Pin cushions, or pincushions, only became a true necessity once sewing implements were mass produced during the middle of the 19th century. The crudely made pins and needles used before the Industrial Revolution were costly and typically stored in small boxes and cases. While pin pillows and un-mounted cushions emerged in 15th-century England, it wasn’t until pins were widely affordable during the 1800s that cushions were commonly sold as trinkets or commemorative gifts.

Like other decorative elements of the Victorian boudoir, pin cushions gradually moved out of the private realm and into the larger household. Designed in fanciful shapes adorned with embroidery and glass beading, these pin cushions were crafted from every material imaginable, including precious metals, bone, celluloid, wood, ivory, porcelain, fabric, and paper.

Novelty cushions resembling miniature boots and shoes were very popular, as were those modeled after various animals with velvet pinning-fabric mounted on their backs or in their mouths. More uncommon designs ranged from miniature furniture, like pianos and bassinets, to vegetables, like silk corncobs studded with kernels made from pearl-headed pins.

Particularly elaborate pin cushions were shaped like tiny dolls or doll-busts, with painted porcelain faces, lace trimmings, and soft fabric bodices to be filled with needles. One such product incorporated a celluloid doll face on a fabric cushion head, packaged with a tagline reading “Miss Dottie Dimple Emery has come to visit you and keep your needle polished bright and o-o-o just as good as new.”

Cushions were also frequently mounted onto other sewing tools, like clamps, boxes, and baskets. Though generally containing available materials like cotton, wool, horsehair, or sawdust, some pin cushions were filled with emery to help keep needle points sharp and prevent rusting.

The bright red tomato shape, one of the most common modern pin cushion designs, evolved from a specific Victorian-era tradition. By the end of the 19th century, widespread superstition called for placing a tomato on your mantle to ward off evil spirits. Since tomatoes were not available year round, fabric or paper replicas with detailed vines and leaves were created to do the trick instead, and soon served a second function for pin and needle storage.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Sewing Machine Collector

Sewing Machine Collector

Geoff and Norma Dickens' reference site on vintage toy sewing machines from the late 1800s. Browse the images alpha… [read review or visit site]

Sensibility Vintage Images

Sensibility Vintage Images

An extensive collection of photos and ephemera illustrating changing fashion styles from 1795 to 1959. Includes por… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

English Hallmarked Birmingham Sterling Silver Pig Pin CushionAntique / Vintage Silver Pin Cushion In The Form Of A HedgehogAntique Sterling Silver 1906 Pig Pin CushionLovely Rare Antique Georgian C1830 Solid Silver Pin Cushion & Tape MeasureLarge Sampson & Mordan Design Birmingham Silver Chick Pin CushionVery Old Hallmarked Silver Novelty Pin Cushion In The Form Of A Shoe - Very RareAntique 1910 Stunning Solid Silver Swan Pin Cushion,Antique Mauchline Ware Pincushion Box/sterling Thimble * Taymouth Castle * C1890English Hallmarked Sterling Silver Cow Pin CushionVictorian Brass Plated Sewing Bird Space For Two Pin Cushions Patent 1853Birmingham Sterling Silver Dolls House Chair Pin CushionAntique Boudoir Flapper Doll Head, Papier-mache Hat Pin Cushion PillowNice Old Unusual Solid Hallmarked Jester Silver Pin Cushion, Very UnusualSuperb Rare Antique Victorian Elegant Swan Sewing Pin Cushion Great Example !!Very Old Antique Victorian Hemming Bird Clamp Pin Cushion Pat. Feb.15 1853Vintage Victorian Brass Figural Bird Sewing Pin Cushion Table Clamp Age?Antique Porcelain Half Doll 1920's Style Woman NrVintage Lot Of Sewing Items + Pin Cushions Darner Sweater Comb Button Hooks +etcAntique Treen Sewing Trio Glove Darner Pin Cushion & Pin Tray Painted ToadstoolSweet*antique German Figural Lady Pin Cushion Doll*germany Half Doll*hat*roses**Colorful Antique Silk Pin Ball / Pin Cushion * English * Circa 18503 Antique Art Deco German Hand Painted Porcelain Flapper Half Doll Pin CushionsAntique Fabulous Rare Tunbridge Ware Pin Cushion - Waxer - Very Good ConditionVintage German Porcelain Flapper Half Doll For Pin Cushion - Marked GermanyAntique Vintage Old Germany German Half Doll Pincushion Little Girl Child Stunning*antique German Figural Lady Pin Cushion Doll*germany Half Doll*lorgnettUnique Style Antique Wood Pin Safe And Pin Cushion NrAntique Tunbridgeware Checkered Pin Cushion & Spinning TopRare Vintage Young Child Pin Cushion Doll Numbered 6622 Plus 64 In Red. VgcRare Male Model*german Figural Figural Pin Cushion Doll*germany Half DollAntique Vtg Victorian 1890s German Pin Cushion Card Lithographed Cover Hf NeussLarge 4.1 Art Deco Carl Schneider? Dutch Lady Pin Cushion/ Half DollMade In Japan Luster Pin Cushion Clown With Drum NrMade In Japan "pig Band" Three Porcelain Pin Cushion Set NrVintage Sewing Pin Cushion: I Think, A Bunch Of Fruit, So CoolGerman Half Doll Legs Pin Cushion Pink And Gold 925 Silver Figural Rocking Horse Pin Cushion,Vintage 1920's Art Deco Fine German Pin Cushion Bisque Porcelain Doll No 5842Made In Japan Gold Luster Bonzo-look Dog Pin Cushion NrEarly 20thc Native American Papoose Pin Cushion W 24 Views Of Lincoln NebraskaBrass Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion !! Luster Pincushion Charlie Chaplin Posed Boy With 3 Murano Style Glass Bead PinsMade In Japan Pin Cushion Gold Luster Cat With Unusual Expression Nr~vintage~antique~sterling~silver~pearl~"pin-cushion"~brooch~pin~pendant~29.5g~nrBeautiful Antique Pin Cushion Half Doll Hand Painted Porcelain Figurine GermanyMade In Japan Luster Duck Pin Cushion Wings Out NrUnique Vintage / Antique Cloth Figural Man PincushionAntique German Porcelain Half Doll Pincushion Lady Figurine Yellow Feather HatSmall Vintage Pin Cushion! Ooak Janie Comito - Clara Spring Chicken - 2008Antique China Head Boy Pin-cushion DollVintage Porcelain White Cat Pin Cushion Shabby ChicMade In Japan Black Americana Boy With Watermelon And Pin Cushion Nut NrEstate Sewing Bird Clamp Velvet Cushions No Reserve Vintage Half Or Pincushion Doll Made In Japan Finished With SkirtVintage Enesco Hen Pin Cushion With Retract Measuring Tape Thimble Pins W/labelVintage Indian Baby Pin Cushion - Papoose - Leather Strap - Native AmericanVintage Ceramic Cat With Sawdust Pin Cushion & With Tape Measure Tongue (35 In.)Antique Sewing Bird Type Pin Cushion / Box With Clamp, C.19cVintage Chalkware Lady Pin Cushion Full Ruffled Skirt Beige/brown