Let’s Talk Pin Poppets

My Fainting Couch Pin Cushion

Thanks to COVID-19, I have time to carefully gaze upon and consider various objects I live with. Today  I pay special attention to and ponder pin cushions. In the Middle Ages, pin cushions were called by several names, my favorite being Pin-Poppet (in no small part because that’s what Sharon Howell, my friend from across The Pond, calls me). Pin Poppets were a way to showcase prized collections of needles and pins. Having a plethora of pins and needles was an apparent status signal, probably because pins and needles were expensive to make or purchase, what with the need for swords and protective body armor being so great and all.

The familiar tomato pin cushion came into play during the Victorian era when tradition held that placing a tomato  on your mantel kept evil spirits at bay. (Next time maybe we’ll talk about my favorite way to keep the dreaded evil spirits moving on past my house: colorful bottles.) What to do when tomatoes were out of season? Grab some red cloth, fill it with sawdust or dirt, tie it up, and hope the evil spirits had wet macular degeneration. As was the hallmark of Victorian home decoration practice, it wasn’t unusual for women to fill parlors to the brim with  pin cushions of every hue and design, and their most prized pin cushion was always the ubiquitous tomato pin cushion that did double duty monitoring evil spirits and storing pins and needles.

I can’t remember ever owning a tomato pin cushion. Does that surprise you? My studio is a tiny little ole’ space, which means I don’t keep anything that isn’t cherished or needed, but I do stray towards excess when it comes to pin cushions. I have five, and they’re all favorites.

I discovered my Fainting Couch Pin Cushion in a little church bazaar in beautiful downtown Cashiers, NC. The price tag said $5, and the volunteer apparently misread my appreciative gaze with price reluctance because she immediately blurted out, “I’ll sell it to you for $3.” Money well spent, if you ask me. Not only can my pins and needles recline in comfort as they wait to be called into action, but there’s storage space underneath. All this for only $3.00 (I offered to pay her the full $5.00, but she wouldn’t take it.)


This little beauty comes from my friend Peggy Thomas, a woman who is fearless in the face of big projects like creating the searchable database for The 70273 Project (Speaking is that, Peggy and Gladys Loewen – also a wicked good organizer and fearless woman –  need volunteers to enter info, so if you know your way around Dropbox and an Excel sheet – or are willing to learn – and would like to do something productive and hugely appreciated by people around the world, let me know!) Isn’t it adorable?  It lives on my studio altar.

My friend and German Ambassador for The 70273 Project Uta Lenk gave me this pin cushion (gifted me the pins, too!) when I admired it while watching her stitch hexies during some down time at the Patchwork Gilde Exhibit in Celle, Germany a few years ago.

The Engineer surprised me with this heart-shaped wrist pin cushion – had it sent to me while I was staying with our daughter through some health issues she had several years ago. He heard me lament that I needed a pin cushion that went around my wrist, so he did what any amazing husband would do and went shopping to find one that’s heart-shaped. Perfect for a man who loves his wife (even after 47 years), the wife who was born on Valentine’s Day, right?

Last but definitely not least, this pin poppet belonged to my mother-in-law. I claimed it for myself after her death. She and I didn’t make quilts back then, but we did take many, many, many sewing classes together. Stretch ‘n Sew, to be exact. Remember that? And when The Engineer came into some money the first year we were married by winning a radio show contest, he went straight to his mother to ask what kind of sewing machine he should get me for Christmas. She sent him to the store to get one just like hers – an Elna  Super. I still use it. I wish I knew where she got this pin poppet, but that wouldn’t make me cherish it any more. As you can see, it’s made in colors of 1970s, and the base is velvet. It feels SO good resting in the palm of my hand.

Though I haven’t quite figured out all the details (I do already have the crushed walnut shells, though), I will eventually be making pin poppets from the tops to laundry detergent containers as soon as I get finished using them to draw circles for another project I’ll be telling you about later.

Now it’s your turn. You know I’d love to hear stories about your favorite pin poppets – ones you own, have inherited, or remember fondly. Feel free to use  my new, improved, easier-to-use commenting system or find me on Facebook or Instagram or join us around The 70273 Project Facebook Campfire to regale me with all your pin poppet stories.


  1. piecefulwendy

    Pin poppets – what a fun name! I am in a pin cushion swap, so I get a new pin cushion each month. I am gathering quite a grouping, and I am enjoying it. I had my grandmother’s, or mother’s, or both, tomato pin poppet, but I don’t know what happened to them. I suspect my kids played with them (sans pins) and they didn’t survive, or I tucked them safely away somewhere that I now can’t remember. My most-used pin poppet is magnetized, so rather dull and boring. My fun pin poppet is a purple fish given to me by my sister in law.

  2. ☼Illuminary☼

    Oh, You are a Pin poppet! That is a wonderful moniker for you sugar! or maybe sugar pin? My favorite pin cushion was a Mary Engelbreit chair. My dang dog chewed it, and the pins. Had to take the fool to the vet and have the pins removed from the roof of his mouth…. poor baby.

  3. sandysewwhatever

    I have one of the pewter ones like yours! A friend gave it to me. I have a tomato with strawberry pin cushion from when I sewed in high school. It has sewing needles. And a green felt pine tree that holds needing needles. I made it as a sample when I taught an afternoon sewing club at The Pines School.
    The one I use for pins is a teapot shaped pincushion my Mom sent me. It has all my glass and quilt and other headed pins. All arranged by colour, of course.
    A mixture of long and short Normal straight dressmaking pins in a silver holographic square box. Silk pins in the little circle plastic container they came in. And two little plastic clamshell boxes of those wee appliqué pins with a white head.
    Oh, and a little box made from a Christmas card that my late sister made me, which holds grey headed pins from my friend’s mother’s sewing kit. I use them for things that need pinning when you set up an exhibition.
    As you can tell, I am pretty good at finding a reason for buying another type of pin! 😁

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Hey, Sugar! I'm Jeanne Hewell-Chambers: writer ~ stitcher ~ storyteller ~ one-woman performer ~ creator & founder of The 70273 Project, and I'm mighty glad you're here. Make yourself at home, and if you have any questions, just holler.

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