18th Century Pincushions

Last updated: Jan 5, 2024

See also chatelaines, sewing kits, and housewives, as well as depictions of hanging pincushions.

Embroidered pincushions

  • Cooper Hewitt 1960-35-1, silk embroidery on silk fabric
  • MFA 54.1350, America; “A pin cushion, roughly rectangular in shape with points somewhat elongated and finished with gold tassels, covered with white satin with gold narrow fringe around central seam, on one side a spray and garland of flowers in pins on other side a small-scale floral spray embroidered with polychrome silks.”
  • MFA 54.1351, America; “A pin cushion, roughly rectangular with elongated points covered with white satin (now much yellowed), embroidered with polychrome silks, on one side a pair of male figures, fruit, flower, and crescent moon, on other side bird pecking at cherry, cloth covered table with symbolic vessels on top.”
  • Winterthur 1967.0519, a rectangular pincushion with cross-stitched designs, England, 18th century
  • Winterthur 1967.0520, an rectangular pincushion with a cross-stitched floral wreath, England, 18th century
  • Winterthur 2005.0024.001 A, an embroidered pincushion (flame stitch and cross stitch)
  • Winterthur 1976.0178, an embroidered pincushion (flame stitch), made in Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Winterthur 1958.2591, a rectangular pincushion with an embroidered floral motif, United States. c. 1725-1800
  • Fitting & Proper has “a woman’s pinball, multicolor queen stitch on linen canvas, with silver mountings” and “woman’s queen stitch pinball, not made up … multicolor queen stitch on linen canvas,” both c. 1750-1800
  • Manchester 1970.235, c. 1750-1800; “Pink silk. Padded onto diamond shape base with one end cut square. Embroidered with floral spray in green, pink, blue and yellow silks in centre mounted onto second silk-covered card. Red-purple outside and cream inside, sewn together from blunt end to centre, other end open.”
  • Manchester 1970.236, c. 1750-1800; “Pink silk. Shaped into a ball with pale blue ribbon sewn round diameter with long end and loop. Small sprig embroidered each side in pink, blue and green silk.”
  • Winterthur 1958.2498, an embroidered pincushion (wool flame stitch), United States, c. 1750-1800
  • Winterthur 1965.2078, a rectangular pincushion (canvaswork, including cross stitch and rococo stitch), United States or United Kingdom, c. 1750-1800
  • Winterthur 1958.1573, an embroidered pinball, North America, c. 1750-1800
  • Winterthur 1961.0067, an embroidered pinball, Connecticut, c. 1750-1800
  • Winterthur 1965.2075, an embroidered pinball (floral motif in stem stitch on one side, rococo stitch pattern on the other side), North America, c. 1750-1800
  • Winterthur 1959.0658, embroidered pinball (rococo stitch), England, c. 1750-1800
  • Winterthur 1966.1365, embroidered pinball, England, c. 1750-1825
  • Bonhams Sale 12101, Lot 554, “An 18th Century silk and silver wire floral embroidered pincushion, with blue velvet ground, with red felt needle roll, 5.2cm wide.”
  • Sotheby’s Nutt Collection, Lot 505, a pin ball with ring and chain, American, c. 1760
  • P4A C249480, rectangular double-sided floral and geometric pincushion probably made in Chester County, Pennsylvania; inscribed "M E 1768"
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1952-326, a double-sided flame-stitched rectangular pincushion, Great Britain, c. 1770-1780
  • Manchester 1982.325, Canada, c. 1770-1800; “Elongated heart shape. Made of birch bark embroidered with floral design in shades of blue, green, brown and cream. Using dyed moose hair in satin stitch and knots. Backing of crimson silk edge bound in cream coloured moose hair.”
  • Monmouth County Historical Association 708.3, queen-stitched silk on coarse linen in a pattern of stylized strawberries, probably for an unfinished pinball, c. 1770-1800
  • Winterthur 1958.2940, embroidered pinball (queen stitch), North America, c. 1770-1820
  • Winterthur 1964.1105, embroidered pinball (rococo stitch), North America, c. 1770-1830
  • Winterthur 1958.1704, embroidered pinball, North America, c. 1775-1825
  • Winterthur 1966.1480, rectangular pincushion with cross-stitched motifs, North America, c. 1775-1825
  • Winterthur 1965.2076, embroidered pinball, North America, c. 1775-1850
  • Monmouth County Historical Association 1998.561
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1994-115, America or Britain, c. 1790-1820; “a square needlework pincushion worked in shades of blue, green, yellow, black, tan, and ivory silk embellishment threads with a gold silk backing. The front of the pincushion is worked totally in queen stitch and consists of diamonds, zigzags, the initials "J S" and a two-story house with two chimneys, five windows and a door. The needlework appears to have been cut from a larger panel of queen stitch and made up into a pincushion at a later date. The silk backing appears to be of a later date than the needlework.”
  • Winterthur 1981.0093, a pincushion and needlecase probably made between 1790 and 1820 at the Moravian Girl's School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • Winterthur 1969.1991, a disc-shaped pincushion embroidered in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, c. 1790-1820
  • Skinner Sale 19901, Lot 38, “Needlework and Silver Pendant Pincushion, America, c. 1800, a pin ball with geometric and floral silk needlework covered cushion with medial bright-cut silver monogrammed band with loop for hanging, dia. 2 5/8 in.”
  • Freeman’s Oct 28 2020, Lot 25, “A silver chatelaine with Queen-stitch pin ball Probably Chester County, PA, late 18th/early 19th century Chatelaine hook engraved with the initials "S.C.P.", with a silver-banded Queen-stitch pin ball and pair of scissors; together with another silver-banded Queen-stitch pin ball”
  • National Museum of American History 28810, a rococo-stitched pinball with a pattern of strawberries in a lattice grid
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1996-106,A&B, pinball with ring and chain, 1808; “This is an almost round pinball cushion worked in shades of green, blue, ivory, tan, yellow, pink, and rust silk embellishment threads on a linen ground. The pinball is made of two fabric sections sewn together over a stuffed ball cushion. The design is worked in tiny cross stitches and consists of Quaker-like geometric patterns on one side and sprays of flowers on the other. The pincushion is seamed together at middle. The date of 180? (Probably 1808) is barely visible at seam. The stuffing material is unknown. An unmarked silver ring and chain accompany pinball. The chain has a smaller ring at opposite end of pinball for attachment to a belt or chatelaine.”
  • Freeman’s Nov 20, 2021, Lot 66, a cross-stitched pinball with a ring and chain from Chester County, Pennsylvania, dated 1808
  • Winterthur 1958.2009, embroidered pinball (rococo stitch), North America, c. 1800-1815
  • P4A D9792050, an embroidered pin ball with ring and chain, on a chatelaine, Chester County, Pennsylvania, c. 1800-1840

Additional Resources

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Tokens of Love: Quaker Pinballs

“Tokens of Love: Quaker Pinballs” and “A Quaker Pinball to Knit” in Piecework Sept/Oct 2009

Knit pincushions

These pincushions are generally associated with the Quakers; a series of embroidered samplers made by the Quaker pupils at Ackworth School in West Yorkshire preserve designs that seem adapted for this use as well.

  • V&A T.66-1970, England, 1730-1769; “brown and cream silk, knitted in stocking stitch (26 stitches to the inch). The cushion is tied around the centre with a string of plaited cream and brown silk. One half of the cushion is patterned with stylised carnations and with the initials 'M M', the other half is pattered in a design of zig-zags, coronets and a central medallion.”
  • V&A T.251-1960, England, 1733; “made from cream silk and silver gilt thread in patterned stocking stitch. The initials ‘EW’ appear on one side, with the date ‘1733’ on the other. The formal and symmetrical decoration includes flower and bird motifs.”
  • York Museums Trust YORCM : BA5710, a finely knit silk puncushion with a white design of birds and a swan on a red ground, with an attached narrow braid made from the same silk yarns, c. 1740-1780
  • Winterthur 1958.2235, a knit silk pinball made in Bath, England, and dated 1749
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1315, a pinball, England, 1759; “This is a knitted round pincushion or pinball of purple/brown and white/natural knitted silk. A braided cord composed of three six-strand groups (2 purple/brown and 1 white/natural) is sewn to the cushion where edges meet (possibly to hide seam). The long ends of the cord meet at top and are knotted together at their ends to form a loop measuring 9¼" long. The pattern of the pinball consists of geometric designs--an eight-pointed star and triangles on reverse and on obverse triangles. The initials ‘EP’ and date ‘1759’ are embroidered on top of ground.”
  • “BETWEEN the sixth and seventh day,
    Of last ninth month, ran away,
    A Servant, that from Ireland came,
    Catherine Waterson her name;
    She thick and clumsey made you see,
    Pretends a tayloress to be …
    Worsted pincushion that knit,
    With D. G. on one side of it,
    Which was round, incompass tight
    With a band of silver bright;
    And as one end did the other pass,
    With a loop it fast was,
    A chain of silver to the same,
    When borne away by this dame.”
    (The Pennsylvania Gazette, December 14, 1769)
  • V&A T.128-1992, pin cushion of knitted silk, made in England c. 1770-1820
  • Winterthur 1952.0281, a knit pinball with a ring made of silverplate on copper, North America, c. 1775-1800
  • A knit pinball; “Two colors of silk were knitted (at 22 stitches per inch) into two flat pieces that were sewn together and stuffed to create a globe about two inches in diameter. The same silk was plaited or fingerlooped to make a flat cord to cover the seam. The end of the cord forms a long loop with which a lady could hang the pinball from her belt. The inscription on the reverse side makes it clear that this pinball was made as a gift: 'a trifle from Margare[t] * 1782.' This side shows a stylized carnation.”
  • Bonhams Sale 12101, Lot 555, “A late 18th Century knitted pin ball, in rust thread and silver wire, the body with loop work ribbon girdle, 4cm diameter.”
  • V&A 545-1864, a pinball, England; “This little pincushion was hand-knitted from silk in two sections in stocking stitch and joined at the seams. The name ‘C. Osboldeston’ appears in the centre of the design between two flowers. The owner would have attached it to her waist with the loop of braid.”
  • Michael Finlay, “A rare pair of late 18th-century Cumbrian knitted silk ball pincushions, by Sarah and Eliza Barnfather, dated 1792, 50mm diameter”
  • York Museums Trust YORCM : BA1796, a disc-shaped knit pincushion in indigo silk with a cream pattern and finished with white twist, c. 1793-1830; “Obverse: Two birds and a branch, inscription, 'An Emblem of Love.' Reverse: Cornucopia with flowering sprays. Side: Inscription, 'From the Retreat near York.'”
  • York Museums Trust YORCM : BA1793, a disc-shaped knit pincushion in dark blue or black silk with a white pattern and finished with white twist, c. 1793-1830; “Obverse: Urn with flowering sprays. Reverse: Rose within laurel wreath. Side: Inscription, 'From the Retreat near York.'”
  • Several knit pincushions from the 18th and early 19th centuries in Pins and Pincushions; “The group of knitted pincushions … belong to Mrs. Head, and she says in an article which appeared with them in the Queen of 7th March 1903 that '… they are remarkable as indicating the length of time a particular style of pattern remained in vogue. All five are made in exactly similar fashion, to wit, knitted in round sections, which are sewn together over a tightly stuffed ball-cushion. The join is hidden by a flat hand-plaited cord of silks similar to those usd for the cushion cover, and a length of the same is attached to the top and finished off with a loop, by means of which it was suspended to the waist-belt. The cushion at the top is the oldest, bearing the date 1782, and the pattern is knitted in dull gold silk on a mulberry ground. The design on the reverse side is a quaint one of two conventional birds facing each other. Next in age to 'S.B.'s' cushion comes 'S.F's,' on the left hand, dated 1798, and knitted in brownish purple on white. The reverse is adorned with the moral axiom, 'Let virtue be your guide.'” In addition to a few more early 19th century knit pincushions (also described here), there is an additional photo of one inscribed “I•S / 1797” as well as a photo of the above “C. Osboldeston” pincushion (V&A 545-1864).
  • National Trust 1349993, a pinball; “Cream and khaki knitted silk constructed with 2 circular pieces of knitting sewn together and stuffed to form sphere, cord missing, hand knitted and sewn. One hemisphere showing 'Tho'absent not forgotten 1795', the other a geometric design of 4 stylised trees arranged in a circle.”
  • Bleasdales 28 Nov 2017, Lot 130, “An 18th Century dated knitted pin ball, one side depicting a three masted sailing ship, the other initialled and dated ‘EW-1799’, on a plaited cord”
  • Christie’s Lot 566 / Sale 5746, two knitted pincushions, “One worked 'MRS GREGREY, A TRIFLE FROM MARGATE, 1799' and a Quaker flat knitted cushion 'Peace to my friend'”
  • Locati Lot 521275, “Ball form with needlework dated for 1802 and initialed "L.F." in the fabric and on the coin silver ring”
  • Christie’s Lot 1902 / Sale 5284, two knitted pincushions, “one worked with the motto: 'A Token of Real Regard,' in cream and taupe silks, circa 1810; and one worked in green and taupe silks, with the initials 'GS'”

Additional Resources

Layette Pincushion

Layette pincushions and wedding pincushions

  • Maternity pincushion, 6½" x 5"; “a painted cream satin pincushion, with date 1768 and the words 'Luck in a Lad' set out in pins, and knotted tassels at each corner, is of particular interest, as it has been used for several generations with a table-cover to match, both of which were placed upon a table just before the birth of a child in the family of Mascie Taylor of Lymme Hall, Cheshire. The words 'Luck in a Lad,' formed with pins upon the cushion, express a hope that the expected child will be a boy. It is stuffed with flannel.”
  • National Trust 1349999, 1761
  • Winterthur 1960.0311, North America, 1770; inscription: “WELCOME LITTLE STRANGER / M / CM AB / 1770”
  • Winterthur 1952.0087, North America, 1777; inscription: “GOD BLES THE BABE / 1777”
  • Winterthur 1959.2712, England, 1777
  • V&A B.2-2009, Britain, 1778; “hand quilted ivory-coloured cotton edged with cotton fringing. The front of the pincushion is stuck with hand made pins to show an escutcheon with a coat of arms used by the Pateshall family, with the initials AP above and the date (1)778 below. A speckled bird with raised wings is depicted at each side of the initials, and a stylized flower at each side of the date; the pincushion is further decorated in pins with a straight line around each edge, from which tendrils and small flowers spring. The back of the pincushion is plain.”
  • National Trust 933454, England, 1779; inscription: “God Bless Yr Sweet Babe / A Grey 1779”
  • V&A B.3-2009, England, 1784; “ivory-coloured twilled cotton woven with a self-coloured stripe, the fabric used to make the pincushion with the stripes running horizontally. The front of the pincushion is stuck with hand made pins to show an inscription, with a pair of voided hearts and an enclosed crown above, a tree to one side, and a flower and a coronet beneath, accompanied by two sets of initials and the date. The pincushion is edged with matching cotton fringing, and has a plain back.”
  • Manchester 1994.167, “large padded rectangular pincushion in cream silk satin with cream silk thread fringe. Geometric design bordering a central cartouche showing initials ‘FC, EC, GCE, Oct 1784’”
  • V&A B.4-2009, England, 1788; “cream-coloured satin with a matching tassel of silk thread at each corner. The front of the pincushion is stuck with hand made pins to show an inscription and a star-like flower within a circle of linked rings resembling stylized flowers; the initials M P are above and the date 1788 below. The pincushion is further decorated in pins with a straight line around each edge; the back of the pincushion is plain.”
  • MFA 64.1914, New England, 1791; “White satin edged with tarnished silver thread. On one side pin heads form a pot of flowers and in each corner is a digit of the date, 1791. On the other side, pin heads form the words, HANNAH CODMAN, and MARRIED NOV ‘20 1788. Also two flowers and a boat (?) appears.”
  • Maternity pincushion, 7½" x 6½"; “kept at Camilla Lacy, near Dorking, in the Burney parlour, and as used at the birth of a son to M. and Mme. d’Arblay (née Fanny Bruney) in 1794. It is in white silk, and has the words 'Long live the dear child' and five hearts traced in pins on one side. On the other side … the pins form the name 'F. d’Arblay,' surrounded with a decoration made also with pins.”
  • Winterthur 1959.0732, New York, 1794; inscription: “WELCOM LITTLE STRANGER / N. YORK / RV / AH / 1794”
  • MFA 2008.728, America, 1795; “Small white/yellowish rectangular (with elongated points) pin cushion with fringe along edges. Patterning is created with iron pins; center area is enclosed in a rectangle and reads 'Well/come/little/stran/ger/1795.' There are hearts and other abstract shapes surrounding the framed words. The reverse is linen plain weave with no patterning.
  • National Museum of American History T. 14238, a layette pincushion on white satin (“At home aborad in War in Peace / May God thy steps defend / And guide thee thru Life's pilgrimage / Safe in thy Iourney's end”), 18th-early 19th century

Pin trays

Other pincushions

  • MFA 54.1352, America; “Small round pin cushion covered on one side with a worn scrap of silk brocade on dark brown ground, on other side covered with worn scrap of silk brocade on white satin ground, strip of brown satin around seam and finished with short loop for hanging pin cushion”
  • Winterthur 1969.0967, a silk pinball on an iron stand, England, c. 1770-1820
  • Winterthur 1966.1020, heart-shaped pincushion, North America, c. 1775-1800
  • Winterthur 1969.0675, silk pinball with silver ring, North America, c. 1790-1820
  • Pook & Pook 1/11/2008, Lot 570, “Pennsylvania silver mounted silk thread covered pin ball with chatelaine and hook, inscribed 'F.G. 1803', together with 3 similar pin balls.”

Other pincushion-related items