18th Century Hanging Pincushions

Last updated: Feb 3, 2023

This collection of links shows women who are wearing pincushions that hang from their waists by ribbons, rather than from more elaborate equipage. They probably attach to the waistband of the lady's apron or perhaps a petticoat. Some of the women also keep a pair of scissors nearby in a similar manner; I've also included illustrations where you can see the hanging scissors but not a pincushion.

Several of these appear to be simple heart-shaped pincushions, which remind me of Winterthur 1966.1020, a silk and wool pincushion made in North America c. 1775-1780.

An Eſſay on a Pincushion in The Lady’s Magazine is essentially an extended metaphor with some interesting details about how such pincushions were made:

Surely, man is a pincuſhion. — See him at firſt wrought with greater curioſity, and much more ſecrecy, than the miraculous formation of the tender ſilken thread. He is at firſt as uncultivated and uſeleſs as the rough production of the worm, the raw ſilk. He goes through the hands of more artiſts than this; the nurſe, the tender mother, the tutor, the maſgter, and is finally completed by the finiſhing ſtroke of the hand of a miſtreſs. Thus he proceeds through every ſtage of reformation, till at laſt he receives the finiſhing poliſh from the able hand of the connoiſſeur. Man, alike the ſilk, with all his admirable qualities and accompliſhments, with his beauty and perfection, is ſtill ill-adapted for the purpoſe for which he was deſigned. He muſt, as other pincuſhions, (whether in the form of an heart, an oval, or an oblong ſquare,) be formed by the ingenuity, and faſhioned by the judgment of ſome ſkilful female. How great an analogy is there between man and a pincushion. The one fed with grain, the other with huſks of it. As the bran is preſſed into the pincuſhion by the ſlender fingers of the deſigning female, ſo are the new affections, diffuſed into the mind, and inculcated in the breaſt, by the powerful charms of the uſurping maid …
Thus formed to her mind, and moulded to her ſatisfaction, he is fit for uſe. Now, in order to be more conveniently usſed, a pincuſhion muſt be “tied to the apron ſtring.” So is man, as it were, tied to the apron ſtring, or in more expreſs terms, ſubject to the tormenting diſpoſition, to the dread caprice, and to the wanton pleaſure of ſome deluded female.

H/T to Ruth Hodges for several additions to this page.