Not a Child’s Toy

wpid-2015-04-02-14.03.06-1.jpg.jpeg A few weeks ago, I looked into a display cabinet to see this goodie. I was excited to see the velvet pretty. I was also excited to see it still proudly displayed its pins.

It seems some time in the latter 20th century these ball shaped pincushions went from functional utilitarian item to a toy. Originally, these were not toys. I’ll admit, once I learned they weren’t toys, meaning when I saw them illustrated in ladies’ magazines and girls’ books, I would get squeemish when I would afterward see one used as a toy. Modern merchants seem to offer these as “Amish” or “Shaker” “Puzzleball” pincushions or toys currently, as this merchant did. The thing is, I just can’t seem to find evidence of either origin yet. In the lady’s magazine example below, they call this a “Chinese Pin-Cushion.”


This example uses lemon shaped segments (“lemon” for the lack of having a name for this shape) to create the ball. I wish I grabbed better photos showing this. In the 19th century, these seem to have been made in one of two ways: either with wedge shaped pieces assembled together or with lemon shaped pieces assembled. I also saw one example that uses rectangles to create the ball. Without separating 19th century and early 20th century examples, materials seem to include velvets, satin silks, corded fabrics (corduroy), and wools, with a strong lean towards velvets being a favorite. Examples from the later half of the 19th century show embroidery along the seams. Honeysuckle Lane has a nice blog post with some beautiful examples of this. Earlier directions, such as this 1871 version in Peterson’s Magazine, call for embroidery and embellishment on most of the exterior piece:

Peterson's Magazine, January 1871

Want to make your own ball pincushion? Here are two different versions.

Ball Pincushion

Ball Pincushion 2

Additional Examples:

(*Note: Many examples are from selling sites. If the images become unavailable, I will try to catch them and delete the example. I’m sorry if I haven’t caught one yet.)

This example is made of off white wool and a low pile blue velvet. Small buttons finish the connections. The seller (ebay) lists it as circa 1900.

This example uses velvet on the outside and a berry colored corded velvet on the inside. It appears to be turn of the century.

Published in: on April 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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