The history of thimbles goes way back – farther than you might expect. It is theorized that ten thousand years ago, people used press stones for sewing. The practice marked the beginning of an extensive history of thimbles used for many practices.
Explorers found the earliest known thimble in a dignitary’s tomb in the form of a ring, dating from the Han Dynasty in ancient China.
Some theorize that many ancient cultures did not use thimbles for sewing, but instead used leather or cloth finger guards.
Where do the typical indents on a thimble come from? These dimples are called ‘knurlings’ and were originally made by hand. They’re now imprinted by a machine. It’s easy to tell if a thimble was made before the 1850s because the indents will be uneven.
Funnily enough, thimbles have been used for much more than sewing:
One superstition states that if you have three thimbles given to you, you will never be married.
- The practice of “thimble-knocking” was done by Victorian teachers, who would tap their students on the head with the thimble if they acted out of turn.
- Some used thimbles to measure alcohol. Have you ever heard the phrase “just a thimbleful”? The phrase implies just a small amount, although the true thimbleful thimble was larger than a regular thimble and formed to sit flat on a table without wobbling.
- The “Sailor’s Palm” thimble sits on the hand instead of a finger, made to protect hands while sewing the coarse fabric required for sails. Earlier fabrics and needles were more crude, making the “Sailor’s Palm” necessary for protecting the hands of those sewing the sails.
- In the 17th century, betrothed couples used thimbles in place of engagement rings as a practical item that the woman could use before the marriage. After the wedding, the man cut off the rim of the thimble, meant to be worn as a ring. (There are debates on whether this practice is a myth.)
One of the highest-selling thimbles, a Meissen porcelain thimble made around 1740, sold for $18,000 USD in 1979. Fifteen years later, another Meissen bearing a coat of arms sold for 26,000 GBP.
Clearly, for everyday objects, thimbles have a lot of hidden history.
Do you own any vintage thimbles?