Why pin? (a tutorial)


After some interesting email discussions with some of my barn door quilt along participants, I decided to take the time to talk for a minute about pinning.

Every quilter has to determine her (or his) own personal pinning system. Most quilters are not going to pin every single seam they sew. Some quilters never pin at all. I’m going to share what I do in case you find it helpful. The goal is for you to make your own decision in order to maximize your enjoyment of quilting and your satisfaction with your results.

When I first started quilting I used pins whenever my strips were longer than 6 inches because that is what the Learn to Quilt DVD instructed! I didn’t understand the hows or whys, and I didn’t have good results. I got really frustrated when my strips didn’t seem to line up so I started over cutting and trimming afterwards.

(Edit: by “over cutting” I mean cutting the strip longer than it needs to be, sewing, and then trimming).

This went on for some time and I made several very useful and pretty quilts that way. They always had a little wonk to them but I did my best with the information I had at the time.

In fact, allow me to show you something you probably didn’t notice the first time you saw barn door:

barn door oops

Woopsa-daisy! The triangle should be a normal, complete HST (half square triangle) and the first piece of the bottom border should line up with it. Completely not a big deal and not anything you’d notice if you view the quilt as a whole.


When I make mistakes that don’t ruin the quilt, I frequently leave them in. I’ve said before that it’s not fun anymore if I have to sew it twice. But I do try to understand what went wrong and how to avoid making that same mistake again.

In this case, the mistake was over cutting and trimming instead of carefully measuring and pinning.

I had similar problems with the solid stripes quilts I made my nephews. In that case my incorrect pinning technique caused my quilt top to completely refuse to lay flat. I don’t have any good pictures of that because it was before blogging. You’ll just have to trust me: it would not lay flat and it was extremely frustrating. (By the way, if you have trouble with your borders “waving” or “smiling” this is why!)

After watching a few Craftsy classes and receiving some very expert instruction from my husband’s aunt, my results (and enjoyment!) have improved quite a bit.

Here’s what I learned.

Most importantly, you have to pin in the right order. Besides the over cutting, this is the biggest thing I was doing wrong.

Line up and pin the outer edges first and then place a pin in the middle. If this was a longer strip I would add additional pins in the middle of these pins and then keep adding pins in the middle until I had pins every 3-4 inches.

If your strips are slightly off, you still line up the outer edges. Use even more pins (every 1-2 inches) and leave them in until your needle is just about to hit them. You’ll be amazed by the way that extra fabric somehow eases into the seam and disappears. If it doesn’t, that may be because your strips were too far off for “easing in” to work. Then you have to decide whether to go back and redo something or live with it the way it is and try again on the next strip!

If your strips have seams that you want lined up (as is the case for barn door) you line that area up and pin it first. Then you proceed with normal pinning procedure: outside edges followed by the middle.


On this strip I pinned my 2 triangle points first

That’s all there is to it! It’s simple and effective and I’ve personally found it worth it because of the frustration it saves me later in the process.

As always, if you have any questions please let me know via comment or email. And if you have any additional pinning tips or techniques we would all love to hear them.

17 thoughts on “Why pin? (a tutorial)

  1. Thank you for providing this. I am a lazy beginner wanna be and this confirms my notion that pins are our Friends (that’s rhymes!) I do have a question though…what is HST? It’s gotta be quilt lingo and I’m just putting words in for the Initials to try and figure it out.

    • Half-Square Triangle. It’s a triangle that is created when you cut a square of fabric diagonally, but more importantly, it is a triangle that has the bias on the hypotenuse (long side of the triangle). There are a lot of different methods for creating them. I suggest looking up some videos on YouTube.

  2. Great suggestions! Another thing I’ve learned is that when you are sewing two blocks together, and one or both are less than square, you can line up the blocks on the edges that you are not sewing and take up the difference in the seams. You’re right, you can hide a lot of imperfections in those seams!

  3. Something else I’ve learned is that fabric ‘creeps’ while you’re sewing it, and over a long distance, that creep ends up in unmatched edges. So if I’m doing a long seam (like sewing on binding), I pin a distance in from the edge (say 1/2 inch – whatever distance is enough for your foot to pass without fouling on the pins), aligned with the edge, and leave the pins in while I’m sewing the whole seam. That way, you don’t need to keep stopping and starting, either. If you have a lot of seams to line up, just use extra pins at the junctions, across the seam line

  4. Hey! That’s my pin cushion. I love this post. I think I forget to pin and mostly just live with faulty piecing. But I would like to be more accurate. Thanks for reminding us that pinning can go a long way to having your patchwork work much better.

  5. Thanks for this Sarah. I find that pinning horizontally first helps when trying to match seams, then I can lift the top fabric to check it’s lined up before pinning vertically or at an angle which for some reason I like to do!! By the way, what’s over cutting?

  6. Pingback: Barn door quilt along: week 4 | Sarah Quilts

  7. Pingback: Barn door quilt along: week 5 | Sarah Quilts

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