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Wool Embroidery: A Victorian Pincushion

Updated on January 23, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

As a teacher at all levels and mother of five children, Bronwen has been interested in a variety of crafts for both children and adults.

What is a pincushion?

A pincushion is not really a cushion at all and it would be most uncomfortable to sit on. It is a soft but firm receptacle for storing dressmaking pins. It holds the pins by their being stuck in point first, with the 'heads' poking up so they can be easily grasped when needed.

Pincushions originated in medieval times in Europe and were very fashionable among ladies as they pursued their tasks of embroidery. The pins were kept in the pincushion and this helped to prevent their being dropped on real cushions. This probably gave rise to the witty verse that was often inscribed in autograph albums of the time:

"Mary Rose sat on a pin;

Mary rose."

During the Victorian era in Britain, pincushions were both popular and useful for ladies who enjoyed the pastime of embroidery. Pincushions arose in many different designs and a variety of materials was used in their manufacture. Making them almost became a pastime of its own and a topic of conversation among the polite conversation of ladies' sewing circles.

How to Make a Victorian Pincushion

Victorian pincushions, made mostly in the nineteenth century, varied greatly, according to the inspiration of the designer.

To make a pincushion based on a Victorian style that uses woollen embroidery there are a few things to consider. These include the design and the embroidery stitches that you may decide to use to make the completed article as pleasing as possible.

Designing the Pincushion

Methods of design vary. You may wish to be very specific in your design and use graph paper, or you may just have a picture in your mind and let it grow.

One way to proceed with the latter method is to embroider a few larger flowers and then to fill in the spaces left with smaller flowers and leaves, putting colours that are contrasting and pleasing when put together. This can be especially useful if you are using up odds and ends of tapestry wool left over from previous projects.

Whichever way you choose to proceed you can create a design that is uniquely your own.

Stitches for Original Designs

The type of stitches you choose to sew will depend on your personal taste and the design you have chosen for your pincushion. You can keep it simple and use only two or three different types of stitch.

Grub or bullion roses: These roses were very popular in Victorian times and can look very effective. They are not difficult to do. Anchor the yarn with small backstitches on the back, push the needle through to the front at the centre of where you intend to embroider the rose. Hold the needle between your thumb and forefinger and wind the yarn around the needle, keeping the yarn fairly loose. Make more twists than you think you need, then holding the twists firmly with the thumb pull the needle through. At a short distance from where you began, push the needle through to the back of the work again. By starting at the centre of the rose you will need to have smaller 'petals' and they will become longer as you work your way out to the edge of the flower.

French Knot: French knots are useful for the centre of flowers and are made in the same way as the bullion rose stitch, except that they will be smaller. You can also make them with more twists and use them as petals for smaller flowers.

Satin Stitch: This is a straight stitch as seen on the edges of the base in the image showing the underside of the pincushion. It can also be used for filling in other flower shapes that may then be outlined in lazy daisy stitch; in this case, the length of the satin stitches will probably vary, according to the shape and size of the petals.

Measure and Cut the Square of Aida
Measure and Cut the Square of Aida | Source

Assemble the Materials Needed

Before beginning, it is a good idea to make sure you have all the materials necessary.

  • Fourteen count Aida is suitable and makes a good base for woollen embroidery
  • A ruler and pen or pencil
  • A small pair of scissors
  • An ordinary needle and cotton thread
  • A crewel needle
  • Embroidery wools in a variety of compatible shades
  • Stuffing - sufficient to be able to stuff the pincushion firmly

Underside of Pincushion, Edges Joined
Underside of Pincushion, Edges Joined | Source

The Steps in Making Your Pincushion

The steps in making the pincushion are fairly straightforward.

  1. Measure and Cut the Aida: To make the shape demonstrated the base to embroider needs to be square. I made mine 6" square, or about 15cm square, but you can cut it any size you wish.
  2. Oversew the Edges: Using the needle and thread, oversew all around the edge to prevent fraying.
  3. Embroider: Following your design hold the Aida base flat as you stitch. Remember to leave the edges not decorated at this stage, although you can do the satin stitch near the edge.
  4. Join the Edges: When the design is complete fold the square as shown on the view of the underside above and join three of the edges using satin stitch.
  5. Stuff the pincushion: Make sure it is really firm. Cotton stuffing is good or any material that will keep your pins in good condition. I stuffed one pincushion with lavender. It smelled wonderful each time I stuck pins back in, but sadly, after a while the pins rusted. Don't try using lavender!
  6. Sew the Final Edge: When the pincushion is well stuffed sew the final edge firmly.
  7. Cover the Central Join: I found it was difficult to make the centre really neat so it helped to make a few small flowers or french knots to hide it.
  8. Add pins: Now you have a lovely, decorative Victorian style pincushion that is on its way to becoming a family heirloom.

The Top of the Completed Pincushion
The Top of the Completed Pincushion | Source


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    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Ninasvoice: Thank you. I know the feeling! That's why I'm glad I made this pincushion. Have fun!

    • Ninasvoice profile image

      Ninasvoice 5 years ago from England

      What a beautiful hubpage. Great idea! I'm going to have to have ago at making one of these as i'm forever losing pins. My feet have no problems finding them again, which can prove painful :-P

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      ktrapp: Thank you. It was a lovely surprise. Thank you for your comments, too.

      RTaloni: Thank you! The Victorians were really adept at making some very pretty and useful things.

      The Dirt Farmer: It was a fun project and I'm glad I did it. The result will probably keep for years.

      Thelma Alberts: Embroidery can be fun. I don't think I'm particularly good at it, but it's useful and enjoyable.

      Lipnancy: How sweet! Thank you.

      faythef: It really was a surprise. I'm delighted. Thank you for your comments.

      ChitrangadaSharan: Wool is good to work with and I prefer pure wool, rather than synthetics. I'm so glad you're going to try; it's not really very difficult.

      LA Elsen: I know from experience how difficult it is to get into projects with little ones around, but they grow up so quickly - enjoy! There will be time later.

      pstraubie48: It's quite good at holding the pins, actually. Thank you for your congratulations - and for the angels!

      kingsingh: Thank you, I was surprised and not expecting it. Thank you for your congratulations and comments.

      rebeccamealey: I love those hand-made things from the past, they mean so much, don't they? Thank you for your comments, too :-)

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      This is simply awesome BlossomSB. This looks like a project to keep us connected with the past. I have two doilies that each one of my grandmother's crocheted, so I do so relate to this. Congratulations on HOTD, you go girl!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      You are so clever. I have never seen a pin cushion like this. It is too pretty to hold pins.

      Congrats on HOTD .

      Sending Angels to you :) ps

    • LA Elsen profile image

      LA Elsen 5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      I am in love with this little pin cushion. It is so lovely. When my little one is more self-sufficient I am going to jump back into my art projects and this is going to the top of the list.

      Such a nice hub too.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      This is lovely. I love working with wool, whether it is knitting or crochet. But this idea is something I am definitely going to try.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • faythef profile image

      Faythe Payne 5 years ago from USA up an congrats to you for making hub of the day

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Congratulations on being the hub of the day. It is well deserved.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

      What a beautiful pincushion! Congrats on the HOTD award. The pincushion reminds me of my embroidery subject when I was in high school. Thanks for sharing;-)

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Congratulations, Blossom! Proud to say I visited (and enjoyed) this hub before it became a star. Lovely presentation & fun topic. All the best! Jill

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for a neat look at making Victorian style pincushions. Your example is beautiful and inspiring. Congrats on a lovely Hub of the Day!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      My remember a store-bought pin cushion my mother had, sort of tomato shaped. Your embroidered Victorian pin cushions are beautiful. Congratulations on Hub of the Day.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      AudreyHowitt: It's fun, too.

      JohnMello: Thank you.

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 5 years ago from England

      Voted up and useful :)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

      Just beautiful!!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      joanveronica: My mother and I used to do that together, too! Good times.

      Marcia Ours: Thank you. They're not really difficult, just take a little time.

      cuttler: I don't think I'm so wonderful at embroidery, but I enjoy doing it and creating things. Thank you for your comments.

      Eiddwen: Dear Eddy, thank you.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      So interesting Blossom which I have to vote up,across and share all around.


    • cuttler profile image

      Cuttler 5 years ago from HubPages

      This is awesome. Though am not good with tailory and needlework I find this fascinating. I admire the beauty in the simplicity of the designs. Thumbs up for this nice piece of work.

    • profile image

      Marcia Ours 5 years ago

      Pin cushions can really be beautiful. The one pictured is really beautiful!

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there, a good read that brought so many memories! My mother and I were dedicated embroiderers, we participated in social groups that contributed to charities and used our creations to produce money for their activities. Our products were usually sold at Bazaars. That was so long ago! Voted up, beautiful and interesting! Have a good day.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      tilsontitan: It was fun to make and practical, too. Thank you for your vote.

      dezalyx: No, it takes the pins very well and they haven't gone rusty either. Thank you for your comments.

    • dezalyx profile image

      dezalyx 5 years ago from Philippines

      Love the pin cushion in the photo. I hope it doesn't get ruined when you stick pins in it. Voted up!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      What a surprising topic. Your description and directions are fun and easy to read...I love the finished product and maybe introducing pin cushions to a new generation.

      Voted up, useful and awesome.


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