Hi all, Kelie here! Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about pins, how they’re used in sewing and whether there are best practices when using them. Here is an outline on types of pins, storage options, and how I use them while sewing. (Note: this post contains affiliate links. To read our affiliates policy, click here).
Types of Pins
First and foremost, there are many types of pins, but my focus today will be on straight pins. They vary in five categories:
- Length – Pins come in two measurements, imperial and metric. Imperial pins are measured to the nearest 1/16th of an inch, and are given a size number. Metric pins are measured to the nearest millimeter.
- Thickness – Generally, longer pins are also thicker pins. Dressmaker pins, the most commonly used, are for light- to mid-weight fabrics. Pleating and applique pins are shorter and thinner. Upholstery pins, meant for heavier fabrics, are thicker and longer than dressmaker pins. My favorites are these ultra fine dressmaker pins.
- Type of Head – The heads of pins are typically made of glass, plastic or metal. Glass and metal pins can be ironed over, while plastic pins come in varieties that make them easier to see and grasp (especially for young kids).
- Type of Tip – Most pins are sharp, but there are ballpoint tipped pins for knits.
- Metal Content – Pins are made from a variety of metals, though they are typically rust-resistant or rust-proof, and plated with nickel to make them magnetic.
Bent & Broken Pins
Let’s face it: pins bend and break. They get burrs or go dull. It’s important to keep your pins clean from needles and other things that invariably end up mixed in. But what’s the best way of disposing broken sharps? Instead of throwing them into the trash loose, I recommend using an old prescription bottle. I drilled a hole in the top of mine so I wouldn’t have to open it when I need to put a needle or pin in it. This keeps the sharps together, and it protects me from being accidentally stuck.
I can’t really take credit for this one, because Emilee found it before I did, but we both use the Dritz Ultimate Storage Caddy for my pins. I really love this thing. It’s magnetic on top and bottom, so the pins tend to stay all together. A magnetic pin dish even keeps them all pointing the same way! You want to avoid storing pins where they can be exposed to moisture, as this can cause some of them to rust. (This is another reason not to put them in your mouth while sewing!).
If you don’t have this particular caddy, that’s okay! You can store your pins in their original containers or use a pin cushion. Lots of people use pin cushion tomatoes. They even make pin cushions you can wear on your wrist.
Okay, now for the good stuff… Whenever possible, you want to keep pins inside your seam allowances. This reduces the chances that your fabric will be marred by the pins.
- Use the smallest pin strong enough for your project. (For example, you shouldn’t use large upholstery pins on a lightweight fabric).
- Don’t sew over pins. This can bend/break your pins. It can bend/break your needle. It can damage your sewing machine and your fabric. Just don’t.
- Start by matching up pattern notches and fabric stretch.
There are three ways to pin: parallel to the stitching line, perpendicular to the stitching line and diagonal to the stitching line.
Pinning parallel to the stitching line is useful when you’re going to use a serger. It prevents you from hitting pins with the serger knife (which could break the knife). You don’t have to take my word for it. Just this week, Emilee accidentally hit a pin with her serger. She broke the knife, bits of pin flew up at her, and she damaged the stitch finger on her machine. One missed pin turned into $40 in replacement parts to get going again!
Pinning perpendicular to the stitching line is the most stable, and should generally be used when using a sewing machine. Pinning this way prevents your fingers from being pricked with pins while sewing, and allows pins to be removed quickly, without having to stop the machine.
Pinning diagonally to the stitching line allows for flexibility in the seam line. I use it most often when pinning a zipper in place, because it prevents the pins from interfering with the zipper teeth. I also use it anywhere where the stretch of a seam is important, such as around curves.
Of course, there are other ways to secure seams, such as using WonderClips, but that’s a post for another day.
Do you have a favorite pinning tool or technique I didn’t mention? Leave us a comment below to let us know what it is!