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  Yubinuki - Japanese Thimble Rings      

Yubinuki Sample        Everything involved in Japanese life and culture has an aesthetic component to it; it is believed that there is/should be beauty to be admired in everything. What nature provides in the environment, the beauty is to be found and admired. For man-made things, it's a requirement that it needs to be made considering aesthetics, as well as form and function.  This concept of pleasing aesthetics prevails in everything, including the most simple items of everyday life. It is very rare to find anything that has been created simply for function without considering form; to the Japanese this is what brings life pleasure, that beautiful things around you make the most mundane tasks of life more pleasant.   
        The task of sewing, be it on the most sheer fabric right up to the heaviest leather, always used a thimble to protect the stitcher's fingers. However, much unlike the common "fingertip" thimbles found in the West, most Japanese thimbles are simple rings, about 1 cm in width, that are worn between the just first and second knuckle of the middle finger of the dominant hand. These thimbles are yubinuki.

       Using YubinukiYubinuki used for finer sewing and embroidery appeared first as fabric strips, several layers thick (thick enough to prevent the eye of the needle from penetrating), with some decorative stitching to hold it together in the appropriate size. They evolved into rings that were completely covered in decorative stitching, which also helped to provide extra protection against the needle's eye. Adding inner layers to the ring also added strength and durability.  The inner layers of the ring might have a thin piece of leather, if it was available and the extra protection was needed; however, because of its strength, durability and ease of availability, washi paper became a common "ring base" with a fabric covering, and then the outer surface is covered in decorative stitching (rather than as commonly thought, washi paper is not made of rice, but of very strong fibers from the mulberry bush/plant, and is extremely durable. Many household items in everyday life in Japan were and still are made of washi, in addition to it being used for decorative and artistic purposes). The beauty of the functional design- that of it being a ring worn in place as described, means that all of your fingertips remain uncovered so that no tactile sense or grasping ability in your fingertips is lost - it allows keeping full dexterity for stitching without punching holes in one's fingers from the eye of the needle. Even the most "die hard thimble haters" - thimble here being defined as that little plastic fingertip protector that completely covers the end of your finger - find Yubinuki comfortable, easy to use and most welcome. The only "caveat" is that it fits snugly enough to stay in place just above the middle knuckle of the middle finger, and that it does not slip and turn.

        Modern day Yubinuki have taken on additional roles: they are indeed still used by needle workers in all embroidery disciplines as well as in tailoring, textile design and common sewing. However, because of their unique and colorful designs, you will also find them being worn as fashion statements - literally as fashion rings seated fully on any finger; larger ones worn as bangle bracelets; napkin rings at the table; any place an accessory in the form of a band or ring can be an option.  As like many of the traditional crafts of Japan (which Yubinuki became), the old art was dying out and then found resurgence in more modern days. There are several websites and blogs that display Yubinuki. To date there are 2 books: "Kinu ito de Kagaru Kagano Yubinuki" (Yubinuki Stitched with Silk Thread from the Kanazawa Area)", by Yukiko Ohnishi published in 2006, and "Yubinuki to Hana Temari" (Thimble Ring and Flower Temari) by Yoko Takahara, published in 2008. A web search can lead you to some online information and illustrations.

       Many Temari crafters have an overlapping interest in Yubinuki because many gorgeous obi designs on Temari can be inspired from standard and intricate Yubinuki patterns. My curiosity about yubinuki has been driven ever since seeing the thimbles online and attempting my first temari that incorporated a yubinuki-inspired obi. I began searching for more about them. Being gifted with Yukiko-san's book was wonderful; along with it came the advice that I should learn about making yubinuki in order to get a good grip on applying the designs to temari obi.  Learning the Yubinuki process and understanding the designs was a wonderful winter's project.  Many thimbles later, applying yubiniki designs to temari has become a wonderfully creative process. There are some basics such as number of sections, direction of stitching, number of layers, etc., as well as the size and angle of the actual stitch that, if all are considered contribute to a smooth temari application. Be it thimble or temari obi, the edges of the band should be straight and even, the sections should all be even in size, and the stitching should completely cover the band area, as though it was a solid tapestry. It also created a new addiction; as in Temari, Yubinuki designs are endless. And yes, they do so work as intended to protect fingers while stitching. I've been working a needle since I was 6 and always hated fingertip thimbles, but Yubinuki are wonderful.

        The basis for Yubinuki designs is that of zigzagging up and down, around the ring - much like a Chidori Kagari stitch, with the stitch being taken across the top edge of the thimble band, catching the thread similar to (but not the same as) a buttonhole stitch; this is the "Yubinuki Knot". The ring itself is, in modern day, constructed usually of thin card stock base (made to the finished inside diameter of the thimble; this must be accurately sized for proper use). Rings that may see more exposed use may use more sturdy materials as the inner ring. The ring base is covered with bias tape or chirimen. Construction from here can vary based on the teacher you are following: one method is to build the padding with thin batting or roving (usually silk), while another will use a solid wrapping of cotton thread. The koma (sections) must be determined and marked, either by adding a strip of washi with the markings around the ring or marking directly on the thimble using a master mandrel. This is a very synergistic process - adding up all of the layers in the thimble (base ring, bias strip, padding, and (most importantly), densely packed threads in the stitched pattern creates a very protective covering.

Yubinuki being made        Yubinuki patterns are composed of varying numbers of vertical sections (koma), and stitching incorporates "skips" or "splits of the section" (tabi), to determine where the next stitch is placed in reference to the previous position within the koma (or next koma). These sets may in turn may be subdivided to create even finer patterns. Generally a thread will be started at one koma and worked around the ring to the starting point. Patterns may have from 2 to many threads, with each thread being worked once around the ring to complete its part of the pattern cycle. They may be stitched in one, or multiple layers; two to many colors of thread may be used, as well as using multiple needles of the same color thread. In addition, pattern outcomes are dependent on whether one is stitching "to the right" or "to the left" around the ring. As in temari, the actual stitch and thread placement varies according to the specific design and that is what is presented in individual pattern directions.Finished Yubinuki

        Consequently, they can range from very simple to deeply intricate. The actual stitch is taken across the top and bottom edges of the constructed thimble base and forms a bound edge. The stitching will completely cover the ring base, and the stitching becomes the "working surface" of the finished thimble. The goal is to have perfectly even stitches in terms of size and tension, and have each koma fill evenly as the pattern is worked, so that all koma are filled with threads in the body of the ring, with an even row of stitches binding the edges of the thimble. The pattern threads interweave across the body of the thimble, forming a padded surface that is several threads deep in addition to the support and protection provided in the thimble base.

References: "Kinu ito de Kagaru Kagano Yubinuki"; "Yubinuki to Hana Temari"; translations thanks to Ai M, Tomiko W.


Last updated 12/2013 © 1998 - 2014 G. Thompson/PuffinStuff, Inc.