Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tomato Pincushion Excitement

After discussing them at knitting group last Thursday, I wanted to find a reason for why the traditional pincushion is a tomato with a strawberry attached to it.

As odd as it is for a strawberry to be attached to a tomato, I understand that it is filled with emory so that a person can sharpen his pins. Strange visual, but highly practical. As for why a tomato, I found a somewhat suitable answer.

During the 15th century, metal pins were very expensive, and thus were usually stored in fine cases. During the Tudor Era, however, it became a common practice to use fancy cushions. Later, during the Victorian Era, parlor rooms were all the rage, and the goal of the typical housewife was to stuff it full of opulent clutter. Pincushions began to come in fancy shapes, such as fans, dolls, shoes, fruits, and vegetables. These cushions were displayed on tables and hung from walls. In the 1800's they began to be mass-produced, and the tomato proved to be the easiest to assemble because of its simple design. Apart from that, the different segments proved useful in separating and sorting pins of different lengths and thicknesses. Now the tomato is still in use because it has become iconic of the entire sewing community (and yes, there IS a sewing community).

The strawberry tassel, believe it or not, is actually filled with emory (fine grain sand) and serves as a needle/pin sharpener. Even most seamstresses seem to be unaware of that.

Retrieved from AnswerWiki.

I wish I could have found a more reliable source but for tedious downtime research, this serves my purposes. It also makes me want to bring back either the fancy pincushions of the Tudor era or the whimsically shaped ones of the Victorian era. I do wonder, though, how informed the Victorians were of Voodooism when they decided that doll-shaped pincushions were a brilliant idea.


Lisa said...

I have a tomato cushion sans strawberry..:( I need a strawberry

The Worlds Dresser said...

I'm so glad I ran across this!

RoseThistleArtworks said...

Thanks! I've always wondered about that.

I love making custom wool sculptures that can be used as pin cushions. I can make anything your heart desires! Just contact me at or at

Sunny Kristi said...

Interesting story. I've never had a tomato pin cushion, but my mom and her mom had them. I never really thought "why tomato" other than someone just mass produced them and that was all that was available commercially. I wonder who that woman is on all the needle threaders?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the info ive been up all night looking for 12 year old boy and in home ec and am gointo get extra credit that i might need for giveing her this info.