The Pin – a short history

Photo by Mary Harding

  As seamstresses, quilters, crafters we use pins without any thought.  Always at the ready, sitting in our little magnetic dishes. Only cursing them when we find a point stuck into a calloused toe like a small cocktail sword.   They are used everyday we sew and are vital to making great garments, crafts and quilts.  Here are a few things about the pin that you may not know.

  1. A pin has three parts:  a shank, the point and the head.
  2. The earliest pins found were from the Paleolithic sites and were made from bone and thorns.
  3. Ancient Egyptians used pins to hold the eyelids of the dead closed.
  4. Before actual garment sewing as we know it pins were used to hold clothing together.
  5. Bronze was the first metal used for pins prior to the Medieval period.
  6. Pins were used in place of buttons.  The poor often could not afford buttons so pins were used in place.
  7. Pins were used in baby clothes and in layettes during the Middle Ages.  Pins were used to shape a child’s posture. Ouch!
  8. Seamstresses would use pins to maintain pleats and ruffles.  The less pins used the better seamstress or tailor.
  9. Archaeologists find pins more than needles.  Needles were  more expensive than pins and continued to be well past the Industrial Revolution. 
  10. Paris made the finest pins until the Industrial Revolution, then England took the honor.
  11. England alone produced 100 million pins daily.

Homework:  Go out and buy a magnetic pin holder.  Or make yourself a lovely pincushion.  Here are a few pics for inspiration.

Source: Findings by Mary C. Beaudry. Publisher: Yale University 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0-300-11093-7

Photos:   Click on the photos and you will be taken to these ladies wonderful Flickr page and/or  blog site.  

Pin cushions and photos by Elizabeth Holcombe

Pincushion and photo by Elizabeth Holcombe


4 thoughts on “The Pin – a short history

  1. A magnetic pin-holder?
    When I mischievously put a small magnet in my mother’s pin tin, even after I removed it all the pins stuck together. She was furious, because she couldn’t take out a single pin as a whole string of them came too.

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