Make a Vintage Valentine with Hand Sewing Techniques

11 Feb 2013

Hand-sewing techniques and embroidery are so much easier if you use the right tools. Sharp needles, tiny scissors, and exquisite threads are in every sewing kit, but the humble thimble is often overlooked.

valentines with hand sewing
I used a combination of hand stitching, machine stitching,
and paper craft techniques for these vintage-looking
I think I was born with a thimble on my right middle finger. For years I would find thimbles all over the house, but never in my sewing basket. I'd be hand stitching in my studio and forget to put the thimble away when I was done. Eventually I would notice that it was still on my finger when I was doing the dishes, trying to shoot a quick email to a friend, or even grocery shopping. Usually I would stick it in my jeans pocket, only to find it a day or two later when investigating a strange metallic sound coming from the dryer.  Needless to say, I went through my share of thimbles!

But the reason I had so many thimbles to choose from was because my grandmother always insisted that I use them whenever we worked on sewing projects. She had an array of thimbles and sewing tools that would rival the needlecraft display of any museum. Her collection ranged from plastic political thimbles (I Like Ike!) to jewelry quality gold and silver show stoppers.

Once I asked her if I could have one to use, and it took her more than an hour to choose just the right thimble from the collection. It couldn't be too tight (that would be uncomfortable), to rounded (the needle wouldn't catch in the grooves), too old (I could never part with that one!) or too new (I just bought that, choose another.) Now that I think about it, she probably prolonged the time we spent looking at her collection so she could spend more time sharing stories with me and admiring the beauty of those simple tools.

So gather your sewing kitand thimblesfor some hand sewing and embellishment! This is one of my favorite easy sewing projects, a mixed-media Valentine card that incorporates vintage fabrics, needlework, and paper crafting.

Vintage Valentine Card


  • Watercolor paper
  • DistressTM inks, 2-3 colors
  • Stamps
  • Stencil brush
  • Rotary cutter with pinking edge
  • Antique quilt scraps (Use something from a cutter quilt-don't cut up a perfect one!)
  • Embroidery thread
  • Tape
  • Small amount of pillow stuffing
  • Sewing machine


thimbles for hand sewing
Some of my thimbles, including the silver one in the front that my grandmother
gave to me.

1. Trim the paper to 4" x 6" using a pinking blade.

2. Apply ink to the watercolor paper with a stencil brush. Rub the brush in a circular motion, alternating colors and amounts of ink. I usually use 3 colors in each card. Stamp the card with additional layers of ink if desired. Let the ink dry.

3. Cut the antique quilt scrap into a small heart shape. Embroider the heart with small stitches, flowers, or sentiments. Knot the embroidery thread tightly on the back of your work.

4. Place the heart on top of the paper. Push a small amount of pillow stuffing underneath the heart, and sew it by machine onto the paper. Tip: Leave a long tail of thread at the beginning and end of your stitches.

5. After you've sewn the heart to the paper you can thread the ends into a hand sewing needle and pull them to the back of your work. Tape them in place or knot them tightly.

There you have it! Hand-embellished Valentines from the heart!

For more tips and techniques that will improve your hand sewing ventures, be sure to take a look at the new book Handsewn: The Essential Techniques for Tailoring and Embellishment.

P.S. Do you use a thimble for hand sewing? Why or why not? Leave your comment below. I'd love to hear your opinions!

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monkey1 wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 7:47 AM

I laughed at your story of thimbles, as it was so true of me. I have inadvertently scratched my face with my thimble. Several years ago I had the good fortune to get a box at an auction of a well known quilter. In the box was a collection of thimbles from around the world! I have thimbles set with gem stones and some have beautiful silver work. Best thing, I paid $10.00 for the lot! Thanks for the smile.

Pat Bidol wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 7:50 AM

I use a thimble for several reasons including that is how I was taught when I was a little girl and I think it gives me more control when I am handstitching on severa layers. I also often use my grandmother's thimble.

sueqt wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 7:59 AM

One of my favorites is meant to be used by lacemakers on the side of the finger according to my late aunt who worked in a lace mill when she was young. It is made of silver.


pjmockit wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 9:08 AM

I could never find a thimble that felt right. I have some from my mom and grandmother. My goal is to start hand-stitching again, so I'm going to attempt to find one that is comfortable to use.

Anne Dempsey wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 11:18 AM

I love handsewing with thimbles.  It's something I learned from my grandmother and great aunt, from whom I learned to sew, as well as my mother.

I have a small collection of decorative thimbles, as well as a fair number of functional thimbles, as well.

quiltas wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 11:42 AM

Great story! My mother (who was not a quilter but sewed out of necessity) and my grandma (Who wore holes in her thimbles just mending socks!) tried for twenty years to get me to use a thimble. Not until I learned to quilt did I finally realize that a thimble is a helpful tool! Three years ago I inherited their thimbles. Now I wear one even when I don't seem to need it.

AnnE@34 wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 11:51 AM

I've been using thimbles since I first learned to sew years ago and have several, but now have trouble finding one to finger has changed shape and no longer fits a regular round metal one.  So..I've whacked one with a hammer to change it to an oval shape.  Also made one from an old leather glove.


kitkat1223 wrote
on 12 Feb 2013 12:40 PM

I often use a thimble for hand sewing and my husband always does, but he is usually sewing leather.

on 12 Feb 2013 5:20 PM

Sometimes I use a thimble, sometimes I don't. I too have a collection of thimbles, some from my grandmothers, some are my own. I think my mom used one on occasion but I couldn't say where it might be. There are occasions where I put one on my finger and then use a different finger to push the needle through. I also find my fingers aren't the same size every time. And when I hand quilt, I put a thimble on my "under" finger to rock up the needle. Never did develop the tolerance to keep jabbing a sore finger until it was callused.

When I had my carpal tunnel repaired and my shoulder surgery, I gave a silver monogrammed thimble to my orthopedist because I have a very nice invisible scar on my hand. I appreciate that.

on 12 Feb 2013 5:44 PM

I loved your post about your grandmother's thimbles!! I have a silver one of my grandmother's that I cherish. Every time I use it, I think of her and how happy I am that I found this wonderful creative outlet. What a gift! It is very uncomfortable for me to try to sew without a thimble. It's kind of like driving without a seat belt. In the winter my fingers shrink a little and it falls off sometimes. Not the case in summer! My grandmother did not have that many thimbles, but she had handkerchiefs by the dozen! When I left for school, she always asked if I had a hankie. If I said no, she made me open her top dresser drawer. There they were, all lined up, ironed and lavender scented!

on 12 Feb 2013 10:03 PM

I always use a thimble probably because that was how I was taught as a chld.  I've also inherited one from a very dear friend who passed away a coupl of years ago.

PennyB@10 wrote
on 16 Feb 2013 3:40 AM

Do you know the name for a collector of thimbles? I know as I am one. I rarely use a thimble but have a collection of three hundred thimbles.

A thimble collector is a digitabulist.

floozette wrote
on 19 Feb 2013 5:36 PM

Both my grandmother and my mother sewed beautifully and both used thimbles, but could they ever get me to use one? No. Way.

And now of course I regret that I didn't persevere with the thimble when I was a child because I still find it impossible to sew with one.  Are there any particular types that are easier than others?  I would love some advice, truly.  I have tried the metal ones with indentation in the base and the ones that are like rings that go over the end of your finger (obviously designed for those with long nails) but they still don't last long.  My best 'thimble' is a pair of pliers to pull the needle through, lol.

on 7 Feb 2015 4:42 AM

My favorite is a tailor's thimble.  It does not have and end in it, so your finger does not "sweat".  All pushing is done from the side.  I know it sounds odd, but it is so comfortable and easy to use.  Also, when you find you thimble does not fit just right or slips, put a piece of adhesive (bandage) tape on the inside. This will give you finger grip on the smooth surface of the thimble.

Terry71 wrote
on 7 Feb 2015 10:48 PM

Yes, I have a favorite thimble from the time over 50 years ago when I started working as a college student at the Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg.  I had been sewing since age 9, but not with a thimble, and to be "authentic" I had to learn to use one.  It is a lovely silver one made there and has been used to sew things for my children and grandchildren, in quilting and many kinds of fiber adventures.

Terry Frank

Terry71 wrote
on 7 Feb 2015 10:48 PM

Yes, I have a favorite thimble from the time over 50 years ago when I started working as a college student at the Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg.  I had been sewing since age 9, but not with a thimble, and to be "authentic" I had to learn to use one.  It is a lovely silver one made there and has been used to sew things for my children and grandchildren, in quilting and many kinds of fiber adventures.

Terry Frank