Thursday, April 14, 2011

Having a Ball...

Very early in my garment-sewing career, Gwendolyn of Idlewild Ilustré brought to my attention that I used more than the average amount of pins on any given project. In comparison, she used almost none. Over the years our pin usages have equalized, with me using less and her using slightly more, but one thing we've had in common the whole time has been our pin-keeping equipment--a magnet. Anyone who is acquainted with the use of sewing pins knows how diabolical they can be, sliding off tabletops and embedding themselves in feet at the least opportune moment. And heaven help you if you have an open container of pins lying around--if I get within ten feet of them, you can bet those suckers will be all over the floor faster than you can say (in a tone of consternation) "Ka-tieeee!"

Being accident prone in the extreme, my pin-keeper of choice is a Grabbit pin magnet, color fuchsia. That way, when I drop pins on the floor, I can swoop them back up with a pass of the magnet. My nephews (ages four and six) think it's a pretty nifty gadget, too.

But before magnets, what did people do? I can walk into Hobby Lobby and buy 120 pearl-headed pins for less than $5 now, but that wasn't always the case. Pins were valuable, laborious to make, and used for much more than sewing. Holding your clothes on your body, for example. You know, slightly vital things like that. So, if you don't have a handy-dandy magnet and you need to have your ever-important and probably-expensive pins on you at any given moment, in case of sewing emergency or wardrobe malfunction, what's a lady to do?

Carry a pinball, of course! I mean, everyone probably thought "pincushion, duh...what a stupid question," as soon as they read the last sentence in the paragraph above. Maybe it's because I've never used or carried a pincushion, but I'm absolutely fascinated by pinballs. With a little searching, I found a proliferation of them online, dating mostly from the 18th century. I've seen them dated as late as 1861, though, and is it any wonder? They're adorable. I want ten one.

Queen stitch pinball, Winterthur Collections

There are several examples online on various auction and museum sites, so I've linked a few of my favorite examples below:

Knitted silk from the V&A collections, 18th century
Knitted silk from Colonial Williamsburg, 1759
Cross Stitch in silk on linen, tentatively dated 1808
Quaker Pinball, no picture, but description dated 1829
Knitted silk, lined in linen, tentatively dated 1760s

Several of the examples out there have metal rings around their middles, often with a chain and a clip for a belt or a chatelaine. A number of the examples I've seen in person have a ribbon or tape serving the same purpose, though, so pinballs can be made without the expense of a fancy little collar, which I'm told can be quite pricey.

While many pinballs seem to have been knitted, or worked in a counted stitch over a linen ground, there are some embroidered examples as well. The ones I've seen have been done on a silk ground, and some have even had their little belly-bands embroidered. The photos below were all taken by yours truly, and are from the Winterthur Collections.

Pink on top...

Purple on the bottom, and embellished in-between!
This one reminds me of an easter egg...

Hello, flame stitch! Hell-LO, picot edged ribbon! Aren't you cute?

This one is unembellished, but you can see a couple cool details,
like the linen lining, and the wee sliver of tape, stitches visible, under the ring.

I'm by far not the first person do take a serious look at pinballs, either. I mean, I might have a slightly disproportionate fascination with them, but there are a number of resources and beautiful reproductions out there, too. Erica Uten penned the lovely book Tokens of Love: Quaker Pinballs which contains charted patterns to knit, but it looks as though it wouldn't be too awfully hard to use the templates for other forms of counted work, too. These beautiful knitted examples appear to have come from Uten's book, as is this one. Katherine (Koshka-the-Cat) knitted herself one, seen here, and then sent another as a gift, based on the knitted pinball from the Williamsburg collections.

As always, this has been just a little slice of the facts, and an excuse for me to look at (and share!) pretty pictures. If you're as interested in pinballs as I am, Uten's book is available on Amazon here, and the Needleprint society has another book of templates available, too.


  1. Of course I had to reread this since I'm starting another one! They're just way too much fun!

    I found another one online that had a pink side and a blue side. I don't appear to have bookmarked it though.

    I just found this one on eBay though:

    It ended. For $920. Eep!

    And the pink and blue one is here:

    And you'll find more here:

    Please excuse the random nature of this comment--it's 3:19 A.M. and my brain isn't working well enough to fix it!

    And I somehow missed before the new book. I think I need that :)

  2. I think you need the new book too! And those are sooo cute. I love the pink/blue one!