My great-grandmother Cotterell produced some amazing embroidery and quilt tops. I didn’t know about any of them until after both my grandmother and my mother were gone. Only then did I find the linens in my grandmother’s closet — after Mom had died and we were finally emptying the entire house.
I had had the thimble longer. It was part of a tin box of embroidery things my grandmother gave me before she died. But then I didn’t use thimbles — and it was too big for my 12 year old finger anyway. Somehow I managed to keep hold of it, though the embroidery supplies have disappeared over the years – some used, some lost in moves…
My great-grandmother’s thimble has a hole in it. People aren’t usually surprised by this, until they find out that it is in one of the dimples on the top — worn through because she always used it in exactly the same way, pushing her needle with the exact same spot year after year.
The thimble fits my finger perfectly now. This is surprising because I am not a small woman – I stand 5 foot 9 inches, and have fingers of a size to match. Modern thimbles have changed shape to make them easier to manufacture, I suspect, and their angles don’t fit my hand nearly as well as that old one.
This is sad. Because perhaps more surprising than the fact that she wore a hole in it is the fact that I wear and use it exactly the same way — which is to say that I can’t use it, because it no longer serves its primary purpose– the needlew goes right through that hole and into my finger whenever I try!
The thimble now lives in my sewing cabinet: I can’t trust it in my workbox, as it always finds its way onto my finger. But I keep it to remind me of my connection to an amazing needlewoman — a lady who has inspired my stitching since I first saw hers, and in whose footsteps I dare to follow.
Please don’t take this as disparaging to either my grandmother’s or my mother’s skills with a needle. Both of them did exquisite work as well. But the level of fineness that is apparent in my great-grandmother’s linens is not there. Mostly, I suspect, because styles changed between the late 1800s when my great grandmother learned, and the 1920s (when my grandmother was stitching). My mother’s work that I’ve seen was typical of the 60s and 70s when I saw her doing it. She was a painter by preference, but would pick up a needle on a whim every so often.