedback already about how the user interface works well for shopping in a foreign country but not so well for getting help with sewing from a pattern written in another language. To be honest, that wasn’t a use case we had in mind when we were developing Sewing Translator. But it makes perfect sense to use it that way, and now that we think about it, Sewing Translator will probably get used in this way more often! So we’ve bumped to the top of our list some changes to the user interface that will make it easier to use when you are sewing from a foreign language pattern. We hope to have the new version ready to release soon. Thank you for that feedback–and for all the rest!




  1. Kate

    Wow! What a great resource. This will help with many French patterns I have been wanting to sew up! And gives me more options to sew patterns in other languages!!! Thank you!

  2. Sabrina B.

    I lived in Spain for a bit about 2 years ago. I had a very difficult time buying “muslin” fabric. This would have been perfect for me then!.

  3. Mel

    This is really useful! Thank you so much!

  4. WHOA. Seriously?! I have tried to follow patterns in other languages and noted immediately that literal translations through Google translate and the like do not capture the technical sewing jargon at all, and often lead to absurd results (leaving me to figure things out on my own or do my best with the illustrations). So this is really exciting! I will for sure be using this, as I have a bunch of french patterns in my stash!

  5. Soooo HAPPY to read this. If you want to translate into Greek too, count me in!

  6. This is such a great idea, and I love that it’s a collaborative effort via our sewing community.
    I just had a little play with it and it’s fantastic for translating away from your native tongue – ie for the sewist abroad.
    But… For those of us stuck at home using foreign language patterns it needs tinkering….
    If I choose Japanese as my “translate from” language, the whole web page goes to Japanese and then I can’t work out what the drop down boxes refer to, or which is my target language.
    We need to somehow set the web page language, then select our “translate from” language.
    Does that make sense?
    I love that you do things like this for us!

    1. Yes, that makes perfect sense, and it’s something that someone else mentioned yesterday via the Feedback form on the site. It’s not a use case we had designed for, but I see now how a lot of people would want to use it that way.

      We’ll get this in the queue prioritized at the top as an enhancement and will work on this before we work on putting this out as a stand along app.

  7. Amy Brant

    This is a genuinely useful idea. Google just doesn’t cut it on Knipmode patterns. Your translator will make short work of the Dutch instructions. Thank you.

  8. Marcia

    I wish I had had this while living in Rome for three years. I’d love to see it developed into an iOS app.

    1. Marcia, while it’s not a native iOS app yet, there is something you can do to make it more “appy.”

      When you visit the main page of the site in a browser on your phone, click on the iOS “Share” icon. (It’s the one with the box and upward pointing arrow in it.) Find the option there that says “Add to Home Screen” and select that. This will put an app icon on your phone’s main screen. Click on that, and Sewing Translator will look and feel almost just like an app for you when you use it. It still requires internet connectivity, but give it a try.

      1. Kathryn Skoyles

        Hi! I love the idea of sewing translator and went quickly to my iPhone to do as suggested. But my “share” button doesn’t have an option to add to home screen – closest is “add to notes”. It’s an iPhone 5 with whatever is the latest IoS. Is there an alternative way to do this – otherwise I guess I’l have to wait patiently for the app!

      2. Kathryn, that’s odd. I wonder if it’s an iPhone 5 issue. I just checked again on my iPhone 6 and it’s there. Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place? There are two rows of icons on my phone when I click the share button. The top one is in color. That’s where I see “Add to Notes.” The bottom row is in gray. That’s where “Add to Home Screen” appears.

  9. I think this is a great idea. I have a subscription to Knipmode, but using GoogleTranslate to read it has been less than helpful a lot of the time.

  10. Charity

    This is a fantastic idea! Next time I come across an interesting pattern in one of those languages, I’ll know where to turn!

  11. Bravo!!!
    Thank you so very much!!
    This is really something!!

  12. This is a great idea!

    I’d be up for helping out if you need a Swedish translation 🙂

    1. Lotta, you’ve already received an email with your homework assignment! Thanks for volunteering.

  13. Becky May

    This is so great! Years ago I was given a sewing magazine from Amsterdam in Dutch. Can’t wait to finally be able to use it!

  14. You guys are amazing. I’m so excited about this resource. I love to sew from patterns in different languages, but I usually just muddle through with photos or guesswork. Sounds like this will be a huge help.

  15. This is so great! I’m Spanish and I love the idea of a Sewing Translator. I’m a follower of quite a few English and American sewing blogs and sometimes it drives me crazy not fo find the correct translation. It will be a huge help!! If you need help with Spanish feel free to contact me (also for the menu). I’ve seen you have translated Feeddogs as “dientes”, it is better to say: dientes de arrastre (if you say “dientes” we usually understand “teeth”).

    1. Thank you Maribel! I have added your correction to our list of things to update, and if we need more assistance with Spanish in the future, I will let you know.

  16. Susan

    Really cool resource. I have taken plenty of French in my day but never encountered sewing terms. Only foreign patterns I’ve used are Japanese.

  17. Kerry

    This has such potential! I have Japanese , French and Finnish patterns in my collection and have to rely upon google translate, this could save so much time

  18. Leslie

    This is sooooo amazing! I’m always struggling through patterns and give up half way through! I have patterns in American English, Dutch, Danish, German, Japanese, french and Spanish….. Way too much for my mid level sewing. I’ll give feedback about specifics after playing with it.

  19. moushka

    This is a fantastic initiative and would be worth paying for by anyone who sews. Wish I could volunteer help but my only other language is French and I need help with sewing terms in that language. Venturing into other languages patterns has always been too daunting as google translate is hopeless but with a special app now seems possible. Best of luck and thank you..

  20. This is such a fantastic idea and something I will use regularly. I often sew from French patterns (I’m English) and my A Level French just about gets me through but it takes three times as long as necessary and makes the more complicated bits hard to get right. Google translate is great, but it is very literal and therefore some of the translations don’t make any sense in a sewing context. And it’s laborious. I can’t wait for the next iteration of this (which will look at construction terms – I’ assuming??!) so I can get going on a more complicated French Pattern.

    Thank you!

  21. Jeanne

    This is SO helpful, thank you! Google translate is useless for sewing terms.

  22. Bo Dahlstrom

    I am about to translate a manual for Husqvarna Zig-Zag Class 14 from Swedish into English. Would you know whether there is one already?

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