Friday, July 14, 2023

The Ergonomics of Quilting / Beauties Pageant 223

If you had told me when I started quilting that it would be hard on my body, I don’t think I would have believed you. But repetitive stress on my wrists and shoulders? Ouch! The wear and tear (and subsequent discomfort) is real. 

My Advice

Most recently, a paper-piecing project that required a lot of trimming caused me problems. I was working on a deadline and trimming a lot day after day. By the end of it, my quilt was done, but so were left wrist and thumb from applying so much pressure to my ruler while cutting.

The experience caused me to get smarter about how I quilt. For me this means … 

  • Being more mindful of my body’s positioning at my sewing machine, cutting board, and keyboard (as a pattern designer and blogger, I spend a bunch of time at my computer)
  • Getting up from behind my machine to toggle between tasks more frequently
  • Breaking large jobs (like cutting a new project) into smaller chunks and tackling them over a course of days or even weeks instead of all at once
  • Icing my wrists or shoulders or elbows preemptively—just because I know I’ve used them that day, not because they hurt yet
  • Stretching—I especially love stretching my wrists, and I can do that virtually anywhere
  • Investing in more dies for my AccuQuilt Go! system (I recently purchased the die for 4-inch half-square triangles—sewing HSTs without trimming is a luxury I cannot recommend enough!)
  • Using my Gypsy Gripper (it’s a handle that suction-cups to quilting rulers) when I use my rotary blade

Others Chime In

I also asked quilters on Instagram what advice they would add to the list, and I was reminded of some of my own strategies as well as introduced to new ones. These additions include:

  • Standing on a gel mat while cutting or ironing
  • Sewing while standing up
  • Investing in an adjustable-height table
  • Hand stitching in short sessions

They’re all worthwhile suggestions, right?

The Bottom Line

It’s never too soon to start taking care of ourselves. I’ve had friends end up in therapy after messing up a shoulder using the rotary blade or injuring a wrist while English paper piecing. I am a big believer in physical and occupational therapy, but I would also like to avoid heading to a specialist if I can.

That being said, what would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments below.

About the Pictures

I couldn’t bear to post this without some pretty pictures, so I dug into the From Bolt to Beauty archives for the ones included here. From top to bottom, you’ll see ...

  • My 2021 Quilt Buzz Bingo project. You can read more about it here and here. There is a bingo QAL happening now, too. Check that out on the Quilt Buzz website.
  • Last night at a guild meeting, I identified these hearts as a WIP I want to finish this year. They’re not hard to sew, but getting the WIP to the top of my priority list is. You can read more about this quilt, and click through to the free pattern I’m sewing it from, in this blog post.
  • My patriotic Love Boldly hasn’t made an appearance on the blog recently, and it’s one of my favorite finishes. Learn more about this project here, and check out the pattern in my Etsy shop (there’s also a cool video there about how I piece the Love Boldly block). 

I realize there are two heart projects in these pictures. Yes, I heart hearts. ; )

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  1. Excellent advice! I have an adjustable table for cutting. It's the perfect height for me. And when I'm paper piecing, I get up and do my cutting there. If I've got a lot of cutting, I'll cut some, walk to my ironing board, press some, return to cutting more ... lots of movement and a change in activity!

  2. Thank you for these very useful tips and helpful gadget ideas. I am very lazy at repositioning myself properly in my chair before resuming machine stitching. I jump up to do some pressing or whatever and then land back on my chair and begin stitching without sitting myself back or positioning the chair nearer to the table! I will be more mindful of this in the future!

  3. All great suggestions and tips. It's why I'm not a chain piecer - too much time in one place is hard on my body. I like to sew, press, and trim in small batches to keep me moving around and my muscles from getting too fatigued from one of the activities. In the end, it feels like a fun dance as I'm making!

  4. I would add replacing the rotary blade and/or mat more often to alleviate pressing so hard to make a cut.

  5. All great tips. I have my cutting tables on bed risers to bring it a better height, and I have a gel mat for standing at my cutting table.

  6. Table basting so I do not need to sit on my knees ;)

  7. Interesting information, and good to know, of course. But I can honestly say I don't have many, if any aches and pains from quiltmaking. Though I'm 70 now, I haven't felt that I've ever overused any part of my body, even when domestic machine quilting. Do I have the perfect machine set-up? Am I simply resilient? Could it be because I regularly exercise at least five days a week? Or am I just plain lucky? I don't know which is the right answer. I just know that I keep in mind what others suggest, and will apply - stretching, breaks, and the like - as needed.

  8. Fabulous advice, thank you for sharing!

  9. Wonderful advice and most of which I've been doing for many years with both my quilting (40+ years) and work related jobs too, before retirement. Thanks so much for sharing, take care & hugs from a cold/damp down under.

  10. Oh yes I have had many of the same problems, tennis elbow, wrists,thumb, shoulder, plus back and neck. Physical therapy wa required


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