I’m telling you to sew without pins, and you’re already freaking out. There you are on the other side of the screen with all the dagger eyes.
I get it–pins make us feel safe as sewists. But pins are slowing you down and making your sewing not super accurate.
I’m going to show you what to do instead.
I’ve been practicing these techniques for years and taut sewing instead of pinning alone has saved more garments than I can count. Let’s do this.
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Table of Contents
Why you need to sew without pins
When you start sewing, you pin everything. As a beginner, I used to put something like 18 pins in any given seam. But I quickly got frustrated with pins. Here’s some of the reasons why sewing with pins is something you need to give up.
More pins=[so much] more time
Don’t believe sewing with pins is slowing you down?
Let’s break it down:
For every pin you use, you have to:
Each one of these steps is pretty quick, but multiply that out for every pin, in every pattern piece, for every seam, and we’re talking major time. Major.
Those 18 pins a seam once translated into a good 6 hours to make a simple pair of pajama pants. Even if you sewed with half the number of pins you use, you’d be saving massive time.
More pins = more blood
Pins are sharp. The more pins you use, the more chance you have of unintentionally stabbing yourself.
Did I mention that I used to use honking quilting pins when I was a beginner? Their jumbo points inflicted a whole lotta damage on my hands.
I later learned about finer glass head pins. They are definitely a lot better. They’re points are smaller and you can even iron over them. Still, whether through clumsiness or something else, my hands always find the doggone pins.
More pins = potential danger to you or your machine
Sewing over pins is a risky operation. A lot of people [myself included] will do it sometimes to help cut down on the time factor when sewing with pins.
Maybe you get away with it a few times. Maybe a lot of times. And then…
You hit a pin when you sew over it. Your needle gets broken. Tiny shards of needle go down somewhere in the nether regions of your machine. If you’re lucky, you can fish it out with a magnet. If you’re not lucky, you might mess up your machine’s timing. A pricey fix.
Worse–if you SERGE over a pin. You might think you can stop and take out every single pin. But some heavy fabrics it’s hard to see where your pins are. Combine that with the race car speeds that sergers move and you’re one step from:
More pins = [possibly] Less accurate
If you’ve ever sewn a seam and ended up with one side mysteriously 1″ longer than the other, you know this problem.
When you use pins you can create little bubbles in the seam. Pins aren’t flat, and fabric may not be taut between pins. So when you put one in and take it out, the fabric can shift ever so slightly.
Those little shifts can travel right on down the seam. The same seam that was matching up at the top is now way off at the bottom. You can use even MORE pins (think about every inch) to help fix this.
This made me about lose my mind one day matching chevrons for the curtains in my laundry area. Over the massive 7′ length of each seam, the pinned chevrons got further and further off from each other. After a couple of tries, I finally nailed each match with a combo of taut sewing and basting.
You can also fight against this by flipping the way you’re sewing the seam halfway through. In other words, halfway through a seam, turn over the seam so your bottom fabric is now the top. This will even out the pinning problem and the uneven sewing of the feed dogs.
Flipping and extra pinning does work really well, but keep reading, and I’ll show you how to get it right without either.
How to sew without pins
So how do you go about sewing without pins? What do you do instead of using pins. Here are the things that I’ve found to be most useful.
Taut sewing is my favorite strategy for going pinless. Taut sewing means that you’re holding the fabric taut with your hands as it goes through the machine.
To sew taut, you hold one hand at the back of your machine and one at the front. As the fabric goes under the presser foot, move your hands at the same rate towards the back.
Your goal is NOT to pull but to move your hands evenly.
This works great for long seams, especially straighter seams. For curved seams and more delicate fabrics, I like this next one:
Pinch hand, piano hand
Pinch hand/piano hand is similar to taut sewing. For this pinless sewing variation, you still have both hands on the fabric. You will still move both hands towards the back, but it’s a little different.
Pinch the fabric in your right hand and turn the pinched bit towards the presser foot.
Curve your fingertips and spread them wide on your left hand. Lightly place them on the left side of the fabric. If you’ve ever played piano, that’s what your left hand should look and feel like.
Confident but delicate touch.
As the fabric moves under the presser foot, use your right hand fingers to keep the edges even. Use your left hand fingers to press very gently towards the back.
The goal is still to move both hands at the same rate towards the back. This version is awesome for curved seams and more delicate fabrics. Your left hand fingers really can turn the fabric like a steering wheel. For any fabric that needs a little more finesse, this is your go-to.
Curved edges on the bottom
Sometimes you have to ease longer edges into shorter ones. If you measure a sleeve cap, it’s actually longer than the armhole. Why–because that longer bit makes room for the curve of your arm.
The same thing is true of a princess seam. Instead of using 18,000 pins to ease that curvy side front into the center front, sew with the curved edge on the bottom.
Match up the notches, put the curvy side against the feed dogs. Use pinch/piano hands and the feed dogs will do the work. No pins.
I sewed both of these princess seams with the curved side front on the bottom. Looking at it, the right side eased in nice and smooth.
Just so you could see the difference, I pinned the left side. There’s an unintentional pleat mid-seam and the bottom of the side front is almost 3/8″ longer than the center front piece. Not so hot.
This method will work with all sleeves but jacket sleeves. And note that if you have to do a full bust adjustment on princess seams, you’ll have more fullness to ease into the seam than this method will handle. But give it a try anyhow and see how you like it!
1″ matched seams
This is one of my favorite ways to sew without pins. You always have a little cross wherever 2 or more seams come together. Matching these intersections can sometimes be tricky. Cross pinning the intersection precisely can help, but in a lot of fabrics (especially bulky ones), pins can shift the fabric and your seam might not match.
I like to baste about 1″ instead. Here’s how to do it.
Line up the seams so that they match right at the seam line. I’m assuming that you’ve pressed the seams. Sometimes if you press one seam one way and the second seam the other way the intersection will sit a little better.
Pinch the layers together and carefully bring it under the presser foot. Sew 1/2″ before the intersection and 1/2″ after. You can use a longer basting stitch or not. Double check to see if the seam is right on.
If you miss it, just pull out the threads. Since you only sewed 1″, there’s no seam ripper required. Just try again.
This works great for matching seams but also when you need to match style lines across a zipper. There’s nothing worse than sewing a skirt and one side of a yoke ends up 1/2″ higher on a zipper!
This one seems like cheating and it kind of is. But it works. There are some fabrics (leather and it’s faux cousin) that you really can’t pin because it will damage the fabric. Yes you can use wonder clips, but glue works really well. For leather there’s special glues that can hold projects together before you sew. I could not have made my Rose Tyler cosplay jacket without glue!
Other places to use glue: waistbands and shirt collars. Waistbands and collars with all their curviness are really tough to put enough pins in when you stitch in the ditch to finish off the inside of your project. But a good old glue stick will hold the pressed edge in place while you’re stitching it down.
I’ve never had a problem with glue sticks gumming up machine needles. Best of all, the glue washes right out after the fact.
Steam a Seam/Wonder Tape: like glue but better
Steam a Seam (*affiliate link*)is the one sewing notion you can pry out of my cold dead hands. It’s a double-sided fusible tape. There was a couple of years where The Warm Company stopped making it because they couldn’t get the right paper for the tape. I went generic then and it was rough.
Some things just work better as the real deal. Velveeta. Helmann’s Mayonnaise. Steam a Seam.
Fuse Steam a Seam wherever you want something to stay put or match it perfectly. I use it for patch pockets, welt pockets, zippers, sometimes tiny hems, collars, so many things. A zipper + Steam a Seam is about the easiest zipper to sew ever. I used it to perfectly position the stripes on the second side of this separating zip.
One thing to note: Steam a Seam is permanently a part of your project. It’s not a bad thing, but it can feel crunchy on some fabrics. Test it if you think you want to use it on a fabric.
If you need to keep something put without the crunch, Wonder Tape (*affiliate link*)will do the same thing. It washes out after you’ve used it for your sewing. I know Sandra Betzina loves it for matching plaids.
Pinless Sewist Society
So how about you? Are you a pinner or a pinless person?
What pinless technique catches your eye today?
Want to sew faster but still want to use your pins? No problem: here’s 40 other hot sewing tips in your ultimate guide to sewing efficiently. Also while we’re talking about sewing time management, pick up 15 ways to make time to sew.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.