Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Most Miraculous Thimble!

I have a stitchy confession to make: I simply must wear a thimble while stitching :)

It's very funny to find myself saying this now, as when I first started cross-stitching, many many moons ago, I actively resisted the thimble. And the hoop! I wanted to work in hand, and I wanted to work with nothing on my hands. But that didn't last too long after my very first project. I think I was ten or twelve when I did my first stitchery, and the truth is that hands that small (even though mine have always been on the large side, lol) are easily frustrated by simple things like trying to grip a hoop. It takes a ton of practice, but once you get the hang of it, you never go back!

My Stitchy Guru Mother, who taught me to cross-stitch, is of the opinion that the thimble is a necessary tool for any stitcher, and therefore one must spend the time and energy required to get used to the thimble from the very beginning - in other words, you should wear a thimble, whether you want to or not, right from the very start. Before it's too late, and you've worked so long without one that you just cannot make yourself get used to wearing one. And she was right (naturally, lol). Although it feels so alien and weird  to have this thing on your middle finger while you're stitching, if you make an effort to wear it, it eventually starts to feel natural. I'm so comfortable with mine these days that I sometimes forget to take it off!

But that was not always the case. Unfortunately, I have a bad reaction to the base metals used to make regular thimbles. I'm one of those people who can't wear base metal jewellery, because it turns my skin green. Greenish-black, actually. Believe me, this was a most terrible disappointment when I was younger and mood rings came back in fashion :) And so, metal thimbles became the bane of my existence, a necessary evil to put up with. When I was doing the occasional project, I didn't mind too much - I'd get a green finger, sure, but it would fade a few days after I'd finished the stitching. However, when I started working larger pieces, it didn't fade at all.

Nope. In fact, the green turned black, and only got blacker the longer I worked! And no matter how frequently I washed my hands, I couldn't get rid of the colour or the unpleasant metallic smell that persisted in clinging to my poor middle finger. And to the sides of my fore finger and ring finger, wherever the thimble chanced to touch!

I tried to work around this various ways, most of which I can't even remember now. I used to put coats of clear nail polish on the inside and let it dry, a sort of varnish that worked as a barrier against the tarnish, until it wore off with use and I had to re-lacquer the thimble. Unfortunately, this added a semi-permanent strong acetone smell on top of the metallic odor! But this was my main means of dealing with it, as the various little cloth and leather linings and other inventions failed to work out.

My metal sensitivity gradually got worse, and I started turning the needles, as well. If I took pains to use a new needle and a new thimble, on average I would have them completely ruined about two hours into a serious stitching session. Not only was this expensive, but it was terribly inconvenient. It took the joy right out of stitching for me. I scoured the market for alternatives, both locally and via a few mail-order catalogues, and found nothing to suit. I tried different thimble styles - the plastic seamstress thimbles, the leather quilter's thimbles, and the brass ring thimbles - all to no avail! I tried using a wooden thimble for a while; it was meant to be painted decoratively, and was hard on the skin, but at least it didn't turn my finger black!

There were a lot of different factors that went into my long hiatus from cross-stitching, but this bit of not being able to find a comfortable and useful thimble, or needles I didn't turn, was definitely a contributor. For a short time, I did try to work without a thimble. It took only a few painful needles-jabbed-under-the-fingernail mishaps to cure me of going "au naturel" :) Years passed, with no stitching.

And then, one night while browsing through the craft department at Walmart, I was blessed by The Stitchy Karma Gods and happened upon these most wonderful things:

These are the Unique Flexible Thimbles made by Canadian notions giant H. A. Kidd and Company (they do not sell directly to the general public, but distribute so widely to stores that chances are, if you are in Canada, and seeking to purchase any type of sewing notion, it will be made by this company)! They come only in the three pack, with one each of Small, Medium and Large. When I first started buying them, I had thought they were colour-coded by size, but that turned out not to be the case. The colours are completely random, and there is now a vibrant lime green mixed in with the white, orange and blue. They retail for $2.00 to $3.00, depending on the store. I have no idea what they're made of - some type of plastic, obviously. The package just states: "Soft, pliable, lightweight thimbles are comfortable and fit most finger sizes" and I found that to be true. You can bend them. You can twist them. You can drop them and step on them and squish them (multiple times, in fact!).

They are very lightweight and extraordinarily comfortable to wear, and completely changed my stitching life, inspiring me to seriously pick up my needle again. And I haven't put it down since :) Although you can't see it well in the picture, all the sizes are printed with little raised flower designs over the side ribbing, and one flower in the center of the top. The top of the thimble is rigid, and if you chance to jab it hard with your tapestry needle, the needle will bounce back and the plastic reseals itself.

I had found my Perfect Cross-Stitch Thimble!!! All was well with my stitchy life!

This was several years ago. Several years I spent in cross-stitching bliss.

And then I had to go and try embroidery *rolls eyes*.

Turns out that the sharp embroidery needles, with their lethally pointy ends, do not do so well with plastic thimbles. Indeed, as I painfully learned from experience, they can pierce right through plastic and stab right on under one's fingernail. Le ouch!

So, having had this occur towards the beginning of stitching Bluebirds, I then was forced to go thimble-less, and had lots of holes in my fingers to show for it when I was finished. I had managed to maim myself so badly with some of them that I had to put the work down and leave it for a while, lest I bleed all over my pretty sky blue fabric. I expected this to be a temporary problem, as I really didn't expect that I could embroider my first design, and so wasn't anticipating moving on to a second.

But a funny thing happened. I found out I quite liked embroidery. And that I may, in fact, might want to stitch some more of it in the near future. Now what was I to do?

Fortunately, The Stitchy Karma Gods looked kindly upon me, again! Perhaps for finally having the courage to best my long-time Stitchy Foe, the French knot. Perhaps they approve of Bluebirds of Happiness. Perhaps they were bored that day.

For whatever fateful reason, I went to Michaels one night, in search of a certain item for another project. An item I had saved a coupon for. An item which, it turned out, they did not have. Wandering dejectedly down random aisles, I chanced to look up and find myself in the Quilting section, a place a rarely bother to go. And, lo!:

My Perfect Embroidery Thimble appeared! It is the Clover Protect and Grip Thimble. Clover is a US company that retails widely, including overseas. The retail price on the website is in US dollars; I paid nearly $15.00 Canadian for mine (which is where my unexpectedly freed-up coupon came in handy!).

The Clover Website for the product states: "Protect and Grip Thimbles offer the perfect combination of soft, elastic material with the safety of a metal thimble cap. The scallop design offers breathability, keeping your finger cool. Its excellent elasticity helps the thimble form naturally to your fingertip for a light fit. Safe and smart, the ridged and dimpled metal cap holds the needle tip in place and pushes needles in safely. This new thimble provides comfort and lightness."

Oh, at first, I was a tad bit dubious, I admit. For one thing, I probably could do with the Large, but as they only had the Small and this Medium (and it's pink! PINK!; the Large, sadly, is yellow), Medium it was. The fit is snug, but not uncomfortable. The silicone sleeve is full under the cap - there is no place where the metal touches skin, which is wonderful! I had thought, at first glance, that the metal cap might make the rest of the thimble top heavy, but the silicon used for this thimble is much thicker than the plastic in my Perfect Cross-Stitch Thimble, and is ridged vertically, instead of horizontally, which means that it "hugs" the finger and so doesn't fall off.

When I found my thimble, I had embroidered every element on Bluebirds but the centers of the flowers, and was half-way through doing the flowers and leaves on my Bluebirds test piece, trying to figure out what kind of centers I wanted to put in. This thimble made everything so much easier, and I firmly believe that it is part of what made my conquering of the French knot possible - once I had the thread looped, I gave the needle one firm tap with the top of my thimble and the needle slid through the fabric perfectly, bringing the thread neatly together in the French knot stitch!

In the past, I struggled with trying to pull the needle through in the middle of the stitch, and I think that's part of why I had so much trouble. So I am officially giving all the credit of my French knot success to my Perfect Embroidery Thimble, and my Perfect Embroidery Hoop, which was different than my usual wooden ones and which I will talk about in detail in another post, as this one is getting rather long :)

Oh, and the needles? Well, I still have trouble with them, although I've found that using gold-plated tapestry needles slows the tarnishing significantly. Embroidery needles, which as far as I know do not come in gold-plated form, are going to be problematic. But that's another quandry for another time! ;)

May The Stitchy Karma Gods smile upon you, whatever your stitching needs, today!

I wasn't going to post about this issue, to be honest, as it's a little unpleasant, but having found these products has revolutionized my stitchy life, seriously, and I figure that I can't be the only one with base metal sensitivities. Hopefully, these products (or ones similiar to them), will benefit you as much as they have me!


Margaret said...

Thanks for the interesting post. I rarely use a thimble and when I do its the old Dorcas one from my grandma. But I am pleased you have found success with Clover. Their accessories are great aren't they

EveningEmma said...

I have never used a thimble, as I've never seen the point in them, I rarely stab myself when I'm stitching.

I have the same needle issue though, after about 30mins of stitching I start to feel a weird layer of dirt on my fingers, which I can only guess is the finish of the needle. I am waiting on some gold plated needles to arrive in the post. I hope it'll make my stitching more enjoyable.

Mouse said...

love your thimbles and I wear one when my hands get sore from stitching especially quilting ... i am ok atm though and can wear a metal one ... re the gold needles you can get gold plated sharp beading needles from Jane Greenoffs the cross stitch guild .... have used them :) hope this helps love mouse xxxx

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thanks very much for all your lovely comments! They have brightened up a very dim and rainy day here (I haven't seen the sun for a week! ugh!) :)

Margaret: Hi, and Welcome! Thanks very much! I am very glad indeed to have found the Clover line, and will definitely be looking into more of their products in the future! I really like the quality :)

Lucky you, having an inherited a Dorcas - the old sterling silver thimbles are so very lovely! It's so wonderful when crafty things stay in the family ;)

EveningEmma: AHA!!! I am not the only one after all! *does a happy dance* I knew there must be others out there with this damnable problem! I envy your hand/eye coordination. Put anything pointy and thus painful within feet of me and I will either prick myself with it, or step on it, or otherwise injury myself. *rolls eyes*

Yep, the film is the finish, coming off on your hands. Not only is it unpleasant for us, the stitchers, but I find it really hard to pull the needle when the finish comes off; the finish-degraded spots sort of catch and drag, which can add up to a lot of additional wrist strain if you're stitching repetetively for a while. Not good!

I hope the gold-plated needles work for you! They really have changed my stitching life. I use the Anchor needles; heresy for a DMC addict, I know, but they only DMC golds I can get here are in a multipack, with 2 24s and 2 26s. Since I use 24s as my go-to needles, and rarly use 26s, it's just not economical.

They still degrade, but they do so a LOT slower! The only other differences I've noticed is that I've had the eyes snap on some of them mid-stitching (which is not something that happened to me with the base metal needles), but that's rare. I did find the light colour hard to get used to at first - I kept looking for my needle and it was right in front of me, LOL, but that was stitching on white, and besides, you adjust to it soon enough :) Please do let me know how you make out with them!

Mouse: Thanks so much for the information about the JG needles! I had no idea, and will look into it right away! I do a lot of beading, as well, and do have the same tarnishing problems with the beading needles, so I'm very excited to learn that these are on the market!

I'm glad you don't have the metal problem, but happy to know that you like the thimble ideas! The Clover thimble is actually meant for hand quilting, apparently, and there are reviews on the Clover product site from hand quilters (although one was less than pleased, LOL) so perhaps it might be of some use to you as well :)

Karen said...

Great information! I use a leather thumb thimble for needlepoint, but that's the only time and I haven't worked on needlepoint in years. I have the same problem with my needles though. I get a new one out and it's tarnished in no time. Reading this has convinced me to try gold needles the next time I buy some.

Aurelia Eglantine said...

EUREKA! Another one! Well, I'm feeling positively normal, instead of freakishly odd, now :) *bounces about happily*

I used to do needlepoint too, but haven't in ages. I tried a few of the leather thimbles for cross-stitch; some of them have metal inserts at the top to make it rigid, but the one like that I found didn't work out for me because the metal disc wasn't covered by the leather sleeve, and so there was still the metal-contact issue going on.

Good luck with the gold needles! You'll have to let me know how they work out :) Hopefully well!

Rainy Day Crafter said...

I'm so glad that you managed to find those thimbles, your problems with the metal sounds like a total nightmare!

I'm sorry though, but I couldn't help laughing at your description above of how you will injure yourself on anything pointy within a foot as that sounds so much like me! ;) I do feel your pain - literally!

Unbelievably though, I've never actually used a thimble! I've just suffered the injuries I've inflicted on myself without ever even considering one. I think I'll have to give one a go and see how I get one with it.

CrazyStitcher said...

What a truly interesting post! :-D

I've always wanted to use a thimble. There have been times when I've stabbed my fingers with a needle so many times, they have been too sore for me to continue stitching.

Unfortunately, I find that wearing a thimble gets in the way, in addition to feeling completely alien. x

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thanks so much girls! :)

Rainy Day: Ha! I'm very, very glad that I'm not the only one randomly attacked by pins and needles, LOL ;) You might want to try a squishy indestructable plastic thimble like the Flexible; they hurt much less when you step on them accidently :) Do let me know how you get on with them, if you do decide to try thimbles!

CrazyStitcher: Thanks so much for the compliment :) I totally know what you mean about them feeling alien. I think that's part of why finding the plastic Flexibles was such a relief for me; they're so much lighter to wear than the metal ones, and just feel more natural.

It still takes a bit of getting used to, honestly, but if you conciously make yourself wear one each time you're stitching, even if it's just for a little bit of time, you do get used to the feel. I promise! Do let me know how you make out with thimbles if you do decide to try them!

Telcontar said...

Thank-you for your post here. I've just started quilting and I am looking for a good thimble to use. I'm going to be getting the Clover one when I have the money.

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thank you very much for your lovely comment, Telcontar, and Welcome! I think that the Clover will work very well for quilting, and I hope that a sale or a useful coupon comes your way soon because I think you'll like it very much :)