Sunday, 25 November 2012


Here is a Georgian Quaker knitted silk pincushion - I found this little treasure last week. (Well, another antique-hunter found it and agreed to sell it to me if I would only get up off my knees. "So undignified!")
These small pincushions (1.5 inches in diameter) are quite rare and were knitted by Quaker girls and women on fine steel needles called "makkin wires". They were often sold to raise funds for worthy causes. 
Some examples were made to help the anti-slavery movement.

Girls at the famous Ackworth Quaker School in West Yorkshire knitted them in sombre colours, rather like mine. Theirs are always bound with a loop of silk ribbon...

..but mine is from York, dated 1818 and bound with a knitted band, which adds much to its poignant story.

Around the band are the words, "A Trifle from the Retreat 1818." Below is a similar piece from York Museum which says, " The Retreat near York".

Founded in 1792 by a Quaker tea merchant William Tuke, The Retreat opened in 1796 and was a new kind of establishment for the mentally ill, a hospital which treated the patients with great kindness and with minimal use of cruel restraint. It is thought that these pincushions may have been made by patients as a kind of occupational therapy.

The Retreat, York.

Here is a petition signed by the servants working at The Retreat in 1827. They demanded that the committee should allow only the purchase of tea from East India, harvested by free men, and not tea from the West Indies because of the great oppression of the slave trade.



  1. What an interesting post. I have not seen these pin cushions before!

    Thanks for sharing

  2. Super post. Thank you for sharing such a smashing find and it's history.

  3. Dear Nilly - this is one of the aspects that I enjoy most about blogging, learning new things from fellow bloggers.
    No wonder you were on your knees it is an exquisite little piece of work, a great little survivor, its story is poignant and compelling. Many of the 18th century Quakers were extremely philanthropic and successful in bringing about reforms including the abolition of slavery.

  4. How fascinating Nilly, a real piece of history. I love it when you find a true gem that you really love. I am fascinated by the history of exquisite hand made treasures, that is why i love textiles so much, I love to wonder who actually spent hours creating lace/crochet, what their life was like and how the pieces came to be disgarded. jayne x

  5. So interesting ... I love how I always learn something from your posts. I'm so glad you managed to persuade them to let you have this beautiful little piece of history to treasure.

  6. OMG that pin cushion is exquisite, and in such tip top condition. How amazed and pleased would the maker be to know their little piece of heartfelt work was still being admired down the ages.

  7. It's an exclamation of "exquisite" from me too.......... what a find and so beautifully executed. Like Rosemary who commented above, isn't this just one of the beauties of blogging, learning new things? These little delights were new to me and I loved reading your post. Thank you.

  8. These pincushions are lovely. The fact that they are in more sombre colours only adds to their charm. I really enjoyed this post and have learned something new.