Today we introduce our new series, For the Love of Tools, and begin by sharing the history and types of safety pins used in sewing. Most recently we’ve seen this pin used to fashion DIY face masks, and we take special note of its cultural significance during this moment in history.
The safety pin can be found in almost every household, and every modern-day sewing kit comes with this ubiquitous object. A fibula or brooch, which was a precursor to the modern safety pin, dates back to Bronze Age when it was used as a replacement for the straight pin. The bow-shaped pin fastened cloaks or tunics in ancient Greece; its uses were replaced by the button during the Middle Ages and ornate examples can be seen during the medieval times.
The pin that bears resemblance to those we use today was patented in 1849 by Walter Hunt who created a number of commercial tools and types of machinery, including the first sewing machine. His pin had a spring action and a clasp, which was intended to keep the fingers safe from the sharp end. Safety pins were commonly used to fasten cloth diapers through the first half of the 20th century; they became synonymous with punk fashion and culture in the 1970s, and they have also been a symbol of resistance and solidarity through the times.
This sewing tool—with a rich historical and cultural significance—is commonplace in our studio and used for everything from basic sewing functions to attaching hangtags to our garments. Learn more below about the basic types of safety pins and their uses.
Safety pins (sometimes called Skirt or Kilt pins) are a great alternative to the straight pin when a project is going to be moved around a lot. The locking head keeps these pins from jostling out of place and they are available in a range of sizes from 00—about 3/4″ long— to a size 4—about 3” long.
Curved Safety Pin
The curved shape of this pin allows the pin to pass through many layers of fabric and makes it a good basting tool—especially in quilting or where multiple layers of fabric are in use.
Button Safety Pin
This safety pin has a small bump in the middle that can be used to hold a button in place on a garment. Sometimes used with delicate or specialty buttons so they can be removed for washing and cleaning.
Explore The School of Making’s Maker Supplies for more sewing tools and notions. #fortheloveoftools
Left: Fibula ca. 8th–7th century B.C. from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Right: Image from Vogue Titled “The safety pin, humble war-time fastener, 1947”; Photo: Lisa Larsen / The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Images
Left: Image from Flex your head jam home made magazine; Photo: Junji Hata; Art direction: Tomoki Sukezane
Right: Image from Vogue Titled Punks in London, 1971; Photo: Janette Beckman / Getty Images
Thanks for writing about the humble safety pin! One thing to add: safety pins were used to hold together old-fashioned square cloth diapers on babies. The ones my mother used had pink or blue safety covers to prevent the pin from opening while it held together the diaper around a child. These diapers and pins were in use in the Netherlands in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Where do you purchase decent safety
Pins? The ones purchased from big craft stores, the ones made in China, don’t even go through fabric. They bend. And it’s very annoying.