May 20, 2018
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Thimbles still serve those who sew

By Ardeana Hamlin, BDN Staff

I keep thimbles in various rooms in my house. A steel one of modern vintage resides in a small round tin that also contains straight pins. This thimble sees use when I am sitting at the table stitching a hem or sewing on a button.

Another steel thimble resides in a small round tole-painted tin container set on a table beside the chair I sit in when I knit. Sometimes, instead of knitting, I have a hand-sewing project to do — stitching a lining into a crocheted bag, working a piece of embroidery, appliqueing or sewing beads on something. It’s handy to have the thimble within easy reach.

The thimbles I like best are the old ones I keep in a petite sweet grass basket in the living room. These are the vintage ones that were made for beauty as well as utility. One has a bird and flower motif engraved on it, another has a spiral pattern. I also have a thimble with an open tip decorated with a clump of daisies. Yet another was handmade in Mexico and is decorated with raised, curved motifs. This thimble really has no utility since the metal it is made of is too thin to take the pressure of a finger pushing a needle through fabric. I found that out the hard way when the head of the needle pierced the metal and ended up in the tip of my finger.

There was a time when thimbles were a common household tool. Every woman had one because sewing, for the most part, was the sphere of women. Sewing was an everyday task, from the finest cottons to the heaviest wool serge, and fingers pushing needles in and out of cloth needed protection. Hence, the thimble.

How long have thimbles been around? An Internet search came up with information posted at Wikipedia, and an article written by Christiane Potts posted at Articlesbase in November 2008. According to those sources, a bronze thimble dating to the 1st century A.D. was found at Pompeii. Another thimble of Roman-era vintage was found in the United Kingdom. Brass thimbles were made in Germany in the 15th century. In the late 1600s, a Dutch manufacturer set up thimble production in London, England. At that time, the device was worn on the thumb and shaped like a bell, and called a “thumb-bell,” a term that evolved linguistically to “thimble.”

By the end of the 1700s, silver thimbles became popular. In the 1800s, silver thimbles were reinforced with steel tips to prevent stab wounds to fingers when the soft silver metal gave way. Over the years, besides bronze, brass and silver, thimbles have been made of china and glass, leather, wood, marble, rubber, horn, whalebone and ivory. In more recent times, thimbles also have been made of plastic and of resin.

Thimbles come in sizes from small to large, but usually not large enough to accommodate my large hands. Yet, I have acquired a few that fit comfortably.

Toronto paid homage to the thimble, and its garment district history, by erecting a sculpture of a thimble. Visit to view a photo of the 9-foot-tall sculpture called “Uniform Measure/Stack” created in 1997 by artist Stephan Cruise.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or email

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