Pick a convenient, safe, and cute option
The humble pincushion is an essential sewing notion. Although it is easily taken for granted, its function and appearance have evolved alongside sewing for hundreds of years.
The pincushion is mentioned in historical records dating from the 16th century. Before that, pins seem to have been kept in cases, as befitted their value and rarity. As finely worked metal pins became increasingly available, they were displayed as luxury items in homes in special “pin pillows” and other decorative holders designed to show the family’s status.
With the advent of mechanized pin production during the Industrial Revolution, pins became more readily available and affordable. During the Victorian era, the pincushion reached its decorative peak.
The traditional tomato
There is a commonly told story that the familiar tomato-shaped pincushion derived from the practice of placing a tomato in a new home to ward o evil spirits and bring prosperity to the new household. The stuffed tomato was said to have replaced a fresh one, and eventually it was used to store and display a family’s pin collection.
However, there isn’t much solid evidence for this account, and it is known that, in the 19th century, novelty pincushions in the shape of many fruits and vegetables, as well as dolls and other playful items, were produced. We don’t know why the tomato has survived as the quintessential pincushion style.
The tomatoes were stuffed with wool to prevent the pins from rusting, or with sawdust. The attached “strawberry” is typically filled with emery powder. Running a pin’s point or a needle through the emery cleans off residue from skin oils or oxidation.
Whether your taste is practical or whimsical, there is a pinholder that is perfect for you. Having multiple pincushions is a great way to keep different types of pins organized for specialty use. A novelty cushion can bring a smile and brighten your sewing day. Pincushions are still a wonderful luxury item that every sewing room must have.
If you move around in your workspace, it’s helpful to have a pinholder almost literally at your fingertips. There’s no need to stick pins into your collar, as sewers used to do, when you can wear a pincushion on your wrist or finger.
A basic version, with a band of thick felt to hold the pins, will do the job. However, like the Victorians, modern sewers enjoy pincushions as works of art and whimsy as well as practical places to store pins. Crafty makers sell a wide variety of unique pincushions in traditional or novel shapes. Kits and patterns are also available online for making your own versions.
Magnetic pincushions are perhaps the most high-tech of all modern pincushions. They are a wonderful addition to any sewing room for their ease of use. If you accidentally scatter pins around your sewing area, a sweep of the magnetic pincushion collects them safely and easily. As you’re removing pins while machine-sewing, it’s simple to toss the pins onto the magnetic surface. The pins cling, so you won’t spill them when carrying the holder.
Some sewers have concerns about using magnetic pincushions near computerized sewing machines. The computerized components that would be affected are near the sewing machine screen. As long as you keep the magnet on the table and away from the screen, it should not affect your sewing machine’s electronics.
Magnetic pinholders come in all shapes and sizes. While most align the pins in a certain direction, there are specialty versions that orient the pins so they radiate from the center of the cushion. Others have a groove in the center to make it easier to grasp the pins. For portability, some include a cover to prevent pins from brushing off in transit. Even wrist magnets are available.
In response to the development of textiles that could be damaged if perforated by pins, new fasteners are emerging. Clips of various types and sizes can be used to pinch fabric layers together without puncturing them. Accordingly, new holders are available to keep these tools conveniently at hand. The petal-like felt wrist holder for Wonder Clips is a clever example.
Katrina Walker is a designer and educator with an interest in gadgets that can make sewing easier.
Get the latest including tips, techniques and special offers straight to your inbox.