This section is from the book "Scientific Sewing And Garment Cutting", by Antoinette Van Hoesen Wakeman. Also available from Amazon: Scientific Sewing And Garment Cutting: For Use In Schools And In The Home.
Just fancy how awkward it would be to wear a thimble on your thumb. Yet for a good many years after thimbles were invented they were worn only on the thumb. Because of this they were called thumb-bells. After a time this word was shortened, and the very useful little contrivance with which a needle is pushed through fabrics was called, as it still is, a thimble.
When the thimble had been in use for some time, it was found that it could be used much more successfully on the middle finger than on the thumb; and now it seems strange that it should ever have been used in any other way.
The thimble was invented in Holland. It was in 1695 that John Loftington came over from Holland, and established a manufactory of thimbles at Islington, England. At that time, and for a long time afterwards, thimbles were made entirely by hand; and many of them were beautifully wrought, and set with gems. Now all this is changed, and with very few exceptions they are made entirely by machinery.
The ordinary thimble, whether of gold, silver, steel, aluminium, celluloid, or any other material of which thimbles are made, is first molded into the size and form desired. The small indentations in which the eye of the needle rests as it is pushed through the fabric are made by machinery. The polishing is also done very rapidly by machinery, all of which is simple, and needs very little attention. Hence the labor required in making a thimble is small; and thimbles cost but little, save when they are made of expensive material.