Every once in a while in a while I want to do a project that’s mostly handwork. The weather has been hot this summer and since my sewing room is not air conditioned these pin cushions were just the ticket. My favorite book of small projects is Omiyage : Handmade Gifts from Fabric in the Japanese Tradition . This wonderful book is full of small gifts and sewing tools that can be made from scraps although I admit the directions are a tad sparse and not very thorough. One thing I like about this book however is that the largest piece of fabric needed, which is to make a sewing kit, needs to be only 12 inches square and most projects use much smaller pieces than that, literally scraps are just fine.
These pincushions are simple to make, they are machine sewn only in step one and then handsewn to completion. I made a couple of changes from the original in the book, and here’s how to replicate my version:
- Fabric scraps of your choice. They can be as small as 4 x 11 inches or even smaller because a cross grain cut is fine.
As long as you can get seven 1.5 x 3 inch pieces from a scrap you’re good.
- Fabric suggestions: Japanese kimono and shibori fabric, silk crepe, silk charmeuse, rayon, silk ikat, lawn, voile, cotton quilting (pre wash new quilt fabric to soften it). Brocade and velvet will be too thick for a project this small. Silk dupioni and silk taffeta may show pin holes when used for a pincushion. There are a several merchants on Etsy who sell packs of vintage Japanese fabric remnants.
- A scrap of muslin for the lining. 4 x 11 inches is fine and if it has pattern markings on it that’s ok too (Honestly you can rip apart a 1st try garment muslin). Emery sand is very fine and fairly abrasive, the muslin liner keeps the emery from working through the fashion fabric.
- Emery sand (Etsy). Two cups will make at least 5-6 of these pincushions. I have black but it also comes in white. The version in the book is stuffed with batting but I wanted something heavy and substantial so I used emery sand as a filler.
- 6 x 6 inch piece of fusible fleece for each pincushion
- Embroidery floss or silk button hole twist to make the twisted cord (instructions below)
- A large hole bead in wood or bone to make the smaller emery. The hole should be 1/2 inch wide. I like a bone bead with Japanese fabrics because the emery recalls the ivory Netsuke carvings that are worn with kimono. The bone beads used here have been ageing in my stash for years. An alternative to a bone or wood bead is a bead cap. Bead caps come in all sizes and are easier to source than bone beads. More details are below.
- 1/2 inch covered button forms and backs (Jo-Anns or Hancocks)
- Scrap of tricot fusible interfacing (only need 1 inch piece)
- Small piece of stiff cardboard. The back of a note pad is perfect
- Glue stick
- Crazy Glue
- Hand sewing needles
- Press cloth
- A teacup or small bowl (for filling the liner)
- A kitchen funnel
- 1 drinking straw
- hemostat or tweezers that can be clamped shut
- Sewing ham. A substitute for a ham: take food can (soup size is good), stuff a sock tightly inside the toe of another sock and stretch it over the can. Now you have a tiny pressing ham 🙂
- Rotary cutter, a mat and ruler
Instructions for the pincushion and liner
- Cut seven 1.5 x 3 inch pieces each of two different fashion fabrics for a total of 14 pieces.
- Sew them together with a 1/4 inch seam on the short side to make 7 pairs.
- Sew them together again in a stepped pattern, basically a Seminole stair step made with two blocks of fabric instead of three. Quilters will have a more efficient way to do the piecing and cutting, my scraps were very small so I cut each one individually.
- For the lining cut 7 pieces of muslin 1.5 x 5.5 inches long and sew them together in the same stairstep pattern to match the fashion fabrics strip. Press the seams on the fashion fabric and the liner.
- Sew each strip into a circle
- For the fashion fabric: run hand gathering stitches 1/4 inch from the bottom of the V’s formed by the piecing. Gather tightly to close one end, hand stitch the opening closed. Turn the fabric points to the inside and clip off the excess.
- Steam the gathered end flat from the right side by placing the fabric over your ham or soup can pressing station. Use a press cloth. Put the fashion fabric cover aside.
- Stitch and steam one end of the muslin liner the same way as the fashion fabric cover.
- Run another set of gathering stitches to the other side of the liner but don’t gather the stitches yet. Place the liner inside a teacup with the inside (WS fabric) facing up.
- With a small spoon fill the liner with emery until it’s about 1/2 full. Start to gather and close the opening gradually but keep adding emery in small amounts as it fills up. You might to need to use the funnel towards the end. I fill them in the kitchen because I don’t want abrasive emery sand all over my cutting table and tools.
- When the liner is full of emery and it feels packed and heavy close off the end by gathering and stitching. Trim the excess fabric off the end. Roll the liner around in your hands to even out the shape. It should be a flattish ball like a tomato.
- Cut the fusible fleece into a 6 inch circle. Run gathering stitches around the outer edge and pull it into a ball around the liner. Steam and fuse the fleece onto the liner.
- Place the fleece covered liner inside the fashion fabric and gather the cover around the liner with running stitches. After the cover is tight you may need to adjust the folds and points to make a pleasing, even shape all around.
- Steam the entire fashion fabric outer layer to make the folds smooth.
Finishing – Making a Smaller Emery, The Cord And The Covered Button
This step is entirely optional although I think it’s a nice detail. The smaller emery is a good place to park threaded hand sewing needles.
- Bits of fabric and muslin. Thin silks are really perfect for the smaller emery.
- A finding to hold the small emery.
- Suggestions: bone or wood beads with 1/2 inch openings or bead caps. Bead caps are a good choice if bone or wood is not to your liking or not available. Bead caps are found in every style and color: silver, bronze, gold, art nouveau, art deco, Asian, Folk etc. Again Etsy is a great source for bead caps. The larger sizes are best, e.g. at least 10mm wide or wider.
- The size of the smaller emery depends on the bead or the bead cap. For the bone beads I made a small tube that was a sandwich of muslin and fabric sewn together, turned right side out, gathered and stitched closed at one end and then filled with emery using a straw. However, if I was using a bead cap I would make a sandwich of muslin and fabric cut into a circle big enough for the bead cap, add gathering stitches around the edge and then use a straw to add a tiny bit of emery sand. Then I’d stitch the ball closed and add the bead cap. After you’re satisified the cloth emery fits your finding a dab of crazy glue will hold it all together.
- Hint: After you fit the fabric tube or ball onto your bead or bead cap don’t cut the thread off, leave a long tail because you’ll use it to attach the cord to the top of the pincushion.
- Make the cord. Cut three 7 inch strands of your cord thread (floss or buttonhole twist) and tie them together with a simple knot at each end. Hold each end tight and twist each end in the opposite direction. After few minutes the cord will be so tightly twisted it still start to kink and twist up onto itself. Keep twisting and allow the kinking strands to form the corrct length of cord; you’ll need only about 1.5 inches of cord for the small emery. Once it’s at the right length clamp the end with a hemostat or clamping tweezer and stitch the end together to keep it from unraveling. Again leave the thread long because you’ll use that tail to attach the cut end to the top of the pincushion. Sew the “pretty” end of the cord to the top of the finished emery tube or emery-ball-with bead-cap with tiny hand stitches and then stitch the knotted end to the top of the pincushion.
- Cover the button: cut a 1 inch piece of fashion fabric and a 1 inch piece of tricot interfacing. Fuse the interfacing to the back of the fabric. Trim the corners to make a circle and stitch tiny gathering stitches around the edge. Place the button top inside and gather the fabric tight around the form. Press the button back down onto the gathered fabric. I use a hemostat or a narrow flat head screwdriver to really press it in hard.
- Sew the button on top of the cord to hide the knot and stitching.
And the last steps…..attach the bottom:
- Cut a cardboard circle 1 5/8 inches in diameter.
- Use the glue stick to attach the circle to the wrong side of 2 inch square piece of fabric
- Trim the fabric to leave a 3/8 inch border
- Make small snips and fold the snips over the cardboard, using dabs from the glue stick to hold down the folded snips
- Fell stitch the circle to the bottom of the pincushion
- Stand back and admire your work. Pincushions like this make wonderful gifts for sewing friends.