To Pin or Not To Pin

To Pin or Not To Pin main article image
Posted on March 15, 2021 by Rita Hiller
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Once upon a time pins were – just that – pins. Nowadays we have standard, household, shirt, silk, flower head, glass head, quilt, plastic head, thin, thick, short and long – you name it – somewhere you can find pins with some name or other you’ve never heard of before.

So what is it about pins and just how important are they in sewing and craft work? As a passionate sewer I can only say my use of pins has got less and less over the years. If and when possible, I prefer weights. Perhaps I should say before I go any further, that like most things with sewing and crafts, there is no absolute right or wrong way to do anything. Trial and error eventually brings you to what’s right for you. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Finding the way that produces the result you want. I’m not saying I never use pins because obviously at the sewing machine or serger, my weights would be less than useless. Mostly I use weights when I’m cutting.  

Pins or weights?

When cutting out either pins or weights will do the job – in most cases. Generally, when you cut out garments you cut on folded fabric. If you’re cutting on fabric that holds together well with no risk of moving as you cut, then you won’t need to pin the two sides of the fabric together to hold it before you start. If it’s the type of fabric that slides and moves before you can cut it, you’ll need to hold it together by pinning it together down the selvedge because you won’t want to make pinholes anywhere that might land in the middle of one of your garment sections. That still doesn’t solve the problem at the fold – this is where weights are extremely useful. Chiffon or fine silks also have to be held down as they slide anywhere and everywhere if you don’t somehow fix them so they can’t move. Even though you don’t usually cut this type of fabric folded, it’s often a good idea to secure it to tissue or other paper or even fabric to ensure it can’t move whilst you’re cutting. If you’ve got one, lay it out and pin it to an old winceyette or cotton sheet. Some people use small clips for this job. I personally don’t do that because clips can distort the shape of the sections you cut. Pins are the answer here – the super fine silk ones.

Cutting

For most of the cutting I do, whether I cut with shears/scissors or a rotary cutter, I prefer to weight my pattern pieces on the fabric. The advantage is the pattern is always completely flat on the fabric when I cut – no distortion where the pins are. Sometimes, if I’m concerned the pattern might move and not stay on the grain line e.g. when cutting high pile or bulkier fabrics, I may put a couple of pins in to secure my grainline to the fabric as it’s essential you get the grainline right if you want your finished garment to hang right. Personally, I find using weights gives you greater flexibility as you can move them easily if they’re in your way or put more on if you need to weight something a bit more whilst you go round a tricky corner or shape.

Apropos weights: mine are simple heavier metal washers from the DIY store and heavier weights from the same place. I also have a couple of old flat irons I use – nothing fancy. If all else fails you can use a couple of food cans. Anything that’s heavy and won’t get in the way of cutting will do. I keep thinking I’ll put a couple of the washers on top of each other and bind together them with fabric scraps to increase the weight and make them look a bit more attractive, but I’ve been thinking that for a long time and somehow haven’t got round to it.

Then there’s clips

Clips, like pins, come in various sizes. At the sewing machine the smaller ones work best as they don’t get in the way. If you plan to sew cork, leather (real or synthetic), vinyl, alcantara fabric or anything else where it’s as good as impossible to get a pin in or where they would damage your fabric, then you need clips.

They can be awkward at the sewing machine, if you’re sewing a narrow seam. If you’re sewing cork or leather it’s worth considering using double sided adhesive tape (1/4” is wide enough) to hold the seam together until you’ve managed to stitch it as you often sew leather etc. close to the edge because the last thing you want in a bag seam is a 5/8” seam. Clips are wonderful for holding things you’ve glued until the glue dries. If you’re also a paper crafter clips really make life so much easier.

Sewing with or without pins

At the sewing machine pins can be a great help and also a problem. At school and watching my mother at home there was only ever one way of pinning – along the seamline. Now there are other ideas about this. If you pin horizontally across the seamline it’s easier to pull the pins out as you go. There are even sewers who sew across the pins – I certainly don’t. For myself, I tend to secure the top of the pieces I’m planning to sew, removing the pin once the fabric is secured under the machine foot, then I hold the two pieces together at the bottom end (I’m right-handed) using my right hand, leaving my left hand free to guide the piece I’m sewing. This ensures that when I get to the bottom both pieces are still perfectly together. Pinning distortion and the feed dogs can lead to movement resulting in one piece being longer than the other when you get to the bottom – particularly if you’re sewing longer sections together or bulkier fabrics. More about that another time.

Many of us are sewing on ‘sensitive’ computerized machines nowadays. If you hit a pin you don’t only risk breaking a needle, which is annoying in the middle of sewing sections together but it can also disturb the fine settings of your machine and it could end up having to be serviced to sort it. If you have a non-computerized machine then hitting a pin will probably only cost you a needle and time to deal with it and restart but my experience is that modern highly sophisticated machines don’t like meeting pins.

Serging with pins

As far as my serger/coverlock is concerned it seldom meets a pin because I find most of the fabrics I sew can be held together as I sew or just by using a couple of pins which I remove before they get near the foot or the cutter, once I’ve got my sewing in position under the foot. If you do hit a pin with a serger it usually costs a couple of needles and then you need to re-thread, so not a good idea. One of the times I use a couple of pins when I’m using the serger is when I’m sewing an elastic waistband or fitting in a sleeve but that’s another technique.

Quilting

I’ve made a few quilts in my time as gifts for weddings, babies and my daughter and her children but I’m not a quilter. I think you could say I was a sewer who’d made a few quilts. I definitely used pins when I quilted and I would say for a quilter pins are vital. However, there are some modern quilters who swear by clips. Like I said before it’s often a matter of what works best for you. I also have to admit that I prefer longer quilting pins when I’m at the machine, whatever I’m sewing, because they’re easier to get hold of.

Silk pins

Silk pins, sometimes sold as couture pins, are a must if you sew silk or other very fine fabrics because unlike a standard pin, they won’t make holes. They are extremely fine and sharp. They’re not so good when they slide out of the fabric and land on a carpet floor because they tend to end up in a bare foot or my rather hairy dog  – and they do slide. One rule I have is never to mix silk pins with any other type of pin because they can easily end up in your finger if they’re mixed with other pins in a pin tray. They also bend easily because they’re so fine and you should throw them away if they’re bent –  but that really applies to all pins.

Tip: use a magnet or a magnetic pin tray to pick these pins up or collect them from where you’ve been sewing. They’re very fine and easy to miss.

Consumables

Pins – like needles – are throw-away items when you sew. Anything you use on silk and even on natural products like linen and heavy cottons blunts fast. Run your finger over the tip and you’ll feel just how rough they are after you’ve used them for a while. Bin them and use new ones or risk snagging your fabric.

You can buy pins everywhere from the grocery store to the supermarket to one of those super sewing notions shops which are unfortunately a dying breed – certainly here in Europe. The Netherlands, Italy and France are my go-to places for notions and fabrics as choice in Germany is increasingly limited. You can find most things in the internet but it costs you a lot of time and photos don’t always give a true picture. Like many sewers I like to feel the fabric before I buy it, if I can. One can only hope the stores we had manage to survive the pandemic.

What should you use as your basic pin?

Glass headed pins

 They’re more expensive but longer glass-headed pins are my favorite. They’re often called quilter’s pins. Plastic headed pins are cheaper but if you iron over one it may well melt into the fabric. Personally I find longer is better but you need to be careful because extra thick isn’t what you really want unless you’re pinning bulky fabrics – and some longer pins are thicker – ideal for thicker wovens but not so good for finer fabrics as they could make holes.

Pins, glorious pins

No sewer can completely do without them but the choice out there is overwhelming. How do you decide what you really need? Buy the pins suited to the fabrics you sew and those you like best. Get a good supply of basic pins for standard use because, like a lot of things, pins wear out. Maybe even consider some weights. Modern fabrics don’t always take kindly to grandma’s old pins!


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Comments
2 Comments
Rita Hiller

March 17, 2021

Thanks Linnea, glad you found the article useful. Clips tend to work better on non-slippy firmer fabrics like cotton and linen or fabrics like leather and cork. For really fine silks, satins etc. the best - at least that's what I find - is very fine silk pins. They slide too but if you put them in across the seam allowance rather than along they hold long enough for you to get the sewing under the machine foot. For really difficult fabrics I've also used a temporary fabric glue. Again, I advise using it in the seam allowance not along the actual seam line because some of them can leave a mark on delicate fabrics.
Hope this helps,
Rita

Linnea

March 17, 2021

Really helpful article Rita! I have always used regular pins, but have been interested in trying out the clips as I see a lot of people using them. The pins can sometimes easy fall off on finer fabrics, do you think that clips would work better in those cases?
Thanks for very insightful article!


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