Did your mom teach you how to pin layers of fabric together? Mine did, and after more years than I want to admit, I still pin cloth her way. So let’s take a look at the different types of quilt pins used by us quilters. What are the best quilting pins? Hopefully I can give you the answer in this blog post.
As quilters, we need quilt pins for two primary purposes:
- To hold layers of fabric together for piecing or appliqué
- To hold together the layers of a quilt for quilting.
Each task is different, and different quilt pins help – if you use the best quilting pins for the job, and use it in the best way!
Types of Quilting Pins
For sewing or quilting, there are several kinds of pins available. Each has its purpose and function, and each needs different handling by the person doing the pinning. Each kind of pin has a name; such as, silk pins or glass-headed pins. In general, kinds of pins available include:
These relics must have been the precursors of modern paper clips. I had never seen paper pins until a few years ago; I knew only paper clips. I know many says they hate paper clips, that they never really secure papers together and things often fall apart and go astray. Likewise, people dislikes staples, finding paper pins easier to remove.
I mention paper pins here only because they are not a good substitute for proper dressmaker or quilting pins! Paper pins are by comparison short and thick, and often rough surfaced. They do not slide easily through layers of fabric.
The heads of paper pins form by pressure on the metal, so they are tiny and not easily grasped for quick removal. If you have any choice whatsoever, seek a better quality dressmaker, silk or quilting pin.
Longer, narrower and with a smoother finish than paper pins, dressmaker quilt pins are for use by apparel makers. Extra length gives dressmaker pins greater pinning power, and their narrower shank slides easily between fabric threads without damaging them.
Glass-head dressmaker pins left, and paper pins right
With or without glass or plastic heads for easier removal, these quilting pins are the best to use for pinning together two or more layers of fabric or for pinning embellishments to cloth.
Quilting pins, designed especially for patchwork quilters, are longer and thicker than dressmaker pins. Quilting pin manufacturers intend the quilt pins for use securing at least three layers of materials, a quilt top, its backing and the batting or wadding between these two layers.
Quilting pins are best to secure the quilt “sandwich” before basting or quilting. With an extra-large glass or plastic head, quilting pins are easily found and avoided, and easily removed from the quilt as necessary.
Dressmaker pins left, quilting pins center, paper pins right
The disadvantage of quilting pins is their sharp points, almost guaranteed to prick and stab if not handled with great care. Think carefully about the pin direction before pinning a quilt that receives much handling in its making. Take steps as necessary to avoid being injured by these pins.
A nearly suitable replacement for the quilting pin is a safety-pin. The cap on a safety-pin protects sensitive hands from harm.
The disadvantage of a safety-pin is that it was never designed or intended for use pinning together the layers of a quilt. Rather, they were a means of securing rolled bandages, like those elastic bandages we can buy today. The quilt pins had only to pass through two or three layers of lightweight gauze fabric, not through the added thickness of a quilt batt.
Hole in fabric due to pin shank
A second disadvantage of safety pins is that the larger the pin, the thicker the pin shank diameter. The shank is that part of the pin that actually holds the cloth. The larger the shank diameter, the greater the hole left in the work when the pin comes out.
If the shank is really large, it can shred or cut the fabric threads, causing permanent damage to the cloth. I once exhibited a quilt at a local craft show. The show organizers hung the quilt on a backboard with push pins run all the way through the quilt and showing from the front, this despite the proper hanger sleeve and rod I had supplied. I never showed work at that annual affair again!
The problem of holes left in cloth is more noticeable when pinning silk fabrics. Silk pins are long, thin pins that leave no noticeable holes in silk fabrics when removed from them. Of course, if the silk is delicate, the risk of damage endures. The most delicate silk fabrics should never be pinned in such a way as to leave visible holes in the cloth when pins come out.
Left to right: dressmaker, quilting, silk and paper pins
Curved Safety Pins
Safety pins left, curved safety pins right
Curved safety pins dig through the layers of fabric and batting and resurface with greater ease than regular safety pins. They hide their sharp points beneath a cap as do safety pins. They stay in the quilt until deliberately removed by the quilt maker, thereby making long-term projects easier to manage. Somewhat finer in shank diameter than regular safety pins, curved safety pins do less damage to the quilt.
The main danger of using curved safety pins is the risk of hitting one with a sewing machine needle operating at high-speed. A conscientious quilter removes curved safety pins as she quilts the pinned area to avoid the risk of injury to machine or person.
Curved safety pins are difficult to open when pinned through the thick layers of a quilt. Special tools like the Kwik Klip and Quilter’s Delight Pin Covers are available to help quilters to open bent safety pins quickly and without pain to their fingers.
Two Methods of Pin Insertion
When using straight quilting pins to hold together two or more layers of cloth for piecing or appliqué, we speak of dressmaker or quilting pins. The following discussion also applies to piecing or appliqué of silk fabrics with silk pins.
The purpose of pinning is to hold layers of cloth or other materials together. This securing is either temporary or more permanent. Two relevant issues arise: pinning for immediate use and pinning for delayed use.
Pinning for immediate use is temporary, short-term, pinning. We pin for immediate use when we sew soon after pinning. We do not intend that the quilt pins stay in the fabric until the next day. Rather, we mean to sew the stitches necessary to hold the layers together permanently within the next few minutes or at least the next few hours.
To pin quickly, efficiently and well is our goal for short-term pinning. The pin should be inserted into the layers of cloth, travel across a short distance, then resurface on the same side of the work as pin entry. The pin passes through all layers twice.
Temporary fabric pinning
This kind of pinning is quick and easy. The seam line is sewn by hand or machine as soon and as quickly as possible. Quilting pins come out as the work proceeds.
Safety pins and curved safety pins work just fine with the short-term pinning technique. Quick in, quick out, snap closed or open, and you can start quilting immediately, without worry that quilt pins might fall out!
Sometimes, immediate sewing is not possible. Pins inserted for immediate use can easily fall out of the work as the fabrics are handled for storage. To ensure quilting pins inserted stay in the work for a long time, a more aggressive method of pinning applies. In this method, the pin goes into and comes out of the fabric four to six times.
Long-term fabric pinning
In this way, the pin serves as a substitute stitch. Tension and pressure of the fabric on the pin serve to keep the pin’s position in the work for a long time. Quilt pins inserted in this way can stay in the work for several years, if necessary.
The long-term pinning method, because it involves more insertions, takes more time to accomplish well than the short-term, single entry, in-and-out, pinning motion. This long-term pinning method of multiple in-and-out motions is advisable also when using quilting pins to secure the layers of a quilt. As quilting can take several days, weeks, months and even years, long-term pinning is best.
Pinning like this and leaving the pins in may result in permanent pin marks in the fabric. If you must pin in this way and store the work for a long time, place pins where the pin marks will not show in the finished project.
Relevant to this discussion, about the number of times to insert a pin, is the direction in which it should be inserted. Ideally, position all pins for easiest removal. Pin heads should lie towards the dominant hand of the quilter. The quilter’s dominant hand draws the pin smoothly away from the fabrics. If you try to remove one pin lying in the direction opposite your dominant hand, you will see instantly why this orientation is important! Even worse than pin removal in the wrong direction is pin insertion in the wrong direction!!
Other factors soon come into play, however. The primary point of argument is whether to insert a pin at a right angle, parallel to, or on the diagonal to the intended stitching line. As a trained fashion designer, veteran dressmaker and quilter of at least two decades, my preference remains, as I said above, the way my mother taught me – at a right angle!
Right-angle pin insertion
I put most quilting pins into fabric at a right angle to the intended stitching line, with insertion point in the seam allowance, and with exit point well into the pieces of fabric that lie beyond the stitching line. This method works well only, however, when sewing one flat piece of cloth to another, such as two patches of a quilt block.
To sew curves, the two layers of cloth may have to move, one over the other. In this case, I insert the pin into the seam allowance and bring it out of the cloth right at the seam line, not beyond it. This keeps the layers of cloth beyond the seam line free to shift as necessary to avoid pleating in the seam line and to make a smooth curve.
Curve pinning, top with pin points buried
Additionally, I may bring a pin up through the seam allowances and back down at the line of stitching. This leaves the extending point of the pin lying wholly beneath both layers of fabric. This way, pins are really out of the way of the fabrics during stitching.
Curve pinning, bottom with pin points exposed
Both of these methods require quilt pins inserted at a right angle to the stitching or seam line. Pin heads extend beyond the seam allowance. If you sew with the bulk of fabric to the left of the machine needle and the seam allowances to the right, pulling pins out of the materials with your right hand just before the pins enter the needle area is easy!
Pin, ready for pulling out to remove
Occasionally, a situation arises which calls for parallel pinning. One that immediately comes to mind is pinning for hand piecing. Pins inserted at a right angle to the work can extend out of the cloth at an angle that guarantees hand sewing threads catch on them, making hand piecing more difficult than it need be. For such work, pin parallel to the stitching line, just a little to the patch side of the seam line. Pins placed there hold the business end of the patchwork under greater control than the seam allowances. For greater accuracy, pin parallel and right along the stitching line.
Parallel pinning, inside and on the stitching line
If the work is close, and quilting pins must stay in longer, you may have a conflict between pin and hand sewing needle. If this occurs, pin at a right angle to the seam line, but push-pin heads all the way in to the insertion point in the seam allowance so they do not catch and tangle the sewing thread. If pin points catch and tangle sewing thread, try inserting them into the cloth once again to finish with the pin points on the reverse side of the work, well out of harm’s way.
Is there any reason to pin on the diagonal to the seam line? I cannot recall a single instance where that was necessary, but if you prefer to pin that way, or if you meet a situation that truly calls for it, then pinning on diagonal is what you should do.
Pinning on the diagonal
We take many lessons in life for granted. I intend to challenge you to think about everything you do and why you do it that way. Repeating a behavior only because your mother taught you that way is not good enough. Seek to understand whether she truly knew best, or whether sewing and quilting today are different from what they were in her heyday. I hope you do not repeat any behavior without considering the real reasons for doing so and the consequences of that action.
We have talked about ease of pin removal. Another important factor is the timing for pin removal. Clearly, quilting pins should be removed when they obstruct the task at hand or when they are no longer needed.
Pins that were thoughtfully positioned in advance are the easiest to remove when the time is right. Pins, placed at a right angle to a seam line, are easy to pull out and drop into a waiting box or pincushion, even if the sewing does not slow for a second. Poorly placed quilt pins require stopping the machine, twisting to reach the pin head, and an awkward if not dangerous extraction process. Think about pin placement long before you have to remove the pins.
Hazardous situation: pin approaching sewing machine needle
- The Cardinal Rule of Pinning: Never, never, EVER sew by machine over a pin!
If a sewing machine needle hits a pin, the sewing machine can be badly damaged. Worse yet, you may suffer personal injury!
I did that once – once was all it took to convince me to observe this rule for the rest of my life. I sewed over a pin, while working in a children’s wear design studio, making a sample garment. When the sewing machine needle on the industrial machine (read that, “running FAST”) hit the pin, the tip of the needle broke off and flew straight up my nostril, where it lodged.
Talk about tears! In rather extreme discomfort, my eyes teared and my nose ran for the next half-hour until a very wet but successful blowing finally dislodged the needle tip. Luckily, I recovered almost immediately. I was seriously glad the needle tip did not enter my eye – it surely would have cost half my vision!
- Never, never – EVER – sew over a pin with a sewing machine needle!
Quilting pins, like needles, rotary cutting blades, craft-knife blades, scissors, even used razor blades with or without plastic casings, are sharp metal instruments that do not belong at large in the natural world.
“Sharps,” – needles, pins, blades – ready for incineration at a local hospital or other suitable facility
Please collect such items until you have a small bundle of them, then take them to a local hospital and ask for them to incinerate your used “sharps.” This is the best way I know of to make sure these “sharps” are treated like scalpels and syringes and destroyed completely before they enter the natural world and injure helpless wildlife.
Thanks for your thoughtfulness; happy pinning!!