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Top tips for pinning pattern pieces and while sewing

Pins secure your pattern pieces to your fabric, so you can cut them accurately. They are also useful for holding the layers of fabric together while you sew. Some experienced sewists don’t use pins at all, preferring pattern weights when cutting, and simply holding the layers of fabric together themselves while they sew. But not everyone is comfortable abandoning pins.

Using pins can be hard when you are first starting to learn to sew. Practice will helps - just like with everything else when you are learning a new skill.

Here are 5 tips to push you in the right direction.

Tip 1: Use the Right Pins When I first started sewing, I had no idea there were different pins for different fabrics—I simply bought whichever pins I could find in my local shop on the island I lived!

  • Pearl-head pins are meant for regular woven fabrics. They’re long and thick, with large plastic heads. They don’t bend as easily, so they’re good for thick fabrics, like denim and twill.

  • Extra-fine glass-head pins are made for delicate fabrics, like fine silks. They are long and very slender, with small glass heads. They’re ideal for when you need to press a pinned garment—the glass heads won’t melt!

  • Silk pins are also meant for delicate fabrics, but they don’t have ball-heads. They are just as heat-proof as glass-head pins, but their lack of a head makes them hard to use.

  • Ballpoint pins are for knit fabrics. They’re small and thick, with rounded points that are designed to slip between the knitted fibers.

Just as you need to use the right type of pins, you also need to use the right size. Using pins that are too large can result in holes in your fabric. This is especially important when you are working with delicate fabrics, minimize the damage by using extra-fine pins.

Tip 2: Pin Your Pattern Pieces

When pinning pattern pieces to fabric, it’s important to place the pins so they are parallel to the edge of the pattern. Place them about a 1/4" (0.6cm) from the edge, and when you reach a corner, make sure the pin doesn’t extend past the pattern. If it does, you might cut through it, which will damage your scissors. It doesn't matter in which directions the pin points, as long as they are parallel to the pattern edge.

Long and straight edges, you can place your pins 1-2" (2.5-5 cm) apart. For curved edges, you might need more pins. If the curve is shallow, place them about 1/2" (1.2cm) apart. If the curve is tight, the pins should be closer together.

Once you have straightened your pattern pieces with the grainline, pin in one direction so you avoid air-bubbles.

Tip 3: Scoop and lift motion

When pinning your pattern pieces don't reach underneath the fabric to pin the pattern to the fabric. Keep in mind, practice makes perfect. Don’t be afraid to scratch your cutting table. If you are cutting on a good surface, like your dining table, put down a cutting mat, so you don’t have to worry about scratching the table.

Push the pin through the fabric, until it hits the table but don't push it all the way in so that you only see the ball of the pin. Then use a scooping motion, angling the pin down and sideways, then back up. Using your index finger, press against the fabric with to help push the pin back out.

PS: it's easier to pin tracing paper to the fabric than the A0 printed PDF patterns. The printed pattern paper is thicker making it harder to pin - bonus point for team tracing here!

Tip 4: Aim to pin where your seam allowance is When you are sewing, not cutting, you can place your pins a little further from the edge than you did when pinning your pattern to the fabric. Aim to pin where your seam allowance is going to be because that's where the individual pieces belong together. This will help when you have ease in areas and when sewing light-weight fabrics.

Space the pins as close together as you feel is necessary. Your goal is to keep the fabric from shifting as you sew. The softer the fabric, the more pins you might want to use. If you are working with something like quilting cotton, you won’t need as many pins. Just as with pinning your pattern pieces, you need fewer pins on straight seams, and more on curved seams.

Pin on a flat and straight surface. Remember fabric moves and has a weight, and it will be more challenging if you pin on your lap.

Tip 5: Direction

When you are sewing with pins, you need to be able to remove them easily, so you don’t sew over them. For this reason, it’s important for all your pins to face the same direction. It’s up to you whether to place your pins parallel to the edge or perpendicular (90 degree to the edge) to the edge of the fabric. Personally, I pin parallel. It holds the fabric more securely and you pin a larger area of fabric together, so fewer pins are needed.

If you place your pins parallel to the edge, make sure the pinheads face you while you are sewing, so you can remove them easily. If you are struggling to figure out which direction to place them, remember that the bulk of the fabric always goes to the left of the sewing machine (where you have more space). Orient your fabric this way, and then insert the pins so the pinheads face you.

Tip 6: Safety! Please don't sew over your pin! If the needle hits the pin, it may break, sending tiny shards of metal flying at your face. The needle might not always break, but it could bend, which can cause problems when you resume sewing. Hitting a pin can also damage your sewing machine, throwing off the timing, which is expensive to fix.

Another safety issue is putting pins in your mouth. Don't do this, please! You might end of swallowing it. If you need your pins close at hand while you are working, make/get yourself a wrist or even a magnetic pincushion, instead.

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