Finding My Peeps! (Sorry I Couldn’t Resist!)

In between some of my longer blog series I often like to do a blog about something that I think might be helpful to folks who are doing specific research. I was recently contacted by a person who was interested in finding out more information about Bohemia. She said that she was of Bohemian ancestry and was having problems finding good information on the area.

I admit, my knowledge of the old Soviet Bloc nations is considerably less than western Europe and other areas. So I looked it up online, and found myself immediately comparing a bunch of obscure and annoying maps of the general area. Many of the maps had no modern city names on them, and the use of different names for the same geographical locations made it more of a challenge. I found myself using the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Seas as major landmarks. What I realized after a few moments of fumbling was that I had studied portions of the general area, but that I had approached it from a different angle than she was. I did not look for Bohemians, I looked for information on Slavs. I was aware that this was a tribal area, which probably had a much greater sense of “tribe” than Slav or Bohemian.

The tribes inhabiting the Baltic Sea VIII-IX c...

The tribes inhabiting the Baltic Sea VIII-IX century (Slavs, Balts.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The research that I had found previously pointed me to Moravia and the Moravian Empire, and a rereading of the original request for help did mention an interest in the Slavs. Checking the dates associated with the area showed that Moravia existed between the time of the great Slavic Migration, which occurred between 450 and 550 AD and the annexation of the area by the Bohemian Empire in AD 973. And that explained everything! Most of the previous requests for information and temple rings that I had had were for earlier Slavic materials. Most of my later Slavic research (13th through 16th century) has been in the areas of Kiev and Novgorod. Then I went looking for information on the exact dates for the creation of Bohemia. Well, I found several sources that agreed that the Duchy of Bohemia was created in 870, but the contradictions between sources about the exact progression of political entities in the area reminded me that this was really NOT something that I was interested in, and had nothing to do with the point of this blog.

If  you are interested in a particular group of people, figure out what the name of their ethnic group is, and skip as much of the later political designations as possible. When archaeologists study groups, they look at their ethnicity, not what country they lived in, and that is how their material will generally be catalogued. If you are looking for archaeological information you can then search for the nearest large museum online, and see if there is any information available. National Museums often have pages available in English, just look for the British Flag at the top of the page.

If you need a basic class in online research, I have an eleven part blog series on my website, called “Researching on the Cheap”. Just go to and choose Nov 2014 in the drop down “Blog Archives” menu in the right column. You can easily reach all eleven episodes from there!

Thimbles Part 7

Were there other sorts of needle pushers besides thimbles?

Yes! Sail makers, leather workers, tent makers, and probably others, used various sorts of “palm pushers” to force their needles through the thicker and more dense layers of cloth and leather. Remember, industrial sewing machines did not become available until the 1800’s.

Like this modern sailmaker’s palm, the pushers had pieces of metal, often lead, which survive archaeologically. Here is an antique sale maker’s palm from Maine. Remember, antique does NOT mean historically accurate.

And if you are wondering how they are placed onto the hand, here is another picture.

As with broken pieces of thimbles and thimble rings, the rather lumpy bits of metal that are used in the palm pushers are hard to identify. But a quick search in the Portable Antiquities scheme produces lots of metal from palm pushers. Random pieces of lead or bronze are often designated as “palm pushers”. This example is a good one, even if the shape is not typical. Most of them appear to have been cast in the bowl of a spoon, and are therefore more spoon shaped, but this one is well preserved enough to show the two depressions on the one surface. The other side (the back side) is plain.















To see how a modern sail maker’s palm is used, here is a video from a company that sells them.

And just in case you want to make your own, here is an Instructable about how to make one.

So where does this leave us as re-enactors? Well, as a re-enactor specializing in pre-1600 studies I would be tempted to just use a thimble ring. That would be “safe” for just about anywhere, except the Romans.

And what strange side trips has this line of research taken me off on? Well, probably the oddest was this one. And it is an excellent example of why we should not jump to conclusions about an item, based solely on a picture. I was searching through Google Images, and this picture popped up.

I was looking for good pictures of Hispano-Moresque thimbles, which actually look a lot like this in shape, but the decorations on these were obviously Pictish. There is no indication of size in the pictures, but fortunately the title along the bottom gave it all away. These are part of a Pictish hoard, found in Scotland, containing silver and silver gilt, and they are mounts – decorative pieces, possibly from a sword or knife handle, and they are waaay to big to be used as thimbles.

And then there was the modern Arabic thimble, that so easily could have been portrayed as something of greater antiquity. The form is modern. The dimples are too regular and the decorative band on an earlier thimble would have been engraved, rather than having raised letters. But the clincher is the meaning of the Arabic: Wrinkle Free Natural Silk Textiles. Not exactly a verse from the Koran.

And another odd bit? Seeing my own pictures of thimbles, from my collection, show up on Google images. It sure didn’t take them long to grab them!

I hope that this brief survey has been helpful to all those who enjoy sewing and the humble, but immensely useful, thimble.

Thimbles Part 6

So now we have an idea of what was going on in Europe, but what about the areas of Middle Eastern and Slavic influence, that were actually closer to the source of silk?

The earliest metal finger protectors that we find were in China, where steel needles originated. These took the form of split thimble rings, like the one in this picture.

The first solid thimble ring that I have been able to locate is a 2nd century BC Scythian thimble.

Thimble rings continued to be used alongside thimbles. Some were solid and some had soldered seams.

I have to admit. I was really delighted when I saw my first pictures of some of the non-European thimbles. I love the shapes and designs! The thimbles created in the Islamic empire are generally divided into three categories:  Abbasid-Levantine, Hispano-Moresque, and Turko-Slavic. This is not a hard-and-fast set of categories, there are variations within each style, but sometimes categories are useful in order to gain a general understanding of a form. You can definitely see cultural influences in the different styles.

Abbasid-Levantine Thimbles are the earliest form of closed cast thimbles that we have good documentation for, dating from the ninth through 12th centuries. They are found throughout Asia Minor, particularly in Israel, Syria, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. Some researchers believe that it was this type of thimble that was brought back to Europe by the returning crusaders. But it took a long time for thimbles to really catch on in Europe, and even longer in England.

Hispano-Moresque thimbles date from the 10th to the 15th century. They are produced through lost wax casting and tend to be rather heavy. These thimbles are found predominantly in western north Africa and Spain, but have also been found in France and in Viking settlements as far north as Denmark. They have a pointed top and some people think that the dimples are actually carved into the wax models, rather than being hammered in after manufacture. The bands of these thimbles are often decorated with engraving or stamped geometric or floral patterns.

The Turko-Slavic thimbles are generally found in sites dating from the 13th through the 18th centuries. They are found throughout the eastern Mediterranean as well as in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Most of them were cast in bronze, using the lost wax technique. Occasionally an iron thimble is found. They are characterized by their large bulbous shape and sometimes have a hole in the top. This picture demonstrates the style. The thimble on the right is iron.

This brief journey through the world of thimbles and thimble rings has been an interesting research experience for me. Sooo much bad and out of date information, was readily available. even finding decent pictures, of anything other than my own, predominantly English, collection was a challenge.

As a re-enactor specializing in pre-1600 studies I would be tempted to just use a thimble ring. That would be “safe” for just anywhere, except the Romans.

But we can ask: Were there other sorts of needle pushers besides thimbles?