Hey there reader and welcome to some more Handsewing 101! In this post we are talking about handsewing essentials, namely thimbles and beeswax. Calling them "essentials" is actually ironic because really, neither of these tools is COMPLETELY necessary for handsewing. However, both can highly enhance your efficiency and the quality of your work while also serving as protection against poked fingers and tangled thread.
Let's get into thimbles first, then we will talk about beeswax.
A Brief History on Thimbles
The design and concept of the metal thimbles we know and love today dates back to 1695 in England where the first thimble is said to be created. They used to be called "thumb-bells" for the simple fact they fit on the thumb and are shaped like bells. Over time the name changed and so did the design of the thimble. Some argue as to where the thimble should be placed on the finger, going between the thumb, middle and ring finger of the dominant hand. Personally I feel this is up to the wearer and determinant upon how your work is held when handsewing but that's just me. I personally prefer using a thimble ring on my middle or ring finger :)
Metal Thimbles vs Leather
Metal thimbles are historically known for being the most commonly used type of thimbles. The classic bell shaped thimble is what we are generally used to seeing when we even mention the very word. Leather thimbles have become more common in today's modern world of handsewing due to comfort and the popularity of Sashiko stitching. There are many types of thimbles, some very unconventional yet efficient and convenient in their usage. A few of those are...
Classic thimbles are the bell shapes thimbles that fit over the thumb or preferred finger. As the bell shaped ones are meant for the thumb, different sizes may be needed to accommodate the other fingers that are more slender in build. Classic thimbles have small circular grooves around the outside edge so the needle can be pushed accurately by embedding itself in the groove when being used.
Thimble rings are great alternatives for those who don't like the feeling of their finger being enclosed. Thimble rings can be metal or leather and are generally worn on the middle or ring finger of the dominant sewing hand. Metal thimble rings have small round grooves for the head of the needle to sit in when pushed through the fabric. Leather thimble rings are smoother around the surface but as the leather is malleable it is able to catch the head of the needle, keeping it in place when pushed. Thimble rings can also be adjusted to fit any size finger depending on their construction. I purchased my leather thimble rings from HERE.
Sashiko thimbles are used when mending or using sashiko methods of stitching. Sashiko is a form of stitching that provides reinforcement and decorative stitches to a garment, hence why it is especially preferred when mending clothing. I personally enjoy using my leather sashiko thimble when going through thick layers of fabric as the placement of the thimble on my hand allows me to give extra leverage to the needle. Sashiko thimbles come in leather or metal forms, both effective.
All About Beeswax
Beeswax has been used for centuries with handsewing. Most historical sewists will tell you that it is one of the main tools they work with to strengthen their thread under the duress of any stitch tension. Beeswax is used to coat thread when sewing, providing extra strength and less tangling during a handstitching session. As there really aren't that many types of beeswax on the market, the below types are the most common mainstream thread coatings.
Paraffin Based Beeswax
Paraffin based wax is most commonly seen in sewing and notions stores and looks like the photo shown below. It is a small-medium sized cake that comes in a case with slotted openings to pass thread through easily when hand stitching.
What is paraffin? Direct from the dictionary it is "a whitish, translucent, waxy solid consisting of a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons, obtained by distillation from petroleum or shale and used in candles, cosmetics, polishes, and sealing and waterproofing compounds." Put simply, it's added to the store bought beeswax for preservation and retaining of moisture in the wax. However, the main downside of this type of wax is that it sheds a residue when used over a long period of time due to it drying out. Using wax can already be a slightly sticky experience, but pulling your thread through the wax over time can cause paraffin based wax to come apart in small areas and shed onto your fabric and whatever surface you're working on, even yourself. Thankfully the plastic casing comes in handy to prevent this very thing as much as it can.
The good thing about this type of wax is it works best with thicker threads or fibers like jute cord, so most of the residue ends up on the thread itself.
Natural beeswax has a long history of use because of its organic preservation. It lasts a long time and smells amazing because it completely comes from actual bees. You can find natural beeswax on Etsy or from local beekeepers in your area. Usually found in blocks or cakes, beeswax is a great alternative to paraffin based waxes and can actually last longer. Natural beeswax provides a full coating experience and doesn't need to be passed through as much. Because it doesn't shed, your thread goes in smoothly and leaves nothing behind.
Natural beeswax does have a smell and has to be held by hand without a case so if you don't like the smell of honey or the feel of wax on your hands it may take some getting used to.
Another wonder I recently was introduced to was Thread Gloss. The creator Jenn McMillian came up with an interesting way to wax thread by adding scents to her fun beeswax based product called Thread Gloss. I've found the scents create an even more enjoyable experience to handsewing and the tins are small and compact so they can be taken anywhere. You can purchase Thread Gloss HERE .
WHEN AND HOW TO USE
Not ALL thread needs to be coated with beeswax ALL times, it is usually on an as needed basis (and if for you that happens to be all the time, that is perfectly fine too). The point of using beeswax is to strengthen the thread so it will be able to work through the condensed fibers of fabric or thicker layers of a garment smoothly and without tangling or coming apart. Most common threads used with beeswax are linen and silk thread, though some argue that silk thread is smooth enough to not need the extra coating. I personally use beeswax when using cotton and linen thread to avoid the tangling and to make it easier to maintain. I personally find that synthetic thread tends to tangle more when beeswax is used on it and the two don't mix well, but that is just my personal experience as I am partial to natural fibers
To coat your thread with beeswax simply slide your thread along the cake or block (if using paraffin base you would slide it through the slots on the case) evenly coating the whole thread being used. EXTRA TIP: some like to iron the thread on a low setting after it's been waxed to melt the wax onto the thread, giving an even smoother experience. Personally after a project I like to iron the seams which set that wax in place at the same time (when my fabric is pre washed).
Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend!
Enjoying this series? Let me know in the comments and share some of your favorite hand-sewing tips!