Every sewist has their stash of necessities and you will find pins in all of them. However, even a basic notion like pins is going to come up against some competition, and today’s contender are those bright, snappy clips.
So what’s the big deal? How come some swear themselves to one while others can’t seem to live without the other? And what does it matter so long as they keep the fabric in place? We think you’ll be surprised to know just how specialized these seemingly alike notions can be.
The Pins and Outs
The sewing world is held together by pins of all different lengths, materials, designs, and purposes. In this post we will keep to the basics but let’s break down some of the highlights of the three most common pins you’re likely to come across: dressmaking, ballpoint, and t-pins.
Dressmaker pins (also known as silk pins) are the all-purpose Swiss Army Knife of pins and can be used on almost any project type from garment assembly to household crafting. These pins have an extra fine point to slide between fabric thread and prevent damage. Authentic dressmaker pins are made up entirely of metal, however some variations include plastic heads for easier visibility. These pins perform best when paired with lightweight fabrics.
Ballpoint Pins. Whether in the machine or holding pieces together, ballpoint pins are designed specifically with knit and stretch fabrics in mind. While sharp pointed pins have the tendency to cut through the fabric when pierced, the rounded point of ballpoint pins pushes the threads up and around the blunt tip to prevent holes from wearing out your seam allowance. (Click here to get our FREE eBook for tips on how to sew knit apparel.) Ballpoint heads are plastic and you’ll want to be careful when pressing around them otherwise melted plastic may spoil your pins, iron or worse – your precious garment.
T Pins. With a name true to its shape, these pins are the travelers of crafting and can be found in many realms from woodworking to corkboards (holding up that growing wish list of sewing wants for your partner to see.) In the world of fabrics, these robust pins are entirely metal and ideal for heavy weight material (think duck cloth and upholstery) and loosely woven fabric where other needles are prone to slip out between thread strands.
Sewing clips (originally known as Wonder Clips) are like mini neon spring clamps for hemming. An all plastic design, clips feature a rounded top with a flat bottom on the base. Sewing clips are extremely handy for holding together multiple layers of fabric which pins would most likely bend under or be unable to pierce all together.
Pros vs Cons
We’ve covered the individual players, so now let’s see how pins and clips hold up in a side by side comparison.
- Price and availability – Pins literally cost pennies. Ruin them or lose them and they won’t break your budget to replace. Also, they are widely available in most grocery and all craft stores.
- Hold – Pins are great for projects where there will be pulling or stretch as they reliably keep fabric right in place.
- Sewing machine friendly (mostly) – When it comes to feeding under or close to a presser foot, pins are the best at keeping your hold for as long as possible. HOWEVER these same rules don’t fly for sergers. Get too close with a serger and there will be ugly tears.
- Multi-functional – Not only can pins be utilized in any place on your sewing project but they are also very useful to have around for other non-sewing projects.
- Injury (for everyone) – Pins are small and inconspicuous making them easy to lose in your work. This puts your machine and your extremities at risk for injury when they find them. A lost needle in a serger can mean a broken blade and a lost needle in your shirt can mean a deep scratch on your face when slipping your garment over your head. Accessories such as thimbles can help prevent rogue stabbings but it’s just the reality of pins that sooner or later Sleeping Beauty is going to get pricked.
- Not kid friendly – Unless your sewing space is in a completely bare floor, you are very likely to drop and therefore lose your pins. If you have little ones who like to play around your workspace, bear in mind that they will be in contact with them. For little learners, too many pricks can decrease motivation.
- Durability – Despite being made of metal, most pins are very thin. If you are using thick or multiple layers of fabric your pins are likely going to bend making them a headache for quick placement.
- More effort – Pins take a little more coordination to place.
- Markings – As all sewists and Sherlock fans know, stabbing leaves a mark even with a tiny pin. Most fabrics recover well but for fabrics such as vinyl, the evidence can look pretty ghastly.
- Safe – No more fast twitch exercises after jabbing yourself. Clips are dull and flat and will leave your Band-Aid supply to die another day.
- Ease – It takes one hand and hardly any time to snap a clip to your hem.
- Fabric friendly – Clips have the ability to hold thick and tricky fabrics which pins don’t take kindly to.
- Markings – No piercing your fabric, means no holes left to wish away or snag on.
- Visibility – The unfortunate among us know the awful sound of a pin meeting a serger blade. It’s an emotional and financially expensive mistake that puts everything on hold. Clips however are thick bright clamps which sit right on the fabric. In other words, you can’t miss them.
- Kid friendly – For young first time sewers, clips are fantastic at helping nurture a friendly environment. Their easy use and no risk for injury make them ideal for little learning hands.
- Accuracy – Many sewing clips feature small seam allowance markings on the base for accurate reference.
- Bulky – Unlike sewing pins which you can bring right up to the needle before you slide out, clips are bulky and will need some wiggle room to unclip. Being bulky also means clips require a bit more storage space.
- Slip – Clips sit on the top and bottom of fabric so anything sandwiched in between is at risk for moving around especially if there is any stretch or pull to it such as jersey or elastic.
- Limited – Although clips come in various sizes they are designed for hemming. Any placement holding you need done on the face of your garment, such as embellishments, will need a pin.
- Weight – When using several clips your fabric, particularly knits, can become weighed down and distorted as you sew if you aren’t gently feeding it up to the machine.
- Cost and availability – Clips are generally available only online and do cost more, especially if you intend to go with the original Wonder Clip brand.
As you can see there are lots of pros, cons and uses for both pins and clips. I personally love clips for any hem work that I do and pins are my go to for elastic and embellishments. Hopefully you can find space for both but if there is only room in your heart/workspace for one, we recommend pins. While it may seem odd given the weight of our pros and cons list however due to their multi-functionality and availability pins are an absolute must for every sewists supply box. If the cons scare you just remember to take your time, be mindful of clean up and be attentive to the needs of your particular project. There is a pin out there that will suit every project. We hope this run down helped provide a better understanding of pins and clips and which might be the best choice for your personal projects!
Originally Authored by Veronica Burnham. Archived by Kathryn Graham.