Friday, November 27, 2009

To Thimble or Not to Thimble?


The humble thimble is generally considered a rudimentary essential in any sewing kit. And yet, I've never used one. I actually just bought my first thimble last week! I didn't learn to hand stitch with a thimble, and I never saw the need to incorporate one. But then I realized the amount of padstitching I would be doing on my coat collar (through sturdy hair canvas, no less), and I figured it was time to see what all the thimble fuss is about. I have to say, I'm underwhelmed.

Granted, this might be my own awkwardness as a new user, but I found it a bit unwieldy, like an extra extremity to deal with. My thread kept slipping out of my needle and I suddenly couldn't figure out how to situate my fingers. It was like learning hand stitching all over again! I eventually just flung it off and went back to my old ways.

I was just learning padstitching, so maybe it was too much newness all at once. Or maybe I'm just not a thimble kind of gal.

What is your position on this all-important topic? Are you pro-thimble or anti-thimble? Any tips to share for new thimble users?

Also: coat updates to come! I spent HOURS yesterday padstitching, and I'm still not done with the undercollar. But, on the bright side: I'm finally getting the hang of it! And my collar is shaping up extremely well. I can't wait to show it to you!

58 comments:

  1. I don't have anything to weigh in on using a thimble while sewing, but that thimble in your picture is really beautiful. My Aunt, with whom I lived for a few years in college, collected thimbles. She had the these "Avon thimble ladies of fashion" and some others.

    http://tinyurl.com/ydgjccj

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  2. I think I own a thimble. I think I even have it lyings somewhere on my sewing attic. But I used it only once, years ago, and discovered I just couldn't work with it. I felt clumsy and in the end even frustrated, so I put it away and never used it again. I do think it would have been good for my fingers though, because I do prick myself now and then so I am building up some callus (is that the word? Sounds so strange) on my fingertips :-)

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  3. I own two thimbles and have yet to use either. I bought one not long ago because I was done counting the number of times I'd hurt myself when trying to push a needle through a tough piece of fabric; and I found the other recently in a box of stuff which I must have bought, never used, packed away when moving, and then clean forgotten about. I keep telling myself that I must remember to use one, but as it involves hunting around in one of my many badly organised sewing boxes, then alternating between thimble on/ thimble off because I can't actually sew with one on, I usually give up and go back to pushing the needle in with the help of my scissors or whatever hard surface I can find.

    I remember my grandmother sewing with a thimble on, very quickly and accurately, so maybe it is a matter of persevering to build up the skill. In the meantime, I continue to hurt myself, regularly.

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  4. My grandmother, a first-class embroiderer, is a great believer in the thimble. She uses a thimble every time she sews or embroiders and has tried to show me how to use it for ages. In fact, she scoffs at me every time she sees me without one and keeps stressing the importance of the thimble. Still, I just can't seem to see any use in the thimble. I have only occasionally used it if the fabric I had to work with is really tough. But there must be some magic to the thimble since generations of sewers have used it. Maybe it's just a matter of practice and suddenly one day ta-da you can't sew without it anymore. Maybe you should give your thimble another go and wait for the magic to happen... :)

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  5. I don't use a thimble myself and have only tried it once, but many quilters use a leather thimble. It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to get used to than that metal thing perched on your finger.

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  6. Peter Pan hit on the one meaningful use for a thimble: as a kiss! Otherwise, I know it must be useful as so many employ them, but I personally find them uncomfortable and awkward.

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  7. I use a coin thimble when I need to hand sew through patches (like boy scout merit badges) or several layers of denim. Otherwise I leave it off.

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  8. I could never get the hang of thimbles until by chance I found one that was just the right size - nice and snug, not wobbling about. Now I have no problems, and it certainly helped a lot when I was learning millinery! Try a few different makes and styles and chances are you'll find one that suits you.

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  9. I've used one when sequin sewing (That can be torture without one), but other than that I don't feel that I need them. They are very awkward and just always are too big for my fingers.

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  10. I also bought my first thimble last week and have yet to use it, I have enough trouble hand sewing as it is and I think that the thimble will complicate matters further. My mum uses a thimble for all her hand sewing, perhaps I need a lesson!

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  11. The only thimble I've found that works for me is the leather one with the metal, dime sized, insert. If fitted tightly, it doesn't come off or feel cumbersome. Otherwise, I'd rather not have one.

    - Myrna

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  12. I don't do a lot of hand-sewing. When I do, I usually don't think of the thimble, unless I working with thick fabric.
    Finishing coats, crafting with leather... I have to use a thimble, or my finger will suffer for it.

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  13. It's weird, but metal thimbles make my fingers sweat...not exactly pleasant. I'd rather bust out a pair of pliers or just jam my needle against a hard surface. Sure I stab myself often, but my tetanus shot is up to date and my hands are unencumbered which is the way I like things to be.

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  14. Yes, I always use a thimble. I remember it took some time getting used to, but one day it happened by magic like stephanie describes it above.

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  15. I have never managed to sew with a thimble on - apart from once when I'd been sewing leather with the wrong kind of needle, then it really helped! Charles Horner thimbles are exquisite and I'd learn to use one of his if one fell into my possession. I don't think home-sewers need them really but if you were pad-stitching for 12 hours all day every day, that would be a different story! Your post has got me examining my fingers - middle one is a bit leathery and the pointing one has some needle marks on it...
    Am looking forward to coat updates!

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  16. I picked up a leather thimble a few years ago, and I'm in love with it. I've done hand beading and some heavy duty (brocade) hand sewing with it, and I can honestly say, I think I would have given up without the leather thimble. Its extremely comfortable and saves the fingers from the backside of the needle.

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  17. er... I feel a wee bit silly asking this, but what *is* padstitching? will you make a vlog to show us?
    on the great thimble debate, I'm actually in the market for one right now (if I make it out on black friday, that is)... I'm thinking of going the leather quilting thimble route, because they seem so much more comfortable...
    I also want to know which finger it's "supposed" to go on... I've seen both index and middle....

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  18. Wow. This post makes me realize that I am thimble illiterate -- all this time I assumed, for some reason, that the thimble went over your thumb. I guess it's a good thing I haven't tried one yet!

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  19. I don't always use a thimble, but I do use it often, and I really like it. I can sew a lot longer that way. I have several and keep a couple in the sewing box and a couple by the machine. Mine aren't fancy though, just plain cheap ones from Dritz.

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  20. As said above the leather symbol is the way to go! I hate the metal standard thimble!

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  21. I use a thimble all the time; indeed, it feels very strange to me to sew without one. I use a so-called 'tailor's thimble' which consists of just a metal band round the tip of my finger without a top to it. This design lets one push the needle properly but still have long nails and avoids the sweaty finger issue. It's important that the thimble fits right and sits comfortably but securely without either squeezing your finger or slipping around; you really need to try on to check this. I do sometimes worry about losing my thimble since replacing it with one that fits as well could be awkward.

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  22. Whilst googling leather thimbles(which I never knew existed before today...), I just found this entry on The Purlbee blog which reveals all and much more, like 'Sachiko' thimbles, and odd little fingertippy things...

    http://www.purlbee.com/the-purl-bee/2008/5/6/mollys-sketchbook-sewing-kit-essentials-thimbles.html

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  23. I had a similar experience to your's and other people's when I first started trying to use a thimble. At first it frustrated me to no end, and I decided they were just stupid.

    I gradually developed a callous on my 'pushing' finger instead. That was great, up to a point. If you're doing enough handsewing and/or working with thick fabrics, the butt of the needle eventually pokes through the callous into the tender flesh underneath. "OWEEEE", to say the least.

    So I put the thimble back on out of sheer self-preservation. It wasn't long before I got the knack of it. I think it's just a matter of getting used to it being on your finger, and having the right size!

    Now, as a few others have commented, I can't live without it. I feel naked without it if I'm doing handstitching. And it definitely saved my poor fingy while I was doing 30-40hrs/week of handsewing over 6 months last fall/winter.

    Thimbles are, indeed, one of the oldest and most persistent sewing tools for a reason!

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  24. Pro-thimble. I use a tailor's thimble or an open leather thimble.

    Fit is critical and you need to learn to keep your middle finger curled just right.

    You might try a band-aid around your middle finger with the padding where you push the needle. That can be an effective thimble substitute.

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  25. Gertie, in my view the thimble is pretty indispensible when hand-sewing. It does have to fit. Also, wear it on the third finger of your working hand. Take 3 or 4 stitches (if running) and then push with the thimble. I often push with the top of the finger so wouldn't use the open thimble. I do use a leather thimble as well as a metal one, but I often prefer metal.

    Even if you grip the needle between the pads of your fingers and push, I find the fingers get sore. Since I've been sewing more by hand I've realised the thimble is a really great invention.

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  26. I never used a thimble until I attempted (once) to hand-make a quilt. It was pain that drove me to it. The leather deal is definitely the way to go. IMHO. I decided to stick with dressmaking.

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  27. Gertie, I don't use a thimble either - it feels to me like it did for you. But...I found these sticky pads at Hancock's that I absolutely love. You get 3 sheets of elipical clear plastic pads. They've got a sticky side that sticks to your finger. Use one until it no longer sticks to your finger and then use a new one. I think they cost me only a dollar or two for the packet. They are usually in the quilting area of a store.

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  28. I too think that a thimble is indispensable when working with leather or thick fabrics. It is also extremely important that the thimble fit. The leather ones see like a great idea. I've never used one, but I have used a scrap of leather tied around my finger in a pinch. I think it's best to used on the middle finger, but that's because I tend to use my middle finger for everything...

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  29. I can never keep a thimble on my finger! Go you with the padstitching... this coat is going to be gorgeous. All the shaping is worth it, even if hand stitching (at least to me) is tedious.

    Thanks for your compliment on my jacket. The lining is a poly charmeuse that was on sale at Joann fabrics a few years ago. I bought all that was left, about 10 yards, and use it to line all the jackets I make!

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  30. I use a thimble any time I do handwork- the kind that is just a plastic band with leather to keep the needle form slipping. If I don't my finger feels naked! They do take practice, and must fit fairly snug.
    It is worth it though not to stab your finger!

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  31. I've always used a thimble. Cannot hand-sew without one.

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  32. Not for me. I've seen them around of course, but I hate hand stitching and can't even imagine how this would work using one. I'd feel like a phony I reckon!

    xoxo

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  33. i've tried using a thimble too, but most of the time i end up just pushing the needle through the fabric with whatever finger doesn't have the thimble on it. Very occasionally when i'm sewing something really stiff i'll use it, but otherwise if my finger(s) are getting sore i sometimes use some leukoplast tape over the end of my finger to give a bit of protection like the thimble would but not be all weird and unwieldy like you said.

    I can't wait to see the coat!

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  34. @ramona - Pad stitches are used to secure the canvas to the underfabric, and more importantly, to keep the canvas in the right shape. Collars and lapels on coats, jackets and coatees are made up of several layers of fabric, and are rolled. By cutting the layers of fabric different lengths, and pad stitching them together, the collar and lapel can maintain the rolled shape.

    I'm in the thimble camp, though I don't do enough hand sewing to bother with one most of the time. third finger, no doubts.

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  35. hi, yes i have to admit I have tried them and I do own a few, but find them rather cumbersome. Funnily enough I find that the finger wearing the thing tends to stick up out of the wayand defeats the purpose. I have tried the Japanese one and its kind of better but i'd rather not use one!

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  36. Thimbles blow. I love your blog, by the way.

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  37. Oh how I wish I knew how to use a thimble. My fingers ache for days after a long stretch of handsewing as I have never mastered the art. They either fall off of my fingers or feel very awkward. I read through all of these comments and am going to try some of these tips myself. My fingertips will thank me I'm sure!

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  38. I'll use a leather thimble (just a sheath made of scrap buckskin) for quilting or particularly tough hand-sewing, as it's thin enough not to interfere with dexterity. I never liked metal ones.

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  39. I'd prefer a leather thimble to the traditional thimble.

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  40. As long as I did light embroidery, I'd wear a thimble, but never used it really. I became an addict when I started quilting, and also doing more serious embroidery. Now I can't take a needle without puttin a thimble on my finger. But at the beginning, I felt very much like you do now.
    And this thimble you have is beautiful, really. If you finally don't use it, make a giveway with it, maybe I could win it :-)

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  41. As a hand-quilter, thimbles are a necessity for me. I embroidered for years without using one...like you, I found them unwieldy and uncomfortable.

    Really, what I found, though, is that it takes practice and the right thimble. Personally, I hate the leather thimbles. I inevitably end up poking through them. The leather/metal coin combos don't work for me, either--the needle always manages to slide between the leather and metal. I'm a fan of the old-fashioned metal thimble. BUT, I'm super particular about which one. I've got a dozen metal thimbles, all seemingly the same, but only one fits right. It's cheap and turns my finger green, but I don't care :)

    Also, as a side note, I find those little rubber fingers that you use for sorting papers (these things) to be quite helpful when worn on the index finger. It gives you the little extra grip to really grab on to the needles an pull. (So you don't have to resort to using your teeth...which is why I have a small chip in my front tooth.)

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  42. I have not yet been able to work with a thimble. They make me clumbsy and unable to do other important sewing moves with the finger that is thimbled. However reading here I think I have been using the thimble on the wrong finger. I have put it on my second finger. I will try putting it on the third. I love the beauty of thimbles and I believe in the need for them, now if I can learn to use one.

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  43. I can't work with thimbles. I have a smaller version of my dad's hands. They're wide. So are my fingers. And putting on a thimble hurts because my fingers don't fit in them.

    However... Occasionally, I use them anyway when I'm sewing through many layers of fabric by hand. I don't like it when my fingers start to look like pincushions!

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  44. i had never used a thimble either, as i found them too large and clumsy, untill i came across this article http://www.englishcut.com/archives/000143.html
    which spells out the need for and the correct way to use a thimble. i dont use them for sewing fine fabrics, but for buttons and anything midweight or heavier they are now a neccessity.
    missalex

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  45. I haven't yet found a thimble that fits, but in the mean time I've got a step in between: stick-on thimble pads. My mom found them with quilting supplies somewhere. I have pierced them more than once trying to push through something tough, but for everyday save-your-skin type work, they are great. You still have some sensation, they don't slip, don't cause your skin to sweat, and work well both on the "push" finger and the "find the needle on the other side" finger ;).

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  46. I own about 3 thimbles (one plastic and 2 metal). I've never used the plastic one, but I have used the metal ones when I need to push a needle through tough fabric. I don't do a lot of handsewing (since I prefer to sew by machine), but when I do have those difficult pieces a thimble keeps me from injuring myself worse than usual.

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  47. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  48. I sometimes use a thimble, when working with thick fabric. What I've found that really helps me, is I squished the metal together so the thimble fits snug on my finger. It doesn't look as pretty, but it works much better!

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  49. I used to be whole-heartedly anti-thimble and then got a job in a more formal tailor shop than I was used to. I was apprenticing with the master tailor who had learned everything the old fashioned way in Greece. He not only insisted that I learn to use a thimble, but that I WOULD use it and learn the same way he did. He gave me an open ended "tailor's thimble", threaded a ribbon through it, placed it on my finger and tied it all into the right position. I even had to eat lunch that way! I wish I could show you a picture of how awkward that was, but I learned! And now I ALWAYS use a thimble

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  50. I always use a thimble. Basically I don't like getting blood on my sewing or needlework projects. And I will eventually stab myself without a thimble.

    I do a lot of embroidery and smocking and it's just much faster with a thimble. When I took a tailoring class at FIT, we were required to use an open-ended tailor's thimble for all the padstitching. If you are using real haircloth canvas for the lapels and especially the French canvas in the collar, it's necessary.

    I have a small colleciton of thimbles, but my favourite is a lovely silver one.

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  51. I have used them at times when I needed to stitch through thick items. (I sometimes find the need for them when repairing stuffed animals!!) I do not like using them as I also find them to be unwieldy. My grandmother used one all the time. I don't even think she realized she had one on her finger as she worked!

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  52. I cannot pick up a threaded needle without having a thimble on. I use an open-ended, tailor's thimble, and I am sorry that many folks can't abide them.

    I used to sew for a living, and for fun, and let met tell ya, a thimble is one of the first tools to have.

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  53. I could never manage a metal thimble; they wobbled around and fell off. But leather? That works for me. It softens and moulds around the finger with the heat of the skin. It has a little metal disc at the very tip sewn between two layers of leather and a split at the top for the fingernail. Perfect. Incidentally, this wasn't stocked in the sewing notions of my local store; it is stocked with the quilting notions and I found it when I completed the hand-quilting on a queen-sized quilt. Let's just say I went through TWO thimbles with that project. :)

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  54. I haven't got nothing in common with sewing using a thimble, but thimbles could be also very interesting object of collecting and admiration (especially those made of porcelain). Check out my page. Greetings from Poland. /mythimblecollection.blogspot.com

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  55. I use a thimble most of the time I'm sewing.I didn't in the past, and I remember finding them clumsy.

    Then I started using one (I think I was doing a lot of handsewing and peircing my fingertip with the back of the needle far more than I liked as I was using a particularly fine needle)and never looked back. I will even use a badly fitting thimble in preference to none.

    I have a few (I don't know where they all came from) and some are better than others. If it fits well, I forget its there and walk off to answer the phone with it still on....

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  56. This page came up during a search for a tailors' thimble. I was taught how to use one about 70 years ago and find it hard to sew without one. Over the years, I've seen people use the top to push the needle and that seems awkward and requires repositioning the hand. I use the open ended thimble. The fingers curl as a group with the needle held with the index finger and thumb. The thimble is on the middle finger *right next to the index finger*. The stitch is taken and those two fingers work together to push on the back of the needle to complete the stitch.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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