Oh, pins. When you’re not stabbing us surreptitiously from the bonds of a seam line or becoming lodged in between floorboards (only to rise from the dead and stab us in the toe months later), you can be very useful. Even those among us who are decidedly anti-pin, if we can help it, find that we can’t help it as much as we’d like. They’re a necessary evil; they make us bleed and break our needles when we forget to take them out in time, but we come to appreciate them when it’s time to inspect our points and seams. They also remind us to stay up-to-date on our tetanus shots.
But anyone who’s bought several different brands of pins knows that they’re not all created equal. There are lots of different pins made for a lot of different sewing uses, and some are better for some uses than others. Wondering how to choose sewing pins? Here’s what you need to know:
Confession: I’m really tempted to write this whole section in the most inappropriate fashion possible. I won’t, because I’m 33 years old, but let me just say this: when it comes to pins, size does matter. Some pins are long to deal with thicker fabrics and wider seam allowances (for garment sewing, say) while quilting pins are generally shorter because you’re only making a 1/4″ seam. And appliqué pins, for example, are shorter still (usually 3/4″) to keep thread from catching as you’re doing handwork.
But in some cases, what’s even more important than a sewing pin’s length is (snicker, snicker) its girth. For real. If you’ve ever bought the 20-gauge hypodermic needles they call “pins” at Walmart, and then tried some really amazing patchwork needles like these, for example, you’ll notice the difference. It’s not just a quality issue, though; a pin’s girth helps dictate what type of material it’s best for. Pins with a thickness of 0.6 mm are really thick; they’re fine for quilting cotton but can leave marks or pulls in delicate fabric like rayon or silk. I also have fine quilting pins that are 0.5 mm, which are nice and thin, and then I have some that are 0.4 mm. They are the thinnest pins out there, and they’re designed to pass effortlessly through delicate fabrics and can even (hypothetically) be sewn over without worrying. At least this is what they say; I’ve dented a few of mine pretty good.
Pinheads: they’re not just for name-calling!
Thought the heads of your pins were just for decoration? Think again. Besides the all-purpose pins with colored balls, which even then are at least easy to see and grab, each of the other pinhead varieties serves a purpose. Dressmaker pins, the kind that have just the tiny metal head and look almost like little nails, are designed to travel through sewing machines without jamming them.* Flat-headed pins (“flower” pins, as they’re sometimes called) are designed to be ironed over, as are glass-headed pins, which are heat-resistant.
In addition to the traditional straight pins, there are other types that are great for special projects. T-pins are ideal for many different layers of thick fabric, such as embroidery. Fork pins have two parallel shafts to hold slippery fabrics like satin and rayon. Ball-point pins, just like jersey sewing needles, have a rounded point for pinning knits. And silk pins are traditionally made from metal guaranteed not to rust and ruin the fabric.
*Incidentally, funny story here. My mother has always adhered to the old wives tale that dressmaker pins, if you step on one, will release shards of metal into your vascular system where they will travel to your heart. Upon arriving, they will stab it and KILL YOU DEAD. I grew up hearing this warning, which now that I have some critical thinking skills I realize is total nonsense, but it’s so richly graphic and horrifying that I wish it were true. Has anyone else heard this ever? I love it; it makes sewing such an extreme and dangerous sport, no?