Different Types of Sewing Pins & Alternatives Explained
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Pins, while tiny, play a big part in sewing projects. They do everything from holding pieces of fabric together before sewing a seam to keeping pattern pieces in place while cutting fabric.
If you’ve been sewing for a while, you’ve probably discovered that not all pins are created equal. Pins for sewing come in a wide variety of thicknesses, lengths, and even materials. If you walk through your favorite craft store, you’ll see a HUGE selection. Each type of pin serves a different purpose and works best for certain situations. So, which is going to be the best sewing pin for your project?
Let’s talk about the different types of sewing pins first and then how to choose the best for your next sewing project!
Parts of a Pin: Terminology to Know
The anatomy of a sewing pin is quite simple, thankfully!
The end is the point, which can be super sharp or fairly rounded depending on the pin type. The middle is the shaft, which can vary in length, thickness, or material. The top is the head, which can also vary in size, shape, or material.
General Process for Choosing the Best Sewing Pin
Since pins for fabric have different lengths, thicknesses, tips, heads, and even shaft materials, where do you start with selecting the best sewing pin?
The biggest determinant for pin selection is your fabric. Is the fabric woven or knitted? Is it lightweight or heavyweight? How many layers? Will flat metal pin heads get lost in it? Knowing the fabric characteristics, you can then go through each pin parameter and pick the best pin.
I’ll show you how to make the determination for each pin characteristic and then discuss common pin types. And, if you’re still in doubt after reading this tutorial, luckily the back of the packaging for many pins describes the intended usage!
1. Pins Sizes Explained (Selecting Lengths)
Pin lengths are measured in 1/16” increments and are described by a number indicating the pin size.
This pin size relates to the number of 1/16″ increments in the pin’s length. For example, a size 16 pin is 16/16” or 1” in length, and a size 17 dressmaker pin is 17/16” or 1 1/16” in length.
So, what sizes, or lengths, work best for which fabrics?
- Choose short pins (less than 1″) for delicate, very lightweight fabrics or for projects needing lots of pins in a small proximity.
- For most projects, select a medium-length pin ( around 1″ – 1 1/4″) to effectively secure lightweight or mediumweight fabrics.
- Long pins (1 1/2″ or greater) work best with multi-layer projects like quilts or thick fabrics.
2. Pin Thickness
Common pin diameters (aka widths or thicknesses) range from 0.5 mm to 0.8 mm, with 0.6 mm being the standard pin diameter of a common dressmaker’s pin. Of course, there are super fine and super thick pins as well.
The wider the pin, the bigger the hole it leaves when removed. As such, use the skinniest pin that will hold the layers of your project effectively. No one wants unsightly holes in delicate organza or chiffon! However, using too thin of a pin may cause bending on thick fabrics. Ever try to pin multiple layers of denim with a thin pin? The pin will bend.
As a general rule, use a fine pin with a smaller diameter for delicate fabrics and a thicker pin with a wider diameter for heavy fabrics or thick layers.
3. Common Pin Materials (Shaft and Head)
Commonly, metal pins are composed of stainless steel, brass, or nickel-plated brass or steel. Nickel-plated steel is arguably the most common type of pin for sewing (and my favorite) as they are magnetic, strong, and rust-resistant. To note, brass pins are not magnetic, so you cannot use a magnetic pin cushion or pin wand with them.
Pin heads are typically composed of plastic (metallic, pearlized, or colored), metal, or even glass. While often ball-shaped, pin heads can also be flower-shaped or feature other fun shapes! Pins with fun head colors and shapes are easier to see on a project and thus less likely to get lost.
Some plastic head pins may melt when ironed over, though, so be cautious.
4. Pin Tips
Just like choosing the right sewing machine needle type is important for your project, so is selecting the right type of pin tip.
Sharp pin tips work well with woven fabrics and are the most common tip type.
Ballpoint pins, on the other hand, are perfect for pinning knit fabrics. The more rounded ballpoint slides between fabric loops without piercing or snagging as would be the case with sharp pins.
7 Different Types of Sewing Pins (Straight Pins)
Straight pins are the most basic and most common type of sewing pin for fabric. These pins have a straight shaft and are a necessity in any sewist’s sewing stash.
There are many varieties of straight pins, so below are some of the most popular ones with their indications for use.
1. Dressmaker’s Pins
Dressmaker pins, sometimes referred to as general-purpose sewing pins, are the most common type of straight pin. If you’re a sewing beginner and don’t have plans to sew any specific fabrics, start with dressmaker’s pins in your collection and expand as you learn to sew new fabrics.
Dressmaker pins are slim and usually 1 1/16” long (size 17). Most commonly nickel-plated steel, dressmaker pins work with most light- and medium-weight fabrics.
2. Glass, Plastic, and Pearl-Headed Pins
In contrast to the regular metal heads of dressmaker pins, straight pins for sewing can also come with colored plastic, pearlized, metallic, or even glass heads. These types of pins come in varying thicknesses and lengths. They also function as all-purpose pins but are easier to pick up and spot in fabric.
Generally, pearlized pins are slightly longer than dressmaker’s pins and glass-headed pins. Also, glass-head pins do not melt when ironed.
3. Quilting Pins
Quilting pins (usually 1 ¾” or size 28) are longer than dressmaker’s pins and are better for bulkier fabrics, multiple layers of fabric (think basting quilts), or even fabric with nap or pile on top.
Some varieties of pins for quilting come with different head types as well. Besides ball heads, it’s very common to see plastic flowers, buttons, or other cute heads to keep them from getting lost in quilts and fluffy fabric.
4. Silk Pins
Silk pins do not damage fine fabrics like silk or synthetics because their super small holes are hardly visible after removal.
Available in sizes 17 to 20, silk pins have one of the smallest diameters of all these types of pins, which is part of the reason why they are so well-suited to fine fabrics.
5. Ballpoint Pins
Unlike the previously described pins with sharp points, ballpoint pins have rounded points, perfect for knit fabrics and even delicate lingerie.
With various lengths available, you can select different ballpoint pins for different weights or thicknesses of knit fabric.
6. Sequin Pins
Sequin pins are very short, fine pins for pinning sequins, small beads, lightweight trim, and even applique pieces to fabric. They come in sizes 8 and 12 usually.
There are also applique pins that can assist with hand applique and beading pins which have slightly larger heads to use when beading.
7. Satin Pins
As their name implies, satin pins are tailored for use with satin and other medium-weight woven fabrics. Extra-long satin pins also exist and have tapered points.
Unique and Specialty Pin Types
Now, here are some specialty pin types that may be worth having in your sewing supplies!
1. T Pins
T-pins are long pins with a large diameter and are incredibly sturdy.
They are used to pin heavyweight fabrics such as upholstery and fabrics with lots of fluff like sherpa. T-pins also commonly used by crafters, and sometimes I even use them when floating fabric for machine embroidery.
2. Tidy Pins
I have a huge bag of tidy pins I got from my grandmother, and I never knew what they were used for before I ran across them in a store and read the package!
Tidy pins have two small prongs and help keep slipcovers, bed skirts, and other upholstery items from slipping.
3. Safety Pins
While safety pins aren’t your traditional type of pin, these nifty sewing accessories can be beneficial when sewing or quilting! They come in various sizes and shapes and have different closures, tailoring the pins to different uses.
General Pin Safety Measures
If you’re new to pinning fabric, consider these safety measures before starting to pin.
- Always discard dull or bent pins as well as rusted pins. They can damage the fabric and make accurate pinning more difficult!
- Store pins away from kids and animals.
- Pin with the head facing you and the point going away from you.
- Check garments and other sewing projects for leftover pins at the end of a project. I have a handy magnetic wand that helps me discover forgotten pins.
- Never sew, embroider, or serge over pins. They can break a needle and scratch the needle plate or presser foot. Serging over a pin is even more potentially dangerous than sewing over one!
4 Great Alternatives to Pins
Certain fabrics, such as bulky or heavyweight fabrics, may be difficult to pin. Other fabrics may be damaged by pinning. And, in my case, when I’m sewing with my daughter, I avoid pins for safety reasons.
Guess what? There are many great alternatives to pins to consider!
1. Sewing Clips
Sewing clips (like Clover Wonder Clips) are a WONDER in a sewing room. I use these for as many projects as possible, thanks to the simplicity of clipping without worrying about pricked fingers.
2. Temporary Tape
Double-sided washable tape holds two fabric pieces together temporarily, such as when sewing a seam. When the garment’s washed, the tape washes out, leaving no trace.
If you’re looking for a more permanent option, you can also try fusible tape. This is ironed on and gives a permanent hold.
3. Binder Clips
If you’re in a pinch or have something that’s VERY thick, use binder clips to hold fabrics together. This is a great way of repurposing household items.
4. Hemming Clips
I’ve never used hemming clips but discovered these from a friend! These are metal clips that slide over fabric and hold two layers together. The top of the clip even has measurements to help accurately fold hems.
I hope this has explained the types of sewing pins in more depth and you’ve learned which fabrics and projects work best with which pins!
Thank you for this excellent posting. I learned “sew” much! 🙂 It was so well written and comprehensive, and the photos were great. Thank you again!
Learned from your article! I was searching online just yesterday to try to learn which pins to buy for my needs.
I have Organza now with large holes from my pins that are quilting pins I
Never knew there were ball pens.
I had just pinned to cut out knit fabric patterns. ( I need to make me some pattern weights).
Thanks 🙂 Ha, yeah my quilting pins get me in trouble sometimes, too. These days, I’ve been using huge metal washers for pattern weights at the recommendation of a friend. So far, they’ve been working out surprisingly well!
Thanks for the thorough explanation of pins. Seriously didn’t know there were so many different types. I appreciate your time in researching this topic.
So, so useful. For many years (far too many to mention!) I’ve puzzled over which type/size of pin to use on particular fabrics and how not to leave holes. You’ve told me everything I needed to know …. Thank you so much