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    

Antique Hm1907 Silver Hat Pin Stand Pin Cushion Ring Stand Scottish Amethyst NrAmazing Victorian Art Nouveau Gorham Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Pin CushionAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Bunny Rabbit / Hare Pin CushionAntique Souvenir Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion / Disc * French / Belgian * C1900Antique Sitzendorf Large Nude Pin Cushion Half Doll"antique Solid Silver Cherub Pin Cushion" Very PrettyLarge Art Deco Flapper Lady With Mohair Wig Pin Cushion / Half DollAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Piggy Pig Pin CushionMade In Germany Half Doll Begging Dog Pin Cushion With Luster Hat Thimble HolderRare Art Deco Gebruder Heubach Articulated Head Pin Cushion Half Doll On LegsAntique Cow Bone Carved Pin CushionAntique 1894 French Lyon Exhibition Pin Cushion Foil Painting Bevelled Glass VgcEarly Velvet Fruit Strawberry Pin CushionRare Antique Sterling Silver S Kirk & Son Pin Cushion Repousse Rose & Flower NrStunning Large Clean Antique B1925 Solid Sterling Silver Brogue Shoe Pin CushionAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Little Pig Pin CushionAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Pig / Wild Boar Pin CushionVintage Antique Estate Sterling Silver Alvin Pin Cushion 2 Hat Stick Pins 51gr1 Lot German Tea Dolls Or Pin Cushion Dolls And Bathing Beauty PartsAntique Native American Woodlands Indian Sewing Pocket / Purse / Pin CushionAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Shoe Pin CushionLovely Antique Victorian German Porcelain Half Doll On Original Pin Cushion YqzAntique*german Figural Flapper Lady Pin Cushion Doll*germany Half Doll*earringsAntique Metal Painted Dog Pin Cushion Sewing MiniaturePrimitive Antique Style, Brass Victorian Figural Kitten Cat Sewing Pin CushionEarly Antique Flint Glass Pin Cushion Sewing Needle Holder 1800sVintage Strawberry Pin Cushion Plus AnotherMade In Japan Black Americana Boy With Hat Pin Cushion And Glass Bead Pins NrAntique Victorian Style Sterling Silver Owl Pin CushionVictorian Heart Shaped Velvet Pin Cushion Sewing NotionsAntique Germany Porcelain Half Doll Pincushion Sewing Coy Flapper Christmas RedLot Vintage Sewing Goodies Notions-thread-buttons-pincushion-thimbles-shears+++-Vtg Porcelain Art Nouveau Flapper Pin Cushion Half Doll W/fan Raised Arms GermanMade In Occupied Japan Pin Cushion Swans And Boat With Spun Glass Bead Pins NrMade In Japan Pin Cushion Big Red Hat Girl NrAntique Late Victorian Beadwork Pin Cushion - Victorian Beaded Pin Cushion C1890Vintage Sewing Collectibles - Owl Pin Cushion/scissors And ShoePristine Unused Antique 1800's Bronze Silk Thread Pin Cushion Pincushion QuiltedUnsual Small New England Indian Antique Ash & Sweetgrass Pincushion BasketVintage Elegant Florenza Poodle Pin Cushion NodderEngland Connoisseur Thimble With Red Roses & Older Pin Cushion Chair One Penny!!Made In Japan Luster Cat With Heart Suit Pin Cushion And Spun Glass Bead Pins NrMade In Japan Bisque "big Eye" Sitting Boy With Pin Cushion Hat NrAntique German Figural Lady Pin Cushion Half DollVintage Pin Cushion And Sewing BoxAntique Vintage Dog Pin Cushion W Tape Measure Tail Japan 3" PuppyRare Antique Sterling Silver S Kirk & Son Pin Cushion Repousse Rose & Flower NrAntique Figural Strawberry Sewing Emery Miniature PincushionsMade In Japan Large Calico Style Dog With Star Shaped Pin Cushion NrAntique Sewing Kit Lot Thimbles, Needle Sets, Pin Cushion !!! Look !!! Deal !!! Lot Of 7 Vintage Pin Cushions 4 Tomato 2 Strawberry 1 Chicken 4 Sharpeners ExVtg Estate Sewing Needle Pin Cushion Gold Poodle Dog Stanger Stauger FlorenzaMade In Japan Bisque Girl With Basket Pin Cushion And 3 Spun Glass Bead Pins Nr Antique Wooden Sewing Box, Sterling Pin Cushion, Birmingham, England, C. 1900Foo Dog Porcelain, Luster Pin Cushion Made In JapanPorcelain Lion Pin Cushion Vintage Lusterware Straight Edges Made In JapanVintage Small Travel Gold Tone Metal Pincushion + Tape Measure 1 1/2" RoundMade In Japan Pin Cushion Duck And Rabbit Figures NrCivil War Lady Thread HolderAntique Cast Metal Pin Custion Shoe / Missing Pin Custion