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Pinning tips in sewing & alternatives to pins

Pinning is by far the best method for holding fabric pieces in place while sewing.
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To pin or not, is the question. There are many expert sewists who absolutely swear by pinning while some will not have anything to do with it. In sewing, whether to use pins or not is a matter of personal choice. Some expert sewers love pins for their accuracy, while others enjoy sewing without using any type of pins because of various reasons including injury.

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As for myself, I cannot think of sewing without pins, all disavantages aside, like

breaking off needles when you sew over pins

♦ the hassle of clearing up pins from the fabric, and ♦ dealing with dropped pins, and ♦ fumbling with pins and pricking myself all too often during pinning, ♦ dealing with the aftermath when pins become rusted and leave stains, or ♦ become dull and completely useless, not even going through silk or voile, and ♦ having to use a lot of pinning to keep fabric layers aligned and getting tired of the whole thing.

Pinning fabric the right way

When you start sewing, pinning fabric may seem straightforward. However, many beginners (and even some seasoned sewers) find it trickier than expected. Pinning is more than just attaching fabric to patterns. You can use them to keep fabric pieces from shifting when sewing, keep those hem folds intact, while you are sewing somewhere else, keep trims in place, even direct you where to start sewing.
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Pinning is all about ensuring that your sewing project turns out exactly as you want it. Here’s how to start:

Decide on which pin to use

For draping you need to use small with those dot sized metal heads. Not glass pins or t-pins.
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For quilting and sewing multiple layers of fabrics, the curved pins can be really helpful for keeping fabric layers in place. For thin and delicate fabrics, use silk pins which are fine pins – you do not want to leave holes with the thicker pins. Long pins are used in quilting and to pin loose weave fabrics and also for thick fabrics. For thick fabrics choose thicker and longer pins. The T pins are used for heavyweight fabrics like canvas or upholstery. Short pins are better for delicate fabrics and for detailed work. If you are thinking of sewing over the pins (I do not recommend this), use flat head pins, instead of the large glass head pins.

How many pins do you need?

This depends on the confidence you have as a sewer and also the fabric. For slippery fabrics you may not want to take a chance – use a lot of pins. For fabrics that do not shift you will not need many. For draping you need a ton of pins.

Straighten the fabric

The way you pin your fabric is precisely how it will be sewn. If you notice puckers, unevenness, or misalignments while pinning this will be present in the final sewing too. First, you align the fabric pieces along the intended stitch line. Before you begin sewing, ensure your fabric ends are straight. You can draw a line and cut along it for precision. Pin the ends of the two pieces together and press them down with a steamer on your iron. This step can significantly reduce movement.

Start, Stop & Align Pinning

Step 1. Divide and pin. Divide the edges to be pinned into smaller sections. This technique makes managing and distributing fabric easier, especially for curves or long seams.

Step 2. Start and Stop points. Begin by pinning the start and stop points of your fabric. This establishes a base for your work.

Step 3. Match seams and notches. Align and pin any seams, notches, or crucial matching points along the seam. This step ensures that your garment pieces align correctly.

Step 4. Create Tension and pin. Lay your fabric and pattern piece flat. To pin effectively, maintain tension on the fabric. This tension helps the pin glide through the material with ease. Use one hand to stabilize the fabric and the other to insert the pin.

Pin Placement

Aim to place pins within your seam allowances to avoid leaving marks on the visible parts of your fabric. Especiall on plain fabrics and thin fabrics.

Pinning Directions: Lengthwise vs. Crosswise

There are two main directions for pinning fabric: lengthwise and crosswise. Align pins parallel to your seam.

Lengthwise pinning (Vertical)

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Lengthwise or vertical pinning: This refers to pinning along the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvedge (the tightly woven edge that runs along each side of the fabric roll).

You will be aligning the pins parallel to your seam. If you pin lengthwise, it can act as a sewing guide, especially around curves. The problem with this type of pinning is that you cannot sew over the pins.

Crosswise pinning (Horizontal)

In crosswise pinning you will be putting the pins perpendicular to your seam. ie. horizontally.
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The benefit of this type of pinning is that the Pins can be sewn over. Ensure that they don’t extend beyond the seam allowance or else they will leave marks on the fabric. Experiment with both lengthwise and crosswise pinning to discover what works best for you. Crosswise or horizontal pinning is what most of us do. But, as said lengthwise pinning can be useful in cases where you need a guide – pinning along curves, pinning for draping. (And do not forget to take out pins if you are going to keep the project aside as an unfinished project – pins rust on the fabric. How do I know? Experience, the greatest teacher)

Sewing after pinning

  1. Position your pins closely together on the fabric.
  2. Set your sewing machine to a slightly longer stitch length.
  3. Firmly grip the fabric layers at both the front and back of the presser foot.
  4. Sew at a slow pace for better control.
  5. As you near each pin, carefully remove it before continuing your sewing (or if you are adventurous, sew over the pins)

Alternatives to pinning

There are many other methods you can use instead of pinning, like using clips, pattern weights, or spray adhesives.

Consider Hand Basting, first: For those who prefer traditional methods, hand basting is a great way to keep layers from slipping. If you hand baste with water soluble basting thread you can avoid the hassle of removing the basting stitches. It gives you more control on hems, bias binding, and elastic, more than pins.

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Safety Pins: Instead of pins you can use the common safety pins. They are used by many quilters for basting quilts or temporarily securing layers without shifting.

Fabric Adhesives: Although not suitable for all projects, spray adhesives or stick sprays can be useful in keeping fabrics together. Be sure to choose the right type for your project. I have read about acid free adhesives that you can safely use on any type of fabrics. Glue your seams with dots of glue every couple of inches. Let it dry before stitching. This is especially helpful with slippery fabrics.

Clips : Many sewists prefer using clips, such as Wonder Clips, for their ease of use and speed.

Pattern Weights: Some prefer pattern weights or household items like table knives as alternatives to pinning to keep the fabric from shifting. Good to use on large swathes of fabric.

Use a Walking Foot: This is useful when you are sewing multiple layers. A walking foot attachment on your sewing machine is a great help in sewing slipping fabrics.

Related posts : Patchwork sewing techniques; Sewing basics for beginners; Fabric Cutting Techniques for Beginners

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
2 thoughts on “Pinning tips in sewing & alternatives to pins”
  1. Anonymous
    I recently made myself some fabric weights for holding patterns to fabric when cutting, so easy to do and used small scraps left over from other projects and filled them with rice. Much cheaper than buying them! Reply
    • Hey, that is a nice tip. thanks
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