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Tuesday
May062008

Sewing Kit Essentials: Thimbles

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I have to admit that before Purl Patchwork opened I didn't have a clue about thimbles. They seemed quaint and old fashioned but I didn't really understand their use (... and I thought that you wore them on your thumb!) Now that I hand sew and embroider regularly my thimbles  have become indispensable. I have different kinds for different uses and I thought I'd share with you what they're all for in case anyone out there is similarly clueless.

(The back ground fabric is Avalon from Alexander Henry, a new Purl Patchwork favorite.) 

Traditional Thimbles 

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The goat leather thimble is my favorite traditional thimble and thus it's a good place to start. I used to think that thimbles were primarily used as  protection from the sharp end of the needle. But in the case of traditional thimbles that's not true. You wear a traditional thimble (usually on your index or middle finger) to protect your finger from the eye-end of the needle. If you use your index or middle finger to push  the eye-end of a needle enough times your finger will get hurt; that's where a thimble like this comes in handy.

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I use my goat leather thimble  primarily for hand quilting. The rocking motion of the hand quilting stitch would be very painful without it because you are constantly pushing the end of the needle with the tip of your finger. (For a more in depth explanation of hand quilting click here.)

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You can also wear a thimble for hand piecing to help push the needle through as you do the running stitch.

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I prefer the goat leather thimble to a more traditional metal thimble because it's flexible and feels like an extension of my own finger, but a metal thimble works the same way.

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Some people prefer the metal thimbles because they don't cover the first finger knuckle. Also their indentations are useful in catching the eye-end of the needle. Our quiltmaking teacher, Cassandra, finds the leather thimbles bulky, while I find the metal ones too rigid.  It's all a mater of personal preference and what feels right to you.

Make sure when you buy a traditional thimble, be it goat leather or metal, that it fits properly. It should be snug enough to not fall off your finger but not too tight that it hurts.

Under Thimble

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The Under Thimble is also primarily used for hand quilting. When I was taught to hand quilt I was told to push the needle through the quilt until it just poked my bottom finger.

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I do still think this is a good way to initially learn because it helps to regulate your stitch size. However, now that I've learned the basic principle, the Under Thimble makes hand quilting much quicker, because I'm not so afraid of impaling my poor underfinger.

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To use it you simply stick it on your index finger with one of the reusable stickers that come with the package. All of a sudden your under finger is invincible!

Thimble Pad

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The thimble pad is something that I use for embroidery. It gives me a better grip when I'm  pulling the thread through my fabric and prevents any irritation that might come from always gripping the needle in the same place. It sticks on and can be used many times. I have also heard it can be very useful in applique.

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The thimble pad is a really versatile tool, there's no rules to it, it's just there to help. I was embroidering some napkins recently and I kept pricking myself over and over in the same place. I popped a thimble pad on and the problem was solved!

Sashiko Thimble

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The Japanese Sashiko technique also has it's own Sashiko thimble, and it's worn in a very unique place on the base of the middle finger, protecting the top of the palm.

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After gathering many stitches on the needle you push the needle through using the top part of your palm (protected, of course by your thimble!) For a more in depth explanation of Sashiko click here.

So... in conclusion

If you're hand sewing and your fingers are being in any way irritated, poked, pricked, or prodded, there is a thimble to help you.  

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Reader Comments (44)

Fascinating! I truly had no clue about the wonderful world of thimbles before reading your post. Thank you!
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commentershinystuff
Wow, that was really helpful, thank you. I didn't even know the goat leather thimble existed and now I want one, badly.
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristina
So informative! I always felt that thimbles were way awkward and in the way, but now I understand that I was just using them totally wrong! haha...anyways, thanks.
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLizzie
great post
i did not know about the goat leather thimble or that there was embroidery thimbles.
thanks for sharing
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
after reading this, I am certainly picking up some thimbles next time I go to my fabric store. thank you!
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCandice
My Mom was a tailor, and so until high school the only thimbles I'd used were tailor's thimbles (similar to the metal thimble, but open at the top). In high school home ec classes I remember struggling with a traditional metal thimble and finally bringing in one of my Mom's thimbles, which everyone (including the teacher) thought was odd. I still am most comfortable with my tailor's thimble over any other type.
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGaile
Wow, thanks for the great, informative post. I knew about some of these and discovered a few (like the thimble pad) that will really come in handy (no pun intended).
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHolli A
Wow - I never knew there were so many types of thimbles out there. Thank you so much for this incredibly informative post. I learned so much.
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
Yeah, I had no idea there were so many kinds and uses for thimbles either! Like you, I thought a thimble (and I was only aware of the metal kind) protected your thumb from the pointy end of the needle. This is a great little lesson.
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEmily / knitwhere
after trying lots of different thimbles. probably the wrong ones for the purpose!
i now stick plasters on my finger for protection, and grip!
thanks for this post, i can now go and choose the correct thimble!
May 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrobyn
Pretty interesting (and pretty nerdy too!). Where on earth did you learn all this stuff? I am learning so much from you and the Purl Bee.
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJosie (Molly's Mom)
I have an old metal thimble that used to be my husband's Irish grandmother's. I've tried to use it, but I find it so restricting that I usually take it off after a few stitches. Now I'll know to look for these other types next time I'm at the fabric store! I'll put my family heirloom away for safekeeping! Thanks!
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMandy
That was very informative - thank you!!!
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterelliebelle
I love these kind of lessons. Thanks so much - I never knew any of this!
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Sassy
Wonderful post and, as always, the photographs were as useful as the text. Thanks! Like Mandy, I have my Irish grandmother's thimble, but it never fit so I had it made into a necklace.
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKate G.
Thank you for this extremely useful tutorial on thimbles! I had no idea there were so many great options. I enjoy hand-quilting and I use the Clover Leather Coin Thimble much in the same way you described your use of the goat leather thimble. I'd highly recommend it!
http://www.joann.com/joann/catalog.jsp?CATID=cat3720&PRODID=prd2826&source=search
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKacie
I love using the leather thimbles for hand quilting. The only drawback is that eventually they will get holes in them. When that happens (instead of shelling out the $3 or whatever reasonable price they are), I use a Thimble Pad to patch the hole, or stick it to my finger under the hole. It works great.
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteremmyjane
Last year I discovered thimble pads when looking for something to help my poor abused index finger--injured in the line of sock knitting. I love to knit socks on dpns but found that when working on lacy socks my sad little digit was aching from being stabbed with the tip of the US1 so many times! I tried a few different types of thimbles, but found the thimble pad to work best because it didn't impede my knitting at all. Thanks for the great post!
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie
What fabric is in the background? It's gorgeous.
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary Beth Klatt
Hi Mary Beth,
The fabric is "Avalon" by Alexander Henry in Turquoise. There is a link to it in the first section of this post or you can get to it here:

http://purlsoho.com/purl/products/fabricdetail/3997

Thanks for your comment!- Molly
May 7, 2008 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Fascinating. Thank you so much!
May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
Thank you! That really was very helpful, informative, and interesting.
May 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBille
What a great thimble lesson, thank you so much!
And by the way, that blue fabric is soooo beautiful...
May 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterberuta
Interesting to read how other folks use thimbles. I am a hand-quilter and I find that my needles poke through the goat leather thimbles too much (either getting stuck there or poking through to my finger--ow!). I also can't use metal thimbles because my needle tends to slide right off them. I use leather and plastic thimbles like these: http://www.joann.com/joann/catalog.jsp?CATID=cat3720&PRODID=prd2829&source=search
I also like that they are open at the top because I have long fingernails. I have never had any success with an under thimble as I still like to feel the needle hit my finger on the under side.
May 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterThe Green Cat
Brilliant! WHY hasn't anyone explained thimbles before! I need one (or several) and didn't even know it. :)
May 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDenise
One thing that might help to make using a thimble feel less awkward is to wear it on your middle finger. That way you still have your index finger for handling the needle. I can't do any hand sewing without my metal thimble anymore, I like mine so much!
May 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLiesl
Oh brilliant post! Very well done!
May 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdeirdre
Thanks for that very nice thimble lesson
May 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbernie
I didn't realize there were so many to choose from! Thanks for the info.
May 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterknitsational
So am I one of the only people who hates using thimbles, cause I always seem to do projects that are too much for the needle to puncture, and when I am pushing the needle, hard, it slips, and the eye impales my finger or hand REALLY REALLY HARD? lol As a result, I am soo nervous using them, cause I always manage to do it at least once a project. :p
May 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermuralimanohar
I really need this goat leather thimble, as I always wear a nasty slit in my finger from the eye-end, so I'm off to treat myself now and search for one- thanks!
May 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterzia meadows
Thanks for your thimble post. I had no idea there where so many types of thimbles out there beyond the traditional metal one. Very interesting post!
May 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRoze
Thanks for the thimble tutorial. I always found the arrray of thimbles a little bit intimidating! Ha! Now I know, and knowing's half the battle.
May 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterfarmgirl
Wow! That is so helpful. I would have never known there was such variety in the humble thimble. I'm going to have to get me one of those goat leather thimbles. Thank you!
May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarin
What a wonderful post!!! I did not know about many of those thimbles- I have used several metal thimbles and would certainly love to try a leather one- seems to be much more flexible Thanks for the great work you all do!!
May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Marie
I just bought a thimble to use at the base of the palm in Koriyama (I live in Japan at the moment) and thanks to your tutorial I know how to use it now!! I am doing Sashiko embroidery - loved doing it more so with this thimble!
May 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAizu GIrl
I just found one my grandmother's thimbles (from between 1920-1945). They are lovely! My son asked which finger they were worn on, and I had no idea! Now I think I remember seeing her use it on her index finger. Thanks for your help.
August 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterliz
That is quite interesting. Do you, by any chance, have access to the old type of open end thimble, not those heavy ones that are currently sold. They are like the gold one shown, but with an open top? Thanks.
September 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnita
Thankyou for putting this information together and sharing your experiences.
June 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNikki
I really appreciate your thimble lesson! I'm currently working on an art piece and it includes a giant thimble. I didn't know there were so many types! Thanks so much for broadening my understanding of thimbles.
March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWendy
Thanks for the interesting thimble lesson. I'd never seen a sashiko thimble before. I've been using a regular metal thimble! I'm a hand quilter and I have a hard time finding a thimble that's *large* enough. I really want to try the goatskin thimble now.
July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJanice
Thanks so much for the info! I'm also considering silicone thimbles, or combo's of silicone & metal. Also maybe Silicone Dots.
January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMinni
I use an under thimble with dimples on my pushing finger and a finger shield on my other hand on the index finger so that the tip of the needle hits the shield and not my finger; it also allows me to wrap the fabric around my finger creating tension in the fabric.

I too find metal thimbles restricting and for many years wore a self-made leather thimble, but changed to the dimpled under thimble and finger shield a few years back.
November 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersuziwong66
Wonderfully informative post! I actually use those rubber paper sorting things as a thimble when I'm sewing softies and working embroidery. They work fairly well, but are rather thin. I might try the goat leather thimble--it looks like it might be better..

Thanks for sharing~
March 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathy S

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