Pretty, pompous pincushions!


Art for sure is as appealing in its abstractness as the worldly wonders of the organised. But it still does not harm for pursuers of these arts and crafts to harbour also order in their meanderings along the alleys of the aesthetic. Even when it is exploring one of the world’s oldest art forms either as a means to materialise needs or in the sheer enjoying of it as a hobby, the craft of sewing still calls for order to be maintained in its prominent pricks of the needle and threaded twisting of the tales. In fact so taken to in this organised belief of the proper sewing ‘etiquette’ has been the entire sewing enthusiasts of the world that the image of a Danish butter cookie tin storing within its fancy premise a whole lot of these sewing supplies instead of the biscuits stands out as an iconic exploration of this craft in clean categorization.

But while the Royal Dansk cookie tins, despite all their iconic status in popular reference might be but only a 20th century fad of storage sorting out in general the sewing supplies continuing well into the 2000s, not everything in the order of crafting across this art of immense unfurling across the realms of the imagination and taking therefore into account as many tools of its implementation happen to be such modern day musings of convenience. Rooted in the alleys of a time rather distant would be certain specific modes that has been making the whole sewing experience a breezy expanse to maneuver through, even when not so much in the intricacies of its many a techniques in employment. As something expressing first and foremost along the precarious runs of the needles and the pins, the whole assertion of this domain of the artistic needs to occur indeed in the prim and proper cushioning of these slender staples so crucial to the whole sewing saga.

cookie tin sewing supplies
Source: SAYS

And thus it entailed, as early as the Middle Ages itself, a very precious design in conveniently cutting out the prospect of those pricks in pain at least due to their surprising susceptibility to misplacement though not in the actual act of creating art in practical convenience out of them. Because while the latter exposure to the prickles of them ‘spears’ in sewing would be but the pride of an absolute dedication to this pursuit in all attentiveness, the former made for a case in a forever furthered human callousness, helped indeed by the notoriously nimble nature of the needle. Europe would be the expanse where these incredibly functional and still so ‘chic’ and symbolic as well pincushions emerged from, aptly named indeed in all their essence of cushioning all pins and needles in the infinite pricking of them.

The reason though why pincushions popped up in the sewing space originally was not so much a thought taking into consideration the commonplace menace of needlestick injuries as it was an alluding to the pricey character of the needles. Back then needles tended to be rather expensive agents in this particular craft of the sewing pan out in multiple assertions of creativity which made them treasures almost of the artistic kind. And thus they needed to be saved from getting misplaced or being lost altogether in the all engulfing complexities of the world for one to continue with their charms in weaving flair out of the fore of functionality. As small, pretty almost- or cute rather- cushions in harbouring that power in organisation of an entire universe of these sewing supplies, pincushions became very soon a common characteristic of the artistic pattern in which the seamsters and seamstresses of the times came to find uniform identity.

Before these ball like shapes of the pincushions or the pin- pillows or pin- poppets or whatever they were referred to as in closely related terms evoking that singular idea in bequeathing the pricks of the pins were introduced, these precious almost polishes of metals pointed at one end found confinement in boxes or cases secure enough to hold them safe and sound. But the classic and very evident tomatoey assertion of the pincushion would not come to be well until the Victorian times. Well manifested an identity of the pincushion even in today’s time, this traditionally red ball of some stuffing also happens to be as prominent now in its associated ‘fruit’ of the strawberry, with of course beliefs and practicalities embedded in this eking out of the definite pattern in its envisioning.

Earlier pincushions happened to be rather elaborate in their embroidered expanse spanning across the finery of fabric and emerging as fancy shapes surrounding a stuffing of cotton, wool, horsehair, or sawdust, or the more conducive filling of some amount of an abrasive called emery powder. Decorative most often in their vision, offering thus as aesthetic a mode in displaying that collection out of which would be crafted some really exquisite needlework, pincushions were quite the art themselves. But coming to dominate this resplendence of the art in the vivid brightness of that plump red tomato would be this standard making of pincushions that worked upon the belief of a tradition prevailing in those times.

During the period of the Renaissance or roughly sometime around the 15th century, it was common for tomatoes to find place of prominence on the mantelpiece of homes, regarded as they were to be just fruits that warded off evil and ushered in prosperity and good luck. Passing off as this symbolism in the ripe redness of the tomato when it wasn’t in season would be small balls made out of red fabric stuffed with sand or sawdust, complete with the evocative tomato imagery of those pops of green on top. And evolving along the times to rest in an importance that went beyond its alluding to the customs and manifesting more in sync with real world convenience would be these cushiony tomatoes that made indeed for very assertive seatings upon which pins and needles could be effortless made to prick and prevail.

tomato and strawberry pincushions

Whether tomato pincushions did indeed come to be in keeping with the turns of traditions does not amount as much to a matter in certainty as what it should be in the universal almost prominence of them even today. For the remarkable reign of the Victorian ravishes saw pincushions occurring also in the form of many a fruits and vegetables and taking upon shapes as diverse as that of shoes and fans and animals and dolls or even as elegant lady figurines. Why these by then essential premises of the pinned narrative found fancied and more popular expression during the Victorian times happens to stem from a more assertive interpretation of the sewing craft as art. As all varieties of sewing supplies became more affordable and as passionate enthusiasts of the wonders made possible by deft handing of the needle began threading their desires more over the demands of the tailored, there ensued a flurry of fancy work gaining reputation as the artistic epitomising of this craft in versatility. And from this tasteful take upon threaded tales did sewing and supplies and pincushions therefore began to be more coveted characterisations of a curiously charming craft.

It perhaps is another drawing of the pincushion from the Victorian times that the equally conducive aspect of needing to sharpen up the pins and needles came to be attended as well. Unfurling in no less prettiness was the strawberry made to attach itself invariably to the tomato shaped cushion, complete again with the stem in all typicalness serving in this case a purpose essentially furthering of the sewing technique as both fancy and ordinary. A stuffed fabric made strawberry filled exclusively with the emery powder noted in its impact upon sharpening and cleaning the pins stuck into it would inevitably dangle along with the tomato as the bouncy mass of a certain cutesy appeal evolved into even more functional a masking in strikingness.

Around the same time and along with the tomatoed assertion of the pincushion, these essentials encompassing many an elements of the embroidery appeared also equally prominently in the form of dolls apart from other manifestations. Resembling a typical china figurine of a feminine form and very showpiecesque indeed in its vision, the doll would however play out in all beauty only up to the waist at which point it would be mounted upon a pincushion by some iteration of design, often resembling a skirt made out of fabric to allow for convenient serving of the purpose for which it was intended.

Pincushions whether in their traditional tomato shape or in the more decorative design of the doll form might have been the most popular assertions of them. But there exists one very unique identification of the pincushion remarkably different in not just its appearance but also in emerging as a whole new entity altogether. Expressing itself as a stemming of the French word biscornu that which means quirky or irregular is this quirky for sure octagonal and ornamental pincushion charting out the pleasurable pricks of fame only as recently as the first decade of the current century. Two squares of cloth are sewn together and stuffed in the very classic mannerism of what renders pincushions their cushioned essence to have the biscornu come to life across the cross stitching expanse of the Aida fabric. Traditionally occurring in tiny enough a might just fitting into the palm of the hand with a button or bead sewn on the center of each side to dig dimples into them delicate delights of distinction, biscornus might not be the most classic of cushions for pins and needles of the sewing world to dig deep into for convenient standing. But in offering a different essence of the intriguing along the anyway interesting narrative of numerous needling nuances, it indeed is this version of the pincushion that strikes as being the oddity one would love to weave popular tales in.