sewing tutorial : long pincushion and raw edge patchwork

11 inch long thin pin cushion with patches

September is National Sewing Month! I didn’t even make that up – it’s completely real. Thanks Ronald Reagan.

Let’s make a long pin cushion. Or a couple. It’s a perfect way to celebrate National Sewing Month and I’ve been meaning to make one for ages. Just right for the front of the sewing machine and great as a pattern weight, it’s stuffed with crushed walnut shells. I love them. You can find them in big bags at most pet supply stores (not a good idea if you have a nut allergy though). You could use wool stuffing (packed really firmly) as an alternative.

This is also a great project to experiment with raw edge patchwork. I love it when I see it but I have a had a hard time getting myself to do it. Not neatly folding those edges under feels like breaking a rule but I’ve been messing around with it lately on some jeans and a super old and worn quilt and liking the results.

Back to the pincushion

I took a meandering approach to adding my patchwork, a pleasant afternoon on the couch with piles of scraps adding little bits of fabric. The lack of planning invites all sorts of happy accidents. This is a great project to do with friends and a low pressure project for a beginner.

scraps sorted in piles by color on a coffee table with scissors and thread

For the pincushion you will need:

  • 6 X 11.5 inch piece of tightly woven fabric
  • scraps for patches
  • basic sewing kit
  • embroidery thread
  • filling – crushed walnut shells are ideal
  • small funnel

1.  Gather some scraps for patches. I sorted mine into piles for two pincushions – the one in warm pinks at the top of this post and another in berry-ish and indigo shades that I’m demonstrating with.

2. Cut and pin on a couple scraps and start sewing. You can stitch around or through or whatever you like. I’m using embroidery thread and a little sashiko thread.

3. Notice I kept most of the interest toward the middle of my base fabric, the seam will be on the bottom so this will be the most visible part. And in a bold move I used some bright red thread. I love the contrast with the cool colors.

4. When you’re done patching fold it in half, right sides together, carefully matching the edges. Sew the long side seam with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

5. Press the tube with the seam in the middle. Press the seam open.

6. Sew one end closed – also 1/4 inch seam allowance.

7. Turn the tube right side out – a chopstick or similar helps for pushing out the corners.

8. Put a box or bowl or dish under you to catch spills.  Insert the funnel and add the crushed walnut shells a little at a time.  Tap the bottom and push the shells down to completely and firmly fill the tube.

9.  Fill the tube to about one inch from the top. Optional – a little wool or cotton on top helps the fill not spill while your closing the tube.

10. Fold in the edges and stitch closed.

I love it.  It’s an awesome pin cushion and an excellent weapon if things get weird. I hope you make one!


long pin cushion on tool chest with antique sewing machine

P S- In honor of national sewing month, my first sewing memory : standing next to my mother as she sewed this little draw string bag for me, made from grandma moses barkcloth, on the machine above. I must have been about 4.

What’s your first sewing memory? Did you start young?  Happy National Sewing month!


  1. My first sewing memory was when I was probably 3 or 4. My mom watched a sewing show on PBS is the late 60’s. She would thread my needle and give me some cloth and I would hand stitch on it while she watched her show!

  2. This looks like fun! Thank you, Ann! My first sewing memory is in high school home economics class, where I made a skirt. Badly, as I recall. It wasn’t until my late 40s/early 50s that I got the stitching bug, after taking a class on embroidering personal maps. Since then, slow stitching has become my main hobby/creative pursuit.

  3. Ann – thank you so much for your lovely blog, photography and all-around inspiration! My first memory was of standing by my Mom’s bedside super early one morning asking her if she would thread my needle. That part of the process still evaded me. I’m guessing I was 3 or 4. And she was very patient with me!

  4. My grandmother was a member of a hand quilting group. They always had a quilt stretched on a giant frame in the common room in their church. (Frame seemed giant anyway, because I was small). The ladies got together weekly to work on each other’s quilts. I’m sure there was gossip and weak coffee.

  5. Oh my days my memory is of my dad sewing buttons on our jammies haha he was the crafter in my family mam was the cook n bottle washer lol bless them both in heaven xx

  6. My first sewing memory is from about age 6 or 7. My mother showed me how to sew a button on a vivid green piece of cloth. I was so happy I filled the cloth with buttons!

  7. Most people already have a funnel -they don’t know about. Cut the big end off of a plastic soda or drink bottle and stick the small end in the neck warmer or pin cushion – quick and easy. I use the liter soda bottle funnel all the time for “crushed corn neck warmer pillows” Love your long pincushion:)

  8. Ann, thank you so much for sharing what you (obviously) love with us! Being an extremely busy retired person, my life is very full and fast-paced a lot of the time. You and your creative ideas cause me to slow down, take a deep breath and just enjoy something for ME. For that I thank you a thousand times!
    I’m not sure I can pinpoint my first sewing memory but I was always fascinated by fabric and thread. I do remember trying to lay out a piece of cloth and cutting it to be a “dress” for my dolly. With my mom’s help (of course!) I started making my own school clothes when I was 10. In high school I wore a lot of suits with fully lined skirts and jackets. Now I’m a jeans kinda girl! 😀 Thank you again! <3

  9. When I was a Brownie Scout in 1957, our Mothers’ Day project was to embroider “MOM” on the end of a tea towel. I started out in the meeting without any problem….but at home, when I worked on it, and finished! – I thought – I discovered I had sewn it to the skirt of my uniform. Some surprise for Mom! She taught me my first lesson in stitch removal!

  10. Holly Gleason

    Oh Ann, they are wonderful visually and practical too. I will be making more than one as I sew at a few machines. I may gift one as well but these things can be rather personal and it may be better to share your email and let my friends make their own. Thank you kindly for your pattern and inspiration and for all that you share! Kindest regards always.

    • In my city I have seen them at the local Walmart, in the pet section. They are sold also at the large pet store chains such as PetCo or Petsmart. And there’s always Amazon! 🙂

  11. I grew up in a big family of 7 children…I was the big sister. My mother sewed all our clothes for the 5 girls and probably shirts for my two brothers. I have many memories of her sewing, and teaching me to sew. But one memory stands out. I woke up in the night and heard the whir of my mom’s sewing machine. She was making a special dress for my sister to wear to an event…maybe a dance? She was a remarkable woman who taught me so much, especially sewing. She went to heaven too early, at age 50, but she had given all seven of us skills to last a lifetime. I love your posts and dear projects.

  12. First sewing memory is Grandmother teaching me to sew on her treadle machine! A Magical event — with an undercurrent of love which has continued throughout my life. Just like the beauty of the little vintage fabric drawstring bay your Mama made—infused with love.

  13. Jean Miller

    My mother sewed outfits for my younger sister and I for special things like Easter and I remember a plaid skirt and vest for Christmas one year when we were stationed in Germany with our Army father. Otherwise our clothes were ordered from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. My mother taught us to sew pillow cases on the sewing machine, myself and my two older brothers, sister was too young. I sewed doll clothes by hand for my one Barbie doll from scraps I gathered from Mom’s sewing basket. I have enjoyed using the sewing skills my mother taught me all my life and at 67 I mainly sew craft items and keep busy with them. I really enjoy reading your articles and I think I will make a pin cushion or three or four.

  14. I don’t remember the exact age I was when my mama taught me the joys of sewing and crafting, I’d say 4 or 5. I do remember I was 9 when she thought I was ready to sew on her Featherweight, I was thrilled! Mama made all my clothing through grade school, as did most of the moms in the neighborhood for their girls too. I loved I got all the scraps from those little dresses , I made lots of clothing for my dolls and beloved teddy bear, and sometimes even our kitty!

  15. So interesting to read these! I also picked up a needle (threaded by mom) at age 5 to sew little heart-shaped buttons and some scraps of lace on a piece of white muslin…. I had forgotten about this until Mom sent me the little piece not long ago! Quickly moved on to cross stitch, simple doll clothes and working alongside my fellow Girl Scouts to sew matching drawstring skirts in a Laura Ashley-like print. We wore these to dance around a May Pole!

  16. Mary Marcontell

    Please talk about the gorgeous needlework!
    I wanted to include a pic of it but input won’t allow.

  17. My first sewing memory-I must have been about 3. Mom threaded a darning needle with double thread. She cut a simple one piece doll dress shape out of blue calico and tried to help me sew it. I do not remember that it was ever finished. She made me a little red checked dress which I liked very much. When I was 7 Grandma started me on her treadle model. By high school I was making a lot of my own clothes. “I taught you to follow directions,” said Mom. I love to sew dolls and toys.

  18. I remember sewing a pleated skirt for my Barbie. I was in the 3rd grade. I am so inspired by your blog. Thanks, Anne!

  19. When I was young (7ish) my older sister was in and out of the hospital over the course of year. Therefore, I spent time with an elderly lady named Ivy. She used to let me play in her fabric scraps. I would wrap them around my dolls. I also remember the fascination I had with my great grandmother’s treadle machine.

  20. My first sewing memory is of standing beside my grandmother when she worked at her very old Singer. I must have been around 4. Later, I spent the ages of 10-12 in home economics at school, starting with making an embroidered tea towel and emerging with culottes! My mother didn’t sew, and the culottes pattern was incomprehensible to me, so she read out each instruction and I did what it said, and in the end, I turned everything out and, hey Presto!, culottes. A good life lesson on following instructions!

  21. I am SOOOOOO loving this project. I had lots of little scraps as well as some photo/fabric transfers of me when I was about 6. They were perfect small pieces to add to the pincushion. I think the hardest thing about this project will be locating the huge bag of crushed walnut shells that I bought 10 years ago and is hiding somewhere in my studio! One of my first memories of sewing is standing next to my mother while she was sewing on her Singer machine, making Christmas presents for all our cousins. She made felt tic-tac-toe games with a zipper section to hold all the pieces, mostly from wool felt, ric rac and dried beans.

  22. Margaret Chapman

    What useful long shaped pincushion that can sit conveniently in front of the sewing machine.
    My first sewing memory is my granny helping me make a dolly quilt. She sat and used her cane to move the squares around on the floor. I hand sewed it and it was a little crooked and lumpy in spots but I was so proud of it. I have gone on to make many more quilts since then!

  23. I remember sewing while my gran cooked. I was somewhere between 3 and 5, I forget wether it was mending the seams on a pillowcase or turning sheets. Gran was born in 1878, a Victorian woman, she believed in turning sheets!

  24. It was sitting in my grandmother’s farm house in California in about the mid 1950’s, was maybe 10 and she decided to teach me how to use her treadle sewing machine! What a trip to coordinate hands, feet plus pay attention! That started a lifetime of making clothes for myself, coats, jackets, wedding dresses, drapes, crafts and eventually copying Vogue designs from magazines! I have probably made it all over the years!

    My sewing has never stopped and currently I work on a Bernina 770 and turn out EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING that becomes important to me. I’m at the moment using about five different exquisite flannel floral/check/stripe/cording with fabrics and trimming bathroom towels! I love to sew, paint, embroidery, explore and dream up my next project! I’ve had a lifetime of them!

  25. I so love how you share your sewing memories with us! My first sewing memory was also around 4, around the time my grandmother gifted me a little blue Holly Hobby sewing machine of my own. I remember sitting next to my mom, on her dad’s Navy-issued sewing machine (on which I sewed my prom dresses in high school! it was a power horse until the cable started to fray) and my Holly Hobby parked in front of me. I had some scrap of yellow fabric that I sewed all sorts of mess onto, and she identified a number 7 in the lines, trimmed it out, and sewed it on my favorite t-shirt of the time. On the front it read “My Grandpa is a volunteer Fireman” and on the back was my random, yellow number 7.

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