Monday, October 21, 2013

Ask Melissa: The Thimble

Last week was the first post in our new segment called, "Ask Melissa." This weeks reader question is about the use of thimbles in sewing:

"Are Thimbles still used while sewing, or has it gone out of fashion?"
I've set out to see if thimbles are a thing of the past, just a monopoly games piece, or still an active part of sewing today. With the help of my research experts, whose name starts with a "g" and rhymes with doogle, here are some fascinating tidbits I found out about the thimble.
Early Use:
Thimbles date back to 10th century, but weren't found to be widely used until about the 14th century. They were typically made of  metal, leather, wood and even glass. Some have been found made from bones, horns and ivory. They were used then to push needles through fabrics in sewing. Particularly difficult fabrics, like leather, would often leave a dimple in the thimble from the needle. Later, mass producers made the dimples to help "get the job done."
Mass Production:
As thimbles began to be mass produced, and makers desired to brand their item, manufacturers would often adorn their thimbles with diamonds, saphires and rubies. Before the 18th century, when thimbles were mass produced, they were made individually and were quite bulky and large. Mass production allowed creates to experiment and explore other options. In these 18th century production was created what we now recognize as the thimble.
Boozing and Whoring:
With mass production, thimbles were found useful in areas other than sewing. They were used to measure spirits, which lead to the phrase, "just a thimbleful." Additionally, prostitutes used thimbles in the practice of "thimble knocking" where they would knock on the glass of a door to announce themselves. However, "thimble knocking" is also the term used when a school teacher would thump the heads of poorly behaved children with a thimble on their finger.
Use Today:
The most common use of the thimble today is in collecting. Thimble collectors are called "digitabulists." While thimbles are still used by some in hand sewing, you are more likely to see these finger protectors or those who shuffle and sort papers to avoid paper cuts. The thimbles used specifically to avoid paper cuts are called "thimblettes" and are considered a disposable item. (The image above is of thimblettes.
At Window Treatments by Melissa:
Here is what our panel said:
Melissa: Nope! I would though, but I already have so much on my fingers to keep them functioning and I don't want to add anything else. But hand sewing through blackout liner is a BEEEAST and a half and I would definitely use a thimble if my hands didn't look like this:
And I'm not even wearing all the splints. I have one for each joint on my hand. I just snapped this picture really quick while I was typing. I had to remove a few of the splints to play the piano at church today. If I had to add one more thing my hand to make it functional I don't think my hands would, in fact, function. (For new readers, these splints are for a joint disorder I have called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III).
Garren: (my husband who keeps the books and cuts the mounting blocks and dowels. . . ) (. . .and hand sews all the repairs in his work pants. . . ) "HECK YES! I don't want to poke my fingers!"
Trena: (pillow covers and window seat cushions for WTbM): "I hate thimbles....I would rather poke myself in the finger than try to sew feeling like I'm wearing gloves. Maybe they work for some people though?" 
Kelsie: (classic roman shades for WTbM): "I use thimbles while sewing flat felled seams. I do a lot of historically accurate costume sewing and, depending on the thickness of the fabric, I may use a thimble for regular seams as well. My husband recently became a scout master and I think a thimble is probably the only thing saving my hands when it comes to hand sewing on patches- those suckers are thick!"
Heather: (classic roman shades for WTbM): "I hate poking myself, but I hate thimbles more. Only use if desperate, or sewing canvas/leather, which is almost never."
Becky: (Curtains for WTbM): "It's not a matter of "going out of style" for me. When hand sewing or quilting through many layers of fabric, thimbles have been indispensable for getting the needle through. I don't wear the thimble, but put it on when I get to tough spots."
How about you? Do you use a thimble for hand sewing?

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