Pincushion Ponderings

Pincushion Ponderings

Pincushion Pondering

Photo used with permission from Carol Steely
Pincushions. What is it about them that seem to draw us in? We use them, display them, make them, swap them, and collect them. Do you ever wonder “why a tomato”?

Pincushions have been referenced as far back as the middle ages. The predecessor of today’s pincushion went by strange names like pimpilowes, pyn-pillows, and pin-poppets. They were made from fine fabrics and often decorated with delicate hand embroidery.

Prior to 1835, pins were handmade and very expensive. Husbands would designate a line in the family budget for their wives called “pin money”. This was an allowance she would use to purchase pins, cloth, and other personal items. As you can imagine, the pincushion was not only a utilitarian place to store pins but also a place to put ones pins on display.
In December of 1835, Dr. Robert Howe invented a pin making machine. In no time, the Howe Manufacturing Company was turning out about 70,000 pins a day. Once pins were massed produced pincushions became a commonly purchased trinket and popular sewing necessity.
But how does the ever popular tomato pincushion fit into this story?
During the Victorian Era, placing a tomato on the mantel of a new house would repel evil and bring prosperity. Of course, tomatoes weren’t always in season and didn’t last very long. Being clever and resourceful, ladies would make their own out of cloth. Eventually this powerful mantle trinket became the perfect place to show off their lovely little pins.

I know you’re thinking, “so how does its companion strawberry play into all this?” Well, the nickel coating on early mass-produced pins would flake off causing the pins to rust. Creative tailors and seamstresses would use a bag of emery grit to clean their pins. Today we have a cute little strawberry attached to our tomato pincushion that serves that same purpose.

Why not browse the fun pincushion patterns here at and start your own collection or swap party today.
Always sew for fun! Carol Steely, FunThreads Designs
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