210 pins, 18 needles, and one safety pin were stuck into my mother’s pin cushion last Saturday when I, needing to distract my mind from the funk I was in due to physical discomfort, absent-mindedly picked it up and decided to take them all out. There was a practical purpose, if you could call it that, as I wanted to decide what to do with it. Likely it had more of each when it came into my life a few years ago, I’ve used both pins and needles and a few safety pins from it. There was quite a range of pin sizes, both in length and thickness, and of course needles of various kinds and sizes. Many needles, and a few pins, were sunk in deep and had to be teased out as I pushed and felt around, searching for sharp points. Mike could not believe how many there were, it is a small pin cushion 3″ square. Like “junk” drawers, closets, garages, the ‘back room”, or a storage shed, pin cushions are tiny spaces for collecting anything that has a sharp point, but unlike those other “catch-alls” (of which Mike has many, though not a pin cushion!) you can easily see what you have, find what you need, and it’s portable!
This mind distracting activity got me thinking about the history of pins and needles. I could write about what I found, but there are wonderful internet sources for both…..as the history of pins and history of needles are not the same! Anyone who has gone to a history museum and seen collections of artifacts has noticed, among the more eye-catching, larger household items and tools, samples of needles made from bones, hard woods, shells, etc. Early pins were even made from thorns. Although there is an interesting history of the early metal pins, like weaving, no one knows for sure when people first started to use needles or pins. It seems we’ve been trying to hold things together and fashion something out of something else for as long as we’ve been around!
As for my mother’s pin cushion, (which having always loved, I turned over to the unused side and decided to use), it represents only a fraction of her sewing notions, in fact only a fraction of her pins and needles, especially needles. I’ve been amazed, since bringing home her sewing basket, at the number of packets of needles she had! I don’t think even the most avid seamstress could use in a life time what she possessed! Why? Did she forget she had them? Not likely, until her last years Mom’s mind, and memory, was pretty sharp, and many of these packets go waaayyyy back! There’s no doubt an explanation I’ll never know.
There is a certain nostalgia to having mom’s sewing basket. Sewing notions, bits and pieces of this and that, packages of binding, snaps, hooks, spools of thread, etc. that collect in the life of anyone who sews is a personal collection of creative endeavors and accomplishments, as well as unfinished or never started projects (I’ve given away or sold at garage sales fabric and notions from my own stash that were never used). Like most sewing baskets, her’s has packages of binding never opened, as well as left over bits and pieces of this or that held on to….just in case. This collection of her sewing history is personal, yet so universal.
My own sewing basket is a smaller version with an almost identical collection, though with my own unique sewing “signature”. Like mom’s, whose sewing history spilled over to the sewing machine stool, which had a deep storage area and contained more bits and pieces of notions, my basket is only a piece of my history, which spills over into drawers and boxes. (I sold mom’s table Singer machine, with the stool contents intact, to a very pregnant young woman who wanted to make baby clothes and couldn’t afford much. Needless to say, I came down on the price and she got a good deal!)
Decades ago a friend’s mother died and my friend gave me a large box of sewing paraphernalia, including a lot of thread, all on wooden spools. There were little bits of decorative lace, lots of binding, etc. The friend said she didn’t sew and didn’t want it, but wanted it to go to someone she knew. I’d never met her mom, but through the years, felt like I was given a “legacy” collection, a collection of stories from this woman’s life. There were notions I used and many I never used, but only recently, in my “get-rid-of-it-all” phase of life have I let it go.
A new spool of thread represents a project afoot, something about to be created….pins used over and over for projects, needles that pull together pieces of fabric to make something new, or patch something old, all hold stories and connect us to an ageless tradition. A tradition sometimes passed on from mother to daughter, sometimes learned anew by sons and daughters wanting to do something creative, or for practical, functional reasons, maybe to make clothes, sails, bags, fishing nets, quilts. We’ve been sewing things together to create something new for a long time!
And I haven’t even mentioned buttons and button collections! For another time!