Below I break down the different types of sewing pins every sewist should have on hand in the sewing room, so when changing tasks or fabric you can grab the right pin with confidence!
1. Glass head pins
The main pins I use in my studio for most tasks are glass head pins. These pins have a metal shaft and a white glass ball on the end opposite the point. They are 1 3/8” in length, are nickel-plated steel, and have an extra-fine 5mm metal shaft.
The nickel-plated steel makes them strong and not overly flexible, so they keep their rigid shape while pinning into fabric. This is important as those with softer metal shafts can bend a lot, making it significantly more difficult to pin back up through the layers, as the metal is bending and not keeping its shape as you pin.
The glass head ball is the most important part of this pin, as the glass will not melt under the heat of an iron. This heat-resistance aspect makes these the perfect pins for holding down folded hems for pressing with your iron, prior to taking the piece to your sewing machine.
The 1 3/8” length is a perfect medium length so they are not too long, which can result in excessive bending, and they are not too short, so they can easily pin through thick layers of wool or other heavyweight garment fabrics.
Lastly, their extra-fine 5mm metal shaft is thin enough to leave only tiny holes in the fabric, keeping the pin from marring your fabrics or leaving a big hole behind. Note that there are a lot of glass head pins on the market, each with their own shaft thickness, metal make up, and different kinds of end balls. You will develop a preference as you sew, and as a typical rule, a thinner pin is best for lightweight fabrics, and heavy pins are best for heavier fabrics.
2. Ball-point pins
When sewing with stretch knit or jersey fabrics, most people know that you should use a ball-point needle in your sewing machine so the slightly rounded point of the needle will glide through the knitted layers of the fabric and not break any of the threads. But many people do not realize that when pinning stretch knit or jersey fabrics before sewing, ball-point pins serve just as useful.
If you have ever cut a thread on a sweater, you know that the result is the entire unraveling of the sweater, as the threads are knitted together in continuous loops. Stretch knit or jersey fabrics are created much the same way, so minimizing the breaking of threads is very important at each step of the sewing process.
My ball-point pins are 1 1/16” in length, have nickel-plated steel 5mm metal shafts, and have a plastic ball at the end opposite the point. These are slightly shorter than my glass head pins, making them easy to handle in the layers of knit. They do not have glass head balls at the end, so if you need to press on the fabric while pinned, be very aware of the heads in relation to your iron. And just like with the glass head pins, the nickel-plated steel makes them strong and rigid in the best way. Like glass head pins, ball-point pins come in a variety of length and thicknesses, so judge the weight of your project against the weight of the pins used.
3. Silk pins
Some fabrics are better at self-repairing than others; meaning that the fibers of the weave will spread apart to accommodate the pin, then will bounce back to where they were at the start. Silk is not great at the bounce back, since the silk threads that are woven together to form the fabric are delicate and do not have the same recovery spring that other fibers do. Because of this, you want to use an extra fine pin in your silk fabrics.
I like silk pins that are all metal, with no glass or plastic ball at the end, which is the classic way they come. Sometimes these are called dressmaking pins or satin pins, each with their own slight variations.
My silk pins are 1 1/16” in length, are rust-proof nickel-coated brass, and have a 5mm metal shaft. Silk pins come in a range of weights, so like all the other pins, be sure to match the shaft thickness to your silk for the right combination. You can always test on a scrap before puncturing your main fabric to see how it recovers. And I also suggest keeping your pins within your seam allowance to reduce any unwanted holes.
4. Quilting pins
Because quilting involves many layers of fabric and batting, you want a pin that is a little stronger, a little longer in length, and in order to see them placed around your quilt, the balls are usually made in either multi-colored sets or all bright yellow. White headed pins will get lost easily in a quilt, which might result in a pin accident, so the brightly colored yellow and multicolored pins are the best for spotting.
Typically these only come with plastic ball heads, but that is not really an issue since there is little pressing in quilting during the pinning stages, and most of the ironing is reserved for before and after pinning unlike in garment construction.
My quilting pins are 1 3/4" in length, have bright multi-colored plastic balls, are made from strong and rust-proof stainless steel, and have 7mm metal shafts. This is a longer, heavier and sturdier pin for getting through all the layers of the quilt as well as when pinning cut pieces together for making blocks. Since quilts are usually made with cotton fabrics, the sturdy fabric can handle the heavier pin. But if you choose to use something thinner or less traditional for your quilt, consider a different pin choice to match.
5. Plastic head pins
Plastic head craft pins can be any all-purpose plastic head pin in your sewing room. They do not have to be of the finest quality, since you would likely be using them to sew craft projects, possibly made from felt or other less traditional garment fibers. Usually these will have big multi-colored plastic ends, sometimes in novelty shapes, as in my heart-shaped pins pictured here.
Like with quilting pins, the multi-colored ends make them easy to spot within your craft project, and since pressing on them is unlikely to happen in a craft project, the plastic heads are of little concern.
Lastly, T-pins are a good pin to have on hand if you need to hold down fabrics during upholstery or during those rare craft projects that do require pressing with an iron. As these are entirely made of 1 1/2" long nickel-plated steel, there are no glass or plastic heads to take into consideration. I do not use these often in my sewing, but when you need a T-pin, little else will do!
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