How To Use a Thimble For Hand Sewing and Embroidery
Beginning needleworkers may find using a thimble to be awkward. You may think it’s a lot of trouble to learn. But with a bit of self-discipline, you’ll soon get used to this essential hand sewing tool and will, in fact, be reluctant to sew without it.
Below is a simple guide for beginners on how to use a thimble for hand sewing. Then at the bottom of the post I also talk about using a thimble for embroidery since it’s a little different technique.
1. Choosing a Type of Thimble
For myself and most needleworkers who have years of experience, a metal thimble is preferable. But you should know that there are other materials available, such as plastic or leather.
You’ll also want to think about the best style of thimble. If you have longer nails, a closed-top thimble won’t work for you. When a thimble fits properly, your fingertip should be flush with the inside end of the thimble. If your nail impedes this, you need to trim your nail. If that’s not an option, you’ll need a tailor’s thimble that has no top or an adjustable thimble that covers just half your finger.
2. Choosing The Right Size Thimble
This is extremely important and probably a large part of the reason many modern needleworkers have never learned to use a thimble. A thimble that doesn’t fit right will be awkward and either slip off or limit control.
Most fabric stores and craft outlets carry a generic-sized thimble, made in bulk without much regard for size. Again, this may be because thimbles are not as popular as they used to be, so even manufacturers don’t understand what’s required when they make them.
Antique thimbles often had a size stamped or engraved into them. You can still find these on Etsy or eBay. The average size for most seamstresses would be between 8-12, with 8 being average and 12 being large.
You will want a thimble that fits snuggly around your middle finger with your fingertip against the end inside. Make sure the thimble has plenty of divets in it to catch the needle as you sew.
3. Here’s How Sewing Thimbles Work
Any properly trained needleworker must know how to use a thimble. Hold your needle between your thumb and first finger. The thimble should fit against the back of the needle. The side of the thimble is probably easiest to use, but you can also use the end if that’s more comfortable for your hand.
Position and guide the needle with your thumb and first finger while pushing it through with the thimble on your middle finger. Let the thimble take the brunt of the heavy work while your other fingers guide both needle and fabric.
Some people like to wear more than one thimble. This may be helpful when sewing particularly thick layers, but it also requires more coordination. It’s a good idea to start with just the one on your middle finger. Once you get that down, feel free to experiment with different projects.
4. You Have To Actually WEAR the thing!
I have to admit, I didn’t like thimbles at all for some years after I started sewing. I can’t tell you how many times I was stabbed through the fingertip with the blunt end of a needle (ouch!) or even worse, under the fingernail (double ouch!).
I finally took hold of myself and said, “You will do this, like it or not!” And I’m not a bit sorry. Thimbles are there to protect your fingers from injury. Whether your hand sewing consists of mainly hems, or if you quilt or embroidery, you REALLY NEED this skill.
It is not impossible. And the advantages go beyond just being a bit of finger armor. Thimbles help give you more control over how your needle performs with the fabric. It can also help add speed since you can sometimes push through several stitches at once. Or you may simply move faster when you don’t have to worry so much about hurting yourself.
5. Embroidery vs. Hand Sewing
While hand sewing generally involves stitching the edges of pieces of fabric together, embroidery is an embellishment that may be through only one layer of fabric and anywhere on the surface. Embroidery is also often done through fabric held taut in an embroidery hoop or frame.
Different embroidery stitches may require you to hold the needle differently, or you may need to make more of a jabbing motion than a sliding motion through the fabric. You will use your thimble in the same way you usually do, to push the needle through.
Embroidering may make more use of the end of the thimble than the side. If you embroider a lot, you may want to try a leather thimble for comfort and flexibility. Or you could even try using a metal thimble on your middle finger and a leather one on your first finger. A thimble will help you make more controlled stitches for a more beautiful result.