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Learn to Pin a Pattern for Best Results

Pin position for right-handers

When I think of pinning, the first thing that comes to mind is my college professor. It has been years, but I can still hear her saying, “Don’t put the pins in your mouth!” I must have had a bad habit of doing that. Let’s start with some basic pin information and then review some good pinning habits.

Straight pins come in different lengths, weights, metal content, and point types. In “A Pin for Every Purpose,” Threads #120 Aug./Sep. 2005, Carol Laflin Ahles provides pin specifics. If you are a home sewer, you really only need pins that work for the type of sewing you are doing. Crafters and quilters might need an assortment of pins. I rely on 1 3/8-inch, extrasharp, glass-head pins. They can pin through most anything and do not melt under the heat of an iron. If you are sewing knit fabrics, you will need ballpoint pins. It is a good practice to keep your pins separated by type.

Pin perpendicular to the seamline

Always use clean, sharp, unbent pins. If you grab a bent one, immediately throw it in the garbage. (Why do we put those bent pins back in the pincushion?) Bent pins can cause a pull in fabric or otherwise leave a mark.

There are two basic styles of pinning: perpendicular to the seamline and parallel to the seamline. Place pins about 2 inches apart and, as you pin, pick up fabric about one-third of the pin’s length. Too much fabric on the pin may not secure the fabric layers adequately and too little may cause the pin to fall out.

Proper pinning may vary based on whether you are right- or left-handed. I am right-handed and was taught to pin perpendicular as follows: Place the pinhead along the cut edge of the fabric and the point toward the stitching line. This way you can grab the pinhead and remove the pin with your right hand as you sew.

Right pin position

Removing right-hand pin

A left-handed sewer, however, may prefer to place pins pointing in the opposite direction. That way, she can use her left hand to remove the pins. Herein lies a problem: It’s best to pin only in the seam allowance to protect your fabric from damage. A left-hander can’t avoid pinning beyond the seam allowance. The reality is that on most fabric, you can pin beyond the seam allowance without permanently marking the fabric. Use care if you are working with delicate fabric and are pinning on the garment side.

Left-hand pin position

removing left-hand pin

Pin parallel to the seamline

Pinning parallel to the seamline works well when you are sewing with lots of layers that may shift or when working with a fabric that will show pin marks.

To pin parallel, place the pins along the stitching line. You can also place the pins parallel to the stitching line within the seam allowance, but this does not keep the fabric layers from moving as effectively as placing the pins along the stitching line can. Always place the pinheads toward you so you can remove them easily as you stitch.

Note: No matter which pinning style you prefer, be sure to remove pins before they reach the machine needle when sewing. This prevents pulled threads and broken machine needles.

parallel pin position

parallel pin position in seam allowance

Pinning confessions

I think pinning style is personal. Your pinning method has to work for you and for your project. Two of my children are left-handed, and I have realized in the process of teaching them, that we can’t all do things exactly the same way. I have pinned in the wrong direction, sewn over my pins, and used quilting pins on garment projects. My garments survived, although some of my sewing machine needles paid the price. Here’s a tip for those of you who are like me and occasionally stick yourself instead of your garment but do not want to bleed on your newest sewing endeavor: Always keep a bandage nearby. By the way, I am still working on kicking the habit of holding pins in my mouth.

Do you have any pinning stories or questions or habits to share? Tell us in the comments or send us your pinning tips at [email protected].

Previous: Tips to Lay Out a Pattern and Cut Fabric Accurately Next: Cut Fabric Accurately for Sewing


  1. User avater
    Gevem | | #1

    Wow, this is a good method

  2. WeeScotLass | | #2

    I have learned that you should never mention to anyone, especially around Christmas time, that you are in need of more pins. Inevitably you will end up with a box of 2000, that you will never use.
    Always purchase your own.
    Oh yes, remember to smile and say thank you for the thoughtful gift, as that's what it is.
    It's a good job I'm writing this, otherwise I'd be mumbling through my mouthful of pins. Some old habits never die.

  3. user-6059986 | | #3

    I'm right handed but put pins in from the left so I can remove them (from the left!) to put them in the pin cushion to the left of the machine. Trying to guide the fabric with my right hand while removing pins on the right side of the fabric, into that "hole" in the machine, is too cumbersome for me.

  4. Sharonan23 | | #4

    I have a small magnet strip fixed to the top of my sewing table to the right of my sewing machine. When I take the pins out while sewing I can send them to the magnet strip in one easy motion without even looking - that way I keep my eye on the sewing line.

  5. user-2052580 | | #5

    Never put a pin in your mouth! Do I know! My friend and I were working on some sewing projects, on a cold rainy day, while our men were out fishing. At the end of the afternoon, they came back completely frozen, and as a joke, my friend's husband put his cold hands on her neck. As she screemed, she inadvertantly swallowed the pin that she had in her mouth. Instead of a nice dinner with good wine, we spent the night at the hospital. We saw the pin all right in the Xray, going down the digestive track. I will save you the details of what she had to do the following days to make sure the pin was gone. Since that day I never did put a pin in my mouth.

  6. sheri141 | | #6

    Wear shoes in sewing room! Fellow student at Fashion Institute of Technology stepped on pin in bare feet. Pin went into heel and lodged in heelbone! She was on a cane with a nasty bone infection the rest of the year.

  7. judystitcher | | #7

    Safety first...never throw pins and needles in the trash. Too easy for someone to be poked. Have an old pill bottle or similar container handy. Poke a hole in the lid with an awl or similar device. Then just push the pin or needle through the hole. It can be done as quickly as throwing into the trash. After collecting hundreds of bent pins, be sure the top is secure and throw the whole container into the trash.

  8. loreek | | #8

    I really appreciate you mentioning left-handed sewers and the issues they face. (And that's just scratching the surface!) Now if only the sewing machine companies made 10% of their sewing machines for left-handed sewers! lol

  9. sunnyc | | #9

    I used to make garments more often and used my serger. A tip for a serger is to pin inside the presser foot (to the left), so that when the serger trims the seam allowance and stitches, the pins are not harmed, nor is your serger. Now I quilt more, and I often use the Clover clips instead of pins.

  10. KelleyHighway | | #10

    If you stick yourself with your wonderful pins of choice and bleed onto the fabric, your own saliva will remove the blood from it.


  11. User avater
    Etuhy | | #11

    Useful knowledge

  12. Cruzandrea | | #12

    Woooow. Interesting. I love this post.

  13. user-2000809 | | #13

    Good article and comments. I have 2 magnetized pin holders. I have one by the sewing machine to place the pins in as I remove them and one on the work table/ironing board to grab pins from as I need them. I always sweep the floor after a sewing session to make sure there are no pins on the floor.

  14. User avater
    Plime | | #14

    your guide helped me, thanks

  15. FrancesC | | #15

    It's nonsense to say Don't sew over pins. You can, that's why the presser foot is hinged. Just do it slowly so that the machine needle slides off any pin it encounters. Of course, you can also remove the pins as you come to them but sometimes you need both hands to hold the fabric.

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