Sarah Redford

A Pincushion


The word “biscornu” (bis-core-new) is French in origin and translates as “bis”-twice, and “cornu”-with horns. I have also seen it translated as “an oddity”, either way, it fits this little treasure. The biscornu I present to you today is an eight-sided little pincushion. I stumbled upon them in searching for pre-sixteenth century sewing basket tools. Some say their origins are lost in history, others say they are a recent development. I choose to believe the former as pincushions in many shapes have been around for about as long as pins.

I wanted a project that would use materials on hand to allow for a nice donation to a local organization that funds mammograms for under insured women. My only out of pocket expenditures were for buttons, gold metallic thread and a tube of pink beads for a total of about $6.00. The scroll frame and needles were not added to this total, as I will use them on other projects. White linen was used for the outer fabric and white cotton for the lining. Cotton embroidery floss was used to do the embroidery, as I had no silks. Fiber fill was used to stuff the biscornu. The pattern I choose to embroider was inspired by a design in “Italian Renaissance Textile Designs” by Dolores M. Andrew. It is what I would call a thistle but I believe it was called a pomegranate during this time frame. I copied a motif and rotated it around the pillow. The bottom side is done in a grid design.

After the embroidery was done, the edges were backstitched in an odd number (39) using waste canvas. It is critical that the front and back be exactly the same size with the same number of backstitches. Otherwise, the biscornu will not stitch together true. The beading was added inside the backstitching and small flowers for sparkle. The tassels were made using the different pink threads and more pink beads were added to provide more sparkle. More sparkle is a good thing.   

Top and bottom embroidered

Beads added to little flowers and inside backstitching

Starting at the exact center of one side of the front and the corner of the bottom, the backstitches only were whip stitched together. After six sides were done, three tassels were added at the up-pointing corners. The topside button was sewn on and fiber fill added to half the cushion. The bottom side button was then sewn on and attached to the topside button, forming the tuft. The seventh side was whip stitched together, the last tassel attached, more fiber fill added and the last side was closed.

Finished Biscornu, topside, good image of tassel, I used a clear, faceted button so as not to detract from the embroidery

Finished Biscornu, bottom side

This was a fun project and all though my embroidery skills need much more practice, I am very pleased with how it turned out. I like it so much, a 15 sided biscornu is on my to do list. Thank you, Donna Bella, for all your hard work. [You're welcome!]

Banner image taken from: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth of St John the Baptist, 1486-90, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.


© 2001 - 2012 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.