Staying Sharp with Strawberries
Strawberries are ubiquitous summer fruits that pop with their bright red color and juicy sweet taste. No wonder they became the subject of â€œfancyworkâ€ during the Victorian era. But the strawberry emery predates the Victorian era.
A â€œstrawberry emeryâ€ is a cloth strawberry filled with a very hard granular mineral called emery. Most emery is a gray or black mixture of corundum and magnetite or of corundum, hematite, and spinels hercynite. Crushed or naturally eroded emery (known as black sand) has been used as an abrasive for hundreds of years. The abrasive action of emery removes dirt and rust keeping pins and needles sharp and smooth. An important factor given that pins where used not just in sewing but as a means of fastening clothes and other textiles together â€“ and pins and needles were expensive.
Some strawberries are in fact pincushions, not emeries. The difference is in the content of the stuffing. Typically youâ€™ll find the smaller strawberries filled with emery while larger ones were stuffed with raw cotton, wool roving or sawdust. References to pincushions can be found in the Middle Ages when they had the names of pimpilowes, pimpilos, pimplos, pimploes, pin-pillows, or pin-poppets. By the 16th century, they were referred to as â€œpyn pillowsâ€.
The tomato pincushion with strawberry emery became an extremely popular design during the Victorian Era. This Threads article addresses the question of â€œWhy the tomato? According to folklore, placing a tomato on the mantle of a new home guaranteed prosperity and repelled evil spirits. If tomatoes were out of season, families improvised by using a round ball of red fabric filled with sand or sawdust. The good-luck symbol also served a practical purposeâ€”a place to store pins.â€ Although this folklore is also cited in a number of places, no specific reference is available to the origin of this folklore.
There is some belief that the tomato shaped pincushion can be traced to the Shakers. Shaker goods looked like what they were, and the Shakers therefore did not make pincushions that were decorated like tomatoes; however, the tomato shape became common in their pincushions. A reference to â€œtomato cushionsâ€ can be found in 1861 in the New Lebanon NY Shaker community.
Strawberries vary widely â€“ in color, shape and decoration. Some strawberries are relatively plain while some have decorated tops and embroidered seeds. Occasionally they aren't red. Collecting these small artifacts can be fun, relatively inexpensive and don't take up much room. Dating a strawberry is usually done based on the fabric. Prices will vary based on style, condition and age.
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