Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Using a Thimble

Do you or don't you?  Use a thimble that is...


I didn't used to, but now I can't sew without one.  I've tried over the years to use a thimble because it looks sensible and 'professional' and frankly, I think it looks grown up - but try as I might, every time I put one on, I felt like I had grown at least 2 more fingers which felt horribly cumbersome and clumsy and made any sort of hand stitching physically impossible - talk about being 'all fingers and thumbs'!

The trouble is, that when sewing corsets it's really difficult to stitch certain parts and embellishments without severe injury and so I had to find a way to protect my poor punctured fingers!   Learning to use a thimble was the only option.  After searching in vain for information on how to do this, I thought i'd write my own guide..

An adjustable thimble which allows for long nails!
First of all, you need to find a thimble that fits properly. Thimbles come in different shapes and sizes, some without tops, some without sides, plastic or metal, adjustable -  others have ridges on the top, some are smooth or rounded and some are made of leather.  You can even get 'thimbles' which are nothing more than a metal or plastic disc which you glue onto the pads of vulnerable fingers.

Despite the huge array of choice much of which I have sampled in my quest to find a thimble which is effortless and easy to sew with, in the end, none of them did the job better than the traditional full metal thimble.  Yes the 'topless' ones look tempting don't they? I have tried the ones in the picture and the 'adjustable' plastic type which has one side missing making it look as if it may be un-noticable to use,  but none of them offer full protection - any finger exposure is at risk of stray needle peforation danger!

There was no option in the end - I had to get to grips with the traditional thimble, and once I'd figured out that size matters this job became a whole lot easier.   I found one made by Prymm, which is 14mm and the perfect size for my middle finger.

Don't buy a thimble unless you can try it on first or already know your size.

A thimble is commonly worn on your middle finger, and needs to be very snug - not so snug that you have to force it on, or feel uncomfortable, but so that it doesn't slip off if you hold your finger upside down.  If your fingers are cold, it may be difficult to hold a normally well fitting thimble on, in which case breath a little steam into the thimble before putting it on (in manner of cleaning a pair of glasses).

Now is the difficult part.  Sewing with a thimble requires you to adjust your hand posture when stitching - this is the key.

You have to bend your middle finger (with the thimble on) into a position so that it rests behind the needle when the needle is pushed into the fabric.  I found this blog post quite helpful in explaining this, although I'm not using a tailors thimble, the posture is similar.

Very difficult to photograph oneself using a thimble!
So you hold the needle between thumb and forefinger (as usual) when you insert the needle into the fabric but your middle finger rests behind the needle and pushes the needle into the fabric after the initial stab.  The eye of the needle comes into contact with the side of the thimble during this action, and if you need a little more force, you can then easily manoeuvre your finger to push the needle further with the end of the thimble which in my case, has a little ridge around the top to stop slippage.

And there you have it .. it takes a few sessions to get into the swing, but I found that not only did my hands not hurt from strain so much when hand sewing - infact they don't hurt at all anymore - it has now become a pleasure to put my thimble on before stitching and unexpectedly,  impossible to sew without one.

So does this tempt you to try thimbling where you'd been put off before?

20 comments:

Jen said...

I use a thimble when quilting and sewing things that need that extra firmness that a finger doesn't provide to help push the needle through tightly woven fabrics. I had a hard time finding one I liked - the metal ones seem to make my finger sweat! Finally I found one that is suede and wraps around the finger but has a metal piece on the inside which extends to bend over the top of the finger. I have 2 and they're getting rather worn but I haven't found one anywhere since I bought the second one about 15 years ago. I can't really quilt without it, so every so often I search online to find one. Alas, so far it's been fruitless.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

What a lovely blog! I've just come over from Heart Shaped because your ten minute old Thimble headline intrigued. I think I use a thimble instinctively (not often these days) but it's good to have a wee tutorial. I have a pretty but impractical cloisonne bird thimble and a special bakelite one that belonged to my father.

I shall definitely read more of your posts and direct my daughter this way especially as she has just joined a textile class in her final year at secondary school.

There's a bit of costuming goes on in our household and I occasionally write about vintage fabric and clothing.

I'll sign up as a Follower now :-)

JuliaB said...

Jen, that suede thimble with the metal innard sounds fantastic!! I have scoured the thimble retail world and never seen one ... If I do come across one tho, I will definately let you know!

JuliaB said...

Lady Mondegreen - thankyou for your lovely comments! :) Your thimbles sound lovely :)

Uta said...

Yes yes yes! Just recently I tried to sew with a thimble (again) and just couldn't figure it out. Thank you for this tutorial!

The undomesticated scientist said...

i've never used on but may be tempted to try cos i've always got holes in my fingers!

Suzy said...

I have tried many times and sort of use them when hand sewing in thick fabrics. But I don't like them or find it easy to use so thank you for this post, I must try and have another go at it (once I find one that fits me).

Toffeeapple said...

When I sewed regularly, I always used a thimble. Mine do not have closed ends, my nail is visible. The last one I bought was from John Lewis though quite a few years ago now.

Clio said...

Wow! This was a much needed and appreciated post!

Bonita Vear said...

~ * ♥ * ~

I have a gorgeous old topless metal thimble that I use, but only when I can't get the needle through the fabric, otherwise I tend to find it to clumsy. Maybe using your technique it won't be so difficult! I am so trying this! Thanks for the tutorial. :3

xox,
bonita of Depict This!
~ * ♥ * ~

Lisen said...

I´ve been very bad at using timbles but this inspires me to really learn the technique ones and for all. Just have to find a better fitting timble first. Thank you for the good advice!

learningnewtricks said...

I love using a thimble. I've tried hand hemming without one, and man was that hard on my poor fingers! I discovered that your thimble size is so important and can discourage you from using one if the wrong size is used. I prefer the metal kind over leather.

JustGail said...

I've always tried to use the end of the thimble, not the sides. No wonder I have so much trouble! And thanks for the link to the other thimble how-to, both will be added to my tutorials bookmarks.

Jen - if one gets too worn, is it possible to try to make a new suede cover?

eljean said...

I found silver thimble that I supposed was too small, and sat on the tip of my middle finger. I tried to use it and found it easily worked. I don't use any other thimble so effectively. It has deep dimples that grab the needles and is small and keeps out of the way. So, keep looking for one that helps you work. I love to sew by hand, and can't do it so well as I do with this thimble.

Denise said...

All right, you've inspired me to try a thimble again. I definitely feel all thumbs when using one, but the thing that makes me give it up is that my thread shreds so quickly. I'm sure I'm doing something wrong, but never can seem to figure out what. They seem so helpful, and I always wish I knew the trick to it. Thanks!

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V said...

I've always used a thimble, probably because those that taught me, my grandmother and great-grandmother, always used them. I hate hand sewing without them, but my little ones think my thimble is a great toy, so I often have to do a hunt before I can stitch!

For those that love the metal/leather combo, Clover still makes them. You can find two styles of them here. http://www.embroideryetcetera.com/sewing-supplies/notions/sewing-supplies-thimbles-threaders.html

cecile said...

Actually, I have one thimble for cold weather and another one for warm weather (my fingers would be a bit bigger) ! :P

Anonymous said...

I came to the same conclusion as you that I had a need for a thimble. However, I can't find one that fits! The smallest I can find is 14mm but it drops off my middle finger and this is considered the petite size. Most only come in small. I don't know where to go from here. Because there is no proper sizing available I am unable to properly ascertain if the one I have is a size 5 or a size 6. If I knew for sure I could try for the next one down - both 4 and 5 are available as vintage thimbles. It is so very frustrating purchasing all these thimbles that don't fit.

JuliaB said...

Hi Anonymouse :)

Clover do a fabulous adjustable metal thimble - get the small size and it should do the job. It's open to which makes it that bit more comfy. I got one and now it's my favourite :)