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At a recent meeting of my quilt group I was intrigued by a fellow member passing round the tables as we sewed with small bags of powder, now it’s not what you are thinking, it wasn’t white powder, but black, it looked like iron filings or gun powder perhaps. she sold me a bag, and I was very pleased to have it.
She told me a funny story that went with the powder, which is carborundum, or emery powder. My fellow quilter had sourced the powder from a manufacturer but she had to buy a significant amount, more than she might ever need. Because it is heavy and would be expensive to have shipped she had arranged for a friend who lives near the supplier to collect the cannister and pass it to her husband when they next met.
Her husband and friend met in the car park of a ferry terminal, they were traveling to Ireland together. Rather than leave the exchange till they got back, fearing they may forget, the cannister was transfered to her husband’s car before they both got into his car and made the ferry crossing to Ireland.
Needless to say, there must be CCTV cameras trained on we hapless travelers in ferry terminals. When the two gentlemen arrived in Ireland, customs officers took them aside and asked them to explain the canister with the suspicious gunpowder like contents. Imagine their disbelief when these two men, who I’m told are built like rugby players and not in the first flush of youth, explained the contents of the canister was to be made into…pincushions!
If you have ever been cursed with rust on your needles this is your answer. The Victorian ladies who were probably more plagued with dampness in their homes than we are today, often had little pincushions made to look like strawberries. These strawberry pincushions contained emery powder. Any pin or needle could be stuck into the pincushion a few times till the rust was rubbed off and the needle once again made usable: not leaving rust stains on the fine lace and fabrics being worked. I have planned to make myself some strawberry pincushions but not knowing where to find emery powder, or even what it was, I thought they would simply be scissor keepers, which save your fine embroidery scissors from disappearing down the side of the sofa when you are not paying attention.
I found an old pattern dating from the 1930’s on Pinterest, cut two layers, the inner one in a tightly woven fabric, I used a piece of the 14 year old’s outgrown school shirt, to make sure the emery powder didn’t leak out.
The outer fabric I chose for its little ditsy print in a pretty pink, for the strawberry pincuchions and a toning green fabric for the leaves.
filling these little cones with the emery powder was really fiddly. I found that if I fixed a cone of paper into an empty plastic container, (this contained camera film, but was re-purposed into containers for bugle beads) then the liner could be filled and I had both hands free to tuck in a circle of fabric on top of the emery powder and draw the raw ends over the top so the powder wouldn’t leak.
I used freezer paper to cut a pattern for the leaves (you can iron freezer paper to the fabric, and cut it out without any slippage). two layers , the edge neatened with some hand stitching , I don’t do it often, but my attempt to use a machine stitch was disastrous.
And finally a little ribbon, attached to the Strawberry pincushions means they can be used as scissor keepers or hung from my wrist, to keep pins to hand. I usually have a mouthful of pins when I’m dressmaking, which is never a good idea, but strangely habit forming.