Category Archives: Into the Sewing Box

history of pincushion

The Pin and the Pincushion

As a new blog feature ‘Into the Sewing Box’ we’re delving into our haberdashery stash and discovering the curious history of sewing paraphernalia that we all know and love.

Marna Lunt Pincushion
The History of the Pincushion

The pincushion is a sewer’s best friend, quietly sat beside you at the sewing machine and your right hand man during your embroidery projects, this is a little blog post about our faithful friends the pin and the pincushion. As an embroiderer’s essential aid the pincushion is a safe home for pins, with a rich history the pincushion is still a trusty tool that can be found in the modern sewing box.

Pins 1620-1800 (made)
Pins 1620-1800 found on collections.vam.ac.uk

I’ll start with the pin; although now considered a cheap haberdashery staple (admittedly easy to sprinkle around the house waiting for unsuspecting toes) the pin was actually a delectable treat for embroiderers. So expensive in fact, men set aside ‘pin money’ for their wives as an allowance for their sewing supplies. Pins, needles and threads were incredibly expensive, made before the days of the machine pins were created by hand. And so the pincushion was born – a means to keep precious, pricey pins safe.

 

The pastime of embroidery was for the rich, so much so, the pincushion became a symbol of status, often worn from the waist like a chatelaine and even mentioned in wills and lists of assets!

Vintage Pincushion
Pincushion dated 1730-1769 found on collections.vam.ac.uk

The Layette pincushion is a curious object originating from the 17th Century; presents created for new mum’s to welcome little ones into the world, with names, dates and messages spelled out with pins. A pincushion was a very precious gift to give, as pins were used to fasten blankets to babies an alternative than stitched garments, so the blanket could be adjusted as the child grew.  Typically the Layette Pincushion was given after a baby had arrived because it was considered bad luck to name a child before it was born. Furthermore perhaps pushing into superstitious themes of voodoo, inserting pins into a pincushion was believed to inflict pain during birth. The Layette Pincushion was a present made with considerable skill; the cushion was often made with silks, which would easily disintegrate with too many pin holes.

Pincushion
Layette Pincushions collections.vam.ac.uk

When the industrial revolution arrived, so did the machine woven cloth, printed fabric became more accessible and items such as the pin and needles became readily available in the sewing basket. Along with the machine, life became a little easier and time was freed up, sewing was transformed from laborious domesticated tasks, to decorative embroidery projects. But through this revolution the pincushion remained an imperative element to the sewing basket.

Most of us have the famous red tomato pincushion, but why on earth a tomato?? Generally tomatoes were used in the household to repel evil spirits, often given as a housewarming gift to attract good spirits to a new home. But because tomatoes have a short shelf life unsurprisingly was a tricky gift to give, so people made fabric versions, the pincushions were stuffed with sawdust, wool or emery to preserve and keeps the pins sharp.

Found on elizabethhousestlouis.blogspot.co.uk
Found on elizabethhousestlouis.blogspot.co.uk

By just dipping my toe into the world on pincushions; it’s safe to say they derive from some very superstitious stitchers! It also suggests that the sewing basket was in fact a treasured and sacred item in every household, so next time you delve into your sewing box – think about your friend the pincushion and the good luck it brings to your sewing projects.

history of the thimble

An Unexpected History of the Thimble

As part of this month’s blog feature ‘Into the Sewing Box’ we’re delving back into our haberdashery baskets and unearthing a truly wonderful and ever so curious history of the thimble. Considered a trusty accomplice to the embroiderer; a body guard for delicate fingers that sew. Whether your thimble is a triumphant win from a Christmas cracker, your lucky token during a game of Monopoly or a proudly inherited thimble to add to your sewing stash, the thimble is believed to date back to the Roman era… but it has certainly influenced some rather curious parts of our history!

Found on thimblecollector.blogspot.fr
Found on thimblecollector.blogspot.fr

Deriving from the simple name “thumb-bell”, the shapes and materials have evolved over time alongside the name, affectionately adapted, now known as the thimble. The thimble can be made from leather, rubber, wood or china – reminding me of my Grandma’s rather kitsch collection of china thimbles adorned with Your Majesty’s face. It’s main purpose is to, of course, help delicate fingers push needle and thread through fabric or leather, an imperative aid for avid sewers. But you’ll never guess the wild side of the thimble….

Dating back to the 1800’s the thimble was not only a sewing box staple but a drinking buddy, helpfully measuring out spirits – explaining where the phrase ‘just a thimbeful’ must come from. Although it has made me ponder the size of said thimbles, or do we have bigger drinking habits?? Hmmm.

IF
Found on antiquetrader.com

For those who think that embroidery isn’t sexy, exciting or controversial enough, think again! Ladies of the night tapped their fingers against windows whilst wearing thimbles to gently make their presence known. Whereas school mistresses used the thimble-knocking technique as a form of punishment against the head’s of misbehaving rogues.

Upcycled Thimble Pincushion. Found on sewmanyways.blogspot.co.uk
Upcycled Thimble Pincushion. Found on sewmanyways.blogspot.co.uk

Similar to that of the pincushion, during eras of the 19th century the thimble became a symbol of status often opulantly decorated and created from precious metals such as silver. However a silver thimble could often not be used, as the needle would pierce through the metal, a clever chap called Charles Horner solved this problem by lining the inside with steel!

Back in the Pride and Prejudice era a thimble would be given as a token of romance or love, and would be a popular gift to commemorate an important life event. If we think back to Peter Pan, the thimble was given as a gift because Peter believed that a thimble was a kiss! BUT as we discovered in the last ‘Into the Sewing Box’ blog there were plenty of superstitious sewing folk about, and their beliefs didn’t just stop at the pincushion. If a woman were to receive three or more thimbles as a gift, it was believed that she would never marry – although she would have a rather marvelous sewing stash!

Brooch by Textile Artist Hen's Teeth.
Brooch by Textile Artist Hen’s Teeth.

Just like the history of the pincushion, the story of the thimble is in fact a fascinating tale, something so small that often lies in the bottom of our sewing baskets has played a part in very curious parts of history! So next time you delve into your sewing basket to finish off your sewing project, you’ll never quite look at a thimble in the same way again!