When I was a kid rifling through my grandmother’s sewing supplies, I always got a kick out of the little berry thing that hangs off of the traditional tomato pin cushion. I never understood what it was for, I just thought it was cute and silly. Ok, no past-tense about it. I still think it’s a little cute and silly. But now I know what it is for.
The berry is filled with emery, which is an abrasive powder. Emery is commonly affixed to boards to create files, among other uses. In this case, its purpose is to keep needles clean and sharp.
Over time and with use, needles and pins will dull, tarnish, and burr (to different degrees depending on the quality of the metal), making it more difficult to push them through fabric. By running needles through the emery berry a couple of times before use, you help keep them in better shape, so they work much better as they age.
So there you have it. The berry does have a purpose. The most common use is for hand-sewing needles, but it can help pins and even machine needles.
Although the image above is of mine, which is the cheap Dritz one I picked up at Joann Fabric, these days you can get a wide variety.
There are also many free pincushion patterns on the Web, so you can make your own. Use the emery berry off of an old tomato one that needs replacement, and you’ll still have the useful berry around.
Is there another sewing whatsit that you want to know more about? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you know of any super cute pincushions or pincushion patterns, pass them along! After writing this post, I feel like I need something much cooler than my yellow tomato.