Rules To Ignore – Sewing Over Pins

Sewing Over Pins

Long ago I read that the way to master a craft is to learn the rule book – and then throw it out! I’m all for that, when the occasion demands.

One of the rules I often bend is:

Thou shalt not sew over pins.

Yeah, whatevs. After I saw Susan Khalje sewing over pins in her Craftsy class, my own dirty secret came out into the open. I sew over pins, too!

Here are some of the times I’ll sew over a pin:

  • Sewing a gathered seam.
  • Basting in sleeves. (One rule I will follow religiously is to always baste a sleeve in first. It’s guaranteed tears and a seam ripper otherwise.)
  • Any section of sewing where accurate seam placement is an issue ie where seam lines meet.
  • Any sewing at all where accuracy is needed.

The combination of pins and a walking foot, as above, means that fabric has less desire to shift out of position. I’m all for it.

Tips for sewing over pins:

  • Use long, fine pins if you have them.
  • Insert pins horizontally.
  • Slow down. This isn’t the Grand Prix.
  • When you arrive at a pin you could take your foot off the pedal and turn the needle by hand. (I don’t.)
  • Be prepared for blunt or broken needles. Yes, this activity comes with risks. Meh. Ain’t lost an eye yet!

Most of the time, I avoid sewing over pins. But sometimes I purposefully leave them in when it suits the needs of construction. There’s a logic there, I promise. And when you see me wearing an eye patch in blog photos, I’ll swear that eye patches are the new Hasbeens. (Seriously. There are a lot of Hasbeens out in the sewing blogosphere right now!)

Is there a rule you are happy to break for a good reason?

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64 Responses to Rules To Ignore – Sewing Over Pins

  1. I always sew over pins- I hadn’t heard of this rule! I’m not that fussed (at the moment) about breaking a needle- I’m on my mum’s sewing machine! I imagine that there are lots of rules I’m breaking, just because I don’t know about them!

  2. Birgit says:

    I’m with you on the sewing over pins! Sometimes you just need to…

  3. I do this quite a bit, not on purpose as such, just too lazy to take them out quick enough. I also regularly break the ‘always prewash your fabric rule’ although touch wood that hasn’t landed me in too much trouble yet…!

  4. Bekki Hill says:

    When I was a school sewing over pins was treated as a heinous crime. Now not only do I sew over pins I take great satisfaction that I’m doing it. (I also love that word heinous because it doesn’t follow that silly ‘i’ before ‘e’ rule.)

    Breaking needles however can do your machine a fair amount of harm – especially if the bit that breaks off and goes inside. I always go slowly or pull them out if it’s looking like the needle’s going to hit them.

    • Sheryl says:

      Heinous is a fabulous word, though I believe the second part of the i before e rule, is “or if it sounds like a, as in neighbor or weigh”. Just another reminder or how great and crazy English is all at once.

    • SunGold says:

      “I” before “e” except after “c”
      or when treated as “a” as in “neighbor” and “weigh” (or “heinous”)


  5. hilde says:

    Haha, very recognizable! I sew over pins all the time, especially with shifty fabrics. Although broken needles are a pain….

  6. 5currantbuns says:

    There are no rules… do what works for you … there are a lot of tips out there that may make your life easier but just because they work for some people it doesn’t mean they work for all

    I pin parallel to the seam rather than at right angles… went to a sewing class once (not a beginner class) and was made to feel awful and an amateur because of this… I still pin parallel because it works for me… I don’t spend my money on classes I use the internet instead now…

    • Debra says:

      I’ve seen a couple of Craftsy instructors pin parallel – Kenneth D. King in his pockets class definitely. I usually pin at right angles just because I find the pins easier to remove that way but with slippery fabrics it makes some sense to pin parallel; the layers are less likely to slide over each other along the pins.

      I very occasionally sew over a pin, for similar reasons to Karen’s, but I try to avoid it. I only have one functioning eye and I’m a bit paranoid about protecting it!

    • Sheree says:

      I have always pinned parallel, but recently have taken the craftsy tailored shirt course and the instructor pinned at right angles. By the way, throughout the whole course she constantly remindered us to take your pins out as you stitched. Since then I have been trying to train myself to pin at right angles. Keep slipping back to old habits though.

    • Years ago I read 12 books on writing novels. Each one began, “There’s only one way to write a successful novel,” and then they each had their own method. I tell my sewing students that I like putting the pins perpendicular to the seamline with the head of the pin to the right if they’re a righty, to the left if they’re a lefty, because then the pins are easy to remove–but that they can try both and choose what works best for them.

  7. fabrickated says:

    Well, for what it is worth, I used to sew over pins. Until one day one got jammed in my machine and did serious damage. I needed to replace the footplate and feeddog as a result which cost around £150. I now remove them – or baste for those tricky areas.

    • Jan says:

      Me too it cost me$290 for my repair. Go slow be careful, pull out the pin!

    • Susie says:

      I was going to mention this danger, as well. You do have to be very careful, as it can cause *SERIOUS* damage to your machine. Since I love my machine (and it is a bit older), if I do sew over a pin, I do so by turning the hand crank very slowly when approaching a pin. I would never recommend sewing over pins, especially to someone who is new to sewing. Susan Khalje does show it in the couture dress class, but she does mention taking it slowly over the pins. Hand basting gives better results.

  8. Susie says:

    I still try to stick to rules a lot but I do sew over needles! It was a huge nono when I was at school, but I do it fairly regularly in the same ways you do!

  9. Summerflies says:

    I sew over pins sometimes, but most often pull it out when the needle is next to the pin. I have hit the pin, or broken needle and/or pin and I know of someone who got it in their eye (not me, I wear glasses now)… it throws the timing of the machine out and you will have to get it serviced (unless you are super clever and do it yourself).

  10. Katie says:

    On the rare occasion that I do sew over a pin, I *always* seem to hit it with my needle and cause a break or splinter. Way too scared of anything flying in my eyes to make a habit of it!

    My normal solution to this is to pin as little as possible, frankly.

  11. yep i always sew over pins and just recently have stopped using tailors chalk and tacking for a water soluable pens – terrible I know but oh so much easier.

  12. docksjo says:

    I was thought to put the pins at an angle so that you can sew over them as a kid. Always has always will.

  13. jne4sl says:

    I do on occasion but you must make sure the pin is mostly on the top of the fabric, so that there is as little interference with the feed dogs as possible. I think the first thing that comes to mind is the needle will strike the pin, break and throw off the timing. But, the much more likely scenario is the pins become entangled with the feeding mechanism and at best mess up the seam, at worst wear down the teeth. But especially at slow speeds sewing over pins belongs in the bag of tricks.

  14. Caroline says:

    I sew over pins quite a lot. You need to leave them in sometimes, like you say for gathers or sleeves. I don’t recommend leaving them in if you are overlocking though – “crunch!” I accidentally did this last year and finished up having to replace both the upper and lower knives…

  15. Jennifer Hill says:

    Oh good! I do it all the time. Though as a relative newby there are probably lots of things I do that I shouldn’t, some of which I realize, some I don’t! I love your informative posts; do please feel free to talk about basic stuff or state what might seem to you the obvious – all tips and info gratefully received! Jen

  16. I’m a bit nervous to admit this but here goes……..I mark my fabric with lead pencil!!! Why? Because I’ve yet to meet marking chalk that I can actually see in the fabric. Yes. I also sew over pins too. Jane

    • redsilvia says:

      I do too! My mechanical pencil lives right next to my sewing machine. Obviously you pick your battles – white georgette on the RS is a no go but most other times a dot at the dart apex or a construction mark, who’ll know?

      I say proudly mark with that pencil!

    • Paola says:

      I do too! Every marking chalk I’ve ever come across has been totally rubbish. I use a soft lead, unless it is a really delicate fabric.

  17. Hélène says:

    I guess I’m not a rebel sewist. I never sew over pins. Too afraid they break and get right into my eyes!

  18. fabrictragic says:

    I wonder if pin sewing is less….. risky with an older sturdier machine…. Mine is as old as me, almost as heavy and sews over pins with stylish 30-something aplomb the vast majority of the time….. It’s probably the main rule I break too….

    • Jen (NY) says:

      You may be right about that. My grandmother and mother sewed over pins as a normal practice, and they were using old (well, not old then) mechanical machines. I have an older Bernina and don’t have much problem with pins either.

  19. Anne Frances says:

    Fascinating! And whose rule is it anyway? I was looking for something in the August 2006 issue of Burda magazine and found, on the page which shows the technical drawings of all the patterns, a little insert labelled “tip” (or actually “astuce” since I have the French version of the magazine, not sure if would be there in the English) which specifically said (translated) “By placing the pins at right angles to the seam line you can sew directly over them, slowly, without worrying about breaking your machine needle” – and a little sketch to demonstrate. So for some of those who write sewing instructions it is clearly OK!

  20. Phyllis Ann Hughes says:

    I’ll break a lot of sewing rules but that is one I try to avoid breaking if at all possible. I sewed over a pin with my computerized machine by accident. Part of the pin went down inside the machine and c aused all sorts of problems that showed up over a six month period. Three trips to the repair shop and several hundred dollars finally got it back to sewing normally. If there is a match point that is important, I either hand baste it or I use a stilleto to hold the fabric in place until the machine is ready for that important stitch or two. Ann

  21. Maggie says:

    My mom always sewed over pins and so did I until the sewing machine maintenance man yelled at me.

  22. Hila says:

    I use pencil to mark my fabric.

  23. helen says:

    If you like Hasbeens but find a little bit pricey try Lotta of Stockholm.
    I bought some 2 summers ago and they are great.

    I also sew over pins – but slowly.

  24. ivygirl2112 says:

    I find sometimes where the foot of the machine goes over a pin it leaves a little crooked stitch. This doesn’t matter in seams, but in topstitching it does.

  25. Kathy says:

    When I learned to sew in Home Economics classes, all my teachers taught to sew over pins for accurate seams. I went through a phase of removing and could tell a difference in fitting, and the ripping that followed. Luckily all the needles that broken are suspended by the thread. Thanks for validating our time honored technique.

  26. amcclure2014 says:

    I don’t sew over pins, though one of the earliest books I used to learn how to sew, did, and I started that way until I ran into trouble. A broken needle in the machine or worse still, eye, is no fun! I wear specs (eye protection!) so it’s actually my machine I’m concerned about now. I ran into timing problems after one episode. I like to know why I should follow particular guidance (not rule – this is sewing!)

  27. raquel from jc says:

    I used to do it, but I was hit by half of a pin flying directly to my chin. No mere sewing over pins for me!

  28. June says:

    You are such a rebel! I’m not sure I can work up the gumption to sew over a pin. Must not break a rule. 🙂

  29. Me too! Only a problem if you forget to take them out (ouch!)

  30. Carolyn says:

    Haha, I am totally the opposite! I have only 2 rules when teaching friends to sew on my machine: (1) treat it gently, and (2) don’t sew over pins. I guess I break other sewing rules though… for example, I never baste anything!

  31. Jen (NY) says:

    This may be shocking, but I was taught to sew over pins. My instructors were my grandmother, who had her own sewing business, and my mother, who had a degree in home economics, i.e., sewing & cooking. (That was a common college degree for women through the 1960s in the U.S.) I also had a junior high school instructor that, at the least, did not tell us to remove pins. I always thought that was usual, so I was surprised to see so much about pin removal on the inter-blogs.

    • Jen (NY) says:

      I should say though, I don’t speed-sew over them.

      Also, I have had a pin bend after being hit by a needle and go down through the plate. I just retrieved it right away, and there wasn’t any damage. It was one of the thin sharp pins, and I think that was the issue. With the thicker pins, which are less bendy, the needle just rolls over it.

  32. I never sew over pins. When I was young I did sew over my pins slowly and I broke the tip off my needle and the piece flew up into my eye. Luckily I blinked at the time, due to the noise of the machine “klunking” I guess, so I only ended up with a cut on my eyelid. I still can feel the tiny scar. Scared the sh** out of me though.

  33. jay says:

    You can sew over pins, but you can also be hit by a piece of broken needle or pin. Another way is to pull out each pin just before you get to it, not as difficult as it sounds.

  34. tiz says:

    I sew sometimes over pins, for the reasons you just listed and also when I use fabrics with a geometric print, like stripes and tartan for example. For me use pins is absolutely necessary for matching them!

  35. Simona says:

    I admire your courage to sew over pins! I have done it a few times and I almost ended up blind because of the flying needles! And my heart still bleeds every time I break a needle.

  36. Katie M says:

    I used to sew over pins quite a lot, but don’t seem to do it much now. I prefer to slow down as I get to the pin, then slide it out as the pin starts to go under the foot. I’ve broken quite a few needles and bent a few pins in my sewing career, but haven’t yet broken a machine or injured myself. I have accidentally tried to sew over a pin with my overlocker and ended up with a damaged cutter that needed replacing.

    I also find chalk markings hard to see. My newest sewing trick is that I do a lot of my fabric markings with a Frixion pen. You just draw right onto the fabric, then the markings completely disappear when you iron. You just have to bear in mind that the markings can faintly re-appear if the fabric gets cold, but re-ironing it causes them to disappear again. I also figure that the pen washes out eventually.

  37. Leigh Ann says:

    I don’t intentionally sew over pins. I’ve sewn over a few by accident! I broke a needle the last time I did that, and the pin got stuck in the feed dogs. My machine is a vintage one, and it seems quite tough– but I am afraid of damaging something. I really love my machine, so I don’t take the risk. I slide the pins out right before the foot gets to them. I understand the temptation to sew over them, though. My most recent project was my first knit garment. I used fabric I had on hand–a thin ITY. Well! I ended up basting the pieces together before sewing. But talk about tears and seam rippers before that!

    I’ve only been sewing a couple of years, so I probably break some rules I don’t know about. Otherwise, I think I am boringly conventional, but I think this is because of my lack of experience. I follow the rules because I want to do things “right,” and I don’t always have enough experience to know when there is more than one “right” way.

  38. Joen says:

    Yep I sew over pins too, always have always will.

  39. fk says:

    I read your post the same day I asked how and when people use walking feet and clips, rather than pins, in my own blog. So I was more interested in your off-hand comment about the walking foot than about the pins 🙂 Judging by your list of when you sew over pins, though, I should think you’d almost always be doing that so I was a bit confused when you said you rarely do it. I sew over pins regularly. But I’m interested in trying to use clips more often. Do you ever use clips?

  40. I confess that I do it too, but NEVER when sewing silk chiffon or organa, because those fine microtex needle tips can chip so easily on a pin and suddenly you have puckery pulls that permanently mar the pretty fabric. Ask me how I know…..

  41. modistegirl says:

    I have to agree, I do sew over pins, but with trepidation. My sewing teacher said you should sew over pins. I always think risk of damage is related to the stitch length and how fast you go over them, but I normally break my needles when the tread gets caught up or I am sewing something too bulky, rather than because of hitting pins. On an overlocker it’s too much of a risk, I always tack for that.

  42. Hey, indeed there is a rule like not to sew over pins. Sometimes you just can’t do without. My buddy at the sewing class sewed over pins with a result she had to go to ER because a pin came into her eyeball…So I never did it again!…gr Linda from Belgium

  43. I sew over pins and always wear my glasses incase I get a sharp surprise, which has happened before. So specs on and then sew over the pins.. Jo x

  44. LinB says:

    1. I always always always pin-gather, so I most always sew over pins when I gather.
    2. I don’t always press a seam — with a hot iron — before I move on to the next step! When sewing with plain-weave cottons, it is often more practical to fingerpress a seam open and thus to save time. For instance, when felling a seam, I offset the seam by 1/4 inch then sew at the 5/8 inch mark. I fingerpress the seam open quite firmly, using my fingernails to get a nice flat result. I then fell the seam by folding the 1/4 inch excess side of the seam over the raw edge, and stitching down the resulting felled seam. You can fingerpress cotton to just as good a result this way, without suffering blisters and burns at the ironing board by preliminarily pressing the seam open and trimming off the tret and pre-pressing the fold-over seam edge.
    I do press the finished felled seam, with steam.

  45. Kara says:

    Great post. I used to have a really strict teacher, so for the first two years after I graduated, when ever breaking a rule I would cautiously look over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking, even though I was all alone. I never prewash fabric, and sometimes I’ll start cutting the fabric before I have meticulously calculated the pattern and made a toile.

  46. Tia Dia says:

    Good heavens! I was taught to sew over pins, and could never understand – when I first started wandering around the sewing blog world – why people would pin ALONG the seamline instead of ACROSS it. BTW, it’s done in Chanel workrooms, too.

  47. I mostly take out pins when I sew. Sometimes I managed to bend a pin while sewing over it….it can’t be good for the machine.
    I also religiously baste my sleeves…it gives me more control and I avoid getting poked with pins as I sew!

  48. Hi Karen,
    I usually slide my pins out as I stitch, but recently I found myself stitching over the pins and that made me think of you! I hope you don’t mind, I have mentioned your article on my blog as it was topical to my post.
    I don’t make my own clothes very often but do stitch a lot – mostly embroidery.

    Barbara xx

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