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    

Rare Edwardian Novelty Silver Frog Pin Cushion - Adie & Lovekin Ltd - B'ham 1908Rare Antique Brass Acorn Pincushion * Circa 1890sArt Deco / Nouveau Carl Schneider Full Figure Lady Pin Cushion Half DollAntique Fasold & Stauch Gorgeous Nude Pin Cushion Half DollArt Deco German Porcelain Full Figure Flapper Lady Pin Cushion Half DollVintage Sterling Silver "elephant" Pin Cushion - Sheffield 1977 - 1.07ozEdwardian Style Miniature Cat Pin Cushion Velvet Sterling Silver 925Vintage Mid Century Stanger Gold Poodle Dog Velvet Pin Cushion & Thimble HolderArt Deco German Porcelain Pierrot Head Pin Cushion Half DollCharming Antique Novelty Cast Brass Owl Pin Cushion Circa 1900A Pewter Thimble Display Stand Pin Cushion And Scissors By A.p Williams Collectable Edwardian Style Poodle Dog Pin Cushion Sterling Silver 925Antique Fasold & Stauch Nude Pin Cushion Half DollAntique Mother Of Pearl Souvenir Pin Cushion / Disc * Belgium * Circa 1890Edwardian Style Pig Pin Cushion Velvet Sterling Silver 925Art Deco Oriental Man On Crumb / Vanity Brush Pin Cushion Half Doll RelatedArt Deco German Porcelain Pierrette Head Pin Cushion Half DollCollectable Edwardian Style Miniature Owl Pin Cushion Velvet Sterling Silver 9252 Vintage German Half Dolls Germany Porcelain Lady Pin Cushion Sewing 3" & 3.5"Antique German Porcelain Devil Pin Cushion Half-doll GermanyLarge Antique Fasold & Stauch Pin Cushion Half Doll 12.5 CmsStunning Antique German Elizabethan Queen Pin Cushion/ Half DollOak Emery Acorn Pin Cushion, Hand Made Spring Flowers DecorationLot Vintage & Antique Sewing Items Buttons Buckles Shoe Button Hook Pin CushionLarge Art Deco Fasold & Stauch Pin Cushion Half DollVintage Black Leather Beaded Shoe Pincushion With Strawberry Emory Bag In Case Art Deco Hertwig & Co Coralene Glasperlen Pin Cushion Half DollAntique English Sterling Silver Baby Shoe Pincushion * Hallmarked 1906Antique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Blue Velvet Shoe Pin CushionArt Deco German Porcelain Robin & Cockerel Pin Cushion Half Doll / Drip CatcherVintage Wayne M. Kleaki /okleski / Kleski Porcelain Lady Half Doll Pin CushionAntique German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half DollVictorian Heavily Beaded Velvet~silk Whimsey Souvenir Pin Cushion~niagara FallsFabulous Estate Lot Sterling & Silver Plate Animal Bird Figural Pin CushionsAntique Victorian Sailors Valentine Mirror Shell Pin Cushion Sewing Trinket BoxAntique 800 Silver Figural Shoe Pincushion Hanau? GermanAntique Victorian Hand Carved Walnut Base Pin CushionAntique Porcelaine Half Doll / Pin Cushion / Crumb Brush DollAntique Beaded Very Old Pin CushionVintage Ann Fuller Tape Measure Pin Cushion Thimble Doll Made In London England Antique*germany Lady Pin Cushion Doll*german Half Doll Legs~standingVintage Pin Cushion, Woman Gnome Server With Hat Pins And Campbells SoupHistoric (george Washington Colonial H.q.) Mauchline Wood Pin CushionVintage Crochet Lace Ribbon Work 1930s Pin CushionVintage Souvenir Pin Cushion Statue Of Liberty Measuring Tape Large Art Deco Fasold & Stauch Pin Cushion Half Doll 11 CmsVintage Victorian Shoe Pin Cushion..sewing NotionsFolk Art Pin CushionVintage Looking Sewing Items Iron & Spinning Wheel Pincushion & Tape MeasureVintage Sewing Pin Cushion Pumpkin - All Our Items No ReserveAntique Hoof Pin CushionVintage Porcelain Doll Pincushion Vintage Red Strawberry Pin Cushions, Hand Made, WoolRare Florenza Double Mushroom Pin Cushion, Cupid With HeartPapoose In Carrier Old Souvenir Mailing Pouch/pin Cushion 24 Pittsburgh Pa ViewsGreat Vintage Wood Bed Pincushion, Red Velvet Cushion, Storage Compartment1920 Bisque Doll Frozen Charlotte Upcycle Altered Art Sewing Pincushion FigureVintage Bird Hat Embellishment, Milliners Flower Centers, And Pin CushionVintage Metal Donkey W/cart Pin Cushion And Tape Measure/sweet!Vintage Florenza Turtle Pin Cushion