Wednesday, 8 February 2012

How to use 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?

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