Sunday, 22 February 2009

Thimble Base - this is how I do -

I posted how I made one of my thimbles before but I drastically skipped the details of what I did to make a base then. So here it is again:

First of all you need a mold around which you are going to form your base. I usually use a plastic tube of a lip balm. It's circumference is 51mm and I am aware that it's a bit small when compared to other people's but it's the right size for my finger. You can use any cylindrical objects from markers to maybe a spatula handle and if you still cannot find a mold in right size, you can adjust the size by wrapping a piece of paper around it until it becomes a desired size.

Then you need a lining fabric. I use a store bought bias binding tape, 12.75mm double fold. You can make your own bias binding using whatever fabric you fancy but I make my thimbles as thimbles and it means I do not want the lining too slippery otherwise it won't stay put on your finger and you cannot hold the needles steadily when you actually do hand sewing. So any fancy dress lining fabric is out and so is satin. I experimented a little but eventually came back to the good old double fold bias binding tape in cotton/poly something. I tried pure cotton once however, I find cotton/poly better; sleeker but still not slippery. Colour of the lining is entirely up to you. Red is popular but I always use black regardless of the design or colours of the threads. It would look really lovely when the colour of the lining complements the design of the thimble but it's just too much work for me to find the right colour since there aren't much colour variation to choose from when you buy the tapes at stores.

I cut the bias binding tape so that it's length will be circumference plus 3mm plus 3mm plus 5mm. You don't need to measure the tape very precisely. 1mm in short and you may have a little difficulty at the next stage (stitching the bias tape together) but not much, and 1mm ltoo ong doesn't make much difference. But why 3 plus 3 plus 5? Before I explain it, let's call the long sides of the tape edges and short sides ends. Now, I do not stitch the ends of the tape together. Instead, I fold the one end in to outward about 3mm and wrap the tape around so that the other end would cover the folded over part nicely overlapping with extra bit. Then I tape the upper end with the plastic adhesive tape. If you don't want plastic, and there wasn't any plastic when people routinely made these thimbles for daily use many many years ago, you can glue it or make a tiny stitch to anchor the end of the bias binding tape.

Make sense to you? Okay, the photos above are not very clear to help understand. Let's have a look at next two.

I reproduced the process with a piece of paper. You fold the one side of the end like this...

and wrap the rest of the bias binding tape around the mold like this. I taped the paper at the bottom side like this for the photo taking purposes. I didn't think it would still show after I trimmed the photo, but here it is. The correct way to tape the bias binding tape is put the adhesive tape at the centre as you see in the third photo above.

The core of the base I make is paper. Unfortunately I cannot tell you what paper I use or the thickness of the paper I use because I recycle ad fliers which come with daily papers, you know the glossy, heavy ad fliers, the one used for posh condos and fancy cars and such? Sometimes I recycle postcards and greeting cards but they are a bit too thick for my taste. You may find my thimbles too small and not sturdy enough, but this is the way I want them; sleek and pliable. Anyway, the choice is up to you, you want your thimble thick and sturdy, you need a heavier paper and you want them light and pliable, you need a lighter paper. Please bear in mind, however, that layering the light paper doesn't substitute the single layer of heavier paper. You can certainly achieve the thickness in size but the result is completely different and I think there is a reason why the paper is categorized by weight. Please experiment a bit until you get what you want.

I cut the ad flier paper into thin strip; the width is 11mm and length is about 40cm. You can use another plastic adhesive tape to anchor it but I use the same tape I used for a bias binding tape. Then I wrap the paper tightly on the bias binding around the tube, as tightly as I can. This is important. Otherwise your base won't be sturdy enough.

When I run out the paper strip I tape the end with another plastic adhesive tape but as you see in the above picture, the end of the paper ends just before the overlapping part of the bias binding tape. Am I making sense to you? I start the paper following to the end of the bias binding and end the paper just before the overlapping part. You do not want to thicken the overlapping bias binding part any more than it already is. This is small a point but it makes difference.

Then fold over the edges of the bias binding tape so that the fabric covers the paper ring core snugly.

Now I stitch together the folded over edges. Do not make a knot when you start your thread because a knot makes a bump. Instead make a tiny stitch or two (avoid the overlapping part) and you are fine to go. Firstly stitch the underside edges together as you see above and below pictures,

then, go back a little and stitch the overlapping (upper side) edges together as below before you stitch all the way around. I find stitching the overlapping edges firstly before going around makes the finished base looks much neater.

I like to pull the thread really tightly all around until the lining (bias binding tape) becomes rather taut but how strong you pull is up to you. Some people like the lining fabric just covers the paper core unlike mine. You had better make a few to see what you want yours to be like. In any case, I would like to point out that the overlapping part becomes lumpy unless you pull the thread very tightly when you stitching together the overlapping part and a lumpy base makes a lumpy thimble. Another thing I would like you to know is if you pull the thread tightly like I do, the inner circumference tends to become a bit smaller than you originally thought it would be. It only 1mm or 1.5mm but it's a big difference when you need to make a thimble in a specific size. Please measure the size before you make the stitches with silk threads to be sure it's the correct size.

Now I finished all the way around. Because all these stitches will not be visible once the thimble is finished, you don't need to worry about your stitches not being very tidy. You can see the lumpy part I mentioned earlier? It's unavoidable but try to minimize the bump when you stitch the edges together.
Now you have the core of the base lined. The book I own says I need to apply the wadding first before thinking about the segments marking paper but I do the segments first and then wadding.
When you make stitches to cover the thimble base with silk threads, you need a guiding markings and thus the marking paper. The books say you need "washi paper" as a marking paper and the yahoo group I belong is talking about what kind and from where to obtain but you don't need to worry about it. The direct translation of "washi paper" or rather "washi" is Japanese paper. "Wa" means Japan or Japanese (other meaning is harmony but not in this case) and "shi" means paper, so "washi paper" means Japanese paper paper :) The history of western world's paper started from parchments but Japanese people had pulp paper from the start, or so I understand, like Egyptians with their papyrus. There are various thickness and weight and the books do not specify what you need. So I decided to ignore it and use a thin paper instead and haven't had any problem at all.

To make a marking paper, measure the outer circumference of the base firstly. Mine is 63mm and when I use the same lip balm tube as a mold and same bias binding tape, same paper for core, and same sewing thread, my base always turns out in the same size so I cut the paper to 63mm width, draw the marking lines evenly (in this case I needed 8 segments so I draw 7 lines, and you can see the marking lines in the picture above although they are a bit faint) along the length and every 10mm across and cut it along 10mm line as I go, but you may want to measure the circumference every time you finish your base. Cut the paper 63 x 10mm and draw the marking lines EVENLY. I capitalized the word and in italic because your design accuracy solely depends on how accurate you are when you draw your markings. 0.5mm is big when you are using the thread equivalent to the machine thread for middle weight fabric. Now, you wrap the marking paper around your base and secure it with plastic adhesive tape as shown in above picture. You can see the lining fabric (bias binding tape) still peeking from the top and bottom of the marking paper, and it's important because you don't want to make stitches on the marking paper otherwise the edge of the paper would fray and the frayed bits and pieces may stick between the stitches you make.
How many segments do we need you may ask, and it's really a good question. It depends on the design you want and on how you want to make it. It's rather complicated to explain and I think I had better stick to the base today. Take my word for it and just say I needed 8 segments marking paper this time.

Do you remember I didn't snip off the thread used to put the edges of the bias binding tape together? It's still there beside the lumpy overlapping part.

Put the needle through the marking paper and wrap the thread around the middle of the body of the base like this. I skipped it today and therefore no photo, but I usually add two layers of light cotton tape before wrapping the thread around. You know the tape you sew together when you sew the bias fabric to prevent it stretch out? You can apply another layers as I usually do, or skip it as I did today. I like my thimbles small and sleek as I told you earlier and to achieve the lightness I keep the thickness of the paper core relatively thin so that the finished edges (both top and bottom) of the base is thin. However, the base still needs to be sturdy enough to use as a working tool. Applying light cotton tape around the body gives the base firmness without adding the bulkiness at the top and bottom edges because the width of the tape is narrower than the base's. This process is optional because yours may be already sturdy enough and doesn't need any additional layers.

Now we are going to apply the wadding to the base. I use silk floss wadding. It comes like a sheet of fiber like this (at least the one I use comes as a sheet and in the photo I folded it in half).

When you pull the fiber, any place you like, it becomes like this;

Uncombed silk floss formed like a sheet is the best description I can think of and because it's silk floss the fiber is really really really long.

Therefore it stretches well and you can apply the really thin layers little by little to form the shape you want. Remember the lumpy part? Of course you do, you cannot forget it when I repeatedly reminding you there is one. That lumpy part is not the overlapping top/bottom edges only, but the body itself too. Apply thin on the lumpy part on the body so that your finished base looks nice and smooth. Or try to.

You see the marking paper peeking from the wadding. In this way you can still see where to start the stitches. Lining fabric peeking from the marking paper and marking paper peeking from the wadding are the key to succeed. And of course precision when marking the paper for the segments needed.
The books say to apply the marking paper on the wadding and I have to admit it makes it easier to see the markings and may prevent the thread tangling with the wadding fiber but I find it's not worth it when the accuracy in dividing into the segments evenly is the key because size on the padding is obviously bigger than the size beneath the wadding and following the markings becomes just the guess work. Perhaps you may like to apply another piece of paper on the wadding, not as a marking paper, to prevent the thread from tangling with the wadding fiber, although a piece of paper directly beneath the surface stitching silk thread makes the thimble a bit stiff in my opinion.

This is just what I do to make a base and surely there are other ways, too, maybe a better way. I just wanted to share what I do with you is all. If any question, please let me know and I will try my best to answer it.


  1. Excellent description! Thank you so much. I learned a lot from this.

  2. Well written, and so clear. Thank you so much!
    Linda. D.

  3. Wow! A lot is involved in making the base. This was very interesting.

  4. This is not easy to do, Chloe!
    I'm here for long, but not sure I've made everything in the right way... we'll see!

  5. hi
    this looks so cute but so complicated too!!!!!!hope i may be able to do in 2010

  6. Thanks for this post. Exccellent description indeed! I've ordered a kit from your shop, so i will try that first. If all goes well i will definitely try this too! Once again, beautiful product and thanks for sharing!

    Elinde Kersbergen

  7. can you provide a source for your wadding? I've googled silk floss wadding and looked on ebay, but I can't find anything that looks like your pictures. Thanks.

  8. Oh my gosh I am so impressed with these - Wonderful Kaga thimbles !!!!!!!

  9. Wonderful instructions! Thanks for putting this tutorial together! It occurred to me, though, that when you wrap the bias tape with thick paper and then sew it together, it seems like you could speed things up and avoid the bump if you secured the thick paper (all the way around) with double-sided tape. Then you could just fold down the bias tape and stick it down without any sewing.

    1. But if using double-sided tape - then when you start sewing the decoration stitches, the biastape may come off...

  10. Great instructions,very easy to follow. But what books are you referring to?

  11. The layers of silk wadding are known as 'silk hankies' and are available from handspinning suppliers.
    Monica M.