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Details

Magnetic Pincushion

What magnet is best for a magnetic pincushion?

An old-school pincushion and some cylinder magnets

Magnets are a great way to hold pins, but choosing the right magnet can be a bit tricky.

Keep it Simple

A 3/4" diameter DC2 magnet is holding some pins through 1/4" thick plastic.

Why does it have to be tricky? Can’t we just stick any old magnet underneath a bowl, and have that work? Well, sure. Steel is attracted to magnets, so the pins will stick in the bowl.

You don’t want the magnetic attraction to be too strong, or removing pins might be difficult. Super large magnets will also reach farther, which might not be ideal. You don’t want your pincushion sliding across the table and slamming onto a sewing machine, or attracting to scissors!

Using a magnet that’s too strong also makes a big pile of pins clumped together. This can leave too many pins with their sharp ends pointing out. Adjusting them can be difficult.

Try Multiple Configurations

A 1/2" diameter D82 magnet is holding some pins through a surface. They don't always arrange this neatly, though!

These pins try to follow the magnetic field, running from one pole on the left side of this B888 cube magnet, up and over to the other pole on the right.

A 1/4" diameter x 1" tall D4X0 magnet with its side facing the clear plastic wall holds pins with a force that tends to align them with the axis of the cylinder.

Figuring out what magnet works best isn’t something we can figure out in our heads. It takes a bit of experimentation, trial and error, and judgment.

We tried a few different configurations to see what we liked best. A simple disc magnet underneath a surface or a bowl attracted pins, but it wasn’t easy to grab them. The magnet tends to hold those pins flat to the surface, so we really had to pinch them to pull a pin free.

In a few different configurations we tried, the pins would sometimes stick everywhere, instead of on just one surface.  The pins tended to try to map out the magnetic field, looping from one pole to the other. We want pins to stick to just one surface, but some setups had pins flowing all over.

Using a longer cylinder magnet sideways made needles align with the magnet, which was a nice option.  It gave some predictability to where the pins would land.

 

Focus the Magnetic Field

A 1" diameter MMS-C-X0 Mounting Magnet attracts many pins to its front face.

To avoid some of this wild looping around, it would be nice to focus the magnetic field so it’s only in one spot, not looping around to the backside of the magnet. We guessed that some of our Mounting Magnets might be a good option to try. They tend to attract mainly on one face.

Mounting Magnets are made with a magnet that’s assembled into a steel cup or channel. This arranges the magnetic field to be strong on one face, but much weaker elsewhere. The face of the magnet presents its north pole, while the field looping through the steel makes those exposed steel edges look like a south pole. Pins trying to follow the path from one pole to the other will tend to stick to that one face.

See our earlier Mounting Magnets article for more details on what the magnetic field looks like around these interesting magnets.

Origami Pinholder

An MMR-A-X8 Rectangular Mounting Magnet holds pins nicely, with the ends sticking off the sides.

That same MMR-A-X8 magnet hidden inside a card-stock box we folded up. A few layers of cardstock gave it a nice feel, balanced between strength and range.

Fold one up yourself using this flat pattern (click for PDF). We taped the MMR-A-X8 magnet inside, along with ten pennies to give it some weight.

We folded up some card stock (a recycled cardboard folder) into a little, trapezoid shaped box. It has an MMR-A-X8 mounting magnet underneath the top, and $0.10 in pennies taped to the bottom to weight it down. This one feels quite nice.

If you’d like to make this yourself, here is a PDF of the pattern to fold up.

If you're making your own creations, that MMR-A-X8 magnet is a great choice.  It was one of our favorite solutions for this project.

What can you create?

A stuffed animal with a small D48 cylinder magnet inserted into one hand holds a few pins quite nicely!

We wrapped the D48 cylinder magnet with tape, with the cylinder of tape extending off both ends of the cylinder. This helped encourage pins to align and stick to the side of the cylinder, rather than the ends where the poles are.

What interesting ways can you use magnets to hold pins? If you’d like to share a photo, please email us! Be sure to mention if it’s OK at add your pincushion picture here to share with everyone.

We had some fun with an old stuffed bear.  We opened a few stiches on the back, and slid a small D48 cylinder magnet into his hand.  It doesn't hold quite as many pins as some of our larger ideas, but it ranked number one in cuteness!

Conclusions

What we liked:

  • Magnets are fun. A magnetic pincushion is fun to use.

  • When removing pins from a sewing project, you can simply drop the pin close to the magnet and it snaps in place. It’s nicer to use than a regular pincushion, because you don’t have to divert all your attention. It’s more fun than dropping them into a bowl.

  • If pins are scattered across the table, waving the magnetic pincushion over them makes cleanup a breeze.

What wasn’t as good as an old-school pincushion:

  • Pins can sometimes have the pointy end sticking out. With a lot of pins, this could poke your finger. A regular pincushion requires more work to insert each pin, but when you’re done the pointy end isn’t sticking out.

  • Though we didn’t mind, pins can become slightly magnetized.