My mom, who made all my dresses when I was a girl, always kept her pins and needles stuck in a pin-cushion that was shaped like a tomato with a strawberry attached to it. I never gave it a second thought. Didn’t everybody keep their pins and needles the same way?
Pincushions come in all shapes and sizes, but the tomato is the design that prevails as the classic. But why a tomato of all things? There’s actually a reason for the tomato design.
The earliest documented mention of a generic pincushion dates back to the Middle Ages. In those days, they were more whimsically called “pimpilowes,” “pyn pillows,” and “pin-poppets.” The pincushion was invented as a practical aid for storing pins and needles, but it also showcased one’s collection of pins and needles. (Needles were costly, after all.)
Victorian Era folklore suggests that when a family moved into a new home, a fresh tomato was placed on the mantle warding off evil spirits and bringing prosperity to the new homeowners. Since tomatoes were only available in certain seasons and didn’t stay fresh forever, the good-luck symbol was frequently fashioned from fabric instead–stuffed with sand or sawdust and made to look like the real thing with embellishments such as leaves and veins, often with a strawberry attached which was filled with emery powder, an abrasive to clean and sharpen the pins.
Wikipedia; Homecooking.about.com; threadsmagazine.com