Most of your decision on which pins to use depends on your project. Quilting pins are often much longer than other pins, since quilting and piecing involves sewing through a lot of layers. You'll also see large heads on quilting pins, making them easier to spot and pick up. Quilters also like "pin alternatives" like Getta Grip, which grasps the fabric and therefore makes it less likely to shift when sewing.
Crafters may use heavy duty fabrics or specialized materials like leather, wood, or vinyl which need to be held together by a strong pin or not pierced by the pin at all. T-pins are some of the thickest, strongest pins around, making them great for heavy materials. Knitters may also use them while blocking their knitted products.
Both quilters and crafters also use smaller pins, however, like applique pins. These pins are very short and small compared to other pins so that they may easily handle the detailed nature of applique and small crafting projects.
Home decorating sewers may use t-pins for heavy upholstery fabrics, but they also use specialized pins. Tidy Pins are like a long pin with two sharp points bent in half. These rustproof pins have no heads, because they are meant to blend in with fabric or furniture. Tidy pins can be used for a variety of upholstery jobs, like holding slip covers or bed skirts in place.
Garments sewers also have choices when it comes to their pins. While they may use quilting pins, t-pins, or applique pins as well, silk pins are almost exclusively used by garment sewers. The ones pictured above are classic silk pins, with a flat metal head like applique pins. Silk pins are extremely sharp and thin, leaving smaller holes in delicate fabrics and easily piercing these fabrics.
Silk pins also come with glass heads that look like the plastic heads on quilting pins. These colorful heads make the pins easier to spot and handle, so they're a bit easier for beginners than the regular silk pins.
If you're sewing with vintage fabric or bridal fabric, you may want to look into Bridal and Lace pins. Though they look just like regular silk pins, bridal pins are made of stainless steel, rather than nickel plated steel. While this makes them slightly more expensive, it allows the pins to be rustproof, which is essential when working with fine, white fabrics or trims, especially vintage ones.
Garment sewists may also work with knits. You might know about ball point needles, but there are also ball point pins! As opposed to all the sharp pins above that pierce woven fabrics, ball point pins and needles are more rounded and blunt. This helps the pins and needles not snag the fibers in a knit fabric. But don't get ball point pins confused with color ball pins! The name color ball refers to the head of the pin, like the quilting pins shown above. These pins also have a color ball, but the ball point is what's important.
So Which Pins are Best for You?
Students taking our Beginning & Beyond Class #101 or other classes find that the types of pins recommend by our teachers differ, just as preferences differ on which brand of sewing machines is the best. Here is what our teachers recommend and why:
Barbara Beccio - Dritz Quilting Pins with the gold heads. Barbara says the longer length is easier for beginners since sewists can grasp the pin with plenty of room left to put the pin into the fabric or pattern. The points are nice and sharp, and the pin glides easily into the fabric. The shaft of the pin is slim, yet stable enough to not bend when pinning all but the heaviest of fabrics. These pins also work exceptionally well for pinning darts. Barbara uses this pin to work on most fabrics, including lightweight, slippery fabrics. The larger head also makes it easy to take the pins out of the fabric with the method that Barbara teaches for pin removal. For silk or polyester charmeuse, crepe de chine, chiffon, or lightweight satins, Barbara will often go to a silk glass head pin.
Mary Patrone - Collins Fine Sharp 1 3/8". Mary prefers Collins glass head pins or Clover Glass Head Silk Pins because they are thin enough to easily pin fabric, but they are strong enough for most fabrics. If a student accidentally forgets to take the pin out after sewing and they iron over it, the glass head does not melt into the fabric like a plastic head pin would.
Dale Webdale - IBC Glass Head Pins. Dale likes these pins that are 1 3/8" long with a .50mm diameter. This size is appropriate for almost all fabrics a beginner may encounter. If they are finer than .50mm, they can be too flexible. The regular silk pins with steel heads work just as well, but the lack of heads may be tricky for beginners. Dale strongly believes in glass heads rather than plastic, since plastic melts around irons.
In the Making Lingerie Class #632 also taught by Dale, the glass head pins are perfect for wovens. But if a student is working with knits, they will need ball point pins. These pins do have plastic heads, but in general, Dale's lingerie class students are not using them around irons like they do with woven fabrics.
Have you ever accidentally melted some plastic head pins? Tell us about it in the comments! And which pins are your favorite?
P.S. The two fabrics behind those pins are two Cotton + Steel prints: Scattered in Mint and Ghost Saltines in Dark Navy.