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    

Beautiful Rare English Antique 1888 Solid Sterling Silver Chatelaine Pin CushionRare Antique Figural Bellows Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion / Disc * Circa 1820Superb Rare Early Antique Georgian C1825 Solid Silver Novelty Basket Pin CushionC 1861 Civil War 34 Great Star Woven U.s. American Flag Hand Made Pin Cushion KsLovely Rare English Antique Victorian C1880 Tunbridge Ware Sewing Pin CushionLot Of 3 Pairs Of Antique German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half Doll LegsBeautiful Rare Antique Victorian C1880 Mauchline Tartan Ware Pin Cushion McbethAntique Carved Vegetable Ivory Pin Cushion * Circa 1890Large Half Doll Pin Cushion With LegsLot Of 3 German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half Dolls 1 Very Large 16 CmsAntique German Painted Porcelain Art Deco Flapper Girl Pin Cushion Half Doll RvhArt Deco Carl Schneider Flapper Lady Pin Cushion Half DollBeautiful Orig Antique 19th Century C1880 Tartan Ware Sewing Pin Cushion McduffAntique German Porcelain - Pin Cushion Half Doll - Madame Pompadour 4.5" H - VgcAntique Victorian German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half Doll Boy Jester Pierrot 1485Lovely 1920's Art Deco Style ~ Pin Cushion Half Doll "flapper" Lady With Mirror Lot Of 6 Vintage Miniature Bisque Pin Cushion Half Dolls Mostly German Antique Vintage Porcelain Flapper Half Doll W Legs Petite Pin CushionLot Of 4 Vtg German Bisque 2" Pin Cushion Half Dolls Little Girl Girls GermanyVintage Half Dolls Pin Cushion Porcelain Germany Japan 4 Craft Sewing W/flawsVintage Pin Cushion Half Doll Fasold & Stauch Young Girl With MaskAntique Victorian Sewing Bird Clamp Holder With Velvet Pin CushionAntique Figural Fretwork Cradle Pin Cushion / Disc * English * Circa 1820Antique Half Doll Vintage Pin Cushion Lot Of 5 Vtg Bisque Pin Cushion Half Dolls Mostly German Germany 3" To 3 3/4"Antique Mauchline Tartan Ware Round Pin Cushion Signed RamsayVintage Made In Germany Porcelain Broom Doll & 3 Half Dolls For Broom/cushionBeautiful 1920's Style Elegant French Court Society Lady~ Pin Cushion Half Doll Vintage Shaker Style Thread Holder And Pin CushionBeautiful 1920's Style French Madame Pompadour Nude Lady~ Pin Cushion Half DollSuperb Art Deco 1920’s Style Pair "pierrot Pierrette" Clowns ~pin Cushion DollsHantel Toybox Teddy Bear Thimble...v Tiny Chip To Back Of CushionVintage Diminutive "fat Tiger Cat" Novelty Pin Cushion - Very Good ConditionLarge Antique Fasold & Stauch Elizabethan Lady Pin Cushion Half Doll 10 CmsAntique Fasold & Stauch Coy Lady Pin Cushion Half DollAntique German Porcelain Lady With Fan Pin Cushion Half DollAntique German Fasold & Stauch Pin Cushion Half DollAntique C.1850 Pin Disc Pincushion From Weymouth EnglandAntique German Figural Bird Pin Cushion Half Doll / Brush TopperAntique German Porcelain - Pin Cushion Half Doll - 4" High - Tiny Chip To HatAntique Germany Hand Painted Porcelain Art Deco Nude Pin Cushion Half Doll Rvh 1853 Patent Antique Ornate Watermans Brass Sewing Bird Clamp - N.r.Exquisite Art Deco 1920's Style Mata Hari Lady & Cockatoo Half Pin Cushion DollAntique Fasold & Stauch Nude Lady Pin Cushion Half DollAntique Fasold & Stauch Pin Cushion Half DollFine Detailed Antique Solid Sterling Silver Swan Pin Cushion Heavy 58.6gStunning 1920s Art Deco Porcelain "pierrot" Female Clown Pin Cushion Half Doll Antique German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half Doll - #14644 - 4.5" High - Very GoodArt Deco 1920s Style Porcelain "bathing Belle" Lady Figurine Pin Cushion Doll Antique,leather Shoe Pin Cushion,this Is So Old, But It Does Have Leather WearAntique Carved Mother Of Pearl Emery/ Pin Cushion * Circa 1850Antique Carl Schneider Pretty Lady Pin Cushion Half DollAntique German Porcelain - Pin Cushion Half Doll - #16758 - 5" High - Very GoodCelluloid Victorian Sewing Pin Holder From George W. Thomas Savannah GeorgiaAntique German Porcelain Half Doll & Silk Pincushion With PinsAntique German Figural Budgie Bird Pin Cushion Half Doll / Brush TopperAn Art Deco 1920s Style "bathing Beauty Swimmer ~pin" Cushion Doll Porcelain Doll Head/torso, German 1920s-30s, For Pincushion (7176)Superb 1920s Style Regal "madame Pompadour With Fan" Pin Cushion Half DollVintage - German Made - Elephant - Small Diecast Novelty Pin Cushion - Vg Cond.