Have you even had a pin go dull or have little bumps or barbs “grow” on your needles?
This was very common in the nineteenth century. To keep pins and needles sharp and barb free, nearly every workbox or sewing basket had an emery. Emery is a special mineral sand that removes bumps from needles and helps keep them sharp. Think about modern things like sand paper and emery boards. They have this emery sand on paper or card, that files away residue, wood, finger nails, etc.. A similar process happens each time you slide your needles or pins into an emery. Keeping needles sharp and barb free is particularly important if you are using g antique or vintage needles. Barbs and dull needles will snag fine fabrics like silks and sheers, causing damage not just at the needle site, but several inches away.
Strawberries were a popular shape for an emery through the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. We still see them today accompanying the popular tomato pin cushion, which also saw popularity in the nineteenth century just with different materials than what we now see.
We find directions for making strawberry emeries in multiple nineteenth century publications. The Girl’s Own Book, 1833, gives simple directions for an emery bag in the form of a strawberry. Eliza Leslie stuffed her linen strawberry, in The American Girl’s Book, 1857, with bran. Godey‘s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine offer this knit strawberry emery with big leaves in 1859.
Original strawberries are found in silk, velvet, wool and linen, filled with emery as well as wool and bran. While most are a shade of red, not all are. Some are capped with green fabric leaves, while some are topped with metal caps that occasionally reflect the look of leaves.
You can find accurate strawberry emeries and pin cushions in my Etsy ship’s special Strawberry Patch.