Textile Idiom Series: “Just A Thimbleful”

June 26, 2023


Much of our everyday language—in the form of idioms, clichés, or metaphors—makes reference to textiles. Using these phrases, we weave stories, spin tales, and thread narratives. But where do these expressions come from, and what do they mean? 

In a blog series posted on intermittent Mondays, we will be unpacking textile-related idioms. Stay tuned to learn their metaphorical and historical meanings.

A thimble is a protective shield made from metal, ivory, bone, leather, glass, or porcelain worn on the fingers during sewing. While the metal thimble can be traced back as far as the first century CE, the term “just a thimbleful” derives from the eighteenth century when thimbles were supposedly used as a unit of measurement for gunpowder or spirits. In the mid-twentieth century, shot glasses and cocktail jiggers dimpled to look like thimbles were inscribed with the idiom as a playful nod to its modern meaning—after all, if someone asks for “just a thimbleful” of alcohol, they are most likely looking to drink more than a few milliliters’ worth! 

Two more thimble facts to bless your week: the “dimples” on a thimble are called “knurlings” and a thimble collector is a digitabulist!