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]

Sense & Sensibility Patterns

Sense & Sensibility Patterns

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    

Antique Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion / Disc * Circa 1890sAntique Silver Plated Rooster Pin Cushion * English * Circa 1890Antique Cast Iron Sewing Bird Pin Cushion Dolphin Shape Berlin Iron C.1820Antique Beaded Velvet Pin Cushion / Disc * English * Circa 1880Antique German Pin Cushion Half Doll On Lavender Filled BaseLot Of 3 Pairs Of Antique German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half Doll LegsLarge Antique Fasold & Stauch Elizabethan Lady Pin Cushion Half Doll 11 CmsLarge Antique Fasold & Stauch Spanish Senorita Pin Cushion Half Doll 11.3 CmsLot Of 3 German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half DollsVintage Silver Plate Fireman Helmet Novelty Pin Cushion AntiqueFabulous Original Art Deco Porcelain Dolls Head For Sewing Pin Cushion German? CAntique Carved Bone Basket Pincushion W/ Brass Handle * English * Circa 1850Superb Antique Porcelain Half Doll Sewing Pin Cushion Georgian Lady German? ILarge Antique German Carl Schneider Duchess Of Devonshire Pin Cushion Half Doll2 Antique German Porcelain Pin Cushion Ladies Half Doll Fasold & Stauch FigurineLarge Antique Fasold & Stauch Pin Cushion Half Doll 10.5 CmsVintage Sewing Notions Huge Lot Approx. 160+ Items Pin Cushions Thread Nos Etc.Fabulous Original Art Deco Porcelain Half Doll For Sewing Pin Cushion German? AVintage Half Doll Tea Cosy / PincushionArt Deco 1920s Style Porcelain "bathing Belle" Lady Figurine Pin Cushion Doll 2017~january Bright~pin Cushion: Beads, Buttons & Pretty Pins!~ooak Janie ComitoContinental Half/pincushion Doll In 18th Century Clothes - Orange Bow/blue TopAntique French Sterling Silver Enamel Pin Cushion With White VelvetTerrific Art Deco 1920s Style " Bathing Flapper Lady" Figurine Pin Cushion DollQuirky Vintage Pewter Set Of 14 Animal Orchestra Theme Miniature Pin CushionsAntique Fasold & Stauch Coy Lady Pin Cushion Half DollSuperb 1920's Style Bisque Elegant French Marie Antoinette Half Pin Cushion DollStunning "great Gatsby" Dancer Lady Art Deco 1920's Style Pin Cushion Half Doll Superb 1920’s Goebel “style* Bisque Half Pin Cushion Doll ~great For DressingMiniature 2" Antique Porcelain Half Doll Pin Cushion Demi Figurine Girl BonnetSuperb Original 1910/20s Porcelain Pierrot Doll For Sewing Pin Cushion German? DContinental Half/pincushion Doll Pink Hat With Green Ribbons - Arms AwayBeautiful Boudoir Pin Cushion Half Doll 1920's Style ~ French Court Society LadyVintage Porcelain Woman Half Doll Pin CushionFabulous Original Art Deco Porcelain Half Doll For Sewing Pin Cushion German? BSuperb Antique Porcelain Half Doll Sewing Pin Cushion Georgian Lady German? HArt Deco 1920s Style Porcelain "bathing Belle" Lady Figurine Pin Cushion Doll Beautiful Art Deco Style Nude Dancing Lady Pin Half Pin Cushion Doll Antique German China Porcelain Grey Half Doll Powder Puff Topper Pin CushionBeautiful 1920's Art Deco Style ~ Young Dancing Lady ~ Large Pin Cushion Doll Beautiful 1920's Style Madame Pompadour Nude Lady Large Pin Cushion Half Doll Great Art Deco Style 1920's Flapper Lady With Cloche Hat ~half Pin Cushion DollVintage Souvenir Niagara Falls Metal Shoe Pin Cushion With PinsAn Art Deco 1920s Style Porcelain "bathing Belle" Flapper Lady Pin Cushion DollWonderful Large Bisque 1920's Style Madame De Pompadour Pin Cushion Half DollBeautiful 1920's Art Deco Style ~ Beautiful Dancing Lady ~ Half Pin Cushion DollAntique Sewing Bird Clamp With Cutting BladeAntique Brass Footed Pin CushionSuperb Art Deco 1920's Style Porcelain Pin Cushion Doll ~bathing Beauty Pin-upAntique Half Doll Small Pin Cushion Doll 1½ With Dress 2½ Tiny Vintage MiniatureExquisite Art Deco Style 1920's "dutch Flower Lady" ~ Half Pin Cushion DollVintage Metal Bobble Head And Tail Turtle PincushionBeautiful Pin Cushion Half Doll Art Deco Style Exotic Dancer Lady With CastanetsSuperb Art Deco 1920's Style Bathing Beauty Figurine Pin Cushion Doll Pair Of Early 1900s Antique Dog Pin Cushions - No Reserve!Continental Half/pincushion Doll In Orange Top And Hat - Possibly Repainted?Vtg. German Porcelain Half DollVintage Germany Arms Away Half Doll 17039 As FoundBeautiful 1920's Style French Court Society Lady Jointed ~half Pin Cushion Doll Beautiful Quality 1920's Art Deco Style "romantic Couple” Half Pin Cushion Doll