How to Use Pins the Right Way
Who knew the subject of pinning involves more than just simply putting a pin in fabric, but it does, and I’d like to share a few tips.
First of all, toss the bent pins. I can’t tell you how many pincushions and pin boxes I reach into in the course of teaching, and find them full of bent pins. They’re done! They’ve done their work! They can’t be straightened (well, I suppose they could be, but it isn’t worth the time), so do yourself a favor and throw them away. You’ll only waste time searching around for useable pins in a pin dish full of clunkers. And while you’re at it, you might take a couple of minutes and separate out all of the other things that seem to work their way into a pin dish or onto a pincushion: sewing machine needles, safety pins, hooks and eyes, paperclips, and a snarl of threaded needles. None of these belong with your pins.
I have two metal tins for my pins. One contains a few heavy-duty pins that I reserve for heavy-duty jobs (jobs that I know would bend my finer pins)–and the other has very sharp, lightweight glass-headed pins that go easily into any fabric. And that’s what you want your pins to do–there should be no hesitation, no effort to get the pin into the fabric, no shifting around of the fabric as you pin.
And beware of plastic-headed pins–they’re okay, but they can melt (and possibly stick to your fabric) when ironed. I like glass-headed pins because they’re easy on the fingers, and I think I got used to using them after so many years of working with lace. They tend not to sink into the lace and disappear the way metal pins often do.
When you’re pinning to a section of a garment (pinning on the pattern tissue, for instance, or pinning an underlining in place), keep the pins in the seam allowances. Most fabrics aren’t marred by pins, but some are, and if the pins are thick, then the damage will be worse.
I’m often pinning an underlining to the fashion fabric, and I place the pens perpendicular to the seamline. That way when I gather the fabric onto the needle with basting stitches to join the layers together, the pins won’t stick me. The perpendicular pins nestle into the folds of fabric loaded onto my needle; and I don’t have to constantly stop to remove them as I baste. The whole process becomes much faster.
If the pins are placed parallel to the seam, I have to stop basting to remove them, and they are in the perfect position to stick me. As you can imagine, it’s a much slower process.
Another advantage to placing them perpendicularly: they’re easy to remove with your hand–you can just sweep them out of the fabric with your fingers held flat. It’s quicker (and more fun) than un-pinning each one. And while this isn’t an action shot, you can get the idea.
I also place the pins perpendicularly when I’m pinning a hem or lining in place because it leaves much more flexibility in the fabric. In this case, the fold of fabric is held right in place along the zipper coil (this is the first half of a lapped zipper application), just where I need it to be as I get ready to stitch.
If the pins are placed parallel to the seam, the fabric has very little movement, it isn’t as flexible in my hand as I work, and in the case of the lining, parallel pins don’t do a very good job of holding the fabric close to the zipper coil. Your stitches, therefore, won’t be as accurately placed as they should be.
I often tell my students a phrase I hear my patternmaker colleague Julien Cristofoli use, “Use your pin as a stitch.” You can see his point. While a pin placed parallel to the seam does hold the layers together, you can see that the perpendicular placement is far more secure. It holds things in place precisely, beautifully defining the stitching line, and that’s critical to an accurate result.