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    

Superb Rare Antique B1908 Solid Silver Novelty Garden Wheelbarrow Pin CushionArt Deco Masked Mardi Gras Flapper Lady Half Doll On Pin Cushion Base With LegsRare Silver Articulated Muzzled Bear Pin Cushion. Birmingham 1909 Maker HvpExceptional Antique Mother Of Pearl Pin Cushion / Disc * English * Circa 1830Sampson Mordan: Novelty Silver Hatching Chick Pin Cushion. Chester 1908Antique Sitzendorf Lady With Fan Pin Cushion Half DollCirca 1800's Spalted Oak Sewing Box W/pincushion & Drawer, NrVintage 1920s 3 Porcelain Good Quality Georgian Lady Pin Cushion Half DollsSmall Porcelain Half Doll Rabbit NrAntique Painted Tunbridge Ware Pincushion & Clamp * Gift Of A Friend * C 1800Victorian Carved Walnut Nut Shell Miniature Basket Pin Cushion SewingSolid Sterling Silver Hallmarked Rocking Horse Pin Cushion 50mms By 39mms Art Deco William Goebel Spanish Senorita Pin Cushion / Half Doll HeadAntique Wooden Embroidery Pin Cushion: Needlepoint Sewing Notions Sew Needle2 Yds Vintage 50s/60s Psyche Floral Cotton Fabric Cushions CraftAntique German Figural Lady Pin Cushion Doll*germany Half Doll*arms*completeawayVintage Mauchline Grand Union Hotel Saratoga Ny New York Sewing Pin CushionVintage Steel Pincushion With Fabric HolderVtg American Folk Art Hand Painted Steel Figural Pin Cushion Francis Poole YqzAntique Long Basketweave Silk & Wood Pin CushionSuperb Art Deco Dancer Pin Cushion Half DollPorcelain Small Half Doll Clown NrAntique German Porcelain Pin Cushion DollVintage Metal Swan Pin Cushion ExcellentAntique Vintage Sewing Dachshund Dog Pin Cushion Lead Pot Metal Antique German Pin Cushion DollVintage Tin / Metal Double Decker Thread Holder W Space For Pin Cushion-12 SpoolAntique Pin Cushion DollVintage Sterling Silver Pig Pin Cushion Excellent ConditionLarge 4 3/4" Antique Germany Figural Lady Pin Cushion Doll*german Half DollVintage Sewing Metal Pin Cushion & Thread Spool HolderMade In Japan Pin Cushion Gold Luster Daschund Type Dog NrVintage Porcelain Half Doll Pin Cushion W/dress & Bonnet Arms Akimbo Arms AwayVariety Threads, Tomato Pin Cushions, Clark's, Commercial? String Pins NeedleVintage Hat Pin Cushion Holder Brocade & 1 Doz. Plus Hat Pins Rhinestones/pearlPin Cushion Earlly 1930? CuteVintage Pin Cushion Tomato DesignVintage Red Tomato Wrist Pin Cushion With Needles & Pins, Made In JapanAntique Wood Pin Cushion W/ Drawer, 3 Hat Pins, 10 Wooden Thread Spools Sweet!~Antique Victorian Hat Pin Cushion W/hat Pins Matson Gold OrmoluAntique Revolving Thread Spool Holder & Pin Cushion Old Vintage Half Lady Pin CushionVtg Porcelain Little Duck Pin Cushion Marked Germany, Dated 1933 Vintage Half Dolls For Pin Cushion Japan Vintage Chicken/ Hen Pin Cushion W/ Flowers Around CushionAntique Chalkware Pin Cushion Half DollAuthentic Handmade Vintage 3d Star Shaped Pin Cushion Very Pretty Little Pin Cushion !!Large Vintage Antique Silver Plate Pin Cushion Hatching Chick Sewing NeedleworkMade In Japan Luster Pin Cushion Swan With Sleeping Children NrMade In Japan Pin Cushion Blue Luster Elephant Trunk Up Pulling Cart NrMade In Japan Pin Cushion Cat Playing Drum And Cymbal NrLot Of 3 Antique Vtg Depression Glass Buttons Gleaming Amber, Cushion Cut, DimiAntique German Half Doll- Large Flapper With Legs Pin CushionVintage Ceremic Poodle Sewing Caddy Collectible Measuring Tape Pin CushionBeaded American Indian Pin CushionVintage Victorian Asst. Sewing Notions Silk Thread Old Pin Cushions + Doll SizeVintage Sewing Bird Pin Cushion Sewing Clamp VictorianAntique Beaded Pin Cushion Nice Design And ColorsLot Of 4 Strawberry Shaped Pin Cushions