Several years ago, I wanted to learn how to do English Paper Piecing. Since I was working in a quilt shop, I asked a co-worker what I needed to get started. She convinced me that one of the most important things I needed to purchase was a thimble. I was skeptical since I had tried using thimbles before and found them very cumbersome. Also, when I looked into buying one, I quickly realized there were so many different options from which to choose.
Nevertheless, being a “notion girl,” I simply chose a thimble, more or less at random, purchased it, and gave it a try. Well, as it turned out, it’s only a slight overstatement to say that purchase was life-changing! After I got over the “this-feels-awkward phase,” I was hooked, and now, I can’t even imagine sewing without one!
What is a thimble?
A thimble is a protective cover worn over one of your fingers or thumb to prevent injuries that could be caused by hand sewing needles pricking your finger. A thimble is especially important when you sew thick fabrics and need more than usual force to push the needle through the fabrics. A thimble is also essential when doing prolonged hand sewing where there is an increased risk of pricking oneself.
Most thimbles have many little indents on their surface so that the end of the needle will not slip when you push it through the fabric. A thimble is generally worn on your middle finger, but alternatively, it can be put on your index finger or even thumb, whichever digit you use to push your needle through the fabric you’re sewing.
Why use a thimble?
A thimble is a necessary safety tool to use while hand sewing and quilting. A thimble protects your finger from the end of the needle, near the eye. It allows you to employ a third finger for hand sewing, giving you greater control, precision, and speed. Pulling a needle through fabric layers can be tiring on your thumb and index finger, and a thimble can relieve some of this strain on your fingers. With a thimble, you will be able to position and insert needles in just the right place, thereby increasing the accuracy of your stitches.
How to choose a thimble?
You should channel your inner Goldilock and choose a thimble that is neither too tight nor too loose. It should sit firmly on the end of your finger and fit snug enough so that it will not fall off if you hang your hand down at your side and move your fingers around. The thimble should stay on but be comfortable enough that you don’t even realize it is there.
At different times of the year, you may need to change the size of your thimble –a larger one for the summer when fingers swell and smaller a smaller size for the cold winter months.
How to use a thimble?
- Place the thimble on the middle finger of your sewing hand (or, if you prefer, the index finger or thumb).
- Pinch your needle in between your thumb and index finger.
- Place the end of the needle against either of the sides of the thimble or the top of the thimble, depending on your sewing style.
- Push the eye of the needle with your thimble-cover finger through the fabric.
- Grab the needle and pull it through the multiple layers of fabric.
Types of thimbles
Thimbles come in different shapes, sizes, construction, and even combinations of materials to accommodate the comfort and function desired by each sewer. Below are just a few of the types of thimbles that can be found in your local quilt store.
- Flexible Rubber Thimbles. These thimbles can best be described as needle grippers. They can be worn on either your index finger or your thumb to grip the needle and finish pulling it through the fabric. Or, if you are working with heavy fabrics, you can wear the flexible thimbles on both the index finger and thumb, allowing you to pull the needle through with more ease.
- Natural Fit Leather Thimble. Leather thimbles have a 3-D, finger-shaped design with a seam sewn at the top of the finger and away from the needle action. This configuration allows you to push the needle with either the tip or side of your finger.
- Protect and Grip Thimbles. These lightweight thimbles are made of a combination of soft elastic material and a metal thimble cap. This design provides breathability, which helps to keep your finger cool and perspiration-free. Its elasticity helps the thimble form naturally to your fingertip for a comfortably snug fit. The ridged and dimpled metal cap holds the needle tip in place, allowing you to push the needle safely and comfortably. These thimbles are typically available in bright colors, making them thimbles easy to locate!
- Leather Ring Thimble. These adjustable leather thimbles have colorful polyethylene strips on the inside and outside edges. They are typically packaged in pairs. You slip this thimble onto your middle finger and push it down to the center knuckle with the textured leather facing in. This thimble type allows you to push a needle and thread easily through light to medium weight fabric.
- Coin Thimble. These thimbles combine the natural fit of a shaped cowhide with a dimpled brass disc inserted at the fingertip. It is designed to be worn on your middle finger and push a needle through thick or stiff fabrics.
- Open-Sided Thimble. These adjustable dimpled metal thimbles are designed with an open-top. This feature not only helps to keep your finger from perspiring but also accommodates longer fingernails.
A thimble is a very personal sewing tool. To use a thimble successfully, it is essential that you find one that fits properly and suits your sewing style. This may take a little trial and error.
Do you use a thimble? If so, what is your favorite one? Let us know.
My favorite thimble is made of leather. At first, it was very stiff, but over time it has become very flexible and has molded to my finger making it amazingly comfortable to the point I often forget I have it on. Additionally, my fingers perspire less when I use a leather thimble than when I use a thimble made of metal or rubber thimble.
Lone Star Quiltworks offers a wide selection of thimbles; go check them out!