Thimbles: there is no one in the middle ground on this subject. You either love them or hate them!
My first thimble was a dimpled steel one that Mom insisted I wear while learning to darn socks: it didn't fit properly, my fingertip turned gray and that tarnished my needle (or was it my sweaty hands?) and the fabric was soon grimy.
As an adult I found my first advertising thimble, a Hoover ~ Home ~ Happiness, in a $3 box of sewing notions at a farm auction. That began my journey: they are priced between less than a dollar to thousands of dollars. The depth of your pocketbook is the determining factor in how seriously one can become involved in the collecting world.
The name for a Thimble Collector is a Digitabulist. In scope and size, interest ranges from small, local, collector groups up through major international assemblies, who all cover all aspects from a bit of history, show & tell about their latest finds and major conventions.
Being The Tool Gal, of course I have a small collection, but it does not hold that detested plain thimble from Mom! Thimbles don't usually cost much and don't take up much room and are a great addition to any general collection of all vintage, antique and unusual sewing implements.
It's been said that if you handled a thimble to a young person today, they most likely would not be able to put in onto the most commonly used fingertip. Fortunately, societies like the Thimble Collecting groups are keeping this tool alive and in the forefront of hand-art's implements.
And in case you thought I'd present just the fingertip protector thimbles here are some other items also called Thimbles:
Channel guides for wire ropes (any time a wire rope needs to be attached to a hang point that would cause the cable to sharply bend, a device called a thimble must be used. Thimbles simply guide the cable into a natural curve shape and offer a degree of protection to the cable in the loop)
- In magic tricks
- Luff line guides in Sailing
- Cable bracing in climbing gear
- Clay & aluminum 'thimbles as flue inserts' in chimney building
- A component of horse harnessing
- At least 2 flowering garden plants: Campanula/Dwarfleaf Bell Flower (Fairy Thimbles) and Digitalis/Foxglove (Witches's Thimbles)
- Thimbles of glass and quartz used as filters - these thimbles are seamless, high purity filters and available from in two different materials: borosilicate glass fiber and quartz fiber.
- Place holders in Racing Pigeon Clocks
- Component of musical wind Instruments
As well as many more thimbles for obscure uses in highly specialized, technical fields.
When man first began to wear clothing, fasteners were fashioned of twigs and thorns, twine and rope ties and other natural items to hold the animal skins closer to the body to retain heat and for comfort in wearing.
The earliest thimbles were devised when needles became a more universal method to hold sections of coarse cloth and other natural materials together. Early needles were difficult to produce and use due to their handmade properties: they were not uniformly pointed nor smooth-finished. It became necessary to protect the fingers while pushing these crude needles through the cloth. Medieval thimbles introduced skins and leather needles, though few of these survive due to the material contents.
The earliest Roman thimbles were handmade of bronze or iron, were usually open-topped and worn on the first, top section of the finger like a ring, as pushing on the needle's end was done as tailors do today, by pushing with the side of the finger instead of the tip. The middle finger is used because the index finger manipulates the needle, along with the thumb.
As finer fabrics were developed, more specialized brass needles came into production. Ivory, hardwoods and bone thimbles were produced in addition to those of gold and silver, which became part of the decorative arts during the 15th century. As with other 'womanly' arts, the tools for hand-sewing became as much an accessory to advertise one's station in life as being put to practical everyday use.
Silver and gold, being relatively soft metals, needed lattice and waffle indentations stamped into the sides of open-topped thimbles to keep the needles centered and the thimble sides unscratched. Rims were added to further keep the needles from sliding off the thimble's sides and decorative circular knurling's were added to the tall, open-topped cylindrical shapes.
Very few of the precious metal thimbles were hallmarked by the early designers due to the relatively small percentages of these minerals used. They remained exempt from hallmarking (stamped details identifying the mineral content and the maker) until late in the 1700s, when a 'nose' machine permitted the indentation of regular, spiral patterns, helping to identify the dates of creation.
The earliest thimbles of bronze and iron are valued for their historic aspect; plain, machine made, lighter materials of brass and steel are still plentiful on the collectible market but advertising of brands, trade names and pictorial elements make 19th and 20th century thimbles more highly desirable. Also, steel and brass thimbles employing patented devices are highly collectible: non-slip, ventilated, attached wire needle threaders and cutters are a few of these options.
More utilitarian thimbles became common early in the 18th century, created of steel with a brass rim or lining. A shorter, rounder shape became available, being composed of 2 sections: a welded cylinder topped with a dimpled cap. Soon these evolved into one-piece tools by hammering a metal disk into a mold. Artistic needlework became a fashionable pastime with middle and upper class ladies: Elizabeth the 1st gave lavishly jewel-encrusted thimbles to Ladies-In-Waiting and gifting extremely fancy and exclusively designed thimble came into fashion, as components of Chatelaines and Etuis.
Porcelain thimbles, such as those produced by foundries like Meissen in Saxony were never intended for actual use, however, as a tool used when sewing fine silks these excelled, as their smoothness did not snag and blemish these costly fabrics. Mother-of-pearl and tortoise were also used as these natural materials can be sanded to glass-like smoothness. Few of the porcelain thimbles exist outside of private collections and museums: they were decoratively designed with images of figures, flora and fauna and well-known landscapes: some of the first Souvenirs!
Decorative thimbles hit their summit in the late 1800s when the British firms of Royal Worcester, Spode, Wedgewood and Coalport also designed exclusive, expensive decorative thimbles of nearly transparent, elaborately gilded, highly detailed, hand-painted brushwork.
Modern thimbles are produced in every known material: from Kevlar through all of the industrial, semi-precious & precious metals to many unusual materials, like coconut shell, Mother of Pearl, Bone, seashells, hardwoods, leather animals skins like seal, shark, pig, goat and kangaroo skins. I've located a source of kangaroo leather skins which is quite thin & light: I use and carry them for needle felters as there is still a tactile feel of the fiber while wearing them and yet most of the small jabs of the felting needles do not penetrate them.
One of my favorite thimble brands of consistent quality thimbles is Clover®. They are of soft leather, with a variety of dimpled metal inserts to push against the needle's end. All closed-end thimbles are usually classified as Dressmaker's and the open-ended styles are Tailor's thimbles. I tend to use a thimble in the tailor's method, not that I was taught this but pushing the needle with the side of my middle finger felt/feels natural.
Here's an online viewing of this finger position:
Thomas Mahon's web site: it speaks of quality in all hand-art aspects, no short cuts and nature. Feel free to browse - his site reads like a blog.
I'm positive that's why my Mom's thimble didn't work, as it was designed to utilize the flatter, dimpled crown.
I like my leather thimbles best after they've had at least one run-through the washing machine - usually after being forgotten in a pocket. The water tightens up the leather and after finding it in the bottom of the washing machine, I form in onto my finger, remove and allow it to dry naturally: this gives it a highly personalized, custom shape. Sometimes laziness or disorganization is a good thing!
Clover places the dimpled metal disks in any combination of places on and around the end of the leather, there's surely one that will work comfortably for every hand-sewer.
There are even thimbles-that-are-not-thimbles, but merely disks of plastic or metal that adhere to the special spot on one's finger where the needle always seats itself. These are very useful if you need to have all tactile sensations in your fingers available for handling the cloth while sewing. And for those that just cannot stand to wear a thimble!
Thimble cases/cages can be both safe-keeping implements and highly decorative objects. The commonest forms are a round or egg-shape which has 2 screw-together or hinged halves to protect the thimbles from dust, tarnish, chipping or breaking and denting. I so want one from Silver Thimble Gifts (or any of their sewing accessories!) but can't justify getting anything, yet.
One very special Bobbie's-gotta-have-it-tool is my newest acquisition, my Thimblescope™, a hand-made cylinder of plastic/acetate from Texas, about 2" long, which allows one to insert the scope inside of a confined space to light up, magnify and identify the hallmarks that these aging eyes no longer see as clearly as I'd like!
Many of the non-metal thimbles (leather) are being worn by crocheters as they work the thinnest of fiber textiles to crochet the most amazing tiny creative teddies and other animals, with steel crochet hooks as thin and as pointed as needles. These will soon put a permanent hole or split in one spot on your finger. Thin leather that still allows tactile feel will eliminate this or allow the wound to heal while continuing to work.
And, as the purpose of the thimble is to protect the finger while push needles through fabric, my favorite needle pusher is actually a puller: a new tool this Tool Gal HAD to have!
It can be worn on your middle 2 fingers, keeping the index finger free for sewing, and flipped up into use when you've got just a very small tip of the needle to catch.