Dear Quilt Doctor,
Lately, I’ve had such a hard time with my back and arms after I’ve spent time quilting. They hurt and ache, and it’s kept me from doing the projects I love. My friends are no help because they’re suffering from the same thing. Can you help us? You must know something we should be doing differently.
I feel your pain! Literally. Overdoing any thing can lead to problems. With quilters, it seems to affect our backs, necks, and hands the most. You don’t want to be forced to give up something you love, especially if it’s easily remedied. So, here’s my advice.
Do repetitive things for just a short period of time. I know how tempting it is to cut a whole quilt at one time but it’s not good for you. Break up your cutting sessions into smaller segments. Cut a little, sew a little, press a little. Step out of your sewing area for parts of every hour to give your body and mind a chance to relax.
Hunching over a cutting mat for too long will give you pain in your lower back, your neck, and maybe even your wrist. Get that table up to a better height! If you can’t adjust it, invest in a set of bed risers, the kind for lofting a dorm bed. You can get them at a bed and bath store or almost anywhere during back-to-school season. I have two sets--one for my sewing room and another that I pack for retreats.
Get your sewing machine and chair at the appropriate height. An adjustable chair with lumbar support will help you maintain your posture. Your knees should be comfortably bent so they rest flat on the floor. If you raise your chair so your arms are at your work surface, you might not be able to touch the floor. Put a box or platform under your feet so they are at a 90-degree angle. A tiltable sewing machine surface keeps you from hunching over your work. If you don’t have one, quilters have told me they buy a couple of rubber door stops from the office supply store and put them under the back of their machine to give it some tilt.
Whether you’re machine-stitching or hand-sewing, you need to have great lighting. Don’t rely on your sewing machine light or overhead lighting. They aren’t adequate and can cause you to squint and not blink much as you work. There are a lot of daylight-style lamps available; ask your friends who are using them for advice or check them out at your local quilting store.
If you’re having trouble with your hands when you cut, check around for ergonomic cutters. Spring-loaded scissors are also helpful because they put the work of opening and closing onto the tool and not your hand. For hand sewing, a thimble not only protects your fingers but gives them some grip and torque as you push and pull your needle through the fabric.
And remember how Mom used to always tell you to sit up straight? She was right. Keeping good posture, especially sucking in those abdominal muscles, will do a lot for your entire body. You won’t get tired as quickly making it easier to quilt longer! If you feel that tightness in your neck and back, stand up and act out the little song we used for teaching our preschoolers body parts--head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. That’ll get the circulation going and the kinks out of your back.
Finally, eat healthy. Instead of reaching for a bottle of pop, grab a glass of water. Choose fruit instead of a cookie, animal crackers instead of a piece of chocolate. I know, I know--easier said than done! But I know you won’t regret making healthier choices.
Feel better now? Hope so! Wishing you many hours of healthy quilting,
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