Essential Guide: Pins for Sewing

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Do you want to make your sewing time more efficient and productive?

Using the right kind of sewing pin for the fabric and/or project AND how you manage those pins in your sewing space are two ways to increase efficiency and productivity with your sewing.

Why Use Pins

Chances are whether you’re sewing clothes or purses, small projects or home decor, quilting or craft items, you have used pins during the sewing process for such things as:

  • holding fabric pieces together
  • attaching patterns to fabric
  • securing trim in place
  • pinning up hems

Straight pins have been used in sewing for a very long time. But that isn’t necessarily a reason to use them.

You may have heard you can save time sewing if you DON’T use pins. This is a valid argument and I’ve even seen some techniques for how to do this.

However, it ultimately comes down to what you’re most comfortable with.

You may even discover that sometimes you want to use pins and sometimes you don’t. It may just depend on what you’re sewing.

If you’ve made the decision to use pins, some of the questions you should be asking yourself in order to be more efficient and productive are:

  • What are the best pins for sewing?
  • Am I using the right sewing pins for my fabric?
  • How do I keep track of all my different pins and store the ones I’m not using?
  • What changes can I make to manage my use of pins?
  • What are the alternatives to using pins?

To help you answer these questions, I’ve put together this comprehensive essential sewing pin guide.

After reading it, you’ll know the best sewing pins to use and be able to increase your efficiency and productivity when sewing.

Parts of a Pin

Knowing the parts of a pin will help you identify the best pin for the sewing job you want to accomplish.

NOTE: There is an overwhelming amount of pins on the market. To keep myself from going crazy from sewing pin overload, I focused only on Dritz brand. This was the most prominent brand on display at my local Joann store and it’s the brand of most of the pins I own.

Straight sewing pin display in sewing and craft store
So many pins!

Head

The head of the pin is the part you grasp and can vary in size, shape, and what it’s made from.

There are many different heads on straight sewing pins.
  • Some heads are round. The round heads are easier to grasp and see in the fabric.
  • Other heads are novelty shapes like buttons and hearts.
  • Still, other heads are small flat disks. (These pins are sometimes described as having no head.)
    • No-head pins are also called flat-headed and won’t melt from the heat of an iron.
    • When hand sewing, the thread is less likely to get caught on a pin with no head.
    • However, this type of sewing pin can be hard to see on fabric with a pattern or texture.

Note: In my research, I came across another “flat-head pin”. These were not sewing pins but used in jewelry making. They do not have a sharp point.

Heads can be made from glass, plastic, or metal.

  • Glass heads can look like plastic ones.
  • Some heads look like plastic but were created from a “no melt” technology. This will be marked on the packaging.

IMPORTANT: Knowing what the head is made out of will let you know if it can withstand heat from an iron. Plastic heads can melt and damage your fabric and maybe even your iron. (This will kill your efficiency and hinder your productivity.) If you’re unsure of what the pinhead is made from, assume it is plastic.

Shaft

The shaft of the pin is the thin narrow part that extends from the head to the point. It can vary in length, thickness, and the metal it’s made from.

Shafts of the pin vary in thickness, length, and material its made from

The length of the shaft can vary from 1/2-inch to 2-inches.

The thickness of the shaft is less than 1 mm.

In my research, I’ve seen the thickness identified as .4 mm, .5 mm, and .6 mm.

However, not all pins will include the thickness on the packaging.

Thickness is important because:

  • the thinner the shaft the smaller the hole will be in the fabric (important for more delicate fabrics)
  • the thicker the shaft the less likely it will be to bend (important for when you’re pinning multiple layers together)

In my research, I found shafts made out of three different metals.

  • nickel-plated steel – magnetic, rust-resistant
  • nickel-plated brass – rust-resistant, not magnetic
  • stainless steel – rust-resistant, not magnetic

They type of metal matters if you have allergies to any metals.

Rust resistance is important if you live in a humid area and tend to leave pins in the fabric for any length of time.

Magnetism is critical if you want to use magnetic pin caddies.

Note: Some of my stainless steel pins are attracted to my magnetic caddies. However, the attraction between the pins and magnet is not strong. Make sure the pin shaft is nickel-plated steel if you want to use magnetic caddies.

Point

The point of the pin is the part that goes through the fabric first. It can vary in sharpness.

The point can be sharp or rounded.

Pins with sharp points are good for most types of fabrics.

For knits, you need to use a pin with a rounded point. This type of pin is frequently labeled as a ballpoint pin. A rounded point pushes the fabric threads out of the way and keeps them from pulling, snagging, or breaking.

Sewing pin points
To be honest, I can’t tell the ball point pin has a rounded point. I doubled checked the package I pulled it from. It was labeled ball point and for knits. So I’ll trust the point is not sharp when I use it with knits.

Best Pins for Sewing

Now that you know the three parts of a pin, you’ll be able to apply your knowledge to the different types of pins and select the best pin for your project.

There are many different types of sewing pins
Types of sewing pins from left to right: applique, pearlized, t-pin, ball point, color ball, glass head, dressmaker, button head

Remember, different pins do different jobs and are meant to be used with certain types of fabrics.

With the right pin, the point and shaft slide smoothly in the fabric and don’t leave holes or snags.

With the wrong pin, you could pull fabric threads causing snags (wrong point) or make holes (shaft is too thick). This type of damage could delay getting the project done.

You don’t need to buy all the different types of pins. Figure out which pins you need and buy those.

In order to determine the best pin for your sewing projects, you need to consider 3 things:

  • what kind of sewing you’re doing (clothes, quilting, purses, crafts, etc.)
  • the type of fabric you’re using
  • how you’re going to manage the pins (traditional pin cushion, magnetic caddy)

As you search for the best pin for your project, keep the project, fabric, and pin management in mind.

Start with the pins you’ll use most often for the type of sewing you plan on doing.

If you get into a situation where the pins you have won’t do the job you need them to, that’s when you buy more pins.

Types of Pins

As mentioned earlier, there is an overwhelming amount of pins on the market.

In this section are 10 different popular types of pins. They are all Dritz brand.

This is not a comprehensive list of pins and the details may vary from brand to brand.

For each pin, you’ll see information about the type of sewing and fabric it’s good for as well as details on the head, shaft, and point.

Color ball, glass head, and ball point pins

1. Color Ball Pins

  • Type of sewing
    • general-purpose sewing
    • quilt basting
    • home decor
  • Fabric – medium weight
  • Head – 2.5 mm round head
  • Shaft
    • stainless steel
    • nickel-plated steel shafts
    • shaft length ranges from 1 1/6″ – 1 1/2″
  • Point – sharp

2. Glass Head Pins

  • Type of sewing
    • general-purpose sewing
    • machine piecing
    • garment construction
  • Fabric – delicate to medium weight
  • Head – round, heat resistant heads
  • Shaft
    • made from nickel-plated steel
    • length ranges from 1 1/4″ – 1 7/8″
    • extra-fine glass head pins have .5 mm thick shafts
    • ultra-fine glass head pins have .4 mm thick shafts
  • Point – sharp

3. Ball Point Pins

  • Type of sewing
    • garment construction
    • anything with knits
  • Fabric
    • light and medium weight knits
    • lingerie fabric
  • Head – 4 mm round heads
  • Shaft
    • made from nickel-plated steel
    • length ranges from 1 1/6″ – 1 1/2″
    • thickness of the shaft can vary from .5 mm to .6 mm
  • Point – rounded
Dressmaker, satin, pearlized, and quilting pins

4. Dressmaker Pins

  • Type of sewing
    • general-purpose sewing
    • garments
    • crafts
    • home decor
  • Fabric – medium to heavy weight
  • Head – no head
  • Shaft
    • nickel-plated steel
    • nickel-plated brass
    • shaft lengths range from 1 1/16″ – 1 1/4″
  • Point – sharp

5. Satin Pins

  • Types of sewing
    • general purpose sewing
    • quilting
    • craft sewing
  • Fabric
    • light to medium weight fabric
    • satin
  • Head – no head
  • Shaft
    • nickel-plated steel shafts
    • shaft lengths range from 1 1/16″ – 1 5/6″
  • Point – sharp

6. Pearlized Pins

  • Types of sewing
    • general sewing
    • crafts
    • decorative projects
  • Head – round or heart-shaped pearlized heads
  • Shaft
    • nickel-plated steel shafts
    • 1 1/2″ – 2 1/8″ shaft lengths
  • Point – sharp

7. Quilting Pins

  • Types of sewing
    • basting quilt layers
    • multiple layers of fabric
  • Fabric
    • fabrics with a loose weave
    • synthetic fur
    • plush velvet
    • bulky
  • Head -round heads
  • Shaft
    • nickel-plated steel
    • 1 3/4″ shafts
  • Point – sharp
Flat button, applique, and t-pin pins

8. Flat Button/Flower Pins

  • Type of sewing
    • general sewing
    • crafts
    • holding stacks of fabrics together
  • Head
    • made from “no melt” technology
    • button, flower-shaped, novelty shapes
  • Shaft
    • stainless steel
    • 1 3/8″ – 2″ lengths
  • Points – sharp

9. Applique Pins

  • Type of sewing – to position and hold applique pieces
  • Head – no head
  • Shaft
    • nickel-plated steel
    • shaft length 3/4″
  • Point – sharp

10. T – Pins

  • Type of sewing
    • upholstery
    • slipcovers
    • crafts
  • Fabrics
    • loosely woven
    • bulky
    • deep pile
  • Head – skinny loop that is perpendicular to the shaft
  • Shaft
    • nickel-plated steel
    • length is 1 1/2″
  • Point – sharp

Shopping for Pins

Now that you know the best pin(s) for your sewing projects, use this linked shopping list to quickly find them online.

assortment of sewing pins

Make sure to check the details on the shaft length, thickness, and metal before purchasing.

Storing Sewing Pins

As you work with different types of fabrics and sewing projects, your collection of pins will probably grow.

(Remember, using the wrong pin on your fabric could cause damage.)

Because straight sewing pins look very much alike, you don’t want to mix up the different types of pins.

Many straight sewing pins come in reusable plastic containers with lids that close securely. Some of these plastic containers have the pin name and details printed on the bottom.

Keep original pin packaging to quickly identify the type of pin

For those pins that don’t have that type of container, keep the packaging the pins came with so you can quickly identify the pins when you need them.

To help keep your sewing area clutter-free, store the pins you aren’t using in a drawer or bin.

Pin Cushions and Caddies

For the pins you are using on your current project(s), take them out of the original container and put them in a soft pincushion or magnetic caddy for easy access.

This will eliminate any accidental spills of pins all over your sewing area.

Soft Pin Cushions

There are many types of soft pin cushions
The large thread caddy/storage/pin cushion belonged to my grandmother. It was an unexpected find when I went through her sewing box that hadn’t been used in years.

Soft pin cushions can sit on the table, fasten around your wrist, or rest on your finger. They can be purchased or handmade.

The traditional tomato pin cushion comes with a strawberry-shaped attachment called an emery. It is filled with a substance that cleans and sharpens pins when they are inserted and pulled out.

It’s always fun to use pincushions from the past, especially if it is one that used to belong to a family member.

Magnetic Pin Caddies

Magnetic pin caddies

Magnetic pin caddies can sit on the table or fasten around your wrist. I’ve seen magnetic caddies that also include storage. Caddies can be purchased or handmade, too.

Hot glue magnets to the bottom of a dish, bowl, or saucer to make your own magnetic caddie.

Efficiency with Sewing Pins

Pinning Fabric Pieces Together

One way to increase efficiency when sewing is the way you place pins in fabric.

There are different ways you can insert pins in fabric to keep everything secure while you sew.

Each way has its advantages and disadvantages but trying out the different ways, could speed up your sewing.

Use of Cushions and Caddies

Another way to make your sewing more efficient is to have multiple pin cushions or caddies around your sewing space.

Keep one by your sewing machine, your pressing zone, and even your cutting area. Anywhere you will insert and remove pins is a place to have a pincushion or caddy.

If you only use one pincushion, chances are you’ll need it when you’re at the sewing machine but it’s in the cutting area. Or you’re at the ironing board and the pincushion is by your sewing machine. Or you’re at your cutting table and the pincushion is at the ironing board.

Any of these situations will require you to take additional steps back and forth from one zone to another.

As a result, it will take longer for you to complete the task at hand.

Using multiple pin cushions/caddies and placing them around your sewing space where you use your pins, will keep you from taking steps back and forth from one zone to another.

If you haven’t used a wrist or ring pincushion, this may be an option you want to try in order to save steps and make your sewing processes more efficient.

Safety with Straight Sewing Pins

  • Throw away bent or rusted pins.
  • Don’t put pins in your mouth.
  • Pick up pins from the floor (a magnetic caddy works well for this if the pins are made from a magnetic metal).
  • Keep pins out of reach of children and pets.
  • It’s best not to sew over pins. Instead, remove them as you go.

What to Use Instead of Pins

There are a few options other than pins for securing fabric or holding patterns in place.

Multi-purpose clips and binding clips are alternatives to sewing pins.
Multi-purpose clips are pictured on the left. Clips I use for quilt binding are on the right.

Clips

Sewing clips can be used in place of pins in many instances. They securely hold fabric pieces together as well as keep trim in place and you don’t have to worry about getting poked or pricked.

Weights

Pattern weights are an alternative to straight sewing pins

Weights are another alternative to pins especially when you’re holding pattern pieces down.

Purchase weights or make your own. If you make them by hand, it’s a great scrap-busting project.

Check out my 3 favorite ways to sew your own fabric weights.

Summary

Whether you use clips, weights, pins, or nothing at all when you’re sewing, it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with.

When using sewing pins remember to select the right pin for the fabric you’re using to minimize any damage to the fabric. The pin’s shaft and point are critical when making this selection.

Make it easy to identify your pins by storing them with the original packaging. Don’t mix up different types of pins because it’s hard to tell them apart.

Use multiple pincushions and caddies. Keep them near your sewing, cutting, and pressing zones to save steps (and time) when sewing.

Above all, remember to practice pin safety so you (and no one in your family) get hurt.

Let’s Connect

One of my main goals is to support and empower you in the joy of sewing.

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pinterest image of a tomato pin cushion with pins

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