Quilting Blog

The Inside Scoop on Pincushions: What Goes Inside?

For quilters and sewers alike, pincushions are not only necessary tools of the trade, but another item to personalize for the sewing room. While pincushions range from super simple to elaborate, they all serve an important purpose, so they’re worth doing right.

Pin Cushion for Sewing

But the fun doesn’t stop at the design or the embellishment. What goes inside the pincushion is an important choice for anyone who wishes to get the best function out of their design. Not all pincushions are created equal when it comes to the stuffing.

Let’s review the most common types of pincushion stuffing and how to decide the best option for yours.

1. Cotton stuffing or batting

stuffingcotton batting

Cotton scraps, stuffing and batting are handy because most sewers and quilters have plenty in their stash. But cotton has drawbacks. It’s lightweight, and even when packed tightly into the cushion, it doesn’t give enough weight or stability to the pincushion. The cushion can be easily tipped or rolled when trying to add a pin or removing one. However, a lightweight stuffing won’t be a problem if you’re crafting a wearable pincushion bracelet, like the one below.

2. Ground walnut shells

The better option, chosen by many quilters, is finely ground walnut shells. These can be purchased in small quantities at many quilt shops and sewing supply stores. If you plan to make more than one pincushion, though, you might want to buy a large bag of these at the local pet supply store, where they’re sold as bedding for small animals. If you don’t want to store a large bag, scoop it out into baggies and share it with some friends!

The weight of the ground walnut shells will keep the pincushion in place during use, and the texture of the finely ground shells will help keep the pins and needles sharp. So it works for both functions and gives the shape of the pincushion a nice feel.

If you choose to use the ground shells, be sure to line the pincushion with muslin or batting scraps to prevent any leaks or seepage at seams. It is very easy to make a simple bag of muslin, fill it and then insert it into the pincushion before stitching the last seam closed. 

3. Steel wool

A third option would be to use a steel wool pad. These can be found in the grocery store with the home cleaning products. Be sure to choose a product that does not have added chemicals or cleaners inside the pad. Just plain steel wool has the advantage of sharpening your pins and needles when used. It does have a bit of structure to shape your pincushion, but it will not add stability like the ground walnut shells will.

The disadvantages to the steel wool pads are that they are generally small and will fill only the smallest of pincushions. Using multiple steel wool pads will work, or you could use one in combination with other stuffings. Try adding one just to the top layer of your stuffing of ground shells or cotton and see if you like the effect. This will sharpen the needles without the difficulty manipulating several together. They can be abrasive to work with, so please use caution when handling them.

Classic Pin Cushion

No matter what you choose to stuff your pin cushions with, these suggestions may give you an option not before considered. Whether you go with cotton, shells, steel wool or a combination of the three, make sure you stuff it tightly and close it securely for a durable finish. Your pins, your pin cushion and you will be very happy you did!

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Barbara Nelson

How can I do a post? I want to post to the Make More Time, but I don’t see where to make my post. I just keep getting you have been enter when I hit click here. Thank you

Laurie R

Scroll to the very bottom of the Make More Time blog post and you will see the button to post a comment.


I filled all my usable pincushions with beautiful white sand from the Gulf of Mexico. A layer of wool felt oils the pins and the fine white sand sharpens the points.

Allison Dey Malacaria

I only use natural wool fleece in my pincushions. The lanolin keeps pins and needles naturally smooth and rust-proof. It has a great texture and is very easy to use and doesn’t compact like cotton. I have even used fleece tops straight from the sheep shearing. Wool is my favorite. I tried using thin cotton batting only once as a top layer but the pins wouldn’t even poke through. It was like hitting a wall.

Pat M (Moon Blue)

I’d like to add a note of warning to your comment on using batting for wrist pincushions. You say “However, a lightweight stuffing won’t be a problem if you’re crafting a wearable pincushion bracelet, like the one below”. Ideally, you need a protective barrier (perhaps a small disk of plastic) between the cushion and the wrist. Otherwise, if you are careless, a pin can go right through — and this can be uncomfortable. Most commercial wrist pincushions have this protection.


I always cut a shape from a plastic margarine or butter carton to use in the very bottom of the pincushion, to avoid pins going through to my wrist – or the furniture!

Arlene McMillin

I used wool from sheep in my pincushions

Arlene McMillin

I always used wool from our sheep.

Linda in NC

One word of caution about using walnut shells: While they provide excellent heft as filling, they could also prove a very poor choice should the user have a nut allergy and the habit of holding pins between the lips. If a walnut shelled filled pincushion is going into a bazaar or boutique, it should be clearly labeled as containing walnut shells to prevent an unfortunate incident.

joni gaida

That’s a great comment! I was thinking about making these for family gifts and remembered that my daughter in law is allergic to walnuts. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it without your comment. Great save!

Marlene Clausen

Ground walnut shells are my choice and I ALWAYS label pincushions whether I give or sell them. Take no chances of putting anyone at risk.


I use Emery in the bottom and wool batting on top of that. Best if both worlds

Gabrielle de Geus

I’ve thought of using sawdust instead of walnut shells. Any thoughts on that?


You could find steel wool at hardware stores, in larger pieces. Usually in the paint section.


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