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    

Wonderful Antique Sterling Silver Pincushion By S. Kirk & Son Co.* Circa 1900Rare Antique Novelty Hedgehog Silver Pin Cushion Birmingham 1908 Adie & LovekinRare Antique Sterling Silver Strawberry Emery Sewing Pin Cushion Top Part SignedInteresting Antique Pin Cushion & Tape Measure Cow Bone Vintage Emery Pink Strawberry Pin Cushion, Hand Made Velvet, Glass BeadsAntique Sterling Silver Topped Strawberry Emery * American * Circa 19001800' Victorian Sailors Valentine Shell Art Pin Cushion Dresser Box With MirrorsVtg Antique Cloth Velvet Victorian Strawberry Shaped Pincushion Pin Cushion NrSampson Mordan Hm 1907 Silver Novelty Hatching Chick Pin Cushion Antique ChesterMisc Lot Antique Sewing Pin Cushions Strawberries Teacup Kit W/ Thimble2014 Ooak Janie Comito~ Petite Bijou Pin Cushion Inspired By Victorian ButtonSterling Silver Elephant Pin CushionSampson & Mordan Sterling Silver Duck Pin Cushion Chester 1913Antique Shakespeare Design Pin CushionAntique Pin Cushion / Pin Wheel Rare Antique Bogwood Irish Design Kettle Pin Cushion Bog Oak NrAntique Victorian Advertising Pin Card H F Neuss Made In Germany Glass Pins4 Piece Strawberry Emery Pincushion Pin Cushion Lot Neat! Huge Strawberry! Nr!Art Deco German Porcelain Bathing Beauty Belle Pin Cushion Half Doll RelatedPin Cushion Half Doll-equestrian Lady Rider- Crop-horse Race-germany2 Antique Vintage Pin Cushions-bisque Porcelain Elephant& ShellArt Deco Half Doll Whisk Broom Frozen Charlotte Pin Cushions VintageVintage Elegant Lady Holding Dog Half Doll Pin Cushion NrStunning Antique Sterling Silver Pin Cushion With Engraved Design On Shaped FeetAntique Fasold & Stauch Beautiful Nude Pin Cushion/half DollVintage Ardalt Pink Spaghetti Poodle Figurine Scissor Glasses Pin Cushion RareA Vintage Sewing Pin Cushion Tape Measure C1930sPretty Hp Vintage Pin Cushion Half Doll 4 1/2" 18th Century Lady With TrayVintage Pincushion Doll Missing Doll Just Cushion. Antique Rare Metal Turtle Pin CushionAntique German Lady Dresser Doll*trinket/powder/box/pot*germany Half DollAntique Bisque Porcelain Pin Cushion ~ Model Of Fish ~ Salmon / Trout ~ GermanPin Cushion Half Baby Doll With Movable Arms- BisqueAntique Sterling Silver Wingtip Style Shoe Pin Cushion Nr Antique Sewing Pin Cushion Hatpin Holder Vanity Pillow W/ Silk & Metallic LaceRare Antique German Porcelain Doll Hand Pin Cushion Sew Figural Figure SleeveVintage German Porcelain Pin Cushion Half DollLarge Antique Lady Legs*german Pin Cushion Doll*half Doll Germany W/bloomersVintage Porcelain Pin Cushion 2 Half Doll Lot , Japan -unique Small Bronze Pheasant Bird Design Pin CushionAntique Sterling Silver Shoe Pin Cushion NrSterling Silver Elephant Pin CushionNovelty Sterling Silver Pin Cushion3 Vintage Tramp Art Folk Art Tin Can Dollhouse Chairs Pin Cushions Velvet SeatsVintage Wood Pedestal Pink Pin Cushion Thread Spool Holder Sewing Notions Caddy1925 Chalkware Pincushion Doll. Kg Vintage Turquoise Mouse Pin Cushion Tape Measure Fabric Handmade 1950's?Novelty Sterling Silver Pin CushionAntique Mauchline Ware Pincushion Brighton Aquarium West Pier & Beach BrightonVintage Brass Pin Cushion In The Form Of An OwlVintage Celluloid Sewing Pin Cushion Flowers In Canoe Germany Emery Needle Cleaner Sharpens Sewing Needles Like Strawberry Pin Cushion Dog - Black Ceramic Poodle Japan - Vintage Sewing Item Pin Cushion Tape Thimble2 1/2" Tall Porcelain Half Doll Pin Cushion Made In Japan Vintage Oriental Doll Pin CushionAntique Square Sewing Pin Cushion Pillow Late 1930'sJapan Luster Standing Boy Pin Cushion And Thimble Holder Beautiful Vintage Pincushion Doll / Half Doll With Legs ~ GermanyAntique Vintage Porcelain Victorian Woman Pin Cushion Made In GermanyAntique Victorian Pin Cushion Glass Seed Beads White & Gold