Dorri Partain

Whether one is sewing a button on a coat or quilting, a thimble can be a handy sewing accessory that saves the sewer from sore or pricked finger tips.

While the thimble has been around nearly as long as the sewing needle, unlike the needle it can be crafted from various materials, with its appearance being merely utilitarian or highly decorated with images and jewels.

For centuries, early thimbles were carved from animal bone, stone or wood, or shaped from clay, and were created as needed. Eventually, various metals were added to the list of materials that thimbles could be crafted from and in 1695, a Dutch metal worker named John Lofting began mass-producing “thumb bells” at his factory in England.

Thimbles cast from molten metals had one important advantage over those that had been carved, a series of indentations across the dome where the tip of the needle would catch and aided the pushing of the needle through the fabric. Additionally, while those that have been carved or shaped might have simple decorative designs, those cast from metals could have a uniform shape and more intricate designs.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, thimble makers began creating commemorative designs cast from silver. For the Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations held in Hyde Park London in 1851, three different designs were produced.

Makers of fine porcelain such as Wedgewood, Spode, Royal Worcester and Royal Doulton also began making decorative thimbles with either hand-painted or raised relief images. With the wide variety of designs, a needleworker could fill their sewing basket or place them on display.

Whether one sews or not, thimble collecting has spawned an even greater variety of thimbles, with companies such as the Franklin Mint creating a series of unique thimbles for digitabulists to add to their collections.

Molding thimbles from plastics allowed advertisers to offer free thimbles that included the name or logo of their product that would be seen every time it was used. Pictured is a basic plastic thimble given out by the Monumental Life Insurance Company. Founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1858, the company merged with Transamerica Premier Life Insurance in 2014.