The Mystery of the Tomato Pincushion Has Been Solved


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. Of course, in those days, they were more whimsically called “pimpilowes,” “pyn pillows,” and “pin-poppets.” 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.) But the less-iconic shapes of dolls, birds, and prettily-packaged boxes left something to be desired.

Enter the time-honored tomato. 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. Since then, we’ve been piercing our pins into stuffed fabric tomatoes without question. But it’s “sew” much more fun to know where they come from, am I right?


Ready to put your needle to work? Stay sharp as a tack with this classic pincushion project from Martha:

Do you have a tomato pincushion at home? Did your mother or your mother’s mother have one too? Share your pincushion memories with us in the comments below!