Every great invention, from the Murphy bed to the bicycle, started as an improvisation: an elegant solution to something someone needed or just plain wanted. But an improvisation never stops there. The improvised invention gets improvised upon, and that improvisation gets improvised upon, and so on, and so on. Viewing the everyday objects around us as improvisations makes for endless inspiration.
Take the safety pin, the ultimate emergency tool that holds up hems without thread and makes possible all manner of instant repairs. Gorgeous sculptural versions of the safety pin called fibulae date back to 14th Century BC although an American inventor named Walter Hunt is credited with (re-)inventing it in 1848, and innovating a clasp that prevented the sharp pin from poking. Anxious about a loan he had to pay, Hunt was said to have been nervously twisting a piece of wire when the idea for a “dress pin” came to him. He sold the patent for a song. The brilliant, imaginative Hunt also invented the sewing machine and paper shirt collars, as well as a device for walking on the ceiling, among many other things.
Aside feom being an incredibly useful fastener – instant zipper, temporary button – there are infinite uses to discover for safety pins. Large ones are good for trussing a turkey by pinning together the flaps of skin to hold in stuffing. A half hour before we were due at a black tie dinner, my friend Tom Fallon fashioned an evening bag for me out of a piece of black satin and some black ribbon, held together, invisibly, by safety pins.
They make wonderful fashion accessories, starting with the beautiful ancient fibulae, and moving on to the Scottish kilt pin, and late ’70’s rethinking of the safety pin by British punk rockers who used them to adorn clothes and bodies…
…I have a friend who uses a big safety pin as a key ring with a built-in weapon, open and clasped in her hand, point out, for coming home late at night (sharp!)