Choosing the Right Thimble

My thimblesLast fall I began doing a lot more hand sewing and I quickly realized that a thimble could be pretty useful. But what I didn’t know was that the most important part was choosing the right thimble.

I had a metal one that I got a while ago but when I tried it on, it was too tight – uncomfortable!  Not only was it too small, it dug into my callus. Previously, my hand sewing had been limited to sewing buttons, making small repairs, and hemming so I really didn’t need to use a thimble. But once I started embroidering last fall and then hand sewing some garments, I really needed a thimble.

Last year I bought a cheery red “jelly fingers” thimble, which was made out of a translucent rubber. However, I got the wrong size because it kept slipping off when I began using it. I confess it was an impulse buy because I liked the color. But I only paid a couple bucks for it at Lacis in Berkeley, which has the biggest selection of thimbles I’ve ever seen.

Adjustable thimbleAbout two months ago I tried an adjustable thimble, this was one that had an opening on one side. I got this one at Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley. You put it in hot water to soften it and then put it on your finger so it would set to your size. This seemed workable. It put less pressure on my callus but still wasn’t that comfortable.

My thimble finger is the middle finger of my right hand. How do you know which is your thimble finger? Well, pay attention to which finger you use as you push the needle through your fabric. This is your thimble finger.

For a while I just didn’t didn’t bother with a thimble but the skin around the tip of my middle finger was getting sore. And after hours of hand sewing without a thimble, the skin around that area was getting tough and the needle end had poked through my skin a couple times (ouch!) when I was sewing through four layers of knit fabric. (Yes, this was the state of my finger last week.) At that point, it’s pretty obvious which finger needs a thimble!

Clearly I needed to get another thimble but I really didn’t know what I should try this time around. So last Friday I tweeted (@csewsalot) “Any using a thimble they like? Tried gel, metal & plastic but they’re not very comfortable.”

And I got a couple responses! Linzee Kull McCray (@seamswrite), who blogs at Pearl the Squirrel, tweeted: “I  like the ones that combine gel and metal–best of both worlds.” Angela (@sewmentalmama), who blogs at Sewmentalmama, tweeted: “Mine are porcelain! So not practical – but leather is worth a try” and followed up with another: “I remembered seeing a leather thimble pattern by @threadsmagazine See what u think!

Some of the thimbles for sale at Lacis in Berkeley
Some of the thimbles for sale at Lacis in Berkeley

I do have some leather scaps but I didn’t feel like making a thimble just yet. So the following day I went to Lacis and looked at rows and rows of thimbles. Frankly, I had no idea there were so many different variations, ring thimbles, palm thimbles and thimbles made out of horn, brass, leather, nickle, and more. I tried on a horn one but that wasn’t comfortable (pressed into my callus). So I looked for a gel and metal version.

Gel and metal thimbleLo and behold, I found one! I tried it on and it felt great. I bought it and began using it later that day. It’s definitely the most comfy thimble I’ve used so far. The gel is flexible and the metal top works well to push the needle through. Definitely worth the $9 I paid for it.

What’s your favorite thimble?


Hand Sewing

Herringbone stretch stitch
Herringbone stretch stitch (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

Over the past few months I’ve been hand sewing, not machine sewing, which has a very different feel. When I’m sewing on a machine, I want to have blocks of time to work. I want an uninterrupted five or six hours minimum to sew, iron, snip, etc.

But when you sew with a needle and thread in hand, you have more flexibility. It’s a lot slower than a sewing machine but you can be interrupted and it’s not a big deal. You can work on your hand sewing for 20 or 30 minutes and still feel as if  you got something done. And it’s very portable, you can just stuff it in a bag along with your needle and thread and work on it wherever you have decent light.

I’ve been doing some embroidery and though I’ve been working on off and on since October, I can see my progress. So far, I’ve written two posts on my embroidered wrap, which was inspired by the one in the book  Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin (my review). You can read about my embroidering experiences in this post “Getting Started on My Alabama Fur Wrap” and “The Embroidered Wrap.”

I’ve been making jersey garments from the book. If I were sewing this fabric on my sewing machine, I’d use a zig zag stitch or I’d use the built-in stretch stitch, which is a bit bulky and tedious because it goes over every stitch three times.

But as I discovered from Alabama Studio, there are many different hand stitchesincluding stretch stitches that you can use on jersey fabric and elastic. I had no idea.

I learned how to hand sew a herringbone stitch to attach the foldover elastic to the waistband of a skirt I made from the book. It’s a rather time-consuming stitch to so because there are sooooo many stitches to sew but I did it!

The cretan stitch is much faster to do because the individual stitches are further apart. I think I’ll use that stitch the next time I hand sew elastic!

Book Review: ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’ by Natalie Chanin

I recently checked out this great book on hand sewing from the public library: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design: A Guide to Hand-Sewing an Alabama Chanin Wardrobe by Natalie Chanin. It focuses on creating a hand-sewn wardrobe – yes, everything from bolero jackets and wraps to dresses and skirts of varying lengths – from cotton jersey fabric. The various pieces can be layered for a striking appearance or worn with a pair of jeans for a more casual look.

These are all designs from Alabama Chanin, where a hand-sewn and hand-embroidered tank top retails for more than $1,000. But you can make your own versions with this book!

The photos of the models wearing the clothes in this book are gorgeous. And there are nice illustrations of the various stretch stitches you can use when you are hand sewing.

A couple pages from ‘Alabama Studio Sewing + Design’

The author recommends using button craft thread for hand sewing because it’s one of the strongest threads. It’s made “with a polyester core surrounded by vary finely spun cotton yarn,” writes Chanin.

I was so enamored of the clothes in this library book that I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon (and paid sales tax for the first time on an Amazon-purchased book – yes, California’s online sales tax law went into effect last weekend). I can’t cut into the patterns that come with a library book because other people will be checking it out. So I just had to buy it.

Featured in the book & available to buy on Alabama Chanin’s website

What makes the clothes unique is the appliqué work, beading, stencils, and embroidering. The stencils and various designs for embroidering and beading are all provided in the book along with patterns for the various clothes. You can also purchase the stencils from Alabama Chanin’s store. Cutting out the stencils yourself is certainly time-consuming so you may want to spring for a stencil if you intend to reuse it or just want to spare yourself the tediousness of cutting out the designs.

I was so inspired that when I saw that the Fabric Outlet in San Francisco was having a sale this week (everything 40 percent off!), I went shopping for some black cotton jersey. I also picked up several spools of button thread. I’m not sure if I’m going to hand sew the entire thing – my zigzag stitch on my sewing machine may be employed for this endeavor. But I’m certainly going to give it serious consideration.

I’ll be sure to post about what I make from this book. Though it may take a l-o-o-o-ng time because of the hand sewing!

Chuleenan Svetvilas