Straight Talk About Straight Pins

Straight talk about Straight Pins

Even though straight pins are some of the smallest and simplest items in a quilter's toolbox, they are an absolute necessity for successful quilting. Straight pins help keep our seams perfectly aligned, they keep all our fabric layers under control while we sew, they hold patterns in place, and they anchor trims, beads, or other embellishments. A straight pin’s primary job is to temporarily secure multiple layers of fabric without causing damaging.

There are many types of pins for sewing on the market and using the correct one will help to make your sewing and quilting tasks both easier and more precise, without leaving holes or unsightly marks in your fabric. To find the correct pin for a task, you need to consider a pin's anatomy and the project you are working on.

A typical straight pin has five main components: head, point, thickness, length, and metal content.


There are three common types of heads for straight pins: flat heads, plastic heads, and glass heads. Flat head pins are also called "no head"; this type of straight pin is heat resistant. A flat head pin works well for handwork because there is no head for your threads to get caught on. A downside of a flat head pin is that it can be challenging to see on busy or textured fabrics. Plastic head pins come in a variety of sizes and colors. Many quilters prefer flat, typically flower-shaped, plastic head pins. This feature is handy when you need to lay a ruler or tape measure over a pinned area. These large flower-shaped heads are also an excellent choice when working with lace, eyelet, and loose weave fabrics, as the heads will not slip through the holes in the fabric. Glass headed pins are like plastic headed ones in that they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and lengths. The main difference is that the heads are glass; they can withstand the hot iron heat and not melt.

Pins should slide easily into fabric without causing snags or unsightly holes. They can be sharp, extra-sharp, and blunt. Different fabrics require different types of points. Sharp point pins are the most common and are considered an all-purpose pin and are suitable for loosely woven, medium-weight, and heavy-weight fabrics. Extra-sharp pins are more defined and tapered, so the point passes easily through delicate fabrics such as silk and satin. Blunt point or ball point pins have a rounded tip and are therefore useful for knit and stretchy fabrics. The rounded tip allows for smooth pinning as it slips between the loops of fabric, pushing the fibers aside without damaging them.

To avoid damaging your fabric with pin holes, you should select the thinnest pin that will accomplish the task. I have noticed that different manufacturers have different naming conventions when defining the thickness of their pins. Some call their pins "Extra-fine" or "silk" without stating the exact thickness, while others measure it in millimeters (mm).

"Patchwork," "super-fine," "silk," and "satin" pins come in 0.4 or 0.5 mm. These are great for fine to light-weight fabrics. Most all-purpose pins are 0.6mm thick and labeled as "fine." Fine pins work well with medium-weight fabrics. Thicker, 0.7- or 0.8-mm pins used with heavy wools and denim are usually called heavy-fabric pins. The bottom line, though, always choose a pin that will not leave holes or marks in your fabric!

Your project and personal preference come in to play when determining what size pin, you should use. If you have large hands, you may prefer longer pins because they are easier to grasp. More importantly, you should consider your project. In general, for extra-small projects, you will need shorter pins, and for multi-layered projects, it is often better to use longer pins.

Dressmaker, or all-purpose pins, are various pins of medium lengths, typically between 1 and 1 ½ inches long. They are the most common straight pins and are useful for all kinds of projects, especially those that use light- to medium-weight fabrics. For most quilting projects, though, you will often need longer pins, between 1 ½ and 2 inches in length because you may need to pin through many layers of fabric and batting. Another common pin is the appliqué pin, which is short and thin, typically ½ to ¾ inches in length. In addition to being useful for applique projects, they can be used for attaching trims, and other small projects. Because they are so small, applique pins can be placed close together, without the overlapping that you would experience with longer pins.

When determining which pin length is most appropriate for a given task you might consider using the following as a guide:

  • Short: 1/2" – 3/4" for detailed handwork and close pinning on appliqué and trims

  • Medium: 1" – 1 1/2" for multipurpose work

  • Long: 1 1/2" – 2" for quilting and thick layers

Metal content
Most pins are either nickel-plated steel, stainless steel, or rustproof brass, and for most quilters a pin's metal content is typically not an important consideration. On the other hand, if you are allergic to some kinds of metal, a pin’s metal content is clearly important. Also, if you work in an area exposed to high humidity, you will probably want to use rustproof pins.


  • Always safely toss out dull or bent pins.
  • Never sew over pins.
  • Do not leave a pin in the fabric for long periods. They will create permanent holes.
  • To sharpen your pins, stick them right into a bar of soap and pull it out. The soap gives the pin a slight coating and helps the pin move easily through the fabric.
  • You may want to create a storyboard with all your different types of pins that you can use for reference.

Straight pins are among the tiniest of sewing tools, but they are crucial when sewing and quilting. While most of us take the pins in our pincushion for granted, I encourage you to take a good look at your collection to make sure you have all the types of pins that you will need for the many quilting and sewing tasks you expect to tackle. One type of pin cannot successfully tackle all fabrics and sewing tasks - different jobs require different pins!