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Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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My Thimble Substitute – It Works!

 

Amazon

Over the years, I’ve discovered that most folks who use a regular thimble when they embroider were raised on a thimble. All their hand-stitching lives, they’ve used thimbles, so that using one is second nature to them.

Tried-and-true thimble users wouldn’t even think of stitching without a thimble, it’s just that natural for them to use one.

But if you’ve never used a thimble – or if, the few times you’ve tried to use one, the result has been awkward and uncomfortable – there’s a good chance you’ve ditched the idea of ever getting accustomed to one.

Over the years, through numerous bouts of stitching, you’ve learned to put up with the discomforts that can develop in your fingers – you know, that microscopic hole in your finger that the eye of the needle always finds and slips into? That callous that won’t go away? That tiny area that splits, stinging and burning, because of the constant pressure of the needle?

Maybe you’ve adopted some of the thimble substitutes that have shown up on the market over the years and tried to make do with them. Or perhaps you’ve resorted to coating the skin with super glue or something similar. In some way or another, you’ve probably sought out temporary solutions to get you through the painful part of stitching without a thimble.

Silicone Thimble Substitute for Hand Embroidery

I’m not a thimble user. I find a metal thimble awkward. When I use one, I feel like I’m not using my own finger.

Oh, the Things I’ve Tried!

Over the years, I’ve invested in many different types of thimbles – from the expensive, finger-tipped shaped ones with the nail bed opening, to rubber coated open top thimbles, to rubber thimbles and silicone thimbles shaped like regular thimbles, to leather thimbles, to thimble “patches,” and so forth – always determined that I will get used to using them.

I never got accustomed to any of them. They were always “there,” and I knew it, and they didn’t become second nature to me.

In a pinch, I’ve used more than my fair share of super glue, too. But it’s not ideal, either – it tends to be rough once dried, which is problematic when it comes to working with silks.

I’ve tried a whole lot of everything when it comes to thimbles, and never really liked any of it.

And yet, my fingers still craved help!

And then, accidentally, I finally found a solution that works and that I really like.

Not a Silicone Needle Grabber

In the photo above, that’s not what I’m using, but it’s where my explorations began. That’s a silicone needle grabber by Prym. You slip one on your finger or thumb (or both), to help you pull difficult needles through fabric.

They’re handy and helpful in certain situations, but you shouldn’t normally need them all the time, especially if you’re using the right needles.

Besides, they pose a couple problems when it comes to using them as a thimble substitute.

This is the most obvious problem:

Silicone Thimble Substitute for Hand Embroidery

There are little breathing holes in them, on the finger-pad side.

A thimble with holes in it is a useless thing!

Still, I would sometimes use one as a thimble by turning it on my finger so that the solid part covered the area of my finger that develops needle holes.

But then I started thinking… If I could have something that’s a little snugger, no holes, made of the same material – perhaps slightly lighter – then that might be the perfect thimble solution for me.

I started looking. I figured somewhere out there, someone has surely come up with a soft silicone thimble, with no holes in it, that fits the tip of the finger.

No luck.

Then, in a kitchen supply store, I came across these:

Silicone Thimble Substitute for Hand Embroidery

These things, as they are, don’t work that great for thimbles, because they’re way too long. They cover most of the finger, making it difficult to move the fingers in a normal way.

These are silicone finger protectors that are sold for kitchen glove substitutes (they withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees, I think?), and they’re also sold for craft use, to protect fingers from hot glue and the like.

They come in packages of different sizes, so that they can fit over all five fingers. And they don’t have any holes in them.

Silicone Thimble Substitute for Hand Embroidery

I took a medium one and tried it on my middle finger, which is the finger I need a thimble on.

I wanted a snug fit on the finger, but not tight enough to cut off circulation or anything.

Then I just cut away the excess, so that the thing fit on the tip of my finger, right above that last joint.

Silicone Thimble Substitute for Hand Embroidery

To make it comfortable and to give the tip of my finger some air, I trimmed out a space for my fingernail.

It Works Great!

My “thimble” works great! It doesn’t feel awkward. It protects me from the eye of the needle going into my finger. It rolls easily on and off my finger. It fits snugly and doesn’t move around – but not too snugly to be uncomfortable.

And it serves as a great gripper, too, making it really easy to pull needles through the fabric without having to switch to a separate needle gripper.

Where to Find Them

So, if you struggle with the whole thimble thing, and you haven’t found a comfortable solution, maybe these will work for you, too!

In the US, you might find them at kitchen supply stores, craft stores, and even sporting stores. I found mine initially at a kitchen supply store, and because of that, I think they were more expensive than they should have been.

Of course, they sell them on Amazon, too. I’ve added a 12-piece set to my Amazon page here – they’re the same thing, only in red and blue.

If your fingers crave a little help but you can’t stand a thimble, this could be a possible solution for you!

Hope your week is going well!

 
 

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(50) Comments

  1. Dear Mary

    What a great idea and they look really comfortable and not bulging like metal thimbles which I find very uncomfortable, I looked and you can buy them on Amazon UK under Prym Finger Guards Silicone at £3.29 for 2. Now you will be able to enjoy stitching even more with your new finger protectors, Happy Stitching. Thanks for sharing these silcone finger protectors with us and for the links and phots looks like a great product.

    Regards Anita Simmance

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  2. What a great (a.k.a. dangerous!) Amazon page! Thanks for this tip. This will help immensely with my hand quilting too…

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  3. These look like they would work great! I have a spot on my middle finger that always gets sore when using sharps, but not tapestry needles.

    My solution, which I learned from someone at an EGA seminar several years ago, is medical tape…sticky on one site, sort of spongy on the other. I use the Nexcare waterproof stuff. It comes on rolls maybe an inch or two wide. I just tear off maybe a half inch piece, stick it on my finger, and it lasts for the entire length of my stitching session. Sometimes I can reuse them. I bought my roll at my local Walgreens or CVS several years ago, and still have LOTS left.

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  4. Like you, I have never been able to use a metal thimble. Last summer, I finished a 3-year project of making Hardanger curtains for my kitchen and a good portion of them was woven bars. I really needed something to save my finger! At a Nordic Needle retreat, one of the freebies I got was called the FlexThimble by Connexxions, Inc., in South Carolina. It is a knitted fabric tube which fits over the finger. At the tip is a strip of leather with which you push the needle through; the tip of your finger is open at the sides. I really like it; it is flexible so your finger can bend and breathable so your finger doesn’t sweat (which I think might happen with the silicone idea you mentioned, though the way you trimmed it may help with that). Unfortunately, I have been unable to find them anywhere else. A Google search brings up lots of thimbles, but not this one.

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    1. Hi, Susan – that’s a quilters thimble, the leather and elastic one. I’ve never really liked them for embroidery – I find them too bulky. But you might search for them that way and find them.

  5. Those kitchen type finger protectors remind me of the old brown “fingers” that my mom used when doing paperwork. She could flip through a stack of papers in a flash. I have a couple of my own here at home. I never thought about using something like that for stitching. I’ve found as I get older my finger tips have lost their grip. Perhaps my fingerprints have worn away. 🙂 I won’t begin to describe how that’s become a problem. (ahem) But I want to try your trick for stitching with the rubber fingers. My dry old hands get tired when trying to hang on to the needle.

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    1. Hi, Irene – I did check out the office supply types of things, for page turning and whatnot. The ones I found all had holes in them and were not quite the same flexible material. But yes, that was one of the first things I thought of!

    2. I have a box of Swingline rubber finger tips (size medium) that work beautifully. They have a couple of tiny breathe holes but I have never stuck through one of them. I believe I got them at Staples.

  6. I had a blue hard plastic one with ridges that worked really well. It looked a lot like that first blue one you showed. But the large size was too small for me and it finally split. And they don’t make it anymore. I love the small dimpled metal disk and the leather disks that stick with adhesive. But like the medical tape, the heat from my hands makes the things start sliding around and I’d get thread and my hair stuck under the disk. And I was always having to push it back into place.

    I’ve ordered the silicone ones. I tried the ones for paper from the office supply store, but they are rubber, not silicone and the eye end just poked right through. I use a #12 needle for most of my work and the eye end is almost as sharp as the needle tip.

    If this works, you have made my life easier for embroidery AND quilting.

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  7. This is a lot like what I use while quilting to pull balky needles through the fabric. Many years ago, I found those rubber fingertips used by accountants and secretaries to be just the thing on my first finger, but I turn them inside out. The little bumps interfered with my grip on the needle. In recent years it’s been harder to find these in brick and mortar stores, but one box lasts a looong time.

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  8. I never use a thimble. The bain of my life. Usually well mostly I use another finger and the needle goes into that finger. So if I have a thick section to push the needle through I use a pair of pliers and a nail file. The pliers to pull through the needle and the nail file to push the needle through. Pliers and nail file are both covered to avoid injuring the needle.
    I like yourself I have and had many thimbles.
    So instead of seeking a thimble I quit and live a happy sewing time and best of all as I belong to a sewing group my idea caught on with another older sewer, so together we sit and draw the stares.
    Cheers
    MM

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  9. I don’t use a thimble when embroidering. I need to feel the needle and fabric with my bare fingers and really don’t have a problem. But hand quilting…well, that’s a different story. I think I’ve tried every thimble out there and just can’t seem to make them work. Then I found the rubber fingers in office supplies. See our family motto is “Your day is not complete without a blood-letting”. So, I don’t think I’ve ever started a hand quilting project using finger protection because it’s never on my mind until the first prick of the finger. But, I’m sure every quilt I’ve ever made has some of my DNA on it.

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  10. Mary, I bought some of the Tulip Leather needles and sent them off to my son. I wish I had seen these at the same time. He’d love these. I always stab myself when doing Sashiko and crewel. I’m going to get the 12 pack and send him 6 and keep 6. Those leather needles are lethal, and nothing is tougher to try to pull a needle through.

    Looks like your new alphabet is coming along brightly! Have a lovely Spring Day.

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  11. Thanks for the information. I do a lot of tapestry work and like you found it a problem to grip the needle, and pull it through the canvas. I happened to be in our local thrift store and found a box of Swingline Rubber Finger Tips (box of 12) for $1.00.

    These were used, mainly, in offices where you needed to count large amounts of stuff, i.e., money in banks, papers in offices. I tested one and found if I cut off the rolled top, it was less constricting, and tried it on my thumb…a match made in heaven. I use them on my first finger as well, on and off…haven’t actually used it as a thimble substitute as I am comfortable with a metal thimble.

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  12. Well, I am going to try this, about 3 weeks ago I purchased some finger grippers but they did not work and were so cheap that I still have them. Maybe I will give them away for Xmas. LOL. Thx and anxious to see if they work for me. I won’t get them until after 10 April.

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  13. I use a small piece of suede glued to my finger with a glue dot. It peels off my finger and I can re-use it several times.

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  14. Oh what a great idea! I really really hate metal thimbles and have been looking for other solutions but not really with wholeheartedly. This I will give a try!

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  15. You should patent these! Get an original silicone design, to your specs, and go to market. It could be a nice income stream to subsidize more NnT videos 🙂

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  16. What a great idea, never thought of that. Sometimes I have to use a metal one but it’s always jumping from my finger, quickly I give up. Thanks Mary for this tip!

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  17. Someone (bless her!) turned me on to these thingies many years ago as a tool for pulling stubborn needles through fabric. Not sure what they are called; i just call them “filing fingers” because their purpose was to help you get a grip on sheets of paper or dollar bills when counting them or sorting through them or filing. I bought mine in office supply stores.

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  18. i stitch with tailor’s thimble. it slides off and on when i need it and doesn’t heat up my finger either. it also allows me to use the side of my finger to run the needle through.

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  19. I too find a standard thimble awkward to use. But I do use a similar item to what you show which I’ve purchased in office supply stores made by Swingline. They come in various sizes and I use a size large. I stitch with one hand on the top and one hand on the bottom of my project so I put a “thumby” (as I affectionately call it) on both index fingers. I mostly use them for grip to push and pull the needle (especially when doing canvas work). They do have 5 tiny holes in them in one area so I usually place the holes on the nail part of my finger. They work great, are comfortable and I feel lost without them. They come in a box of 12 for less than $5.00. Amazon has them for $2.59/$2.99 and up. As always, thank you for your wonderful advice. You are my inspiration to keep stitching.

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  20. Wow, is this post timely! I’m not stitching right now because I’m waiting for my finger to heal from the eye end of the needle popping in there, and it’s pretty sore! Thanks for the heads up!

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  21. What a great idea! I could never use a thimble but needed something… and then I found Fingergloves… and now I cannot stitch without them!

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  22. I try to use a thimble when I doing sewing if it hard to get the needle through the fabric. I rarely, if ever, use a thimble for needlework.

    My problem with thimbles? They fly off my fingers! I have gone down as small as size 4 thimble – and that was hard to find, just a bit of luck at a quilt show for the one I was able to get – and still they fly off my fingers.

    I have tried with finger nail hole, without, metal rings, leather over plastic rings, leather thimbles – all go sailing off my finger.

    I am guessing that the plastic ones you made will do the same – as I have never found rubber fingers or rubber/plastic gloves which are not too large for my fingers.

    I have learned to push the needle against a table or other surface when doing hand sewing to prevent the holes in finger problem.

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    1. have you tried cutting a bit of moleskin to put inside the thimble? I have a thimble that’s too big, but the addtion of a bit of moleskin inside was just the trick. Not only did it make it a bit smaller, but it’s not slippery so the thimble stays on much better.

  23. Thimbles – something I cannot wrap my mind (or fingers) around. Sometimes I manage to puncture my fingers enough that I really have to resort to a thimble and, like you, I’ve tried many different kinds. My problem is that when I use a thimble I lull myself into a false sense of security that ALL my fingers are protected. I start to favour the thimbled finger and don’t use it because it’s in the way and then I start using one of my other fingers. All well and good, UNLESS your mind forgets to remember that the newly-used finger isn’t protected and merrily bury the needle to the bone in said finger. Don’t ask me how I know….

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  24. I’m also in the UK and found the same thing. If you search for finger protectors most of them are just tubes but the medical ones like Anita mentions below look just right.

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  25. For decades, the only time I could stand to use a thimble was if sewing heavy fabric like denim or canvas. Then I tried hand quilting and suddenly, thimbles were not so bad. My issue – to guide the needle, I use the end of my finger to for hand quilting, but the side of my finger for sewing and needlework. I have not yet found a thimble that I really like for sewing or needlework. The search will continue though!

    Quilting also lead me to another now necessary tool as I get older. Finger cots found in the first-aid section on my index finger allows me to pull needles through more easily. They are thin enough I don’t need to remove it to use scissors or thread needles, but grippy enough to hold the needle. They last for weeks since I don’t lose them like I do those rubbery disks. Even when they get a hole, they still work well.

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  26. I forgot to say thanks to you and the commentors for all the non-thimble ideas to try out when I need a thimble, but a real thimble just isn’t working for me.

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  27. Think this is a fab idea. I too have bought varous thimbles but cannot stitch with them in place. Another Amazon order to do

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  28. They have been on my shopping list for a while. Nice to hear the work out as I was thinking. You can also find something similar in quilting stores, called thermal thimbles or something similar. Those are shorter and smaller packages.

    Instead of superglue I use liquid skin found in the pharmacy area. It’s liquid of course and paints on like thick finger nail polish. Stinks like fingernail polish. It does take about 2-3 minutes to dry completely. I do a thick double layer. Usually stays on all day or longer. Stays smooth for a long time. Doesn’t irritate my skin like glues do. Eventually the edges ‘fray’ so to remove, you just paint some more of it over the spot and wipe off. This is not a full thimble replacement though. It works really well for preventing and/or protecting existing micro holes on the fingers, plus some decent protection for beat-up working hands.

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  29. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I often use a thimble to push the needle through on a difficult spot. Wouldn’t the top of the needle go right through the silicone?

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    1. It could, I suppose. It depends on the stitching situation. I’m really just using these to protect against the inevitable finger hole that comes from stitching for long periods of time. When I push a needle, I don’t usually push straight on, but rather from the side (the side of my middle finger, halfway between the center pad of the finger and the edge of the finger nail is my sweet spot). If it’s a tight spot, once the tip is through, I rely more on pulling than pushing. And if the needle is going through a Really Tight Spot, I’ll use something else to push it if I have to – like the table, or another tool. I’ve used pliers in some situations to help pull a needle through (especially when working through many layers of fabric and stitches), but I’ve gotten away from that. For me, it’s a pretty rare case to have that much of a build up on fabric, though, to make it that difficult to get a needle through. If this is a common problem when embroidering, then the culprit is more likely the size of the needle being used. A smaller needle tends to slip into those snug spaces more easily.

    2. Yes, the needle will go right through the silicone much of the time. I had tried these years ago, but found that they don’t work all that well.

  30. I just discovered your recommendations on Amazon. Looking forward to seeing future stitching related products in the future.

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  31. YAY! What a great idea. I’ve tried so many different thimbles. I even bought leather to make my own (but never got around to it). These look like they might be just the thing! My pushing finger thanks you (it smarts when those eyes go into one’s finger, not to mention when it’s deep enough to bleed; having said that, I did purchase some Tulip needles this week, too). Thanks, Mary!

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  32. I started using these as thimbles. It is surprising how nimble I am in this thimble. 😀 I don’t have to take them off to use the scissors. It isn’t quite thick enough to sew through fake suede comfortably but it’s quite nice for embroidery sewing.

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  33. Mary,Thanks for this. I’ve now been using my silicone thimbles for a week, backed up by cocoa butter at night. My poor crusty punctured fingertips are nearly healed. These thimbles are widely available here in the UK – once you know what name to use when shopping! Liz

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  34. Hi Mary,

    I really like your blog. I won’t be using your suggestion because I did find my ideal rubber thimble, but I found your blog very entertaining. Cheers!

    Boon

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  35. A few weeks ago I mentally threw up my hands in frustration and then googled “thimbles for people who don’t like thimbles” (or something similar!). Your post came up and I decided to give it a try. I ended up ordering the Mod Podge silicone finger tips and I’m very happy. They aren’t perfect because they’re a bit hot and a bit snug, but they are far and away better than anything I’ve ever tried before. Thank you! I may do a little surgery on them to see if I can help those two issues. At $4.50 on amazon for three packs each of two large and one medium, I think I can take the risk .

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