All About Thimbles


Thimbles are so important for those of us who sew, but what is the history? What kinds are there? What should I buy? Quilting Contessa discusses it all.

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All About Thimbles

I lost another thimble this week. I, like most quilters, have purchased and lost more thimbles than any of my other sewing tools. I'm not alone. Apparently, a mammoth hunter lost a thimble 30,000 years ago which was discovered by archeologists. So, let's face it: thimbles are a sewing problem! I have sewing friends who have purchased 20 or more thimbles, only to discover that they don't really like any of them.

All About Thimbles


Modern thimbles started around 1695 and were created from metal. Thimbles were also commonly made from leather, but these usually have a small metal spot to cover the finger pad. Some leather thimbles are long enough to reach the knuckle. This protects the spot on the third finger where we tend to rest our pencils because many of us use that same spot to push the needle through the fabric. Ouch!

metal thimble


Quilters can't avoid hand-stitching. Even if you choose another binding method, a hanging sleeve must still go on any quilt to be displayed on a wall or in a quilt show. For that, you need a thimble because a thimble protects the finger pushing on the eye of the needle while hand stitching. This allows the use of a third finger to help control the needle. The guidance this extra finger provides allows the quilter greater precision in stitching. No wonder in colonial days, women being judged by their fine stitching they treasured their finest thimbles!



Many gold, silver and other precious thimbles are collectables today. There are antique businesses and books built upon thimbles. Special display shelves and porcelain tourist thimbles are everywhere. These are not created to be used. Like the thimble in the Monopoly game, they are made to be admired and remembered. Another popular way to display a beautiful vintage thimble is to drill holes and wear it on a chain.

thimble tourist


Reading online, you can find many articles about choosing, and measuring for, a thimble. If you can enlist a jeweler, you can use a ring gage to measure for a thimble. Just fit the ring at the base of the fingernail on the finger you want to protect. If you are shopping online and don't have access to a jeweler, use a piece of scrap paper to measure around the base of the fingernail and then measure the paper in millimeters. This will give you the correct size for ordering the thimble.

thimble sizing


Thimbles in use today are mostly made from metal, leather, rubber, plastic, or combinations thereof. For hand quilting, some quilters recommend choosing a thimble with a flat top and a slip stop border. This rim helps keep the needle on the thimble. However, some say that a thimble for hand quilting is clumsy for whip stitching.


All this advice probably brings us to the two basic rules: 1. Find and buy what will do the job; and 2. Find and buy what fits best for your hands!


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Binding is used as both a noun and a verb. As a noun it is the fabric that's used to cover the raw edges of the quilt sandwich after it's quilted. This edging fabric is referred to as the Binding (noun). As a verb it is the process of putting on this fabric, and it referred to as Binding a Quilt.
A strip of fabric or pieced strip of fabric joined to the edges of the inner quilt and used to frame it.
Hand Quilting
A running stitch that is made through all three layers of a quilt to hold them together.
Hanging Sleeve
A tube or sleeve sewn to the back top of a quilt to allow it to be hung on a wall or at a quilt show. Shows request these to be 3-4 inches wide.
A small, dimpled cap, usually of metal, designed to fit over the end of the finger to protect it from injury as it repeatedly pushes a needle through cloth during sewing or quilting.
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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