12 March 2021

Wherein I learn what a "collarmaker's palm" is...

The book I'm currently reading is "The Brendan Voyage" by Tim Severin, which details a man's quest to test the possibility that ancient Irish monks could have sailed to the North America in a leather boat.  More about the book later, when I finish it, but for now this paragraph from page 52:
...we had only to make and fit the bow and stern sections of the leather.  We anticipated extra wear and tear in these areas, and so we doubled the thickness of the leather, and on the bow where it might run on a rock or onto sharp flotsam, we made it four layers thick, more than an inch of solid leather.  Only John O'Connell had the strength for this work.  From his Gladstone bag he produced a pair of great heavy half-moon needles and an antiquated collarmaker's palm that was almost a museum piece.  As I watched him drive the needles through the leather with his prodigious strength, I thanked our luck that we had found such a man.
A boat is being built as it would have been constructed in Medieval times, with the frame pieces hand-lashed together with flax bindings, then covered with tanned oxhides.  I had never heard of a "collarmaker's palm," though from the context I thought I could discern the purpose (the "collarmakers" in the book are horse-collar makers (leather workers), not shirt-collar makers).  

Embedded at the top is a photo I found on eBay (US $23 or best offer) of a "leather workers sail makers leather palm" with no further details of its use.  But when I amended my search to include sail-making, I found a bunch of images, including this one -

- from the Maine Memory Network (Maine Historical Society), via Pauline's Pirates & Privateers.
This tool is worn on the hand and used to push a sailmaker's needle through heavy material, often through multiple layers. The end of the needle fits into one of the indentations on the "eye," the round metal part of the palm.

This roping palm is used for heavier work such as sewing bolt rope around the edge of the sails, working with leather, or hand sewing grommets. With this work, twine is wrapped around the "horn" to pull and tighten each stitch. A smaller, lighter seaming palm would be used for hand-stitching panels of canvas together.
The "seaming palm" is shown here.  As Pauline explains:
The benefit of a palm over a simple thimble is that the pressure of the entire hand, not just one finger, can be applied against the resistance of the canvas.
And finally, from the Flickr photostream of the Voyager NZ Maritime Museum, this photo of a sailmaker using his "palm tool":

Reposted from 2011 to add this photo of the corner of a hand-stitched sail from the 1800s (via):

For that kind of needlework, it's understandable that a collarmaker's palm or seaming palm would be appropriate.


  1. we had a few of these kicking around in various junk drawers when i was a kid. my dad was in the RCN when they still used them, and ended up with a few. we knew them as sailmakers' palms, and used them to mend tents, canvas tarps, ball groves (and balls!) and other items made of heavy cloth or leather. we used this INCREDIBLY tough, thin waxed string that had likewise been 'liberated' from HMCS whatever!

  2. Unfortunately, by propagating the uniqueness of this phrase you have destroyed its singularity.

    Could this be another expression of Heisenberg's uncertainty? Said in jest; I don't want physics' purists to attack.

  3. I am a United States Merchant Marine officer. I 'Came up the Hawsepip' as a boy. I started as a Bedroom Orderly 'BR' and then advanced to crew mess-man. I got my big break when I was offered a choice to become an engine room wiper or ordinary seaman. I went into the Deck Department. After three years of sea service I was qualified to sit for my Able- Bodied Seaman's exam. Upon passing that exam and obtaining my first job as a Jr. Able-Seaman I was expected to carry with my gear a 'Ditty Bag' which included all of my personal tools required of me to perform my duties as an A.B.. Among those tools was a sail-making kit (even though I served mostly on steam tankers). Upon my first assignment my father gave to me his palm.
    I have a collection of tools from my profession but none means more to me than my father's palm.

  4. Oops, you're right, Pietr.

    Now you have to Google "collarmaker's palm" -wherein to get one hit.

  5. An equivalent tool is still available and actually quite common in sailing circles as a "sail-maker's palm".

    I have one in my ditty bag and have used it on many occasions. Try the book "Sailmaker's Apprentice" by Emeliano Marino for its use, a bit of background, and a starter project for what you can do with one.


  6. The sport of finding word combinations with a single Google result is called Googlewhacking, and there is a site devoted to it (though it looks like it's not updated much these days): http://www.googlewhack.com/ Back in the day, I recall their submission form vetting your results before recording them for posterity--so there was a reliable record that you had found the whack, even though it may have been ruined later.

  7. Thank you, Kupgup. I see from the link that an official Googlewhack required two words and no quotation marks. So collarmaker's palm wouldn't have worked.

  8. pretty sure you can still buy these in most watersport/marina shops..

  9. I'd call the one in the photo a sailmaker's palm, not a collar maker's palm.
    I have a couple of collar palms, and use them often enough - they're a pair-shaped handpiece that goes in the palm, with a set of dents inside it, and a cranked rod part that pokes out between your thumb & index finger, with a divet on the point, and a diamond shaped hole just back from the tip, to help with pulling the collar needle out.

  10. to re-iterate previous comments, i have always known that as a 'sailmakers palm'.


  11. Yeah call that a sailmakers palm as well. They are, as others have noted, still made: https://www.sailrite.com/Palm-Adjustable-Right-Hand?gclid=Cj0KCQiAv6yCBhCLARIsABqJTjYHDMcUINpozMCWZSbb8g0IeG5U-oJWjF-6oz3Y6zjlIe1kmy5hxrQaAsorEALw_wcB
    for example

  12. It was definitely necessary to use one while attaching rings on a sail for a 16' Catboat. I did most of the work on that particular sail and rigging for the boat while at Great Lakes Boat Building school 4 years ago. What a great learning experience.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...