Tutorial - How to Pin A Seam
Updated: Nov 19, 2018
I know, it seems ridiculous – how can there be a whole blog post about pinning? Like everything else, it’s a little more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Cull the herd. If you’re like me, you’ve had the same ratty old pincushion for about a hundred years, with a hodge-podge of pins that date back to the Miocene period. Before your next project, take some time to go through your pins and get rid of any pins that are bent, barbed, rusty or dull. Damaged pins can snag or mutilate your fabric. I keep an old water bottle with a lid in the sewing studio that’s labeled “sharps” – broken needles, damaged pins, and anything else that may hurt someone who handles our trash gets thrown in the sharps bottle. When it eventually is filled, the whole thing can be thrown out safely.
Choosing your weapon: pick the right pin for the job! Shopping for pins can be intimidating – there are so many options! Basic pins can be distinguished by their heads, length, and points:
Heads – The most common type of head is a Flat Head. It has a tiny head made from the same metal as the shaft of the pin. These pins can be pressed with an iron, but can sometimes be hard to see on a busy patterned fabric. Heads can also be plastic balls or glass balls. These are typically in bright colors which are easy to see against your fabric. Glass ball head pins won’t melt, but plastic ball pins will – so if you anticipate ironing over your pins, glass is the best choice. Plastic head pins also come in large, wide flower-shaped flat heads – these are great for eyelet, lace, or looser weave fabric, where a flat head pin or a ball head pin might slip through the weave.
Points – pins typically come in three point styles. Sharps are the most common – they are appropriate for the majority of your sewing projects. Extra Sharp pins are just as they sound – extra sharp – and are used for very fine or delicate fabrics such as lightweight chiffons or organza. Ball Point pins have a rounded end, and are used solely for knits. The rounded end helps the pin work it’s way through your knit fabric without snagging it.Length – Short little pins either 3/4″ in length or 1/2″ in length are called applique pins. These short little pins are handy when you’re pinning on appliques or trim, since their length means you can fit a lot of pins in a small area. Dressmaker’s pins are suitable for most purposes – medium length (about 1 1/16″ – 1 1/2″), this is the go-to size for garment sewing. Quilting pins are longer – 1.5″ – 2″ in length – and are designed for pinning through multiple layers of batting and fabrics. They are also great for dealing with multiple layers of padding or interfacing in a doublet, or thick wool layers in a cartridge pleated skirt.
The wrong side is right! 9 times out of 10, you’re going to position your fabric so that the right sides of the fabric are facing together – like this:
Parallel vs. Perpendicular – Sewers seem to be split down the middle between placing their pins parallel to the stitch line or perpendicular to the stitch line. I am a firm advocate of placing your pins parallel to the seam line. Treat your pins like stitches, and pull them out as you go – then your finished project will look tidy. Placing the pins parallel to the stitch line also gives them a greater surface area within the fabric – keeping your fabric where you want it to be. Although some fabrics (wools, cotton broadcloth, etc.) aren’t slippery, once you start getting into fine silks, chiffons, satins, etc. you’ll find that parallel pinning works wonders to keep your pieces from shifting as you sew.
Pinning – Step by Step
Step 1 – Place your pins. For the majority of my projects, I’ve drafted the pattern – which means that the seam allowance is not included in the pattern piece. In my tutorial on working with vintage patterns, I covered how to trace a pattern and add the seam allowance. Even when using commercial patterns, I find it helpful to trace stitching lines to make sure that my pieces line up perfectly.
Here, I have the stitch lines marked 5/8″ from the cut edge. The pins are placed parallel to the cut edge, directly into the stitch line, with the points facing away from you. Think about how the fabric gets fed into the sewing machine – you want to be able to pull the pins out as you sew, and the easiest way to do that is to ensure that the points are facing away from you and the heads are facing towards you. Insert your pins so that there is a scant distance between the head and the point of the following pin.
Step 2 – Ensure that your stitch lines match up. If you have marked stitch lines on your pieces, you will want to make sure the pins are going directly through your stitch lines on the back, as well. The more accurate your pinning is, the more accurate your final garment will be.
Step 3 – Prepare to Sew – Line up the center line on your presser foot with your stitch line (or the cut edge with the proper seam allowance measurement on your face plate) and drop your presser foot. Remove the first pin, and begin sewing.
Step 4 – Remove the pins as you sew. The must important rule of pinning and sewing on the machine is that you must remove pins as you sew. Sewing over pins could snap the needle or pin, and the metal bits could get into the machine mechanisms and cause damage. There is also the potential for the metal bits to ricochet back towards you, causing injury. Do not sew over pins.
If you have pinned carefully and accurately, you should now have a nicely stitched seam where your stitch lines match up on the front and back of your project.
Press open your seam, and admire your handiwork!
This method of pinning may take a little more time, but once you get into the habit it’s not so bad – and it produces a really clean, tidy, accurate garment. Try it out!