Who can resist a cute little pin cushion? They are great ways to use up scraps of pretty fabrics, they are useful, and they just look darn adorable sitting on your table! Lately I’ve been working on making some pin cushions, and I asked some designer friends about what kinds of filling they like to use. Wow! seems everyone has a particular preference, and for different reasons. Today, I thought I’d share with you what I found out.
Polyester Filling- This is a “fluffy” filling that is often used for making pillows and stuffed animals. The advantages of polyester filling are that it is easy to find in any sewing store, it is clean and free of allergens, and it is washable. You will need to try a few different kinds and see what you like- some of them can be kind of lumpy, and that can make it difficult to get a nice smooth project. (After trial and error, I have found that I like Silky Soft by Fairfield, I find it at JoAnn Fabrics. I also like it for larger projects like pillows.) It is very lightweight, which makes it great for stuffed animals, but you may prefer a heavier pin cushion which won’t easily slip or fall off the table when you use it. (I saw a suggestion to sew a heavy metal washer to the bottom of the pin cushion to keep it from sliding around.)
Cotton or Wool Filling- a little heavier than polyester filling. Some people say that the lanolin in wool will keep your pins and needles smooth and shiny.
Walnut Shells- You can find crushed walnut shells in pet stores, it is sold as reptile bedding, and it is pretty inexpensive. It is nice and heavy, which makes a nice pin cushion. It also fills in the corners very easily and nicely. Some people say that the shells and the oils in them keep your needles sharp and clean. The disadvantages- it should not be used or handled by people with a nut allergy. One person I talked to showed me a pin cushion which she had made several months prior, which now had a dark stain on it- presumably from the oils in the shells. So if you are using walnut shells for a pin cushion, you may want to line it to provide an extra layer of protection against the oils.
Sand- This can be found in hardware stores. It makes a nice heavy pin cushion. Disadvantage is that a sand spill can make a real mess in your house! (Think about when you come home from the beach, and you have sand in places you didn’t know you had!!) You will need to use a funnel and cookie tray or shallow pan under your pin cushion when you are filling it, to catch any spills. Because it’s so fine, use a smaller stitch length to prevent the sand from leaking out.
Emery Sand or Powder- Remember your Grandma’s old fashioned tomato pin cushion with the strawberry on top? The strawberry had emery in it- a super fine sand which sharpens your needles. It is actually made of very finely ground minerals/metals and so it has an abrasive property. Because it is so fine, I suggest lining the pin cushion and using a very small stitch length to prevent leakage. You can find it online, but it can be a bit pricey. It will make a nice, heavy pin cushion. Some people swear by emery, and others say that it actually causes corrosion of your needles because the abrasiveness will scratch the finish off the needles.
Sawdust- I have never used saw dust, but I imagine if you have a woodworking husband or friend, you can get lots of it for free! It would make a heavier, denser pin cushion than would polyester filling.
Scraps of fabric, batting- Try cutting your scraps into small pieces and stuffing it into your pin cushion. I haven’t tried it, but I imagine that if it works it would be a great way to use up those odd bits that we normally throw away. Again, this would make a lightweight pin cushion, so you could try mixing it with a heavier filling, or sewing a heavy washer to the bottom of the pin cushion.
Lavender smells nice! You could use exclusively lavender to fill your pin cushion, or mix it with another filling.
Someone also mentioned buckwheat hulls, which I’ve never tried. I was warned away from trying rice, as it might attract bugs. You might have heard that human hair makes a good pin cushion filling, but, ewww, I’m not trying it (and golly, it seems it would take FOREVER to save enough hair to fill a pin cushion. Unless you sweep up and keep the trimmings on the floor at a salon. And I’ll say it again- ewww.)
What do you use for making pin cushions, and why? Tell us in the comments!
I use crushed walnut shells. I like the weight of it.
Crushed walnut shells are not just used for crafts, they are used as bedding for lizards. You can purchase them in bags at Pet Smart. I love to use them in my pincushions.
Have you had the staining issues the author mentioned above?
I have a turtle pin cushion my sister-in-law made me out of felt when I was about 14. It is stuffed with stell wool. I patched a small area of felt that had worn out. Not surprising as I’ll be 72 this August. It’s one of my cherished possessions. My pins never trust and are always sharp!
The staining has happened to me. Very disappointed.
I make a muslin bag for the shells. Never had them bleed thru. It’s my favorite
sawdust is the best to use because it sharpens your pins. TY
Walnut shells here are very expensive as they are not used in the pet world and just the craft scene. Abut 20 or more years ago I made a pin cushion and stuffed it with fine sawdust, still the one I use and have never had a rusty pin, trouble is it is hard to get hold of sawdust these days. Found sand can be a problem if you have a damp home, I get condensation and the pin cushion got damp as did the sand. What puzzles me is why the pins gradually sink right into the pin cushion and do not saty with a bit sticking up!!
Sawdust is the winner for me
You might try locating anyplace that has wooodworking classes and ask for saw dust. I have a friend who teaches in schools and community centers and he has the sawdust problem that we have with lint and strings!
Or beauty salon and ask for the hair on the floor …just kidding…yuck
My daughter is a hairdresser and keeps her floors mopped up between clients. The hair on the floor has been washed and conditioned. It’s not yucky!
Amazon Prime has walnut shell cheap and free shipping
Sawdust is everywhere! Just get a saw and a scrap piece of wood. The best pincushion I ever had was sawdust filled- wife tossed it and the replacement isn’t nearly as good. I’m busting out my saw today to replace the heirloom! Cheers, Charlie Bader Anchorage AK
Thank you for that oh so simple reminder Charles! Of course we can make our own sawdust! I am breaking out the saw as I write! lol I think I will add a little layer of lavender too.
I get ground walnut shells twice a year to put under my lizard.
You can go to any home improvement store..ie Home Depot..Loews..ect and their wood depth has TONS of free sawdust where they cut wood for customers
I buy old pincushions and cut them open. They can be full of needles. What a nice surprise .
You can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and ask them for some saw dust. I usually bring a gallon size zip lock.
I knit also and a while back there was an article on a woman who knitted her husband a sweater out of HER HAIR. Just no. Thanks for the info on pincushion fillings. I’m making some this week!
I have no interest in using hair for anything. Ewww!
I use poly-fil right now. I’ve thought about using the walnut shells but worry about allergies. I like the idea of adding a large washer or maybe a pouch of aquarium rocks to the bottom to give it a bit more weight. My favorite style pincushions are the ones that are made from another object like a tea cup or small toy truck.
I have used fabric scraps and thought it worked great. I usually just use whatever I have handy. Thanks for the tip about where to buy the walnut shells!
i use little white stones, like used in gardens! are really good for the needles and pins! and is cheaper!! i found in a garden’s material shops!
Yes, that’s ground garden pumice! That would be get to keep your needles sharp! My husband has a sawdust collection system, I’ll just grap a scoop next pin cushion I make.
I haven’t personally tried it, but I’ve heard that steel wool – like you would use for cleaning – is good for filling a pin cushion. It’s also supposed to keep the pins clean and sharp.
That sounds a good idea. I will make one at the weekend.
My son made me a pincushion out of a hairspray cap with steel wool. He is 41. Still use it and love it.
We live near the coast and I would not recommend steel wool as it rusts in our ‘late night and early morning fog’ but if you can find fine copper or stainless wool that would be good.
Make a tiny pin cushion with steel wool for sharpening needles only. Using them for the regular pin cushions can rust your needles!
I would only do this if I lived in a very low humidity area.
Could Epsom salts be used?
What about cat crystal litter? Because I won’t be washing it.
Our sewing class just made pincushion/threadcatchers and we all walnut shells and sand available to fill. All of the gals used a mixture of about 50/50; filled a muslin bag folding it down and sewing it closed on machine, then slipping it into the pincushion part. Love the weight and fullness of the pincushion.
Not sure but the sand we get from the beach would rust the pins because of the salt that is in the sand.
I use crushed walnut shells scented with lavender. I love the weight of the shells.
I have used walnut she’ll but i find it puts a residue on the pins which makes them slightly rough.
Back when I wore panty hose to work everyday I would save my old hose, washed of course, and cut them up for filling. It is very light so I’d suggest adding the washer to the bottom. Also makes a good fiLling for pillows and stuffed animals.
I cut all those little scraps of batting into tiny pieces with my rotary cutter and add walnut shells to make the pin cushion heavy enough. The batting seams to absorb the oils from the walnut shells. Putting lavender is a wonderful addition. I do admit I never thought of the nut allergy issue, will need to mark my gifts of pin cushions and maybe make some without.
I use crushed walnut shells and wool both.
You would also have to be careful who gets your sewing projects. Nut oil will transfer from the pins.
I make bobbin lace and so use a lot of pins. I like raw wool as it does gently lubricate your pins and keep them free of rust. I know many lacemakers that swear by it!
My daughter is allergic to walnuts, so walnut shells would be out of the question for us, but this sounds like a good alternative. Is raw wool the same thing as wool roving? If so, my daughter has some that I could use!
I don’t believe they are the same thing. Wool roving has been processed, and I don’t believe raw wool has. You may be able to run the raw wool through a hot wash cycle, but I’m not an expert!
They aren’t the same but roving or sliver should work beautifully and you won’t need to wash it, but there will be less lanolin for both good and ill; it won’t be as good at keeping your pins and needles from rusting but it’s already clean and odorless.
Where do you get “raw” wool? Will ordinary processed wool fabric work as well?
Check Peace Fleece for raw wool.
I’ve made many pin cushions and the absolute favourite filling is a top layer of sheep’s wool, middle layer of crushed walnut shells and a deep in core of the finest grade possible (0000) steel wool. It may sound like a lot of work but it is truly worth the effort as each layer adds a benefit to pins and needles.
I recycle nylons and pantyhose – washed first, of course – as filling. I have friends who have to wear them for work and are glad to unload them once they get a run – better than putting them in the landfill! They make great filling for stuffed toys as well, especially for babies, since they are washable.
I’m going to try it with a washer added in since the nylons are very light.
I use toy fill for softness but add some weight with plastic beads which are made for fill in dolls.I have used them in limbs of porceline and cloth dolls. the beads give them a comfortable weight.
I use semi-processed wool (it has been carded so it’s clean) for filling and steel shot (or BBs) for weight. I sew the weights in a small bag made of interfacing or scrap fabric, whichever is closest to hand. Works great! Drapery weights also work.
I remember an elderly woman in the small town where I grew up who used coffee grounds she had dried.
I’ve always used parakeet gravel, but will give some of these other options a try.
Is that the same as “Grit” for birds? I’m a southerner, so don’t anticipate it would be corn grits!! LOL!
I have used fabric and batting scraps cut up in tiny pieces for filling pin cushions. Keeps the stuff out of the landfill and is free.
10 or so years ago I purchased a pin cushion made of scraps of felted wool or wool roving wrapped tightly around to form a a cylinder. It has held up well. The oils in the wool are supposed to be good for the needles. It is relatively light weight.
When I was a little girl, I made a pin cushion with my Grandma. We filled with our hair. It is one of my treasures.
I made a tailor’s ham which had to be very firm to press sewing on and was recommended to use a mixture of sand and sawdust. I then started to use it for pin cushions
My pin cushions that are stuffed with sand leak a very, very fine grit. It comes through the weave of the cotton fabric!! I find poly or fabric stuffing is too light weight. (I tried aquarium rocks. Someone previously suggested white stones from the garden department. I found my pins would run into the rocks. Not a good one in my opinion.)
When I taught all four of my daughters to sew, we first made a pin cushion. We had saved their hair from when I cut it and put it in a plastic sandwich bag and used that for the filling. They all still have them and use them. Treasures.
I inherited a pin cushion that was made in the 1840’s, and it is filled with iron filings, and keeps pins & needles sharp & shiny!
I use a lead button in my pincushions to add weight – they are normally sewn in to the corners of curtains and have two holes to allow you to sew them in place. Depending on the shape of the pincushion, I may sew some wadding around them first so that it remains central in the pincushion.
I use poly filling and steel wool. I put the steel wool in the middle of the poly filling. This keeps your needles and pins sharp and cleaned off. I may try some of the other ideas as I am needing to make a new one.
I enjoy reading everyone’s opinions and ideas about these pin cushions.
I have been making them for church fundraisers and I donate them a lot.
I use cat litter, its the perfect weight, and clean and has the a clean
smell about it. Never had any problems with it.
Thanks for sharing all, have a great day
I like to use a combination of walnut shells and polyester stuffing. I also like to make a separate pouch to fill with the shells, it keeps the oils from damaging your pretty pincushion fabrics.
I’ve always used fine steel wool. I make a double layer of the pin cushion casing, sew around it and leave about a 2″ opening. Then I stuff and stuff it with the steel wool. Sew the opening shut and there it is, a pin cushion that also helps keep my pins sharp.
Some great ideas here, especially using wool & a large washer/weight in the bottom. I’ve used craft/poly-fil & nylons in the past, but would prefer something with some weight to it. A friend has me save my long-haired cat’s fur for use in her craft & felting projects (washed, of course). I wonder if the fur has natural lanolin & if it would work like natural wool does? I LOVE adding a small “appendage” (like a strawberry) to fill with emery sand.
What about using steel wool? Also you can find crushed walnut shells in Lizard Litter at pet store.
One of my cutest pincushions is filled with some sort of sand. Often I remove a few pins from this pincushion and pop them between my lips to use one by one to pin pieces of fabric together. Unfortunately, I ususally find myself having to wipe the sand from my mouth. So although sand works well to hold needles, it isn’t perfect.
Hmm, I’ve used the same sand filled pin cushion for 30+ years and have never had a problem with sand leaking. I bet (not positive) mine has a muslin liner inside. I bet that would fix the problem.
You idea of the Fairfield batting sounded great and the wool also. We certainly were given some nice ideas. Thanks.
My problem with walnut shell is their ability to absorb moisture and fox fabric, as well as the problem of not being able to launder the pin cushion or stuffed object.
Before my Mother’s passing she made Pillow Case Dolls for all the daughters from her Mothers hand embroidered and chrocheted pillow cases. Beautiful.
Mine needs cleaned after 20 years. I looked it over and noticed staining on the doll body and even foxing (mildew and mould) areas. I took it to the restoration exper and she about fainted when she saw the walnu hulls, and stated, “If I had my waythose things would be banned for any craft project!!! Sh had to take the doll completely apart, remove the walnuts, clean the mould, mildew, and walnut stain. She then sewed a separate bag made from “Selvedge muslin, filled with purified sand and silicate (sp?) (for the weight so she will sit up). And then the rest with a lining of soft fill and plastic pellets. It’s supposed to not attract moisture. It cost me a FORTUNE and she is now behind glass!
Eww to using real hair, not gonna happen in my world. I like walnut shells and sometimes I use a little batting with the shells, and always a muslin lining to keep the oil and small pieces from escaping.
I have been wold that Rosemary in the pin cushion will stop the needles from going rusty and keeps them sharp. Has anyone heard of this?
I have not heard of this but it sounds interesting. If nothing else, I guess it would make your pin cushion smell good!
I have a question. I do alot of applique and my needles are very fine, I have a problem of my needles falling out when it turns over. What should I stuff my cushions with?
Hi Christie! I haven’t experienced that problem, but I’m wondering if something which is solidly packed, like the emery powder or sand would work better?
Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your experiences..and questions. I don’t want my pincushions tp stain, of course(oil from walnut shells), and the idea of steel wool sounds great. I guess that is something I can purchase from the hardware store?
Can someone tell me where to get sheeps wool for stuffing my pincushion?
You can get sheeps wool at pharmapack. 3/8 oz 2 dollars and some change
Amazon very reasonable priced
You can buy wool roving on Etsy.
My grandmother always used a piece of fine steel wool in the middle to sharpen and clean the pins and any bits of wool, stuffing, scraps she had. Catriona
Crushed walnut shells sell about 35 bucks for a 50lb bag at some harware stores. Its used as a sandblasting medium. (Tsc, princess auto.. etc.)
Polyvinyl left over from pillows and batting from quilts make great filling for pin cushions made on the tops of mason jars.
That should have been polyfill. Gotta love autocorrect!
Auto correct has made posts, texts, & emails really crazy at times. Never sure if I’m going to be embarressed or laughing my head off!! LOL
I also like Silky Soft (from JoAnn’s). Sometimes I put polyester pellets in the bottom for weight. Then I stuff them very full with Silky Soft. Fun to make.
I do use polyfill for toys and such, but I’ve become a huge fan of wool roving. It fluffs up well & feels good
My hair is curly enough that all the strands i shed only come out when I wet my hair. I could probably fill a small pin cushion in several months. So I finally have a use for all the hair I shed… not sure I could bring myself to use it though!
Ok I have a hair saver made of celluloid in those days when women saved their hair to make buns in their own hair color…(well unhappily my hair from stress has been falling out) guess i could use this for a pincushion …on a lighter note i have walnut hulls for a project n it makes nice pincushions also… use both i guess if id like the 2nd idea better…
I use chick grit. It’s inexpensive, has weight to it, all natural but not a problem for people with nut allergies, and fills corners nicely.
Thanks for all the interesting ideas! I use wool roving and have never had a problem with it staining either the pin cushion fabric or clothing pinned. I pack it in real tight so it’s not spongy. On wrist pin cushions it’s comfortably lightweight, and easy to stick the pins into. I originally bought my roving from Webbs Yarn Store in Northampton MA, but if you have a local spinner or sheep farm, you can probably inquire to buy some. Stores that sell sheep skins might have scraps of hides that you can cut the hair off of. Also, CVS Pharmacy sells small bags of lamb’s wool in the foot care department. Hope this helps!
I recently restored a pear crate that I figured was over 75+ years old and turned it into my seeing box. I covered the lid interior felt and stuffed it with polyester pillow fill I purchased from Walmart. I noticed the other day all my needles were rough and rusted. Did the polyester fill and/or the felt cause this? I’m going to remove all this material and reline it but will wait for a response first! Thank you
My mother made us pin cushions when I was a kid (more than 30 years ago), and filled them with sand. They are the same pin cushions she and I use today. We’ve never had a problem with dampness, they are heavy, a perfect weight for sitting on a table or next to the sewing machine. I’m currently making new pin cushions for my daughters, I will fill them with sand, with a layer of emery sand on top (in a muslin bag). I like the idea of using steel wool, but it seems like it would be rather light, unless you used sand or something underneath it. I also like the lavender idea, but lavender is expensive!
I used a steel wool scrubbing pad with poly-ful around it. Sharpens my pin and needles.
I use walnut shells for mine, but I usually put fusible fleece batting on at least the front of the pincushion. I find it stabilizes the design whether I quilt it or not, and it adds a bit of protection from the shells. Once I have the pincushion filled with shells, I put a little bit of polyfil at the opening before I stitch it shut, to keep any shells from sneaking through my closing stitches.
For both pin cushions and cloth pumpkins, I like a 20% bottom layer of pinto beans for weight and stability. The poly fill on top works great!
Can I use cotton balls?
I purchased some wool from CVS like you would use to wrap sore toes — I haven’t tried it yet, but it was a little expensive – I did have a coupon!
I have been making pincushions for 20 years and use lavender or balsam and rice.
No bugs or any problems. They still smell good.
Fiber filling can catch the pins if they’re not sharp.
Hi I have just made some little pin cushions and used poly in the top, and a lavender and rice mix in the bottom. Next time I think I might add the steel wool in the middle. Does anyone else use rice?
I have found that flaxseed has worked very well also. Not the ground flaxseed, but the tiny seeds. Also, I fill the corners first with either polyfil or batting pieces & use a funnel in the opening for the flaxseed. They turn out very good. I’m happy with the results !!
I just read that Kapok can be a substitute for wool stuffing, so I am going to try making a pincushion using kapok since I already have some that I made wonderful pillows out of. Wish me luck.
You ladies do understand that wool, angora and other types of fibers are often just hair…washed and sometimes dyed. Silly to think ours is different. I think having something knitted of your loved ones hair would be a wonderful memento.
I have an old sawdust pincushion my grandmother used probably 50-60 years ago. Some of my heavier hand needles made large holes in the fabric and now the sawdust is working its way out.
If you want sawdust and don’t know a wood worker buy wood pellet cat litter soak the pellets in a small amount of water the pellets will break down into wet sawdust let dry and u have sawdut . It takes awhile to dry but if u r in a hurry put it in the oven on a very low temp. til dry I stir mine from time to time
I’ve made them with steel wool inside. Double encased. Keeps needles dry and sharp.
I love using a pin cushion to hold my pins!