Monday, February 20, 2012

It’s “Thimbles-Up” Monday!

I have been so encouraged by the number of people wanting to participate in the show and share of our thimbles, and focusing this post a bit on hand quilting.

I have a funny story ---well, maybe NOT so funny as in hahaha, but funny as in “peculiar” ((Nancy ala Patchwork Penguin, you remember this?))

I was lecturing for a guild and it got down to the end for “Question and Answer” time. One lady raised her hand and I encouraged her to speak, and she said “Well, your quilts are beautiful, but how do you expect us to hand quilt these? You can’t hand quilt these! There are too many pieces, they are too large!”

It kind of caught me off guard, and I had to kind of chuckle because I felt like I had just been called out by the “Hand Quilting Police”. Yet, she didn’t know who she was dealing with. I just wish I had more hand quilted quilts to show her, because YES --- I do hand quilt. I love to hand quilt. It’s just that deadlines and a desire to do MORE with my time means that more quilts are going to be machine quilted –saving the hand quilting for the real special ones that have no deadline.

I have hand quilted through quilts with tiny pieces on the front AND pieced backs! You just have to know that when you reach a seam allowance, you have to slow down, maybe load fewer stitches on the needle – maybe even stab-stitch a bit to get you through thick areas, but you can hand quilt everything!

This past week I was asked:

Bonnie, I think I've asked this question of you before, but how in the world do you get a consistent hand stitch of any size through so many layers when the block or quilt pattern has a lot of pieces?

I love to piece, and hand quilt, but the two seem incompatible.

My reply? You can't. You are not a machine!

You do the best you can, slow down and load fewer stitches on the needle in thicker areas, and just know there will be variations. :)

Don’t worry about the size of your stitches at first. Just go for getting a rhythm and work at it. The rest will come. Mine will never be perfect – if you saw it from up close, you’d see uneven stitches ---but this is the beauty of hand work.

We are NOT machines. But we can strive for consistency ---and the rest will come. Remember, that a little girl has to learn to crawl before she can toddle, then walk, then run, and it is a long while before she is able to put on her toe shoes and dance as a ballerina. You can’t just try once, say it’s not for you, and give up.

I’ve hand quilted string pieced quilts, I’m in the process of quilting another Jane Stickle variation with lots of seams and lots of pieces, and those chocolate South African fabrics are kind of heavy --- and my stitches are not as small as I’d like them to be. But I go on. I’m not worried about it. Don’t let the fact that things are NOT perfect suck the joy out of it for you.

We all quilt in different ways. I love a lap hoop, and my quilt fairly loose within that hoop. I find that a quilt held too tightly in a hoop is too hard to manipulate to get small stitches. Remember, this is quilting, not embroidery. Slacken up that quilt in the hoop. And you don’t have to hold on to the hoop----just let it rest. I’ve got one hand under --- and one hand on top. I don’t hold the hoop at all, it is just working as an extra set of hands for me so I don’t have to gather all of that quilt in my hands to hold it while stitching. Some people don’t quilt with a hoop at all – but there is one thing we agree on. BASTE WELL! Baste more than you think you’ll need ---

I was sent a really neat youtube video talking about an “Aunt Becky” under-the-quilt tool --- I’ve never used one, and I’m pretty set in my ways of quilting, so don’t know if it would work for me – but I love this video for the other ideas:

This is Jean Brown, an expert hand quilter. I love her idea for threading 30 needles at a time and having them there and waiting! I might have to try that. And watch how loose her quilt is in the hoop –—that’s how loose mine is too. I do have a callous on my “under” finger, and it is just part of me. What is comfortable for one person may not be for another, so if you aren’t happy with the process, try shifting things up a bit, try something you haven’t yet – you just might find what works for you!

thimbles 003

In the drawer of the living room coffee table is this box that contains the various tools used in my hand quilting escapades. Afraid to ever throw ANYTHING quilt-related away, this box has kind of become the memorial resting place of things that do not work!

I have tried so many different kinds of thimbles that there isn’t time or space to write about them all. Before my fingers got a bit knobby I loved the plastic ones that were somewhat adjustable, they were cheap, I had them everywhere ----and then they just didn’t fit me anymore. My joints are aging :c|

About 12 years or so ago I bought a Roxanne thimble at a quilt show…bound and determined THIS would be the one I would love. It was way too heavy, my finger sweat just slid that thing right off! Funny how life comes to bite you – I just tried that Roxanne thimble on ---and now those joints are so knobby that the thimble doesn’t fit at all….so here it lives, with all the others!

michiganflorida2010 029 thimbles 005

My favorite thimble is shown above. It’s from Thimbles Plus and it is a TJ Lane thimble. I wrote about how it came to belong to me HERE. Can you see how much lighter weight the Thimbles Plus thimble is compared next to the Roxanne one? The Thimbles Plus thimble has no weight to it at all, it becomes part of my finger. The other one? WAY too thick and heavy.

Back to the box above --That blue cone shaped thing? I think it was supposed to be an “under tool” But I am happiest when I can feel the point of that needle against the ever present callous on my under finger. Why am I saving this thing? I don’t know! There are also the clear oval shaped stickies that can be used in lieu of a thimble or as an "under the quilt" pad---Ehhhhh---I don’t think they do all that great of a job, and though they say they are resueable, I don’t feel like the sticky sticks well after the first use.

thimbles 007

Other things from the thimble grave yard: More sticky thimble pads. How old are these? You can see I only used one, and gave up on them! Two elastic leather thimbles. Nope. Didn’t work for me. Assorted “regular” thimbles with different dimples, groves, and ridges. These were uncomfortable on the knobby knuckle. One Leather thimble with a “coin” area ---I don’t know why I gave up on this one, could be that it went too far DOWN my finger.

I also received this email from Jo, who shares her thoughts on thimbles –for those of you NOT used to wearing one, read on! She’s got some great ideas on how to get used to being thimbled-up!

I am 73 years old, I’ve quilted for 30 years, I have a blog, I hand quilt every day, I have definite views on my kind of favorite thimbles, BUT I also have a husband at home with dementia. He is next up on the list for the nursing home so he is a lot of work right now and I get very few minutes without interruptions, so I have no time to figure out the linky business but I do want to tell you about my favorite thimbles.

They are the old metal thimbles of the past. The best place to buy them is an antique store. The reason I like them best is that they have deeper dimples so the needle is not slipping out of the dimple.

When I started quilting I found a metal thimble in my sewing basket although I had never used it before. A very good friend told me to put the thimble on while I did my housework, like making the bed, picking up the kids toys, etc. That way you get used to having it on your finger. I did as told and the thimble became such a part of me that I really don’t realize that I have it on.

Another thing that I did that I didn’t even know myself until someone pointed it out to me was that I used the side of my thimble. When you hold the needle you use the thumb and first finger, put you middle finger at the end of the needle and with one easy motion you can start the needle and push at the same time.

Works for me. Thank you for listening. I very much enjoy your blog and am looking forward to meeting you when you come to the Mississippi Valley Quilters Guild meeting in April, as I recall.

Sincerely, Jo

Thanks for the hints Jo! I’m sure this will help a lot of new hand quilters out there, as well as some “old” ones! :cD

So – do you have a thimble post to share? We are interested in seeing what you find works for you and what doesn’t! Please link your post to mine below, and include a link back to me within your post. Remember, we need the address of your individual post, not just the link to your whole blog. If you link it to your whole blog, I’ll have to remove it and have you try again because I can’t fix it for you.

Let the Linky Party Begin! We’ll leave this open for 6 days so you have until Midnight on the 26th to link up your post! And don’t forget to share this post to your news groups, email lists, message boards, fb pages ---the more viewers and participants we can get the better!


  1. I have several "had to buy" gadgets as well that didn't work and have since been garbaged or given away. I think we all get sucked in to the "best new quilt gadget ever" schemes at some point or other.

    I have a favourite thimble that was given to my by the older Mennonite raised woman that taught me how to quilt. It is nothing fancy, and it turns my finger green when I use it, but it fits my finger so I keep using it. I think it's for sentimental reasons too. Besides, I have yet to find one that fits me as well! (the dent in the side of it holds it in place really well too :P)

    My favourite other HAVE TO HAVE thimble is sort of like the brown leather one you have pictured with the dimpled plate in it. Mine is made by "Clover" and it has a round dimpled disk in one side of it. It is made to be worn on your finger, but I use it on my THUMB. With it, I can quilt away from myself.........it makes it so much easier to hand quilt when you don't have to twist and turn so that you are only ever quilting towards yourself! I find I actually have better stitches and control when using my thumb than my finger........and I keep trying to find ways to use my finger less and my thumb more!

    I also do not use anything underneath. If you can't feel the prick of the needle then how do you know you're going through all the layers?

    Just my opinions......

  2. Oh what an awesome post, Bonnie! I love the way you wrote it....Lets us "get inside your hand quilting", if you know what I mean. Plus your wonderful insight re. us not being machines. I think sometimes we forget that. Jo's comment was lovely to read, also. My mum uses the same kind of thimble in the same way and gave me similar advice for getting to use a thimble when she taught me how to do hems in my teens. I'm still looking for a thimble that is "me" and I'm looking forward to reading about other quilter's thimbles. As for having 30 needles threaded up at a time....that lady can't have an indoor cat! lolol

  3. Every quilter should read this article - I love the statement
    "Don’t let the fact that things are NOT perfect suck the joy out of it for you." I do find such JOY in my piecing and quilting

  4. I don't have an Aunt Becky but I do use the same thimble with the "ridge". I also load up about 20 needles before I begin and put them in a folding "book" type pin cushion I made. This keeps the threads protected so it can travel with me.

  5. Thanks for doing this. I thought it was just me that had a drawer full of thimbles that did not work for me. I don't know why I don't donate them to quilt groups or churches that do quilting, will have to get that done.
    I use the Nimble, only one that works for me, it comes in different sizes and I have them all, trying to get a good fit. There are some in the table by the couch, in my embroidery basket and in my quilting room.
    I use one on the underside also, once I start wearing them, I forget to take them off. I have started to wash my hands and I have even left the house with one on.

  6. Like you Bonnie, I have tried the stick on dots, the stretchy white leather, the leather band, the old fashioned metal, the pink plastic....tada, tada, tada! None of them worked because the finger I would use them on has a funny little "crook" too it and is now also getting "knobby". I don't hand quilt but I do a lot of binding for folks who don't find that to be their cup of tea. I have come to the conclusion that the best thimble for me is no thimble at all. Like you, my finger sweats and the metal and plastic ones just slip off. The only problem I have with using no thimble is that occasionally the needle will slip under my finger nail. That kinda smarts! I am doing a BOM right now that has a lot of applique which is something I've not done much of except by machine. Maybe I'll have to look for one of those neat little thimbles like you use. It looks like it would fit just where it needs to. THANK YOU so much for this wonder post!

  7. My favorite thimble is the 'Nimble Thimble', like the second blog link above. It fits like a second skin and I don't feel like I am using a thimble at all. I have even caught myself continuing to wear it after I finished my sewing project. My fingers are getting that "knobby" thing also and this thimble conforms to the odd shape of my finger. I have also used the thimble pads with some success, but it's not much fun when the needle slips off the edge of it. I have tried using metal thimbles before and I might as well try sewing with a 2x4 board. Thanks for a very informative discussion. Another great example of the lengths we quilters will go to in order to pursue our passion!

  8. Anonymous10:45 AM EST

    Being a person who does hand quilt, I never aim for perfection. My stitches are so wonky, but the quilt stays together, and that is all I care about. I also don't use a thimble. I have tried, and will use a finger without a thimble because it is more comfortable for me. Maybe I haven't found a comfortable thimble yet! Since I have young kids, I lace my spool of thread and scissors together with a piece of ribbon. I generally hand quilt while they play outside, or during the 15-20 minutes in the car pool lane waiting for my oldest to get out of school. I need something to just grab and go.

  9. I need to come back and read all the links when I have more time. I am anxious to see what works for others, as I can't ever seem to find one that fits right, though I do always use one. Eventually my finger is sore from the misfit, though!

  10. Great post and I love the youtube video. Good information. I bought a TJ Lane thimble (after buying many others including Roxanne) and it is actually a part of my finger. It's wonderful. I know it won't work for everyone because we're all different but that's my two cents :)

  11. Anonymous11:29 AM EST

    Wonderful article. I use a clover thimble that has the metal that goes over the end of the finger. I definitely need an aunt Becky. I basically do the same thing but w/ my thumb nail. Aunt Becky would save the manicure.

    I pre-thread my needles, but I just thread them all on the spool and then cut length as needed. and re-knot the thread on the spool. I use the same type of frame as in the video. My BIL made it for me years ago.

    I was taught that the quilt in the hoop should not be taunt. To determine the slack, pretend the cat laid on it. We all have had that happen from time to time.

  12. Super article - I've tried them all and for me, it's the open ended thimble that works the best (I think my finger must be claustrophobic).

  13. I avoid hand-quilting because I can't use a thimble. After reading many of the Linkies I understand that it's because I don't have a thimble that fits. Funny that I can hand-sew when it comes to hems or buttons or attaching labels--without a thimble. But the load-the-needle style of hand-quilting just needs a thimble.

    Many praise Roxanne thimbles. What about those by Liuxin Newman? I also have a paddle thimble (www.houseofquilting . com) which I bought at a show but have not used--has anyone else tried it?

  14. Great thimble discussions...what is next pincushions? pins?

  15. I'm wondering whether anyone has tried the "Thimblelady" (Liuxin Newman) thimbles? There are links two (2) videos about her thimbles on the following web page (one is to a Simply Quilts show on another page, and the other discusses sizing). I have not tried these and NAYY. She has an "old style and a newer "cone" style thimble.

    I've not done any hand quilting yet. I have tried a variety of thimbles for embroidery, including applique. I have very thin fingers so I have trouble finding one that fits properly (I have not tried a more expensive, fitted thimble). I too dislike those dots. While I really like the way Nimble Thimbles fit, I had one fail on me and ended up with the back end of a fine needle in my finger (ouch!). I recently bought some of those clear, colorful, rubbery thimbles, but I have not tried them yet.

  16. I too belong to the tried it all club. I have spent many hours quilting with no thimble much to the sorrow of my fingers. I used a Roxanne thimble for many years after finding the first one ever that fit. Due to some weight changes it began to slip and be uncomfortable. Before I found a new one I happened on the TJ Lane thimbles in Houston last fall. I was amazed at the difference the weight made in how it feels. I hope to never be without one. Much to my sorrow I have had to replace the first one and my pocket books felt the pain, but I am hand quilting a king size Double Wedding Ring quilt for my son. They will both be paid for in taking care of my hands in that project alone!

  17. I have both types of thimbles from Liuxin Newman. When I first ordered (about 9 years ago) the first thimble I got did not fit. In her reply email she asked if I could send a picture of the hand/finger I would be using the thimble on. I mailed the first one back and recieved a new thimble, which fit quite well. It is silver and is heavier than the thin metal ones available at non-quilt shop stores. I used it for a while, but developed a health issue that caused swelling in my joints, and weekness in my hands, so I quit hand quilting.
    Just before my hands got so bad, I found both types of thimbles on sale at 45%off on a website. I bought one of the first type for my thumb and it fits well. I also bought one of the newer cone types thinking it would work even on my swolen fingers. I have not used the newer cone shaped one much. It is different and takes some getting use to. I hope to be able to get back to hand quilting as soon as I finish a few ufos, and can set my quilt frame back up. I use my frame as Mrs. Newman does a hoop, with the quilt very loose. So far it works well for me, and my hands do not tire as fast as with the quilt tighter.

    Another hint for hand quilting that I have not seen so far in the comments and links is to load several needles ON your spool of thread, instead of loading needles with seperate legnths of thread. As someone said above, my cat steals the thread from pre threaded needles.

    1. These thimble have deep dimples and hold the needle well. I have no idea how much they cost now, with the current \ price of silver

  18. I like the Clover thimbles that look like flowers. They have a metal tip and lip and a plastic ruffly side. The plastic part is stretchy and fits over lumps and bumps caused by arthritis. It's the most comfortable thimble I've tried..

    1. Hello.Have used these thimbles luv them.You can rock out good w/ them....

  19. I love my TJ Lane thimble. I actually misplaced my first one, and had to buy another the next time I was at a show where she was vending. It's light enough that I don't realize I'm wearing it after just a few minutes.

  20. Thanks for the video, Bonnie. I like the way that she "tripods" her needle. I bought one of those Aunt Becky things at a quilt show, but have never used it because in my size they were out of the rimmed thimbles that go with it. I'd like to try them out.

  21. thank you for all these thimble talk....i'm pretty much like Jo...using the side of the thimble to push the needle

  22. I linked an old post of mine showing how I make timbles that work for me :)

  23. I was going to mention about the spider works thimble that I found worked very well for those who have sweaty fingers and who have exhausted all other options for thimbles. The thimble is no longer made however there is a W'under thimble that may be still available. web: www.quilterslittlehelper.com
    I've been through the leather ones - they get stained from my sweat and get very weak, if you don't hit the metal center, the needle goes through to pierce your finger.
    I have 3 sizes of Roxanne thimbles - my fingers get smaller and larger, depending on the temperature. They don't work as well as the lightweight spiderworks one.
    I've tried many things for my fingers under the quilt - spoon, light bulb, those sticky thing a ma jigs... my fingers definitely get very sore.
    The last time I hand quilted, my elderly friends were using a huge strong needle and working on a floor frame. This seemed to be better for my fingers underneath as the larger needle gave you more control. I haven't hand quilted since but want to give the larger needle another try - thanks for the chance to post.

  24. I can't believe I'm actually going to admit to this but I tend to make my own thimble out of duct tape... yes plain ole duct tape! I make sure to wrap some tape the "wrong way" to begin with so I can take it on and off my finger and then I wrap a good few layers over my finger. Instant Thimble that's just my size!!! Yes the needle pokes through after awhile but I just make another or add a little more padding to the finger tip. It stays on my finger better than the metal ones and still allows me to feel what i am doing. So next time you're in a pinch and don't have your thimble, grab some duct tape! I always keep a roll in my sewing room. :)

    1. Good old duct tape! Brilliant. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Bonnie, I was so enthralled with "Aunt Becky" I ordered one from Connecting Threads where they were $4.00 each! To me, this little gadget is absolutely ingenius! Awhile back I followed your recommendation and hand quilted Baptist Fans with #8 Perle cotton thread and it came out wonderfully for my first hand quilted quilt. The video you included was great. I can't wait to start using it. Thanks so much!

  26. I'm late to the Linky Party. I had to show my Thimbles and put in my 2-cents worth. I am enjoying the tips for using a thimble that have been posted here. I WILL try again!

  27. I LOVE my TJLane thimble. It's a piece of jewelery and I'm worth it! :-)

  28. I have several thimbles, most of which fall off my fingers & thumb. I think I like my Roxanne best. However, I'm trying to learn to use the Aunt Becky, and I can't seem to get any of the thimbles to work for me. You're supposed to put the eye of the needle in the recessed end of the thimble, and hold it with your thumb, as Becky does her thing. She does a brilliant job, but I'll be switched, if I can hold that needle with my thumb, on the far side of the thimble! Isn't there a thimble out there, that will actually HOLD the eye of the needle? I would really love to learn to use Becky (and have beautiful stitches), but I'm being defeated by the thimble! It looks like everyone else has the same problem.


If you are commenting as "anonymous" please leave your name at the end of your comment.

Did you know that ad space on this blog provides for all of the free patterns and free mysteries and challenges at no cost to you? Without ads, this blog would not be possible.

Thank you for understanding the many hours that go into this blog 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. :)