A thought occurred to me as I am in the middle of three or four different projects… in everything I have written and taught about quilts and quilting, I have never, not once, discussed the subject of pins.
Pins are one of those sewing items that everyone needs, regardless of what they’re making. I know quilters, crafters, and seamstresses that declare either they don’t use them or rarely use them. I’ve never known why they say that with such an air of pride. In my mind, pins do more than hold the fabric together as you feed it through the machine. To me, they cut down on any errors you could possibly make. I always pin my nested seams together before I sew them. It prevents any slippage, so my corners always meet nicely. If I’m sewing long, skinny strips together, such as in a log cabin quilt, it keeps the edges together and straight. So, I’ve never been quite sure why some seamstresses and quilters don’t see the need for pinning their projects.
There are roughly six major types of pins on the market. The one that’s most widely available are the dressmaker pins.
Don’t let the name fool you. These can be used just fine in quilting, too, although they aren’t my first choice. These vary in length from 1 1/16-inches to 1 3/8-inches. Dressmaker pins can be found nearly anywhere – dollar store establishments, grocery stores, big box craft stores…you name it, they’re generally in the same aisle as the laundry supplies or general sewing notions. They play well with a variety of fabrics. However, like shoes, you get what you pay for. While they’re always going to be on the inexpensive end of pins, the cheaper ones are coarser and the business end of the pin may not always be ground to a sharp point. They are also larger in diameter and may leave a visible hole in some fine cottons or delicate fabrics.
My “go-to” pin when I’m piecing are the pins designed specifically for quilting.
Quilting pins are longer in shank than other pins, which makes them perfect for paper piecing. Typically, they are at least 1 ¾-inch long, which means they work well when pinning all three layers of your quilt together. Some brands have heavier shanks than others, so be sure to test drive several brands before settling on a favorite. Some have the typical “ball head” but others can have T-heads or small plastic disks that are shaped like butterflies, flowers, etc. I like the ones with the disk because these plastic parts are large enough to write on with a fine-tipped marker, meaning you can use them to indicate such things as row one, block 3 (R1,B3) or left and right. The points are generally very sharp and go through cotton fabric easily.
Silk pins are another pin that quilters may want to consider, especially when piecing fine cotton fabrics, such as Liberty of London.
These are usually 1 ¼-inch long, so they fall between dressmaker pins and quilting pins. They were originally designed to use with silk and silk-like fabrics, which means they are smooth and the shank is very slender in diameter and they have super-sharp points. If you need to use these, make sure you get the nickel plated, hard steel kind that won’t rust. I love to use these if I’m piecing blocks that have lots of small pieces.
Ballpoint pins are another kind of pin you may want to consider using.
Like dressmaker pins, they have a larger, coarser shank and they come in several different lengths. The ball point is the factor for consideration with these pins. The end is not sharpened to a super-fine point, but is slightly rounded, making them ideal to use with knit fabrics, since they separate the fabric threads instead of piercing them. I would not use them with fine cotton fabrics because of this fact. The separation of the fabric threads may cause “runs” in the cotton material. However, like the dressmaker pins, they’re not my favorite to use in quilting. Their saving grace is that they are widely available. This means if I forget my pins while I’m on vacation, I can find these or the dressmaker pins at the local grocery store.
The last two pins are specialty pins, but I seriously could not do without them. The first specialty pin is the applique pin.
These are easily identifiable, because the shank is smaller both in length and diameter than any other pin. Applique pins are generally no longer than ½-inch in length and can be smaller in diameter than even the silk pins. For years applique enthusiasts used sequin pins (small pins used for pinning sequins on to Styrofoam forms to make Christmas ornaments), but these have a large head on them, which meant your applique thread was constantly getting tangled around that end of the pin. Clover came out with a tapered head on their pins’ heads, which prevented any tangling. Karen Kay Buckley has also developed an applique pin with an even thinner shank than Clover and is slightly longer, which makes it perfect for larger applique pieces. If you love applique, but dislike the glue-basting, some of these pins are worth the investment.
The second specialty pin that I absolutely must have on my sewing table and in my sewing basket, are glass head pins.
I was introduced to this engineering marvel years ago, when I did a lot of lace-shaping for my daughter’s French Heirloom dresses. These are long and thin in shank, like the silk pins, but the head is indeed made of glass. What’s so special about that? Well, the glass head means that it doesn’t melt under a hot iron. Some aspects of quilting are like lace-shaping – you pin the fabric down and with lots of steam and a hot iron, you force it to take the shape you need it to take. Specifically, I’m think of Celtic Quilts and vines and stems and basket handles in applique blocks. If you use a quilting pin with a plastic head, that plastic could melt on the fabric and ruin your work. Glass head pins won’t. They’re one of the most expensive pins on the market, but gosh, if you applique, they are more than worth the investment.
My final statement about pins: Don’t sew over them. That action can break a needle or damage your bobbin case. Stop before the pin gets under your sewing machine needle and remove it.
I did make two purchases this week and those weren’t fabric! However, they are quilt-related. From some of my Christmas money I bought these new Kixs….
And I ordered Bonnie Sullivan’s new book.
I know it was published in 2016, but I just got around to buying it. I looked through it this week and my mouth watered. Now I want to make all the things….
Let me update you on my latest adventure with Santa’s Loading Dock. My knee is better. I’m out of my brace, the pain is minimal (except at the end of the day), and I still am using my cane. I have planned my background and am cutting out my squares. Hopefully by Sunday evening, I will have the background together.
I did manage to email the pieces I needed enlarged to my local Office Depot. In the notes part of my email, I told the nice folks there that I knew that some of the pieces would be on reallllllyyyyy large pieces of paper. So, a few hours after they received my email, I got a call….
“Ms. Fields, do you know just how large some of those pieces are going to be?”
I assured them I did….sort of.
Here are the window and the continents. The sleigh took four….FOUR…pieces of paper the same size as the paper the window is printed on. This thing is massive. I came out of Office Depo $38.00 poorer, but it’s well worth it if this quilt works out. I still think we’re going to have to re-do the timeline and put the floor on sooner than the book calls for just to make sure the whole thing comes together proportionately.
Still working on snowmen and Farmer’s Wife blocks….and need to finish the border of my President’s Challenge. But first I need to make up my mind what I want to do with it.
And still Quilting Fearlessly….
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam