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    

Fine Genuine Antique Sampson Mordan 1906 Solid Sterling Silver Chick Pin Cushion3 Antique Sewing Tools-silver Tape Measure-stanhope Tape Measure-pincushionVintage Porcelain Half Doll For Pin Cushion (delicate Flower Design)Pretty Hallmarked Sterling Silver Cock Pheasant / Grouse Pin CushionNovelty Edwardian Style Solid Silver Bulldog Dog Pin CushionLarge Art Deco Flapper Lady Pin Cushion Half Doll With Mohair WigAntique Carved Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion * Circa 1850Antique German ? Detailed Arms Away Flapper Pin Cushion Half Doll SawdustOoak Janie Comito Forget Me Not Valentine ~pin Cushion Created 2015Vintage 6" Pin Cushion Pillow Ecru French Normandy Lace W Ruffle Trim Blue BowAntique Victorian Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion Wheel Beautiful Half Doll Pin CushionAntique Vintage Sewing Pin Cushion,gorham Sterling Silver,4780,with Several PinsSmall "turtle" Pin Cushion In Silver And Leather Stamped 925 - 5cm X 2.5cmArt Deco German Porcelain Flapper Lady Half Doll On Pin Cushion BaseAntique Fasold & Stauch Elizabethan Lady Pin Cushion Half DollVintage 1930s Celluloid Lace Crochet Hook & Advertising Pin Cushion Sewing ToolVelvet Strawberry Pincushion Pinkeep Sewing Emery Sterling Silver Antique HandleCollectable Edwardian Style Owl Pin Cushion Velvet Sterling Silver 925Very Rare Antique Engraved Horn Pin Cushion With Coat Of Arms And French SoldierAntique Mauchline Ware Pin Cushion / Disc * Seaford Scene * Circa 1890Vintage Sewing Thread Holder Plastic Box W/drawer & Accessories Pin CushionFasold & Stauch Half Doll On Pin Cushion Base With ParasolEarly 20th Century Bisque Doll-head Pin CushionAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Duck Sewing Pin CushionAntique Victorian Style Sewing Pin Cushion Pheasant Game Bird 4.7 Cm Or 2 "Vintage Pin Cushion Souvenir From Mount Washington Nh Antique Sewing CollectibleVintage Pin Cushion Wood & Velvet Devils Oven, Oven Isle Thousand Isles Sku 3038Vintage Shabby Antique Chic Porcelain Half Girl Woman Doll Pin Cushion Sterling Silver Antique Sewing Pin Cushion,gorham,4780Collectable Edwardian Style Teddy Bear Pin Cushion Velvet Sterling Silver 925Vintage Gorham Sterling Silver Pin Cushion ShoeVintage Pewter Dress Maker Pin Cushion Thimble Scissors ComboMade In Japan Pin Cushion "arm Out" Boy With Bucket NrPunch Needle Vintage Style Dress Pin Cushion Standing BaseAntique Victorian Velvet & Carved Cherry Mahogany Wood Base Stick Pin CushionAntique Sewing Bird Clamp W/ Pin CushionDritz Collectible Cushions Round Hat Box Domed Lid Keepsake Novelty New In BoxVintage Artmark Lion King Pin Cushion W/ Tape Measure & Scissors !!!Sewing Bird Patented Feb 15 1883Made In Japan Pin Cushion Colonial Man With Donkey And Cart NrWicker Wood Vtg German Sewing Basket~box Pin Cushion Thread Lot Vintage Wood Sewing Box Jewelry Chest With Cushion Misc SpoolsTwo Vintage Wooden Pin Cushions - Barrel & Clogs With Thimble HolderPrimitive Art Vintage Yellow Pear Velvet Pin CushionMixed Lot Vintage Sewing Notions Wood Spools Metal Bobbins Pins Pin Cushions Vintage Sewing Kit Ladies Head Lego Japan Pin Cushion Tape Measure With ThreadVintage Lamp Shade Pin Cushion W/ Tape Measure & Thimble - Blue !!!Made In Japan Pin Cushion Hummel-type Boy With 3 Spun Glass Bead Pins NrMade In Japan Matching Dutch Boy And Dutch Girl At Well Pin Cushions NrMade In Japan Pin Cushion Luster Elephant Pulling Carraige NrVintage Figural Antique Sad Iron Tape Measure & Pin CushionVintage Dove Pin Cushions Set Of 2 - CeramicGold Tone Product Milady Fair Pin Cushion 1975 Red Velvet Pin Cushion In PackageVintage Button & Daisy Milk Glass Cat Head Pin Cushion Shoe Vintage Pin CushionVintage Handmade Pin CushionTwo Vintage Made In Japan Pin CushionsMade In Japan Man With Satchel Pin Cushion NrPrimitive Art Vintage Apple Velvet Pin Cushion