The practical thimble has a history of as a protective shield for one's thumb or middle finger. Today it is used by those who sew and quilt. It is a nifty little tool to push the needle through otherwise challenging thickness of clothe or leather.
Earlier examples of thimbles were made of leather but metal ones came into use in the seventeenth century. But we can go back even further into history.
According to the Fingerhut Museum, archeological finds near Moscow uncovered bone rings used 30,000 years ago to apply pressure while stitching buttons onto leather garments. The modern concept of the thimble is believed to originate from the Etruscans living in what is today Italy. Early thimbles were made from bronze using clay casts.
Fast-forward a few centuries and a few advances in thimble making we find that the first thimble made in England in 1695 by a Dutch metal worker.
Originally thimbles were used for sewing but over time other practical uses for the thimble emerged. In the nineteenth century they were used to pour spirits. Hence the phrase just a thimbleful. Ladies of the night would use thimbles to tap gently on windows in order to announce their presence. This practice became known as thimble-knocking. Victorian school-mistresses also picked up the practice of thimble-knocking but not to announce their presence. Rather they would thimble-knock on the heads of unruly school children to gain their attention.
This isn't a thimble. It's Turkish nipple armor. It's very valuable, especially if you have a pair. (Dr. Dick Solomon, 3rd Rock from the Sun).Thimbles have even been used as a form of currency during the First World War. The British Government collected silver thimbles to be melted down and help purchase hospital equipment.
Collecting thimbles has an earlier appearance. In 1851, it became popular to collect thimbles that British companies made to celebrate The Great Exhibition.
Sew do you collect thimbles or is it an essential tool found in your personal sewing kit?
Colton, Virginia, ed. Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1982.
Cruz, Ada and McGraw, Hewitt, ed., Vogue Sewing. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982.
"History of the Thimble." The Romantic Road. n.d. Web. 21 January 2012 Retrieved from <http://www.romanticroad.com/fingerhutmuseum/>
"Thimble." Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 21 January 2012 Retrieved from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thimble>