Needles, Pins, and Clappers, Oh My!

Happy Thursday, Friends!

My name is Jo-Ann Roberts, and I’m thrilled to say I’m the newest Filly in the pasture here at Petticoats and Pistols! Gosh, even as I write the words, I still can’t believe it!

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a New England girl transplanted to North Carolina. I write sweet western and historical romance. I married my college sweetheart and this year we celebrated a milestone anniversary. We are blessed with a daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and a grandson. I enjoy baking, gardening, swimming, and eating way too much chocolate (hence, the need for exercising!).

In addition to writing sweet historical romance, my second love is quilting. For more than twenty years, a group of 8-10 friends get together for Quilt Week. It’s a 10-day retreat in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We rent a house, sharing the cost. From 9 am to 9 pm, we quilt, eat, get ice cream, shop for fabric, go out to eat, quilt…you get the picture.


When we started, we came up with the idea of a Quilting Challenge. At the end of Quilt Week, we pick a new pattern or a line of fabric and come up with a quilt. The following year, we show off our creations. We’ve donated these quilts to shelters, veterans’ groups, and hospitals. Each year my first project at Quilt Week is to make two baby quilts for the NICU at Forsyth Medical Center in Greensboro, NC where my grandson was born. He was a preemie, but I’m blessed to say he’s now well over six feet tall, in his 4th year in college, and is engaged to be married!

If you’ve read my Brides of New Hope series, you’ll know that I incorporate quilts into all my books as well as my home. There are quilts in our bedrooms, on the back of my writing chair, on quilt racks, on the sofa, and hanging on the walls.

So, last year when author Zina Abbott asked me if I’d be interested in taking part in the Christmas Quilt Bride series, I gave a very enthusiastic “YES!” I already had the quilting background, so the story came together quickly.

While the quilt was central to the plot, I added some historical quilting elements to the story. Enter the tomato pincushion. I know we’ve all seen them. But did you know it was born during the Victorian era when people believed the tomato was a sign of prosperity and good fortune in their life and had the ability to ward the house from evil spirits?

So strong was this belief that they improvised when tomatoes weren’t in season. They took red fabric pieces, filled them with sand or sawdust, and tied them with green string. But how did this turn into a pincushion, you ask? In the 1860s pins and needles were costly and hard to get for the average housewife. People stored them in special boxes to avoid getting lost or rusted. Soon women realized that the good luck symbol next to them at the table could be used to hold and store their pins, and the sand would sharpen the pins and needles!

A wooden clapper is another tool pioneer quilters used. According to my research, the first one popped up about 150 years ago in England. Clappers are made out of hardwood only. In order to do the job, the wood has to be heavy and close-grained. Maple and tulipwood are the most popular woods. The clapper is used to get flat, crisp seams and creases while sewing. While today’s quilter has an iron at the ready to press the seams open or to the side, I’m not convinced a pioneer woman was as fortunate. Enter the clapper. Most likely, she finger-pressed the seam then applied the clapper to wick away any moisture from her hand.

While most of us are familiar with an image of women sitting around a quilt frame (a.k.a Floor Frame or Stand Frame), space in a pioneer home was at a premium, and keeping a permanent frame set up wasn’t practical. Instead, they created a ceiling frame made with broomcorn slats held together with clamps. Pulleys were screwed to the ceiling. The ropes were tied around the slats. They ran over the pulleys and were held in place by drape hooks screwed into the wall or ceiling.

Another item important to the pioneer quilter was a huswife (this is the correct spelling). Though quilting bees were a great opportunity to socialize with other women, it didn’t include sharing needles, pins, or scissors. Thus, the huswife was a handy case, usually stitched from scraps of fabric and wool to store their supplies. Also, it was a must-have item in a soldier’s knapsack during their absences away from home.

I have been crazy busy this autumn season with three…three! books releasing in the next three months. Throw in an anniversary vacation, my husband’s eye surgery, and the upcoming holidays, it’s no wonder I’m frenzied! Here’s the first one…releasing

He made a promise to a dying friend.
She vowed never to love again.

“You can’t continue living like this, Linnea. You’ve become a hermit.”
Linnea Nyland heard the concern in her sister-in-law’s voice. Still filled with grief and missing her husband a year after his unexpected passing, she didn’t have the inclination to disagree with the statement. Though she dearly missed working her magic in the family bakery, she liked her life on the farm just the way it was…solitary.

Especially after Deputy Finn McBride came calling with his ridiculous proposal of marriage!

In a moment of panic, Finn made a heart pledge to Erik Nyland to take care of Linnea, to marry her. He’d bungled his first attempt, and he’s not sure his heart can endure the vow he made knowing he’d been in love with her from the day he came to Holly Springs.

Giving it one last try, he challenges her to a holiday baking competition. If he wins, she must agree to let him court…if she wins, he’ll leave her alone…forever.

Throw in a matchmaking landlady, a Norwegian Buhund dog, and a missing special ingredient, the lonely deputy prays for a Christmas miracle.


Comment below for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Do you have a favorite family recipe you make for the holidays?

Author at JMV Creative Enterprise | | Website | + posts

Born and raised in western Massachusetts, Jo-Ann Roberts was fascinated by America’s Old West and always felt she was destined to travel on a wagon train following the Oregon Trail. With her love of history and reading, she began reading historical romance during high school and college. Victoria Holt, Jude Deveraux, and Roseanne Bittner were among her favorites. Influenced by her father, she fell in love with John Wayne, James Garner, and her all-time favorite, James Stewart and grew up watching Wagon Train, Bonanza and Rawhide.
A firm believer in HEA with a healthy dose of realism, Jo-Ann strives to give her readers a sweet historical romance while imparting carefully researched historical facts, personalities, and experiences relative to the time period. Her romances take her readers back to a simpler time to escape the stress of modern life by living in a small town where families and friends help one another find love and happiness.
When she isn’t creating believable plots and relatable heroes and heroines, Jo-Ann enjoys spending time with her husband, children and grandson. She also enjoys baking, quilting and eating way too much chocolate.
After 38 years in public education in Connecticut and Maryland, she’s now calls North Carolina home.

77 thoughts on “Needles, Pins, and Clappers, Oh My!”

  1. Welcome! We have Christmas fudge recipes from both sides of the family.

    We have a quilting frame from Lancaster in which the quilt is attached on rollers so one can quilt on a portion at a time. It’s slightly longer than a bed, only a few feet wide, but when the quilt is removed, it comes apart in pieces for storage. It’s been handed down through generations.


    • Having little space in a kitchen is a drawback to baking/cooking. We had a small kitchen in our first apartment, but of course, I didn’t really have to make big meals then.

  2. I enjoyed learning more about the historical facts of quilting. I have always had a tomato pincushion, but I was unaware of its significance.

    A holiday family favorite is my fudge which my nephew once said that it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. However, I have not made it for everyone the past couple of years due to many family members’ health issues and the need to reduce or eliminate sugar in their diets. My mom is the exception because a gift of chocolate fudge is expected—and she can indulge without any worries.

    • Roxanne, thanks for your comment. Learning new facts about quilts is fascinating to me also. When my parents were getting on in years, they really didn’t need more “stuff”. So, every Christmas I would make homemade treats, caramel popcorn, bark candy, etc. Like your mom, it was always expected!

  3. Hello and Welcome Jo-Ann! How exciting to be a member of this group!? You are in good company! I’m from a family of quilters. Mainly on my mother’s side. I’ve made a few quilts. My grandmother made me one for graduation, mother made me a double wedding ring, and my aunt has made me many! LOL And I have been to a few quilting retreats with my mother, aunt, and friends. I’ve learned a good bit and have the experience, but I am more of an artist. Are you aware of raw edge applique? That’s more my thing. I plan to experiment with in in the future.

    Granny’s Chewy Cake seems to be our family favorite. It’s a recipe my other grandmother(Granny Williams) made. If you have heard of Blondies(instead of brownies) then it is similar with pecans.

    • Tracy, thank you for joining us today and for your kind welcome. I am aware of raw edge applique. However, I’m a very traditional quilter and I like my edges finished. But I am in awe of those very artistic quilters who can see outside the box. Your Granny’s Chewy Cake sounds delicious!

  4. My kitchen is very small so I’m limited but frozen fruit salad, cream wafer cookies, and Chex mix are my must makes.

    • Cathy, thanks for joining us today. I love Chex mix! But since I have a gluten sensitivity, I make my own without the wheat chex cereal. I’ve never had frozen fruit salad but it sounds delicious.

  5. Hi, Congrats on being the newest filly!
    My Family recipe is what we call pistachio it’s like Watergate salad but a little different.

    Did you all machine or hand, Piece and Quilt?
    Sorry I love seeing fellow quilters.
    I’m in the olden days of all by Hand. I can’t Get a Machine to work.

    • Tia, thanks for the warm welcome. Unfortunately, as are now “mature” quilters, we no longer hand piece or quilt by hand. Some of us even have more than one machine, in case one should break down!

  6. I sure do have family favorites that I make for Christmas. Boston Cream Fudge, chocolate fudge, carmels, cinnamon rolls in the shape of a wreath, sugar cookies, etc. So fun. Congrats on your upcoming release!

  7. My mother-in-law is very tradition minded.
    Although we’ve started hosting and doing all the cooking, it is still to her tastes.
    We’ll have Brussel Sprouts at both Christmas and Thanksgiving. We usually have them roasted with bits of bacon.
    We’ll have candied yams with marshmallows at Thanksgiving and Cranberry Fluff at Christmas.

    My own family tradition for the Christmas meal is tamales.
    I still sometimes make them, but have found a decent source at the grocery store.

    • Mary Ellen, thanks for joining us today. Your family favorites sound delicious! Growing up in an Italian family we had the traditional Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. I kept the tradition alive until my son and his family took over the hosting. Now, we have what my husband calls “heavy munchies”, and we are perfectly fine with their choice.

  8. Oh, I loved your very first blog as a filly, Jo-Ann! I’ve always sewn, and have made more things than I can count. Unfortunately, a quilt has never been one of them, even though I’ve always WANTED to make a quilt!!!

    Love the history behind the tomato pincushion. You’re right – what seamstress hasn’t had a tomato pincushion in her sewing box? Now I’ll always remember how they came to be.

    Welcome, welcome, my friend. We look forward to many more blogs from you!

  9. As the women in my family enjoy sewing, I really appreciated your interesting article. My grandmother had a ceiling quilting frame. For holidays one of my favorites was always my Aunt Kathleen’s Sweet Potato Bread recipe, which was similar to pumpkin bread.

  10. yes next week I will be making our homemade egg noodles to dry and freeze for the upcoming Holiday meals! My 4 grandsons are wonderful to help with this chore and it makes sure that someone in the future can keep this tradition going!!

    • Thanks for joining us, Teresa. We’ve made homemade pasta since I was a girl. This is truly one of my husband’s favorite dishes. But I never froze it. We would dry it very well and store it in a large plastic bin.

  11. A most interesting post and I have one of those special pin cushions and consider them very unique and vintage. When we have visitors I try to be creative and make a treat that we all love. Apple cake and lemon bars give me joy and happiness for all.

    • Sharon, thanks for joining us today and your kind comments on the post. My husband loves anything made with apples and plenty of cinnamon. And I lemon bars are one of my favorites!

  12. I make a huge bowl of banana pudding for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I make the pudding from scratch with my mother’s recipe for vanilla pudding. I am also known for my fudge. My peanut butter fudge is a recipe I got from my mother’s old Fanny Farmer cook book. ( when I was a teenager back in the 60s)

  13. I have several favorite family recipes! One that I make for the holidays is caramel. I don’t like the store bought caramels, so I stir up a batch when I’m cooking for the holidays! Another family favorite is my mom’s sugar cookies with homemade frosting! Yum!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ami! With all the baking I’ve done, I’ve never made caramels. I may have to try it one year. I love sugar cookies, especially if they are flavored with almond extract.

  14. Interesting post…thanks for sharing the information!

    My mom always made about 80 loaves of Swedish Limpa bread to pass out as gifts at Christmas and I helped her even though I’ve never liked it. One of my nephews carries on the tradition, I think he makes about 30 loaves and even though I still don’t care for it, I’m pleased he makes it and follows the old recipe, it involves rye flour, anise seed, candied orange peel, so yeah, I wish we had a family recipe for fudge haha…but my mom would be proud. 🙂

    • Rachel, thanks for stopping by today. I have heard of Swedish Limpa bread but have never tasted it. It’s always a blessing when the younger generation carries on the traditions.

  15. Welcome! I do not have a favorite holiday recipe but it’s traditional to have deviled eggs on our holiday table. I enjoyed reading about the quilting history. I love quilts! Thanks for the chance to win a prize.

  16. Good morning and welcome! Congratulations on your upcoming release! We love to make my moms Sweet Potato casserole, for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. Have a great day and a great weekend .

  17. LOL, we always called those “strawberry pincushions “. Had no idea they had such an interesting history.

    Applesauce fruitcake is a must for our family. Even people who dislike fruitcake like it. We also make a variety of special cookies and candies. My mother-in-law always made caramels. I have only made them a few times but fudge, buttermilk fudge, and penuche are musts. Our girls make them if I don’t have time.

  18. I have not entertained for many years as we do not have family close to us. It is just my husband and I as we no longer travel. In past holiday fashion, my mother and grandmothers made the most delicious food, too much to list here. I never made anything special that it stands out. There are lots of food items that make my mouth water at the moment and I have put on a few pounds just thinking about them! My years have become dull, I am afraid. Jo-Ann, I enjoyed your blog. I admire your quilting history. It is one hobby I never got the urge to try. Even knitting was beyond me, although I loved to crochet and sew. So glad to welcome you toe Petticoats and Pistols.

    • Judy, Thanks for stopping by today. I’m sure you have wonderful memories of great meals with your family. Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I gave knitting a try many years ago, but like you, it was just beyond me. Thank you for your warm welcome.

  19. A big welcome to the group. There is a lot of fun and information on this site. My husband and son have done civil war and WW2 reenacting. My son is a huge history buff. He has made countless huswives. But I didnt know until know about the correct spelling. thanks. I also love to quilt. Have been doing it since I was in high school. (am now 63) it is such a wonderful way to kinda disappear for a bit. I love to make quilts for family and friends and special happenings, such as weddings, anniversaries. I made a civil war quilt for my son and daughter in law when they got married. A queen/king size.

    • Thanks for stopping by today, Lori. My son was also a Civil War reenactor several years ago, and I made him a Civil War quilt. And yes, it is definitely a wonderful way to disappear for a bit. In fact, my office doubles as my sewing room. When I’m stuck on the plot, or the words don’t flow, I just put on my quilting hat and sew for a bit.

  20. I like to make Christmas trail mix with cereal, pretzels, raisins, nuts, and Christmas-colored M&Ms.

  21. Jo-Ann, welcome dear friend. I’m so happy you joined us and I can’t wait to see what other interesting pieces of information you impart. By the way, I know nothing of quilting. Never learned but wish I had. Wishing you much success.

    • Linda, thank you for the warm welcome! Everyone has been kind, supportive, and willing to help. As I told Pam “I don’t know what I don’t know”. Should you ever have a quilting question for a book you’re writing, don’t be afraid to call on me.

  22. We have many recipes we tend to make for the holidays. Two of my favorites for the holidays and special occasions are Sour Cream Crescents and Swiss Merengue Horns. The first is a yeast roll that melts in your mouth and are so good. I don’t make them often because I would eat too many and they are so rich. The second is a cookie recipe also based on a yeast dough. They aren’t difficult to make, but are time consuming because there are several steps. They, too, are rich. One of the advantages of this recipe is it makes 10 dozen. My husband’s pilot in the Air Force liked them so much, he requested them for his wedding reception.
    Thank you for sharing the information about quilting and some of the accessories. I have several friends who are excellent quilters and admire those who practice the art form. I have tried it but don’t do any quilting. Our town, Jonesborough, TN, has had a quilt event every year with classes, guest speakers, and a display at the visitors’ center. It shouldn’t be too far from you and you might enjoy it, if they are still doing it.

    • Patricia, thanks for stopping by today. Your pastries sound so yummy. I love working with yeast dough but, sadly, I have a gluten sensitivity issue that prevents me from enjoying these treats. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. Thanks for the info on the quilting even in Jonesborough. I will look into it.

  23. There is a traditional dessert we serve every Thanksgiving that has been handed down in my husband’s German side of the family called cherry torte.

  24. My grandmother had a red velvet pig pincushion. Her middle child was so traumatized that she would stick pins in the “pig” she never used it.

    • Tracy, thanks for stopping by. Oh, my goodness! I’ve never heard of a red velvet pig pincushion. I can relate to the trauma the little experienced. My mother had a fox fur wrap in her hope chest for years. Unfortunately for me, the head was used as the clasp. I still have nightmares about that thing.

  25. Welcome Jo-Ann. I am so glad you are here. I remember the red velvet pin cushions. I have my Grandmother’s Pumpkin Bread recipe that I make every Christmas. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

    • Debbie, thanks for stopping by. Pumpkin bread is a favorite in my house, especially since I found a gluten-free recipe that we love. Those of us of a certain age remember those red pincushions in the shape of tomatoes but today there are so many different shapes. My own pincushion is a teapot!

  26. My favorite holiday family recipe is my grandmother’s Pumpkin Pie. It really does have a special taste unlike most pumpkin pies.

    • Jackie, thanks for stopping by. Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin!!! I love anything pumpkin flavored, especially pumpkin pie. We eat it all year long. I even make a gluten-free pumpkin bread breakfast casserole that’s a big hit during the holidays.

  27. We make lots of family recipes for the holidays such as pizzelles, needhams, dingbats, spiced pecans, fudges, pressed cookies, cut-out cookies, gingerbread cookies, peanut butter balls, pumpkin bread, and apple pies and pumpkin pie.

    • Joannie, thanks for stopping by. Wow! You must be crazy busy! We make pizzelles, also. But I have to admit I’ve never heard of needhams or dingbats…can you supply me with an answer?

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