Friday, December 12, 2014

Tomato Pincushions

Form and function and beauty often intersect in things that touch your food, things that touch your skin, and things that touch your heart.

Often made by hand, with a specific purpose in mind, these are the things we reach for time and time again.

Collectively, they are the useful and comforting parts of everyday life.

Seemingly ordinary, these things are extraordinarily beautiful when viewed with stillness and attention.

As a quilt maker, I am always drawn to sewing notions as examples of the items that combine form and function and beauty. 


As so often happens just the right find is waiting for me at our local thrift shop. On a shelf amidst what was clearly the remains of someone's life and home, there sat an old plastic bag full of pincushions. The bag, wound tightly with layers of tape, did little to reveal it's contents save for a few pins sticking through the plastic.  For $6, I decided to take a chance on the purchase. And I found treasure. A bumper crop of tomato pincushions, well-worn and well-used, loads of pins and needles, little strawberries trailing along, stray threads here and there. 


I did a little research on the origins of the tomato pincushion. Wouldn't you know, Martha Stewart had the answers.

What's red and ripe and bursting at the seams with sewing pins? That enduring icon of the needlework world: the produce-inspired pincushion better known as the tomato cushion.

If you grew up in a crafty household like I did, odds are you've seen one before -- either in your mother's sewing box or tucked away in a drawer among a pile of unraveling spools. 

But did you ever stop to wonder where this little oddity comes from? Pincushions come in all shapes and sizes, but the tomato is the design that prevails as the classic. But why a tomato of all things? Turns out it's not random: There's actually a reason for the tomato design, and it dates back to the Victorian era. The first-ever documented mention of a generic pincushion dates back to the Middle Ages . . .  The pincushion was invented as a practical aid for storing pins and needles, but it also showcased one's collection of pins and needles. (Needles were costly, after all.)  


According to tradition, placing a tomato on the mantel of a new home ensured prosperity by warding off evil spirits. When tomatoes were out of season, people weren't totally out of luck: They simply improvised with red material, sawdust, and a little bit of ingenuity. A lady of the Victorian era would take immense pride in a parlor room stocked with shelves upon shelves of pincushions, but the tomato was always the crown jewel of her collection.




A friend decorated her lovely Thanksgiving table with sweet little felted acorns purchased from a local shop.  If there's one thing we have plenty of around our home, it's acorns.  I set about making some of my own decorative acorns. Little felted balls, tops glued in place . . . sweet little acorns to go alongside the tomatoes.


What exists so effortlessly in nature, the intersection of form and function and beauty, we seek to replicate in all that we touch and all that touches us. And isn't this how art is born?

Happy Sewing!

I'm linking up with Kim Klassen and my Friday Finds are these produce-inspired pincushions. 

28 comments:

  1. Good morning, Donna! Something is wrong with my laptop today and I cannot see your photos. :( I'll be back later to see your tomato pincushions (I haven't seen one around since I was probably 7 or 8). Just saying HELLO for now, and happy Friday.

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  2. Oh my!!! These are so so lovely!!! I love those felted acorns, so cute idea!!! Can I PIN that last photo?? :)

    My Friday Finds: http://pienilintu.blogspot.fi/2014/12/vinkki-tunnelmalliset-kynttilakuvat.html

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  3. What a delightful post, Donna. I was enchanted! Really interesting. And your adorable photos too ... I just love your pin cushion stash. What treasure. You must have been so delighted when you opened that bag. I also love your little acorns. So sweet. All the best for a lovely weekend, Bonny

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  4. Oh my word! Love your find, the history and your shots!

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  5. Fantastic story, fabulous find, wonderful images.

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  6. Such a good find for anyone that sews, when I was home in Roanoke in Oct. I was looking through my Mom's sewing basket that my sister now has and yep there was a tomato pin cushion. Love how these made there way back in your home to cherish. Each photo of these are really well presented Donna as only you can do. Love those little acorns just too darn cute. I have seen these but thus no acorn tree here in AZ so I can't make any....sigh

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  7. Oh your images are so incredible .... always ... what a treasure you found in that little plastic bag and you brought them out and shared them with us in such an artistic way. I love every single shot but especially that one with the pincushions in the tin - it looks like cast iron and was perhaps used for cornbread? I adore it! Have a wonderful weekend, Donna.

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  8. As a quilter myself, I have quite a collection of pincushions and among them are several tomato ones. I really enjoyed reading the history as now it makes mine even more special. Your shots are just incredible and I love that you made the acorns as they give just the touch to the shot. You found a treasure but I think you are a treasure as you never fail to blog some interesting and beautiful posts...

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  9. What a great find Donna and you presented them so well in each of your images. And those tiny acorns are adorable. I think if I had been sitting at that Thanksgiving table, I would have been playing with those acorns the whole time! Happy holidays.

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  10. Such a great find, Donna !
    Those pincushions are gorgeous ... and the little acorns are so cute, love the way you captured all !
    Have a nice weekend,
    Sylvia

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  11. My mom had a tomato pincushion! When I was little I could never understand why a strawberry was hanging from a tomato. :) The colorful acorns are adorable. Thank you for the walk down memory lane today and the wonderful photos to go with it. Have a great weekend!

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  12. A great find and imagine the stories that they could tell, how wonderful..

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  13. Love your header collage Donna! Well, these cute little cushions really go back a long way in my memory...I remember going to the sewing department to buy all my little sewing tools and pieces for my first home ec class, and the tomato pin cushion was among them. I wonder if this large batch were used by seamstresses in a workshop. I love your creative staging in the wooden bowls, and muffin tin. Yes, I love the quilt!! Did you make it? I haven't made one for a long time, but I love to see every kind there is.

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    1. Hi Bev, Yes I did make the quilt pictured. That particular quilt, Strawberry Patch, is one of my favorites and is entirely hand-quilted. I have a stack of fabric and a new pattern to make a new quilt this winter, too. I alternate between hobbies, and when I take breaks from picture taking, I often go to quilt making. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  14. Beautiful images and thanks for the history. I learned something new! What a great find!

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  15. Wonderful photos of your new treasures Donna ! I have a tomato pin cushion ( although I don't sew very much ) and loved learning the history of them ! Your little acorns are simply sweet , I LOVE them ! Have a great weekend :)

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  16. What a wonderful find! Your displays are so creative! Love the acorns, too!

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  17. What a great find for someone who loves quilting and needle work...I remember those red tomato pin cushions...love how you displayed them all here...

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  18. What treasures these tomato pincushions are! And you've captured them beautiful in your photographs.

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  19. I'll give you first place for Friday Finds this week. This you are the most clever person and I just love your writing. I'm anxious to see more of your quilts. I love this one. I used to have my mom's tomato cushion but I'm pretty sure I threw it away a long time ago. :(

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  20. I love your photos of the pincushions! Some time ago, I clipped Martha Stewart's instructions for making them and have yet to do that! I have made lots of the felted acorns too--I think they are so sweet.

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  21. what a wonderful treasure you've found in that plastic bag Donna! what an exciting story! these little fabric tomatoes have a story too... up to you to imagine who they belonged to, when they were made and so on... this find is so touching because it's linked to woman's crafts... and as a quilter yourself, crafting is a part of you... I can't remain insensitive in front of your gorgeous pictures, they talk so much to the heart besides the fact that they are coming from another time and have been in many other hands... I like the last line of your post about the origins of art... great post Donna, so much to read and think between the lines... I love your large quilt... I've admired it before in your portfolio... a work of art, for sure! thanks for linking to Martha Stewart, like Roxanne, I'll like to make one myself...

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  22. wow...amazing...superb photos, interesting backstory, charming acorns...never knew the history of the tomato pin cushion so thanks so much for that info. But first and foremost - what a find! a true treasure! And I want to shop at your thrift store - first wooden sewing spools, now a bevy of tomatoes...next - ???
    I have a few special personal collections that are dear to me - sewing paraphernalia is one...my mother was a seamstress and my grandfather a tailor...I have sewed for years - so the sewing finds that you keep featuring really speak to my heart...and you do them great justice with your photos!

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  23. I have one of these, I think it was my mother's or grandmother's. I love that you put them in a muffin tin. Just perfect. Blessings.

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  24. That first photo...gosh so amazing...again magazine quality. The pin cushions are a great find and you did fabulously with them.

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  25. A delightful post, Donna, and I am so glad I can finally see your stunning photos. They are all superb, but the one of the pincushions in the vintage muffin tin is my fave of all, it should be in a magazine! :) My maternal grandmother had a tomato pincushion, but I can’t remember the wee strawberry at all. I loved learning the history of them, thank you!
    The colorful acorns are exquisite too; I have a few but I made them all with brown felt and they don’t look as festive.
    Thank you for sharing all this beauty. :)

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  26. Learn something new every day!!! I had never thought to question the simply pinchusion!!!
    And I love you selection of acorns, too!!! I have a bunch that I collected during the fall...

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  27. It doesn't get any better when you find treasures! Beautiful!!

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