Consider the thimble

“Any object, if studied correctly, brings all of society with it,” writes Françoise de Bonneville in The Book of Fine Linens. Consider the thumb. Consider the thumb’s role in weaving those fine linens. Weaving requires you to grasp an object between thumb and finger and pilot that tiny object. With such a precision grip, you shuttle that spun thread or plant fiber, the warp, horizontally under and over vertically oriented thread or fibers, the weft, usually using some form of loom. Whether we’re talking about a wicker basket, a burlap potato sack, or a set of fine linens, the premise is the same: Two sets of elements cross each other. Together those elements create a new, whole fabric, from which more creations can be stitched together. Beginning with the weaving, warping, precision-gripping thumb, the world pops the lid off a Chinese box of possibilities. Each new creation is never the end, only the beginning of yet another new creation. There may be nothing new under the sun, but at the very least, the human thumb allows us to recast, to renew all that sun-stroked nothing.


The word thumb itself has undergone a burlap sack load of renovations. Thumb comes from the Middle English thoume, thoumbe, from Old English thuma. The b was embroidered onto thumb in the early Middle English period, when it was still a two syllable word (thumbe), and at first was pronounced, but it has fallen silent over the centuries. The word thimble has related origins. Thimble’s -le is an Old English suffix for forming names of tools, such as handle.


When you study a thumb, it brings all of human existence with it. Is it true for such a small, whimsical thing as a thimble, too? 


If you study a thimble, touch it, wear it, shine a light into it, if you read its markings, if you divine its history, you will find that a thimble does indeed bring all of society with it.


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