Victorian Pincushions

by Suzanne Bruno © 2002, 2005
Pictures by Anita Motley © 2002, 2005

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Pincushions were more than just a sewing necessity to the Victorian woman. Yes, they held her precious pins and needles but they were a form of personal self-expression that could be shared with friends and family. During social calls Victorian ladies turned out “fancy work” pincushions. This was a most appropriate task and far from the mundane home sewing of every day. Young girls practiced their sewing skills making these whimsical needlework tools often using bits of fabrics from special occasion garments.

  From Anita's collection: This crazy quilt style pin cushion ball dates to the turn of the century. It's made of silks and velvets with very nice feather stitching. The circumference is about 12 inches and it has a red silk ribbon for hanging, as well as little bows of the same ribbon.  

Tea cups, egg cups and seashells almost begged for a cushion. No object was too ordinary to be fashioned into a pincushion, including the ever popular fruits and vegetables from the garden. Pears, plums, apples, carrots and eggplant are just some of the garden gifts that were disguised as pincushions in the Victorian sewing basket.

  From Anita's collection: This is the largest metal shoe pin cushion I have seen, it is seven inches long and 3 1/2 inches high. The decoration is wonderful with designs on the sides and toe.  

Reaching their heyday in the Victorian Era, pincushions were given as tokens of friendship and love and often used as decoration in every room of the house.

  From Anita's collection: This unusual figural pin cushion is a canoe sitting on waves with leaves embellishing the body of the canoe. It is pot metal in a beautiful copper color. The pin cushion top was velvet but the nap has worn off and it has a small hole. It measures a full seven inches long and is quite heavy. I date it to about 1900 but it could be a little older.  

What did they fill their pincushions with? Wool mostly, as the wool safeguarded against rust. Wool roving, bits of unraveled knitting, old blankets or clothing were all saved and re-used in pincushions.

We don't really need pincushions the way our ancestors did, but what a nice reminder of a bygone era, an era where needlework and all its accouterments were cherished and used to bring beauty to your surroundings.

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