Jan Marie Larson of Thimbles for you is one of our Quilt Week besties. We love visiting her booth and swooning over all her beautiful silverwork! Jess sings her praises constantly and loves to show off her thimble! We wanted you to get to know her better too.
1. We absolutely love your work- and we'd love to know, of all the silver crafts, why thimbles?
I have 9 children. When the last of them was going off to college, a neighbor of mine called me and said, "Jan, I need help, you can learn this". My neighbor was TJ Lane, and she was a silversmith/thimble maker. I moved my Organic Crop inspecting job to afternoons and started working with TJ in the mornings... She was 83 years old at the time. Eventually she started sending her old equipment home with me and asking me to attend shows that she signed up for. I started learning about equipment to do the casting part of the process and started designing chatelaine pieces on my own. My undergrad degree in Fashion Design had been on the back burner for many years.. It is good to be back in touch with sewing industries and good to help my friends who sew (all kinds) with tools that really work. I love working with sewists of all ages and I love that the tools that I make have BOTH form and function for them. Beautiful tools are fantastic.
2. Can you describe the fitting process for a new customer?
Thimbles should settle solidly on the tip of the finger. It should be on there tight enough that it will not fall off when dangled. Matching the curve of the fingertip and the shape of the fingernail helps, too. Thimbles should have almost no air inside- it should just be finger and metal.
3. You stand behind your work with a lifetime guarantee- do you have any good stories about someone who sent a product in for repairs?
One of my favorite stories is a lady who accidentally dropped her plastic sewing kit in the driveway. Her husband drove over it when he came home. The thimble was FLAT. The rest of the (plastic) kit was demolished and thrown away... She sent me a photo, and then the flat piece... I sent her back a new thimble.
Another lady took her new thimble home in the tiny, shiny bag... and layed it down on the kitchen counter. She turned around to let her dog out into the back yard... and he grabbed the bag full of thimble. He spent about an hour digging and chewing out there as she was putting things away from her trip to the quilt show. She could not find the new thimble! When she called the dog back in, she saw something shiny like ribbon out on the lawn..?! When she went out to check it out, it was the thimble bag ripped to shreds! AND she found a crunched and chewed thimble in the dirt. I got a visit from her the next day at the quilt show. We traded for a new thimble, and I melted her chewed one up to cast a new one.
I am always happy to trade a thimble that has not been used for a while... for a new one that actually fits. My favorite story about this is a younger lady who brought one of TJ's thimbles to my booth at a show. She explained that her good friend who was a quilter had passed this year... and left her thimble to her friend. The new owner was thrilled to hear that she could trade it for a size/style that fit her. As we worked to get her fitted for a thimble that actually fit, we were both in tears talking about the lovely gift from such a lovely friend.
5. Can you tell us a bit about the different types of thimbles you offer?
About 80% of my sales are the open nail thimbles. (This is what Jess has!) They are more comfortable and easy to fit and use. People who have fingernails love them, because they don't need to trim off nails every time they sew. And, actually, they work better with a fingernail because the nail helps to control the thimble as you sew. I have several shapes for the 'nail guard' so that it can fit right up against your fingernail on your fingertip. Ladies with curvy nails can choose one that fits into the curve and ladies with wide flat nails can find a thimble that will fit right up under the nail, too! The air conditioning vent over the fingernail gives a more free feel than the traditional bucket style.
Jess' Lily of the Valley Thimble
Another 15% of the sales are traditional closed thimbles. I have several styles with rims on top (for quilters) and several with rounded domes for other sewing needs, like garment sewing and binding.
The final 5% of sales are niche sizes and styles of tailor thimbles and Yubinuki bands. They are usually used for applique and lighter applications. I make a few of the Sashiko shields that settle into the palm of your hand for the longer needles... that I am designing for specific teachers.
6. What kind of thimble do you personally use? Can we see a picture?
I started out with a lovely open nail thimble by TJ Lane. It had a nice square top like my finger. It felt great. It was named after Alex Anderson.
Alex Anderson Thimble
Now I do a lot of bindings for my kids and grandkids. They make denim quilts from their jeans. My favorite is the Robin's Nest thimble. It's just the right length and hangs on tight.
Robin Nest Thimble
7. What's your favorite project that you've sewn?
I was a garment sewist for many years... I won the Make it with Wool Contest in each age category. I won the Iowa State 4H Fashion show. I loved working with clients who wanted special garments for occasions. I made stage garments for opera and wedding brides and maids and cheerleaders. I sewed 'circle skirts' in black silk and velvet for a harpist. I loved making matching t-shirts and shorts for my kids. I smocked for my daughter and taught my boys to make denim quilts for themselves and their friends. I love them all. I also quilt. I have several that we still use: a hexie quilt made of 4 inch hexies with chenille background hexies.. that is hand quilted and has a 6 inch smocked ruffle around the hexie-edge. A sampler quilt for a twin bed that I made when my 8 yr old was run over by a car and spent most of a year in ICU. A Denim Quilt with a Superman 'S' in the center for my son: Sam Swinton.
8. Tell us about your design process- what inspires you? How do you translate an idea into a thimble?
I learned about thimble fitting by selling TJ Lane thimbles for a couple of years before I actually made my first thimble...
Every thimble that I design now is made to fit a specific finger type that I think is missing. During Covid, I was working on fitting thimbles to NO ONE... so I worked out a shorter thimble that tucks in toward your finger around the back. Traditional thimbles get larger at the opening so that it will accomodate your knuckle. This one is short enough that it suctions into your fingertip flesh with the tucked-in band around the back. The front (around the fingernail) needs to be a bit longer so that it will stay on and so that the push against the nail guard will not pry the whole thimble off. I am a bee keeper. I love the little queen bees and as I explored vintage artwork with bees, I found many that had a wreath motif. The wreath gives the longer front that will keep it on and provide support for longer use.
I usually spend a month sketching and researching variables before I even start on a 3D shape. If all of the parts are not ready, I will not start. When I know what I want, I start with CAD and put the shape together first. The artwork is added AFTER the shape is completed. I print the 3D piece out in casting wax (that looks and feels like hot glue). I can try it on and see if my shape (guesses) have come to fruition. I usually share it with a few friends and ask for input. Eventually I get it to where I can find a (Computer Assisted Design genius) friend (who can actually do CAD - unlike my messy attempts)... I have her/him fix all of my goofs and pull my sketches into perfection. The design should flow around the whole piece and tell a story. I also usually have a friend do the sizing. I print them all out and test which parts need to be larger or taller or thicker. We use the American Ring sizes for sizing... we check the opening against the standard ring size.
I am a farm girl from Iowa. Prairies and songbirds and bugs are my favorite inspiration. I have had ladies (at quilt shows) ask me if I have any thimbles withOUT critters on them. I finally made the Tiara Thimble because the teaching staff at a quilt show asked me to. It is a bit foreign to me, but I found a size /shape that I needed and made the (very tall) Tiara thimble work. I sell lots of them because function is important to me. It's a lovely, tall thimble with a nice rim (that looks like a tiara) for quilting.
9. Tell us about you, Jan!
I'm a farmer's daughter. I have 3 brothers and 9 children. I'm a busy girl.
I started using my mother's sewing machine when I was 4 years old. I have always loved making things and 'crafting'. I have now learned that the drive toward perfection (lining up the seams perfectly) spills over into other areas of life. I have learned (too many times) that less than perfect is less than perfect. Quilters correct me. We are the same. Why would I pay for a magnifying glass with a scratch on it? (I wouldn't)... so neither should you. We all leave our tools all over the house because we are mentally on the next step in our design process when we happen to have scissors in our hands... We later find them in the bathroom.. or the passenger seat in the car.
I am all about efficiency. I work to solve my creative accidents.
I love a smooth running machine because then, I can make a big creative mess and clean it up into a magnificent piece.
I'm learning that organization is a rare prize in creative people. I love organization, I just hate maintaining it.
I am not patient waiting for something to happen in it's time. I want to have the potential in my hands so I can form it into it's perfect function.
My biggest critic is me. God Loves me. He made me this way.
10. What are three interesting facts about you when you're not working?
I walk an hour/day every time I can...through the woods.. while talking on the phone to a brother.. Who laughs at me as I huff and puff up the hills... My husband & kids rarely attend these "forced marches".
I lived in Africa for most of 20 years as an adult... accumulating children along the way... with my MD husband working in rural hospitals.
My father was a geologist. I learned the names of all of the gemstones as a child. I dug garnets out of the creek-bottom in Idaho.. picked up agates on the shores of Lake Superior and found amethyst in an open pit mine near Thunder Bay, Canada.
Thanks to Jan for discussing her process and background. The whole process is fascinating. If you'd like to learn more about her work, upcoming shows, and custom fit process, check her out at ThimblesForYou.com!