Christening or Birth Pillows
"'Welcome Little Stranger' was an apt greeting to the newborn babe,
heralding his entry into this worldly domain. Handwrought pins
spelling out these words on satin cushions were a popular baby present
in the eighteenth century. Poor Robin, an English almanac,
advised: 'Pincushions and such other knacks. A childbed
woman always lacks.' Hung on the front door, these pincushions
announced the new arrival to friends and neighbors. . . . .
"In addressing the newborn as 'little stranger,' our Colonial fathers,
revealed their deep-rooted attitude toward childbirth. Pregnancy
was never spoken of in polite society; it was not even acknowledged
within the family. When delivery was imminent, children were
foisted on relatives and friends, and to everyone's surprise, a 'little
stranger' suddenly appeared. A baby was not given birth to;
according to Anna Green Winslow's diary, 'About 8 in the evening, Dr.
Lloyd, brought little master to town.'"1
These pillows or cushions are commonly referred to as christening
pillows or cushions. Steel pins form the sentiments such as:
He whose Cradle
Was a Manger
Bless and protect
The little Stranger
The pins are handmade in two parts, a wire was drawn, straightened, cut,
one end was sharpened. and the other was ground to accept the the head.
Then a handmade head was added (if you look with a loupe you can see
that the head fits like a collar around the straight pin). Finally
the entire pin was polished and the pins were placed in a paper packet
for sale. By 1776, American pin factories were turning out 5000
pins per day.2
An 18th or 19th century pillow should be completely hand sewn and is
usually an ivory colored silk or satin. 18th century pillows
usually have no lace but a hanging ribbon from which they were hung from
the front door. By the early 19th century, these baby gifts were
cherished indoors and instead of having hanging ribbons, they often have
ruffles and/or lace around the edges. Early ones are stuffed with
straw. Because many mothers used the cherished pins that decorated
pillows, these pillows are rare, especially if made before 1800.
Sandra & Cullman, Elissa, Small Folk A Celebration of Childhood in
America. E.P. Dutton, New York, 1980. 43.
Products Are Made::Volume 7, Straight Pin.
See also Kirsch, Francine, "The
Beaded Pincushion Meant for showing, not sewing", The New England
Antiques Journal, March 2010. 28-32.
Please see the Christening Pillows currently in inventory
on the Textiles page.