Monday, January 9, 2012


Small pincushions made to dangle from sweetbags began to gain popularity in the late 16th and early 17th century. This is a tough object to document as it is part of an intended larger set. Eventually I plan to make a larger bag for holding sewing essentials, a knife sheath, needlecase and penner all embroidered in style and motif similar to the pincushion. For now, however, I have only the pincushion.
I decided to hang it from the saccocia/pocket as there is a fresco featuring a saccocia with attached cone shaped needlecase. By Alessandro Allori, “ A Woman at her Toilet,” is dated between 1575 and 1578 and resides in Florence, Italy in the Gaddi Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The needlecase dangles from the bottom.
I made several unsuccessful attempts to make a similar needlecase but was not able to with the materials I had to hand. Having a similar needlework implement in the same place seemed to me like a reasonable substitution. I plan to keep scissors in the pocket itself and needles and pins accessible in the pincushion.
My pincushion is probably more English than Italian in design as the sweetbags are more particularly English. However, there is an extant Italian needlecase, probably from Venice, embroidered in a style very like the English knife sheathes that are often seen as part of sweetbag suites. The frequent use of Italian patterns and design for English embroidery and pattern books makes me feel pretty comfortable in planning a bag, pincushion and needlecase suite down the road, even if documenting the pincushion dangling from the saccoccia right now is a bit dodgy.
I had planned to design and stitch a heart and fleur and surround it with a floral design, but after drawing it up I quickly realized that embroidering something like that wasn’t going to happen right now. Instead, I found a floral design that was machine embroidered and appliqued it in the period manner. Again, my research is more English than Italian, but embroidered floral slips were often done on linen and then cut and appliqued on to other fabrics. The method of applique involved stiffening or sealing the edges of a piece cut out from the fabric with either glue or a wheat paste, placing it on to the fabric to be appliqued to and couching gold threads around the slip. The edges were not folded under, but instead held down by the couched gold. I appliqued my floral slips in this same way.
The pincushion is made of silk left from my dress stuffed with wool. I couched gold cord around the edges , leaving a loop of it to hang the pincushion from and finished it with the same tassels I used for my tassel bag. Sweetbag tassels are usually a little different than this, being an unusual type. When and if I finish the suite, I intend to change the tassels.


  1. It's so pretty!

    I'm curious, how is wool for the stuffing? I used cotton balls in mine and I can't even get the pins to go into the center of the cushion (I have to float then on the outer edges of the stuffing, sigh) so I'd love to have a better option for my next one.

  2. The pins go into the wool just beautifully. I stuffed firmly but not too solidly. I do a lot of needlefelting and wet felting so I have oodles of wool stuffing just hanging around. It was the closest thing to grab. BUT wool is what is often used for needlebooks and such for care of needles. Pins and needles and wool mix nicely and are easily documentable.