Pincushion fillings

biscornu 100Pincushions are marvelous things. I love being able to pull a pin by the head from a cushion and not get impaled by the points of the ones in the box that point the other way!

Pincushions are great gifts, work up quickly and are nice little showplaces for small bits of needlework.

biscornu 050513So, what do you stuff ‘em with?

If you use fiberfill they’re too light. They’ll sometimes jump away from a pin. You can fasten one down into a tin or a basket or maybe add a magnet to hold it to a steel surface, or you can weight them some other way, maybe a large rock in the bottom or a metal plate, and then stuff the top, but then the other problem comes in, fiberfill isn’t really tough enough to hold a pin. Bobs full of fiberfill make great things to add to tools to keep them from diving down into a workbasket. I have them attached to scissors since green strawberrythey“float” on top of whatever else is in the basket and I can fish the scissors out when I need them…but that’s not a pincushion….

Many cushions have been made of hair, usually horsehair, but human hair works, as well, or wool or even cotton fiber. These poof out the cushion very well and wool with the lanolin left in (or added….) will keep pins and needles from rusting. Cotton fiber will also wick away moisture. Unless weighted, these can roll away. Human hair must be very, very clean to use in a pincushion, though. For some reason various people have been told that it’s good for the needles. I’ve never found it so, but the worst part is that human skin oils are acidic and attack your needles! So, *don’t* use your hair combings! Use that in period style balls for kids to play with and either treat human hair like any other fiber or just don’t abuse your needles that way…

Many cushions are stuffed with sawdust or fabric scraps. These are usually heavy enough to hold a pin, but might let things rust, although they will stay put. Nutshells are good if they’re thoroughly dry and finely ground, but don’t just mash them up, leaving specks of nutmeat. The memory of a pincushion that suddenly seemed to be developing holes and then suddenly sprouted codling moth worms still makes me gag… …and please, please, PLEASE, don’t use steel wool potscrubbers unless you’re really into rust spots all over your fancy pincushion and steel needles that rust into wads that shred the cover as they pull back through!

So, what’s best? 

fillI’ve been using a filling in most of my cushions of sand and cedar sawdust mixed. It smells good and living by the ocean, goodness knows that sand is easy to come by! This is the stuff that I filled the biscornu (pic above) with. It settles well and is heavy enough to hold the cushion in place, although I admit to having Sash “hack” the biscornu to settle the stuff! More recently I’ve taken to adding ground, dried cedar fronds to the mix, since they smell good and keep bugs away.

motif sewing Pin tomatoEmery powder is crushed carborundum (aluminum oxide) It’s the stuff that the little strawberries that are attached to pin tomatoes are filled with. It is an abrasive that will help keep pins and needles sharp and oil & goop free.  Our hands have acids and oils in them naturally and those emerywill degrade the metals of needles, causing them to get rough and to pull on fibers instead of gliding smoothly through.

Emery will prevent this, and the fabrics that the cushion or strawberry is made of, act to pull off the oils, as well. The problem with a whole cushion of this stuff is that it is too much of a good thing. They’re heavy and they will wear down pins and needles that are left in them, so it’s best to have an emery cushion for cleaning and a different fill for storage. Wiki has a good article on emery.

purple garnetGarnet sand is another possibility. This purple variety is mined in Idaho. I mix it 1/2 and 1/2 by weight with cedar sawdust for use.

I have packets of this that I sell by the ounce and also packets of the beach sand and sawdust mix. I’m working on getting more cedar sawdust in….

fabricsAnother consideration if you’re trying to make pretty pincushions is that all of these materials will “walk” through the coarser fabrics that we use for embroidery. You can see why in the picture on the left. The left-most fabric is an old cotton percale sheet….cheap percale, maybe 200 count, but it’s a lot finer than the flannel at the top right, or the Aida at the bottom right. Make a lining for your pincushion of the sheet fabric to keep your fill where you want it! Right at the moment I’m wishing that I had made an inner-lining for the red & green cushion in the picture at the top of the page. Even made of a decent calico, it puffs dust when I move it, still!

needle & thread divider

Page Created 10/20/13 ©2013 M. Bartlett First Posted on June 8, 2013
Last Updated 1/4/17


5 Responses to Pincushion fillings

  1. Pingback: What Is The Right Thing To Put In Your Pincushion? – Needle Work

  2. R says:

    I have used walnut shells!

    • Walnut and filbert shells do work, but they have to be fine…and they can draw codling moths. Nothing worse than little wormies eating through the fabric of your pincushions. (…
      yes, that’s experience!)

  3. Minta Fung says:

    Someone suggested using the old fashioned stainless steel scrubbers (of course the one with no soap in them) that our parents used to scrub pans with to stuff pin cushions. It was supposed to keep the pins sharp and clean. What do you think?

    • What do I think? Well, it’s a recipe for rust on the surface of your pincushion and needles and pins stuck hard enough that if you pull on them hard enough you’ll tear the fabric. Yes, I’ve had it happen!

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