Sewing tools: Thimbles

Home Economics was not a reality when I was in school. I’m pretty sure there were home ec classes in all of my schools, but I had other stuff to fill those seven classes a day. Most school years, I didn’t have time for all the stuff I wanted to do, much less classes the teenage aspiring astronaut/doctor/senator/lawyer me would ever need.

This means I’m mostly self-taught in all sorts of crafty stuff. One great-grandmother did give me a basic 9 block when I was about four (she made gorgeous quilts), and another put a ginormous crochet hook and the nastiest 1970’s era acrylic yarn in my hands (and made me wary of yarn for years) and my mother taught me the basics of running a sewing machine at some point, but I’m GenX. We really didn’t get instruction — we got instruction manuals. I’ve been RTFMing since I could read.

I never learned to use a thimble. I know what they are, and I’ve used a lot of makeshift ones over the years (a never-to-be-used credit card makes a great needle pusher; teeth can be used as needle pliers in a real pinch, but the former will ruin the card, and the latter will send a dentist’s kid to Berkeley) but I’ve never figured out how they’re supposed to work.

Some people push the needle with a fingertip, but I use the side of my middle finger, between the first and second knuckle. When I do handwork, I usually use a back-stitch or a chain stitch, not a running stitch. My stitch length won’t win awards and running stitches get bunchy on me.

For a thimble, I start with a square of leather about 3″ x 3″. I’ve used junk purses, Dritz leather elbow patches, upholstery scrap and chamois from the automotive shop. I personally like upholstery scrap, since it’s a good weight, usually cheap, and flexible. The only thing that doesn’t work well is garment suede. Garment suede will wear through in about three weeks of heavy use. The small pieces from Michael’s work fine if that’s what you’ve got, but you’re better off buying a thrift-store purse and cutting it down. Vegans, I’m sorry, but pleather does not work. The needles will puncture it. If you’re entirely opposed to using leather, I suggest figuring out how to use a metal thimble.

You’ll also need
heavy thread or two rivets (my preference for speed and not having to shove a needle through leather without a thimble)
an awl
a small hammer
something you can pound on (anvil, scrap wood, sibling skull — something thick, not easily damaged, resilient)
scissors (not the fabric scissors)
chalk or a crayon

Wrap the leather around the finger you want to protect, with one edge near the palm knuckle and the other near the nail. You want this to be tight but not cut off circulation — leather will stretch over time. Use your chalk to mark your first and second knuckles, and mark the length. You want about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (.5 to 1 cm) overlap.

Your fingers probably taper a little, so the first shape you’ll cut in the leather is a trapezoid. (Do this fitting with paper or a scrap of fabric if leather is hard to get.)

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A: length of finger between first and third knuckle
B: circumference of finger at third knuckle plus 1/2 inch
C: circumference of finger at first knuckle plus 1/2 inch

Cut a couple half circles from each side of the trapezoid and one from the center — this is so your finger can bend. Don’t cut too deep, and use your chalk marks as a guide.

Now use the awl to poke holes in the corners — where the blue dots are in my drawing. If you’re sewing the thimble together, you’ll need six or eight on each tab, about 1/8 inch apart. Rivets only need one hole. Rivets are cheap (usually $3 for a pack of fifty) and they’re right next to the leather at the craft shop.

Check the fit, sew up or smash the rivets, and get to sewing. For me, that means an audiobook or some season of television.

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