What to Use Instead of a Thimble
I am generally anti-thimble, at least when it comes to the old style metal thimbles. They always just rolled around on my fingertips and never held in place well over my nails. Even though I’m not a thimble advocate, they are helpful sewing notions to add to your crafting tools. I like this 8-piece set because it provides a variety of thimble styles.
Even with a good thimble variety on hand, they may not be convenient when you need them. I never pack a thimble in my sew-on-the-go craft bag that I take with me for stitching in my spare minutes. If you find yourself in that situation, here are some ways you can improvise a thimble.
7 Things You Can Use Instead of a Thimble
If you are wearing a ring, you may have a thimble solution already on your hand. Especially if you are side stitching, your ring can be a great substitute. Wider rings work better because they give you more room to work with. Simply slide your ring to the area of your finger that you are using to push the needle through your fabric and guide it through the tough spots with the ring applying pressure.
Masking tape or duct tape is the best. Roll up or fold several layers that are about ½-inch wide (at least as wide as your fingertip. Then use another piece of tape to adhere that layered piece to the tip of your finger. Don’t tape your finger too tight. You need to still maintain mobility of your finger.
An old pair of leather worth gloves works great as a make-shift thimble. While my number one choice of thimble is a fingertip guard that acts like an adjustable body armor for your finger tip, my second favorite is a leather thimble. (The set I recommended above has two that also have a built-in metal “coin” to help push the needle through.)
Sewing in a pair of leather work gloves would be impossible, but if you can spare the gloves, cut the fingertips off to use as a thimble. Most thimbles cover less than 2 inches of your fingertip, so cut the glove fingers at the hand base and fold the excess leather up around the outside. You can fold it in and then back down (like rolling a pair of socks) if you need to add thickness. If you do choose to use an old pair of leather work gloves, be sure they are clean and residue-free so they won’t stain the fabric you are sewing.
Maybe it’s a mom thing, but I seem to always have a self-adhesive bandage at the ready. I have been known to use a couple in place of a thimble from time to time. Start at one end of the bandage and fold toward the other, sticking the bandage to itself. Use the second bandage to hold this thick pad in place over your fingertip where you will be pushing your needle. The padding can still be poked through, but most of my usage is just to sew through a seam, so it is generally protective enough for this light kind of use.
Occasionally a crafter must stitch through some really tough fabric, or thick seams such as when upcycling jeans or making an upholstery project. Sometimes it is less about protecting your fingers and more about just getting that needle through the fabric so you can move on. While it may be tempting to use your fingernail to push that needle through, reach for something more solid instead. You can damage your nails by using them as a natural thimble too often. So I reach for my scissors and use the intersection where the two blades meet in the middle to push the needle through tough fabrics.
Some crafters have even used nail clippers or spoons as thimbles because they needed something metal to push that needle through thick fabric. Look for something flat that will not tear the fabric.
Much like “metal things,” things made of plastic can also help you push a needle through tough fabric when a thimble is just not handy. Guitar picks, the flat handle of eating utensils, a flat marker — literally anything plastic and strong enough to withstand the push can be used as a thimble in a pinch.
Chair Leg/Drawer Pads
Those adhesive felt pads that protect floors from the feet of your chairs or that make drawer closing quiet can also double as a thimble. Stick a couple together, then stick onto the tip or pad of your finger to help you push the needle.
Tips for Sewing With Thimble Alternatives
Check Needle Size
If you are having a really tough time working the needle through your fabric, you may be using the wrong needle size.
Use Clay To Help Out
If you are having a difficult time adjusting to how the traditional thimble seems to roll around the fingertip, use a small piece of clay to hold it in place. Be sure to remove all the clay when you are finished.
Navigating Around Seams
Seams are tough to sew through by hand or machine. When sewing by hand, try to plan your stitches to hit on the outer edges of the seams instead of straight through the middle where they are usually the thickest. Also, if you can fold the seams out, splitting the thickness of the fabric you will sew through will make the challenge easier.
Try a Different Style Thimble
Don’t give up on thimbles just because they don’t feel natural. For me, the fit doesn’t work well with long nails. I changed to the adjustable finger guard, however, and love it. (And if I forget to take it off, it makes a nice conversation starter at work.)
Make Your Own
If you do not like the fact that most thimbles are short, make your own using leather gloves. You can even layer the fingertips by placing one on top of the other if you want added protection.
Metal Coin and Leather
If you want to add the metal “coin” to your handmade leather thimble, use a permanent glue to stick a small metal blank on the fingertip. If you don’t have a metal blank, you could glue an additional patch of leather to the fingertip area for extra protection.