not your mother’s thimbles

not your mother’s thimbles

By Patricia Belyea

WAUCONDA WA   Many quilters rave about hand stitching—how it relaxes them and brings them so much enjoyment. With this bliss comes a sense of accomplishment with gorgeous, even stitches running through their quilt projects.

There are four different elements of hand stitching—the thread, the needle, the thimble, and the stitcher. Today let's look at thimbles.

In the past, thimbles have been like little suits of armor that protect the stitchers’ fingers. They never fit naturally and oft times produce an unpleasant level of perspiration.

I asked Clover Notions of Japan to send me a complete set of their thimbles to survey. Japanese quilters are highly revered for their hand stitching so I wanted to look at all of the different thimbles they use.

Eloise Wagers, hand-stitching specialist at Clover, explained how many of these thimbles are used because quite a few were foreign to me. Eloise emphasized that the right thimble speeds up stitching, minimizes stress, and helps create accurate stitches as it pushes the needle through the fabric.

Let's take a look at the thimble models in elastomer, leather, and metal:

Clover Item 6025 (Orange, Small); 6026 (Pink, Medium); 6027 (Lime Green, Large); 9614 (Mauve, Kids Size)

Say hello to the modern thimble—designed to protect your middle finger as you push from the top with the brass waffle-textured cap! This lightweight and soft elastic thimble grips your finger while its scallop design provides breathability. The recessed ridge at the top prevents the needle from slipping off the thimble while making a stitch. Bonus: the bright colors make these thimbles easy to find.

Clover Item 6028 (Small); 6029 (Medium); 6030 (Large)

This 3-D, finger-shaped Leather Thimble has no seams on the back side to interfere with the needle—wherever it touches. With its cosy fit and two layers of leather for increased protection, this thimble is a great choice for lightweight stitching projects.

Clover Item 6014 (Medium—one size only)

This leather thimble combines the natural fit of a shaped cowhide thimble with the power of a dimpled brass disc inserted at the fingertip. Designed to be worn on the middle finger, this Coin Thimble is used to push a needle and thread through thick or hard fabrics.

Clover Item 616 (one size only)

This Double Sided Thimble is a sister to the Coin Thimble. The dimpled brass insert wraps around to the back of the cowhide leather thimble, giving you two identical sides. Use with your middle finger to push through hard fabrics from the side, top or back.

Clover Item 612 (one size only)

These adjustable leather thimbles, packaged in pairs, are finished with a colorful polyethylene inside and edge. Slip one onto your middle finger and push it down to the center phalanx—with the textured leather facing in. Now you can push a needle and thread easily through light- to medium-weight fabric with this highly breathable thimble.

Clover Item 610 (one size only)

Similar to the Leather Ring Thimbles, this Adjustable Ring Thimble gives you extra pushing power with its dimpled brass surface. To use, just slip onto the center phalanx of your middle finger with the wider metal side facing in. The two sides of the ring band overlap in the back so you can easily adjust to any finger size.

Clover Item 6017 (Small); 6018 (Medium)

A thimble for stitchers who have long nails! This dimpled brass thimble is designed with an open end to allow your fingernails to hang past the tip and an open back to minimize perspiration. The mini divots in the metal give a place to stabilize the needle as you push through with your middle finger. The little ridge makes sure the needle does not slip under your fingernail (ouch!) and helps access a needle when there is minimal room. And the two bands in the back are adjustable to fine-tune the fit.

Ring Thimble with Plate: Clover Item 611 (one size only)
Flexible Rubber Thimbles: Two per pack—Clover Item 6031 (16mm \ 5/8", Pink, Medium); 6032 (18mm \ 11/16", Yellow, Large)
Flexible Rubber Thimble Set: Clover Item 9615 (pack includes one 14mm \ 9/16", Mauve and one 16mm \ 5/8" Blue, Kids Size) T

his is what you’ve been waiting for: the combo of thimbles needed to produce sashiko or Big Stitches that saves your fingers and your wrists! Let’s start with the Adjustable Ring Thimble with Plate. Slip the thimble to the bottom of your middle finger with the round brass plate facing down, resting on your palm. The dimpled surface is out. This gives you a place in your palm where you can use your whole hand to push the long loaded needle through the fabric as you make your stitches. The thimble is adjustable to fit all.

The Flexible Rubber Thimbles are for the second part of the stitch motion. Slip one Rubber Thimble on your forefinger and the other on your thumb. Now pull the needle through the fabric using both fingers. The elastomer thimbles fit snuggly for a no-slip grip and the little holes provide breathability.

Note: some stitchers need the medium-sized Flexible Rubber Thimble for their forefinger and the large-sized Flexible Rubber Thimble for their thumb.

Not available in the US

I bought this leather thimble at Tokyo Quilt Festival almost four years ago. This beloved extra-long, double-sided cowhide thimble with an extra coin in the base was used to stitch the quilts in my book, East-Meets-West Quilts. I’ve never shown it in a photo because my thimble looks like I was wrangling with the Mafia and they cut off one of my fingers!

I remember stepping up to the Clover booth, looking for a bright pink Protect and Grip Thimble. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a smiling mob of Japanese quilters who were all pointing to this style of long leather thimble. Their heads were bobbing up and down in approval when I tried one on.

My new-found friends were communicating that this was a good thimble to buy. Maybe it was even the thimble they all used. I’ll never know as I don’t speak Japanese. What I do know is that my stitching life has never been the same since I adopted this remarkable thimble.

Interested in trying out some Clover thimbles? To shop online for Clover thimbles +click here

Okan Arts received no compensation for this blog post.

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  • Patricia Belyea
    Ingrid—That one sounds interesting! To each their own. PB

  • Ingrid
    I seem to have a weird finger because I have tried all of them! I now use the stick on metal coin. I’ve become accustomed to it.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Jennifer—All the thimbles listed in the blog post are available in America——at your quilt shop and at quilt shows. Also there is a link to buy them online from Clover. The only one that is not packaged for the US market is the last one——the long leather one. Even though it is the thimble I use, I chose it due to the encouragement of the Japanese quilters in Tokyo. The coin thimble and other Clover thimbles would work for me as well. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Linda—Good for you. Clover is a great notion company. PB

  • Linda
    I use alot of your sewing notions..thank you!

  • Jennifer Thomas
    If these thimbles are extraordinary to the ones available to us hand quilters in the US why are they not offered by Clover. I have many thimbles that just don’t “feel” right when hand quilting. At least Clover should make them available at quilt shows where they have a presence.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Gene—You aren’t the only one who prefers that thimble. Shibaguyz, two stitching experts who work with Clover, prefer that one. You can see their video about thimbles here: PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Judith—Eloise told me that everyone has their preferences when it comes to thimbles. I think the important thing is that we all keep stitching—whatever thimble works for us. I haven’t used the metal one with the plate that sits in my palm yet. I think that might be very helpful for stitching with heavy thread. So there is also the opportunity to try new styles of thimbles and stitching! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Becca—The photo at the top of the blog post are actually MY mother’s thimbles—which I have used in the past. I believe whatever works for the stitcher is best! So using sterling silver thimbles sounds perfect for you. PB

  • Judith Lawrance
    I used to like the metal,quilting thimble with the indented top. However lately I have preferred the silicon one with-the metal top. I like that when it stretches out of shape it can be placed in warm water and it shrinks back to size.

  • Becca
    I love the sterling silver thimbles. I have a large collection, but have three favorites. They’re very comfortable and find I can’t hand stitch without them now! They’re also little works of art! I also have my precious grandmother’s thimble.

  • Gene Black
    I actually love the open sided thimble – and I do NOT have long nails. But for sewing down a quilt binding, it works perfectly for me. It doesn’t get hot since it is more open and it stays on my finger since it is adjustable.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Jeannie— I chose my leather thimble because I didn’t want to disappoint the nice Japanese ladies who were encouraging me. You chose yours because your Great Grandmother used it. Both seems like great answers for using a particular thimble. The important thing is that we both want to sit down and hand stitch! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Mary Jo—Wow. A porcelain thimble. That does not sound too practical but it seems that it worked fine for your mother. I have worn through my fair share of the bright pink Protect and Grip thimbles and I am on my second long leather one. They just don’t seem to last too long! PB

  • Mary Jo Buckingham
    MY Mother’s favorite thimble was actually a hand painted porcelain one that fit her long tapered fingers. Now lost, I can still see her hand stitching and her hand looking elegant as she pushed the needle through. My favorite thimble is black leather and I wear them out! Not elegant but practical!

  • jeannie evans vanhoff
    Interesting. I admit that I have tried many of them, but never have seen the long leather one. I use my Great Grandmother’s thimble. She had worn a hole in one of the dimples. Sadly, I have added 3 more and the thimble isn’t quite the favorite it used to be. This article is timely for that reason. I do like the Protect and Grip thimble, but I find that it gets sweaty with the hot weather we’ve been having. Off to shop! Thanks!