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Shipping & Ports

Sailors palm

20th Century

This object is a sailor’s palm. It was used for making and mending canvas sails.

A sailor’s palm is a broad leather strap with a hard, embedded hub or anvil. The palm was strapped across the hand with the anvil positioned against the palm. It was used to push a large iron needle through one or more layers of sailcloth or canvas. The needle rested on the anvil and was held between the sailor’s thumb and first finger. In many ways a sailor’s palm is a heavy duty version of a sewing thimble.

The palm shown here was made at Redditch in Worcestershire. Since the Middle Ages Redditch has been the centre of the British needle manufacturing industry and it is likely that many sailor’s palms were produced by the same firms making sailcloth needles.

In the days of sail all sailors owned a palm. It was an essential piece of equipment and every crew member had to be skilled in repairing torn and damaged sails. This example comes from Stranraer and probably dates from the early 20th century. It is not known if it was used by a sail maker in one of the town’s small boat yards or was owned by a local sailor. Very similar palms can still be found today in specialist ships’ chandlers.

leather, metal
Stranraer Museum
Digital Number:
Dumfries & Galloway Council