Today I’m very excited to let you know that we have new quilts by Sarah Nishiura in our shop->
Right around the time I received these much-awaited quilts, Sarah was announcing her hand quilting workshop in Chicago that begins registration on June 21st through her Instagram account. “What’s the best way to learn to hand quilt?”, she wrote. “First, buy a thimble; Second, find a teacher who can give you a few tips; Third, practice, practice, practice!”
This got me thinking about thimbles. About how the thimble that my mother showed me to use in Japan is different from the ones used here in the U.S.
Thimbles in Japan are called yubinuki and they provide the same function in hand-stitching as western thimbles to push the end of the needle through fabric and to protect your finger. But while a typical Western thimble is worn on top of the middle finger, Japanese ones are worn between the first (DIP) and second (PIP) joint of the middle finger like a ring. You can watch a short Japanese YouTube video on how to use a yubinuki here->
The Western cap-shaped thimbles are also available in Japan, but all the kimono sewers that I have known wore these ring-shaped thimbles. I would often walk into a tea break that my mother was having with her sewing buddies and everyone had these rings still attached to their fingers as they sipped tea from a cup; like it was some sort of a fellowship ring of sewers.
According to the encyclopedia Nipponica via Kotobank, the majority of pre-Meiji (1868-1912) period yubinuki were made from layered fabric in the shape of a triangle or a circle and were worn at the base of the middle finger with a string. This is because people used long thick needles to sew work clothing that were mostly made from rough linen or cotton. After Meiji, when sewing became part of the school curriculum, shorter needles and ring-shaped yubinuki became more common.
I first learned to use a yubinuki when I made a summer kimono many years ago under my mother’s instruction. It was very awkward and uncomfortable to use at first, but when I got used to wearing it, I couldn’t sew without it. I haven’t had the courage and patience to make a kimono since then, but the yubinuki has stayed with me and I look for it even when I have to occasionally re-attach a button.
Once, I purchased a nice ring-shaped metal yubinuki for my mother because I noticed that she was using cheap leather and plastic ones that needed replacing regularly. She was very happy when I gave it to her, but I soon noticed that she wasn’t using it. When I asked why, she hesitated, then told me that she prefers the soft adjustable ones because the bony knob on her finger joint was getting bigger as she got older, and it was difficult to put the ring through. I was embarrassed that I didn’t realize this without her telling me. Just because it was durable and more expensive, it wasn’t better for her working hands.
Many years have passed since then, and these days my mother has difficulty remembering how to sew a kimono. But she still loves stitching and when I see that brown, slightly tattered yubinuki on her finger, it makes me happy because I know that she is having a good day.