why are pin cushions shaped like tomatoes?

it’s something i’ve always wondered.

just seeing if anyone has the answer.

i googled with no luck.

My WAG is that before they had pin cushions, people used real tomatoes. Seems to me that would work perfectly. It wouldn’t be hard to get the pin in, and it would stay in place once it was in.

I don’t think so since tomatoes are highly acidic and would probably corrode the pins over time. Besides, the juice would stain some fabrics, perhaps permanently.

My guess is that it’s simply an easy thing to make. I imagine back in the day, many little girls practiced their sewing and crafting skills by making one for their own sewing kits and probably for their mothers and aunts as well. I, myself, have been pondering making a new one to replace the worn store-bought number I presently have.

The green felt, made to resemble the sepals (That’s the proper term, isn’t it?) of a tomato hides where the fabric has been gathered around the stuffing. If one wanted to make a persimmon pincushion, that would work too. Not so much for an orange or a potato or small melon, say. That’s my WAG.

Googling “tomato pincushion history” produced this:

and this:

These hits were only from the first page. Other variations may appear further down.

**Scarlett, ** that’s interesting! Thanks for posting that.

I still have my tomato pin cushion from high school. It looks almost new compared to the one my mother has passed on to me. I’ll be even more sentimental about it after reading this.

Have you ever seen the tomato pin custion with a little strawberry attached? It is for keeping needles sharp.

While we’re fighting ignorance, I remember my mom telling me the strawberry was filled with emery. As a kid, I always wondered what emery was. I didn’t know it existed any place else but an emery board. Your reminiscence about the strawberry raised that eternal question once again. And the answer is…

I’ve never ever seen a pincushion shaped like a tomato. The ones I’ve seen have always been like, well, miniature square cushions, covered in that check tablecloth material.

Horse shit. Homeopathy was invented in the 18th C by some German dude.

And since tomatoes were a New-World fruit and considered poisonous by many people into the 1800s why would all these Renaissance folks have them in their homes?

Maybe because the Mediterranian began cultivating tomatoes in the 1540s and the Reneaissance lasted through the 17th century.

My mom had one!

Same here. I did a Google image search for “pincushion” and out of the first 250-odd, only five were tomato shaped. Certainly, some of the hits were for plants and so on that merely had pincushion as part of their name, but of the actual pincushions on show, tomatoes were very much in the minority.

One might as well ask why pincushions are heart-shaped, or mushroom-shaped, or (oddly enough) cushion-shaped.

Is it some people’s experience that pincushions are invariably tomato-shaped?

The pincushions I grew up with were tomato-shaped, wehich confused the heck out of me when I went into optics and learned that “pincushion distortion” was so named because the guy who named it was familiar with pincushions shaped like squares with elongated corners.



I still haven’t seen a pincushion shaped like that.

I suppose this is what they meant:


They probably meant sympathetic magic. Like calls to like is one of the oldest forms of magical thinking.

The thinking goes - the tomato is poison, it will collect malign effungences passing through. This is the first that I’ve heard of tomatoes being used that way, though, so I’m not sure I believe it.

If you still can’t picture a tomato pincushion, Amazon has a picture. Looking at the wrapping, maybe we can blame Singer. They were a major sewing machine manufacturer. If they gave one out free with each purchase, it might have become the standard over time.

'Round these here parts, there are TWO acceptable forms of pincushions, with a new fangled third getting all upitty trying to make inroads into the pincushion market.

There’s the tomato pincushion with strawberry sharpener, as already discussed. This is the one everyone’s mother and grandmother has, but IME, no one knows what the strawberry is for.

There’s the wrist pincushion, made popular in the 70’s. Your mom might have one, but your grandmother doesn’t see the need for it.

Then there’s the newfangled magnetic pincushion, which rocks six ways to Sunday and is viewed with much suspicion on the part of sewing housewives. Oh! If only they knew! This thing not only holds pins, but it lines them up for you as you drop them haphazardly without looking! In perfect parallel configuration, so when you pick pins up out of it, you don’t end up with pins under your fingernails! And if you still manage to spill the pins, it will pick them up for you off the floor, and even sort them out from the pile of thread clippings and cat hair, buy it’s simple magnetic action! It’s like God Herself designed the pincushion for the 21st century! I’m still the only person I know who owns one of these. Luddites. :wink:

Even the ones that I’ve seen that aren’t tomato colored were always more or less tomato-y shaped. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a square pin cushion before this thread.

Yes. It sounds like in the US, pincushions are invariably tomato-shaped but not in the UK. Which discredits the Renaissance household theory.

All the pincushions that pop up in a Google image search tend to fancy ones, not may tomoatos or little square pillows. I’d venture a guess that most people only post photographs of interesting examples of pincushions instead of the boring, everyday ones…

If you google Chinese Pincushion, you’ll find pictures of them that are similar to the tomato shape, but not actually made to resemble a tomato - they’re just roundish and have a radial pattern of threads strung across them - like a sort of abstract pumpkin shape. Is it possible that these predate the tomato design - and that the tomato design is based on them?