Jacquelynne Steves

What Should I Use to Fill My Pin Cushion?


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!



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    Posted June 30, 2016 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    I use crushed walnut shells. I like the weight of it.

    • Elizabeth Strand
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      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.

    • maxine morrison
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      sawdust is the best to use because it sharpens your pins. TY

  • Margaret (margiestitcher)
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    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

    • Marlene Clausen
      Posted March 1, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      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!

    • Laurie Waddell
      Posted March 11, 2018 at 5:17 am | Permalink

      Amazon Prime has walnut shell cheap and free shipping

  • Angela
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    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!

  • Robin (RsIslandCrafts)
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    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.

  • Missy Shay
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • Sara Ruiz
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • Marcie Higgins
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Fred Allot
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      That sounds a good idea. I will make one at the weekend.

    • Diane Dressel
      Posted July 28, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      My son made me a pincushion out of a hairspray cap with steel wool. He is 41. Still use it and love it.

  • Paula Stanton
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Connie Creekmore
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    I use crushed walnut shells scented with lavender. I love the weight of the shells.

  • Pamela Cottrell
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I have used walnut she’ll but i find it puts a residue on the pins which makes them slightly rough.

  • Joyce
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Donna Smeal
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Karin
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I use crushed walnut shells and wool both.

    • Nancy
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      You would also have to be careful who gets your sewing projects. Nut oil will transfer from the pins.

  • Kathy
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    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!

    • Jill
      Posted July 8, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      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!

      • Jacquelynne
        Posted July 10, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        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!

    • Sharon Sizemore
      Posted July 8, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Where do you get “raw” wool? Will ordinary processed wool fabric work as well?

      • Carolyn
        Posted September 15, 2016 at 4:39 am | Permalink

        Check Peace Fleece for raw wool.

  • Tove
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Linda L.
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Bronwyn Silvester
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Elaine
    Posted July 7, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    I remember an elderly woman in the small town where I grew up who used coffee grounds she had dried.

  • Betty
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    I’ve always used parakeet gravel, but will give some of these other options a try.

    • Karen W
      Posted September 21, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Is that the same as “Grit” for birds? I’m a southerner, so don’t anticipate it would be corn grits!! LOL!

  • Karen
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    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.

  • Karen
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    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.

  • Deby
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Karen
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    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.)

  • Kat
    Posted July 12, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Joni Clark
    Posted July 26, 2016 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • Marian Croose
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    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.

  • Darlene
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    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.

    • Roberta Westbrooks
      Posted September 17, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      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

  • Kris B
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Nancy
    Posted August 24, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Karen W
    Posted September 21, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Deborah DeBerry
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    What about using steel wool? Also you can find crushed walnut shells in Lizard Litter at pet store.

  • Nancy K.
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Terri
      Posted September 9, 2019 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      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.

  • Helen White
    Posted November 1, 2016 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    You idea of the Fairfield batting sounded great and the wool also. We certainly were given some nice ideas. Thanks.


  • Rose
    Posted December 13, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • RuthB
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Jane
    Posted September 27, 2017 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    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?

    • Posted September 27, 2017 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I have not heard of this but it sounds interesting. If nothing else, I guess it would make your pin cushion smell good!

  • Christie
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    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?

    • Posted October 2, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      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?

  • Shari
    Posted October 15, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    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?

  • Shari
    Posted October 15, 2017 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Can someone tell me where to get sheeps wool for stuffing my pincushion?

    • Christie
      Posted October 15, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      You can get sheeps wool at pharmapack. 3/8 oz 2 dollars and some change

      • Marcia B
        Posted September 21, 2018 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        Amazon very reasonable priced

  • Lanniesmum
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    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

  • Dadotwingirls
    Posted February 3, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    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.)

  • Elsie Partridge
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Polyvinyl left over from pillows and batting from quilts make great filling for pin cushions made on the tops of mason jars.

  • Elsie Partridge
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    That should have been polyfill. Gotta love autocorrect!

    • Carrie
      Posted January 30, 2019 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      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

  • Mickey Franks
    Posted April 13, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    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.

  • Marcia B
    Posted September 18, 2018 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I do use polyfill for toys and such, but I’ve become a huge fan of wool roving. It fluffs up well & feels good

  • Lizabetta
    Posted December 20, 2018 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    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!

  • Deborah K
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    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…

  • Caral
    Posted May 25, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Posted July 17, 2019 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi Everyone,
    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!

  • Clarine
    Posted August 16, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    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

  • Terri
    Posted September 9, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • Bonnie
    Posted October 19, 2019 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I used a steel wool scrubbing pad with poly-ful around it. Sharpens my pin and needles.

  • Posted October 20, 2019 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • Vicki
    Posted February 8, 2020 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    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!

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