Why Not Try A Radial Pincushion?

Cindy Thury Smith © 2008

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Nowadays, to do an impromptu clothing repair, we would reach into our purse and pull out a safety pin. However, safety pins were not commonly available prior to World War I. What would be carried in a purse would be a group of straight pins, held securely in a radial pincushion.

A radial pincushion is a layer of wool or batting held between two circular disks. The points of the pins are embedded in the middle layer with the heads of the pins available around the edge of the circular disk. These circular disks could be sewn or glued together with the disks made from thick paper, leather, wood, ivory etc. They could be plain or very decorative and could be used for gifts, souvenirs, remembrances or as advertising give-aways.

The following instructions will give you the basic construction of a sewn radial pin-cushion. Think of them as a circular, functional ATC and have some fun making and embellishing them!


  • Two 5” squares of Timtex or Peltex stiffener
  • 5” square of fulled wool or thick wool
  • Two 5” squares of fabric
  • Two 5” squares of fusible web
  • coordinating thread


1. Following manufacturer’s directions, fuse the fusible web to the wrong side of your fabric squares. Allow them to cool, and then peel off the paper backing.

2. Trace a 3-3 ½” circle (such as a coffee cup) onto both pieces of Timtex and cut the circles out. (Note: a 3 ¼” circular radial pincushion will hold seventy-five straight pins.) These circles, once decorated with fabric, will become the upper and lower layers of your radial pincushion.

3. Center your Timtex circles onto your 5” squares of fabric and fuse the fabric to the circle. A small headed hobby iron works well for this.

4. Using a single thread, run a gathering line of stitches about ½” out from the edge of the Timtex. Pull the gathering stitches in to shape the fabric smoothly to the circle edge.

5. Using just the tip of your iron, fuse the fabric gathers over the curved edge only; you only need to fuse about 3/8” in from the edge. When the whole circle is done trim off excess fabric leaving the gathering stitches in (they are hidden when you are done). Flip the circle over and give it a good pressing. Repeat for the other Timtex circle.

6. Layer the two circles with the fulled wool square in the middle. Using a decorative or coordinating thread you will sew around the edge of both circles through all three layers (use a thimble!). You can do a simple up and down stitch, or you can do short beaded loops over the edge, or other variations as long as you secure all the layers together spaced evenly around the edge. Run your thread off into the wool in several directions to secure.

7. Carefully trim the wool to match the Timtex circles.

I encourage you to try making a basic radial pincushion before you try making an embellished one. I’m sure you’ll come up with many creative ideas while you are making the first one.

In the image below, the oval pincushion (upper left) is an advertising give-away from the Prudential Insurance Co. of America, circa 1920s. It measures 1 ½” x 2 ½” and is made of paper. The red flowered pincushion (top row center) is a basic sewn radial pincushion.

The two pincushions on the right are made from chip-carved wooden disks with holes drilled along the edges so they can be sewn together. The two black/multicolored pincushions on the bottom row are glued together using computer generated designs printed onto fabric sheets.

Allison Aller's Radial Pincushion

Donna Johnson's Radial Pincushion

Martha Green's Radial Pincushion



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