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Can anyone give me some pointers on when/why you use safety pins to pin layers together? Is this before basting the layers together, or in place of the hand basting prior to quilting?

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I pin baste my small quilt tops. I am not a hand quilter and do not have a long-arm machine. There are special safety pins made for quilters that have a curved body that make them very easy to use. Safety pins are easy to remove & reposition as you are machine quilting.
Some quilters use them to "pre" baste and some use them in place of basting-it's a personal preference. If you hand quilt and your layers are going to be placed on a frame that holds them taut, or you are going to have your sandwich (top, batting, backing) long armed then you don't need them. I personally use them all the time, but I'm getting rather attached to using my stapler a lot too!
Stapler? Stapler! Do you take the staples out with a regular staple remover? Ever get any damage?
HAHAHA. I knew the comment about the stapler would sound crazy. Trust me...as a quilt addict the last thing I want to do is damage all that work I just did. SO....here's the gist of it:

I do a LOT of applique-it's my favorite-and when the pieces are tiny or slim it's almost impossible to hold them with a standard straight or safety pin. So one day I grabbed my stapler to attach some thin "stems" for a floral piece to the background and it worked brilliantly.

Pros-FAST and holds layers securely-especially appliques while I either hand stitch or machine stitch them down.
I've discovered my machine sews right over them with ease if I place one too close to my edge.
I don't end up poking myself nearly as much (like I do with straight pins)

Cons-Short arm staplers only reach so far ya know? Sometimes I have to fold the edges of my background over a couple of times so that the "mouth" of the stapler is over the correct area.
It would never work with a large quilt top.
Getting them out- Yes, I actually DO take the staples out with a regular staple remover IF the fabric I've stapled is a tougher fabric-like cotton duck, denim, etc.
When I'm using a more delicate fabric or I cannot risk any flaws at ALL in the piece (such as silkier fabrics which "run" when I use the stapler)-I have a tiny screwdriver with a flat end (I think it's one of my hubby's computer screwdrivers) that I use to remove the staples. I just flip the piece over to the back and insert the tiny flat head under the prongs and "lift" them up. The staple is then easily removed from the front side.

Sometimes I only have to lift one prong on the back. When I can do that, I lift the one prong, then I hold onto the still stapled end (plus fabric) in my left hand and I grab the top of the staple from the front side with my right hand and "tilt" the lifted prong out until it clears the fabric. Then I push my left thumbnail into the dent of the staple from the back( where it's still holding) and I bend the staple "back" (tilt it back further) with my right hand from the front. This straightens the "bend" and lifts the prong so I can pull it easily out from the front.

Odessa-
My hubby bought me one of those handi tack things and the ^%$##@@ did not work at all. It also doesn't hold the fabric layers "tightly" together between the ends and I hated it. When I'm working on a bigger piece I use safetypins or baste my layers traditionally.
I can't imagine that a stapler would be very handy, did you mean a Handi-tack, that puts in the little plastic tacks, like what is used to hold the price tags on garments only smaller? Now that tool is really handy for basting and doesn't get in the way of your hoop, if you must use one, and aren't cumbersome in your had if you "quilt outside the hoop" like I do.
curved safety pins for quilts are great. and the Kwik Klip to help close them. or a grapefruit spoon works for that also. saves the fingers getting so sore closing all those pins. I tend to use spray basting now or fusible batting myself. can't bend over even a folding table these days. certainly not the floor.

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