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Threads eLetter

From the pages of Threads Magazine

At Last, the Perfect Thimble
Here's a comfortable, custom leather thimble you'll enjoy making and wearing

by Samantha Brenneman

Eliminate the discomfort of needle jabs when hand sewing with a custom thimble that really fits.
I've been sewing since I was a child, but I've never been able to get used to the feel of a traditional metal thimble on my finger. For years, I avoided using one and resigned myself to the discomfort of needle jabs.

Recently, I made a baby's jacket completely quilted by hand. Pushing a small, fine needle through the jacket's fabric and cotton batting to make all of those tiny stitches finally convinced me how important such a small tool could be. I struggled through my project using a standard metal thimble, but I still didn't become accustomed to it. So I began searching for a thimble that would not only fit better but also be comfortable to wear during long periods of continuous hand stitching.

I tried various kinds of leather thimbles like those often used by quilters (most are made of leather and fabric with a tiny metal plate in the tip). None of them was quite right: One came unglued; another stretched in use and kept falling off; one was made of shiny leather too slippery to hold the needle; and still another was made of leather so thick it didn't need a metal plate, but I couldn't feel what I was doing when stitching with it. I even tried using the fingertips of old gloves with a little felt tucked inside to snug the fit. These makeshift thimbles fit better than most, but they wore out much too quickly.

A fitting solution
The pattern for the thimble
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In a spurt of inspiration and/or frustration, I decided to design my own perfect leather thimble that combined all of the features that I liked: soft, spongy leather for easy needle-grabbing; a long "tail" over the knuckle to adjust the position and to easily pull it on and off; and a hard tip, slanted like a fingertip, to push the needle through the fabric while protecting the finger.

If you have the same thimble dilemma that I did or if you just want a colorful set of really useful thimbles, try this design yourself. Because it's so quick to make, you can produce several thimbles in a matter of minutes. And that's not a bad idea because you can keep one everywhere you sew. Plus you'll always have a spare if one is lost or wears out.

A colorful set of really useful thimbles
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Start with the basic tube-and-tail pattern. It's a good fit for my fairly small finger, but you can easily enlarge or reduce it by cutting it wider or narrower at the seamline (see Make a custom-fitted thimble). The wide V-shaped angle at the tip provides for the thimble's slanted end. This slanted design ensures that the needle hits the hard tip every time and doesn't slide off.

Thimble construction
Most of my thimbles are made from soft pigskin scraps that I've collected (a 3-in. square is usually large enough). I've also used chamois or old gloves -- a perfect use for the glove that's lost its mate but which you can't bear to throw away. Soft leather is very flexible and comfortable, but it has a tendency to stretch out, so I make my thimbles a little tight at first. To further compensate for this stretching, I put a little "belt" on each thimble just behind the first knuckle. The belt can be made from a little strip of leather or a bit of cord elastic and should fit fairly snug because it keeps the thimble on your finger at a comfortable angle, even if the leather stretches.

The tip itself is a sandwich of two layers of leather with a smaller circle of hard plastic between them. A dime is the perfect template for cutting these leather circles. I cut the plastic circle from packaging or from milk jugs, again tracing the dime, then cutting away 1/8 in. inside the marking. Test the plastic to be sure the eye end of a needle won't poke through.

The easiest way to construct this thimble is to use both glue (Sobo or another white fabric glue) and stitching. A thin line of glue applied along the seam edges acts as basting, but stitching is necessary to secure the pieces together. I stitch the long tube seam by machine (a regular needle works fine), but I find it easier to sew the tip to the tube by hand, using a leather needle and a double strand of waxed thread.

After sewing the thimble, line the tail section with a scrap of soft cotton or leather by gluing it in place. This stabilizes the tail, which is pulled when you slip the thimble on and off your finger.

Finally, I have a thimble that really protects my finger and is so comfortable I often forget I have it on. In fact, more than once I've left my studio still wearing it.

Samantha Brenneman makes thimbles and sews in Berwyn, Ill.

Photos: Sloan Howard; drawings: Christine Erikson

From Threads #87, pp. 54-55
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