Monday, February 20, 2012

Remembrances of Thimbles Past

"Oh, Aunt Beatrice," exclaimed Beezus, as she opened her first package. It was a real grown-up sewing box. It had two sizes of scissors, a fat red pincushion that looked like a tomato, an emery bag that looked like a ripe strawberry, and a tape measure that pulled out of a shiny box. When Beezus pushed the button on the box, the tape measure snapped back inside. The box also had needles, pins, and a thimble. Beezus never wore a thimble, but she thought it would be nice to have one in case she ever wanted to use one."  -- From Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, 1955.

I started sewing as a child about the same time as Beezus did. And like Beezus,  I never wore a thimble. Neither did my mother who sewed everything from curtains to maternity clothes to dresses for her daughters. She felt thimbles were too cumbersome.

I can't remember when I first learned to use a needle, but one of my favorite childhood memories involves a sewing bee. I was in second grade, and we lived at the end of a cul de sac in Anaheim, California. There were little girls living in the house on the other side of the street, and I remember one special summer when we would meet on the curved green lawn between the two houses and sit there all morning sewing clothes for our dolls. (Mine was an official Gerber baby!) No thimble was needed as we pushed and pulled our needles in and out of our fabric, our little tongues wagging as womens' always do when they are gathered together over needlework.

When I was in third grade (in Norfolk, Virginia), I learned to embroider. My mother taught me how to do cross stitches, an outline stitch, and French knots. I can't remember my first project, though I'm certain that Aunt Martha's iron-on transfer patterns were involved. But I do recall that I was so thrilled with my finished work that I started a new, more ambitious project -- a depiction of The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden, which I traced onto fabric from a coloring page I'd gotten at catechism class. I still didn't use a thimble. My fingers were probably still too small. When I began to read Beverly Cleary's books, I sympathized with Beezus who was embroidering a potholder for her favorite aunt, especially as she struggled to follow her grandmother's dictum, "Conceal a knot as you would a secret." (I still think of that line whenever I embroider.)

By this time I was also beginning to use a sewing machine. My first garment was a Mother's Day gift, an apron for my mom. I thought it was gorgeous -- I'd even trimmed it with lace that was shot through with gold thread. I was very proud that my mother kept it in her cedar chest because it was "too nice" to use for everyday cooking. (It wasn't until I was much, much older that I realized my apron was much too frail to actually use.)

I finally got my first thimble when I took home-ec in junior high school. It was a mandatory component of our official sewing box. I still didn't use it though. It never fit right, it made me feel clumsy, and when I tried to push the needle with it, the needle slid right off. But I could manage to whip stitch my hems without a thimble.

But many years later, when I first began to quilt, I finally had to come to terms with thimbles.
Because unless you're quilting with a stab stitch, you need a thimble for that rocking motion that allows you to load several stitches onto the tip of your needle before you pull it through.

At first I attempted to use an ordinary metal thimble. But I had the same problems with it that I'd had in junior high. Then I tried using a long, white, leather thimble that seemed to cover about half of my finger. It too was very awkward, and the eye of the needle was soon poking through the leather and into my skin.

Fits like a glove!

I finally had some success with a smaller, black, leather thimble called the "Nimble." It has a little metal disk inside that protects you fingertip, and it's supposed to stretch and conform itself to your finger. And it did feel like a second skin to me. An opening at the tip left room for my fingernail and provided ventilation. But instead of putting it on my middle finger, I wore it on my thumb. I'm not sure why; maybe I'd accidentally bought a size too large. But it worked pretty well. I quilted away from myself, turning the hoop as needed. My thumb was stronger than my middle finger, and using it didn't require a cramped hand position which could irritate my old elbow injury.

Had to put this on my left had so I could click the camera with my right.
Eventually, as my fingers grew stronger and my hands more relaxed, I also learned to use one of those cheapo, pink, plastic thimbles. It's adjustable and, like my Nimble, has an opening for your finger nail which also lets your finger breathe. It has lots of little indentations on both the sides and the top which are deep enough to give the needle purchase when you're trying to push it through your quilt. It calls for a different hand movement than I use with the Nimble, but that's actually a good thing. "A change is as good as a rest," as they say. And being able to change hand position while quilting helps me to avoid strain.

Nowadays, using a thimble seems natural. I couldn't possibly blind stitch a binding without one! And sometimes, when my quilting is interrupted, I'll go off to deal with things forgetting that I'm even wearing a thimble. I guess we've finally bonded.

N.B. Bonnie Hunter is hosting a Thimbles Up! Linky Party today. Go see what she (and many other quilters) have to say about thimbles.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Unexpected Compliment

I've been taking my little niece to story hour at the local public library. Last week, as we hurried up the stairs to the children's department, several young teen-aged girls were clattering down. One of them paused, just for a nano-second, and blurted, "That's a cute skirt!"

I was surprised because I never would have expected someone her age to notice, much less compliment, something worn by a woman in her late fifties. I turned (because she was already past me) and said, "I made it." This time she really did stop and her jaw dropped. "The pattern is on the Sewaholic website," I told her. Then I turned and hurried after my niece who was eager to get to the library's Valentine program.

The skirt I was wearing was my second version of the Crescent Skirt which I'd made in a light weight denim. This pattern was designed for younger women so I had to lengthen it a bit. But I didn't have to make any other alterations, and it perfectly suits my pear-shaped figure while it disguises my middle-aged tummy.

I think I my lengthening technique may have been a bit inept because there was a point at the bottom edge of the center front:

I agonized for a while about whether or not to trim the edge to a more subtle curve. And I finally did so because I was planning to make a top stitched hem, and I didn't think I'd be able to turn it up smoothly if I didn't. And below is a close-up showing the nice topstitching on the waistband and hem. (One disadvantage of the denim was that I wasn't able to get a nice sharp point on the waistband.) This is a pattern I expect to use again and again because it is so easy to put together and so comfortable to wear. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Yard Sale Saturday

Bonnie Hunter is having a yard sale today and has invited all of her readers to join in. I have a few items, and given that I call myself a bibliophagist, it's not surprising that my offerings are books.

First up is a brand new copy of Charmed, I'm Sure by Lesley Chaisson. It's about making quilts from your collection of 5" squares. If you've been buying charm squares but can't figure out what to do with them, this is a book you'll want to have. The retail price is $24.99, but I'm selling this unused copy for $12.00 plus postage. SOLD!

Next up is a used copy of Applique 12 Easy Ways by Elly Sienkiewicz. There are some faint scuff marks on the front cover, but the rest of the book is like new. $6.00 plus postage. (The white lines you see on the left side of the cover are light reflections, not scuff marks.)

Finally, five copies of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine from 1989. I have a huge collection of QNM going back to the '70s, and they are so much fun to browse through. Lots of great patterns plus articles about technique, quilts, and quilters. And they're a nice look back at our recent history.

  1. February (#209) Very good except for small black mark on cover.
  2. March (#210) Very good except for small black mark on cover.
  3. July-August (214) Okay.
  4. September - Special 20th Anniversary Issue (#215) Like new! (N.B. I accidentally took a picture of a copy that has a price label on the lower left corner. I am actually selling a nicer copy without any price sticker.)
  5. November/December (#217) Good. Remains of an address label on front cover.
I'm asking $5.00 plus postage.

All payment through Paypal. If you want to buy any of these please email me. Click on my name in the "About Me" section on the sidebar to your right." Be sure to let me know if you prefer Priority Mail or Media Mail and include your zip code so I can figure postage. (Priority is faster, but Media is cheaper.)

For more great quilt-related goodies don't forget to visit Bonnie Hunter's Yard Sale Saturday where you'll find links to lots of other quilters' blogs.