Monday, May 5, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: A Layette Pincushion, 1788

The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, when pins were used to fasten garments, as well as for needlework and lace-making, pin cushions held a much more important place in the home than they do now.

Layette pincushions like the one we see here were considered fitting presents to a new mother, especially between about 1770 and 1890. These objects served as a safe place to stash diaper pins when not in use. These were only gifted after the baby arrived, as there was a superstitious belief that they could increase the pain felt by the mother during birth: “For every pin a pain,” and “More pins, more pain.” Furthermore, giving a gift before the birth seemed inappropriate given the fact that many mothers and children did not survive childbirth.

These pincushions often bore messages such as “Welcome Sweet Babe” or “Welcome Little Stranger.” This example shows the care with which these objects were made. The front of the pincushion is stuck with hand-made pins to show an inscription and a star-like flower within a circle of linked rings resembling stylized flowers; the initials M P are above and the date 1788 below. The pincushion is further decorated in pins with a straight line around each edge. Made in the home, these were personal, useful congratulatory gifts made with love.

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