Healthy Sewing

Healthy Sewing, tips for sitting properly, stretching, and staying healthy while sewing

After I had my 4th baby last May, I had really bad back and shoulder pain anytime I would sit down at the computer or sewing machine.   I started rehabilitating my core muscles, but the most important part of healing was retraining myself how to sit, stand, and use my core muscles properly so I can sew for many more years to come! 

Today I’m sharing a few reminders (because I know you know this stuff already!), of how to take care of yourself while you sew:

 1.  Use a comfortable chair at the correct height.  For years I used a cute chair, instead of a comfortable chair.  A comfortable chair with an adjustable height is so important!  My chair is from Costco and I love that I can fold back the arms and get the height just right.  Your chair should be high enough that your shoulders and neck are relaxed when sewing, but not too high that you are looking down and hunching over.  A well lit work space is also a must and will improve your posture, I have a lamp above my works pace, and a special LED light on my machine (more about that light at the bottom of this post). 

Sitting properly at a sewing machine2. Sit properly.  In the left photo my back is curved and my pelvis is tucked, which makes my shoulders hunch and my neck stick out awkwardly.  Instead try to untuck your pelvis and sit on your sitz bones, straighten your back, and relax your shoulders.  Use the back of your chair for support if you need to, or use your core muscles to keep your back straight while sitting.   Keep your feet flat on the floor, with knees and legs at a 90 degree angle.  I have a bad habit of putting my feet up on the bottom chair rails! 

3.  Relax your shoulders!  This goes along with “sit properly” but deserves it’s own special number.  Try relaxing your shoulders and neck right now, and then take a deep breath and relax them even more.  When you are quilting it’s easy to hold tension in your shoulders, and pretty soon your shoulders are creeping up towards your ears and making the neck muscles strain.  When I teach beginners to free motion quilt I’m constantly staying RELAX…take some deep breaths, lower and release tension in your shoulders, do some shoulder and neck rolls, and try not to let tension creep in.  

4.  Get up and move often.  Get up every 20 minutes or so, and set a timer for yourself if you need to.  My ironing board is across the room, so it forces me to stand up often.  If I’m sewing for a long period of uninterrupted time (a girl can dream right?), I make sure to get up often and walk downstairs.  Take breaks often and throw in some activity…go up and down the stairs a few times, do some squats, and throw in some arm circles!  You get the idea…just move more and get blood flowing.  

Leg and foot stretch during sewing

5.  Stretch, stretch, and stretch some more.  Sitting makes your muscles tight and short, so stretching is important!  I can only handle so many photos of myself sitting and stretching in one blog post…so you’ll have to Google some basic stretches if it’s new to you.  Make a list of some stretches, and start a routine of doing them often.  The calf and shin stretches above are my favorite after sitting a long time, and make sure you add in stretches for your quadriceps, hamstrings, shoulders and neck too.  If you are cutting or snipping a lot with your hands, wrist stretches and exercises are vital.  It only takes a few minutes and you will feel better and protect yourself from injury…so more sewing for future you! 

Trimming with a Rotary Cutter

6.  Avoid repetitive motions.  After I was done making all of those flying geese units above, I could have used my fabric scissors and trimmed off each one of those corners individually, but it would have left me with a sore wrist and hand from cutting (especially on these large squares).  Instead, I lined the seams up with the lines on my cutting mat, and trimmed the corners using my rotary cutter in one swipe.  It might only be a bit faster, but it saved my wrist and hand repetitive cutting and soreness.  I know many quilters with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, and cutting can be hard on hands and wrists.  Use a rotary cutter that feels comfortable in your hand, and that doesn’t require you to grip it too tightly.  Change out your blade often, and use sharp fabric scissors.  Pressing can also be hard on wrists, so take breaks if needed or don’t press all at once, and use a lighter iron if needed.  Make sure you are doing regular stretches (there are tons of great stretch printouts on Pinterest).  Invest in your hands and wrists!   

I just found this webpage (click here) and it has great stretches and exercises!

I could go on and on and on…but you get the idea.  Take care of yourself while you are sewing.  Now go do some stretches! 

 

 

 

80 Responses to Healthy Sewing

  1. Katie March 7, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    A good chair that fits is so important. Mine was too short so I put one of those air cushions on it and now it’s perfect. I even have the added benefit of being slightly unstable on it so apparently it keeps my core actively engaged. Woohoo.
    Also, what is mua? Or who? I thought maybe it was an acronym but all that comes up is make up artist?

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 11:44 am #

      Haha typo…fixing it now!

  2. Alayna Coombs March 7, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

    What about standing and sewing? I know tons of people with standing computer desks, but does anyone stand to sew?

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      I actually tried this a few years ago…I lasted maybe an hour. 😉 I know there are great standing desks available…but it was hard to lift my foot up on the peddle and stand at the same time! 😉

    • darlene March 8, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

      odd man {woman} out: i stand to serge, always .. i love it … and i have stood to sew but i have to pick out sometimes and that does not work b/c the bright light is not close enough …. so, yea, i have and i continue to serge standing …

      now, a question: i’ve probably missed it, but when you got your juki 2010, you did a full report … have you an update on this: what you love, like, don’t like so much, hate? would you do an update? i’m thinking of buying one … also, do you quilt or do you also sew clothing for your kids? if you do sew for the kidletts, do you use your bernina? if i bought this machine, is that the end of sewing grandkids clothing? tell all … please …..

      thanks for your amazing, lovely picture-laden posts {seriously} lol … the mini quilts are awesome .. i love your work … the middle one looks like buttons, yea??

      darlene harris
      spokane, wa

      • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

        Thanks Darlene! I haven’t done an update on the Juki post…but honestly it’s about the exact same. I still love the machine, but yes I use it for exclusively piecing and quilting quilts…I’m awful at clothes so this machine never sees much else. The only time I use my Bernina is when I need to use something other than a straight stitch. Other than that I love love love the Juki. I’d also look into the Janome version of the Juki (can’t remember the number), I’ve heard good things about it also. Also great job standing and serging…you go girl!

  3. Di Ross March 7, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    Thanks for the reminder. It’s a hard lesson to learn after the fact. Promise I will do more stretches. Love your work 😘 Cheers

  4. Jenny S. March 7, 2017 at 12:35 pm #

    …and close the blade on your rotary cutter every time!

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

      I always have to double and triple check with kids around! And I keep it high and out of sight! 😉

  5. Betsy March 7, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

    Great post! Thanks for the tips and reminders.

  6. tgosgood March 7, 2017 at 2:27 pm #

    I can adjust the chair, but it’s hard to adjust the desk down to that level. I guess it’s tough to be short.

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

      Lol! I have the opposite problem…I’m almost 6′! 😉

  7. Kathy March 7, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you for posting this! It is so easy to fall into bad habits when we have the chance to spend time doing this sewing thing we love so much! Taking the time to be aware and move/stretch will just make the experience more enjoyable in the long run!

  8. Debbie March 7, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

    I am a yoga teacher and have taught classes to quilters. You gave some great advice.

  9. quiltingmod March 7, 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    You’ll have to add one kiddo to your “About” page. Great post about something seldom discussed, but of serious importance.

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 11:23 pm #

      LOL you are right! I do have to add another kid! Doing it now! I’m glad other people keep me up to speed on this stuff…thank you!

  10. Helen LeBrett March 7, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

    Sigh… If only I could look that good after 4 kids!! 🙂 Great advice!!! Thank goodness My iron is away from my sewing machine so I have to get up every time. I guess there are some positives to sewing on the dining room table! 🙂 Hugs, H

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

      You are too sweet…and yes that is a positive to dining room table sewing! Thanks for visiting Helen!

  11. Chris March 7, 2017 at 10:47 pm #

    A good chair is hard to find for most of us.

    • Allison March 7, 2017 at 11:21 pm #

      I agree a good chair is hard to find…even a good dining chair with a thick seat pad might do the trick as long as the height is OK! I’ve seen some chairs on Amazon with great reviews too.

  12. In The Boon Docks March 7, 2017 at 11:04 pm #

    I enjoy your articles very much as someone with chronic problems I already follow you tips and hope others do too! I would love to know how you make flying geese so effortlessly! Thank you 😊!

  13. Judy March 7, 2017 at 11:32 pm #

    I have a Bernina chair I try to adjust and I get up to iron. I have osteoporosis and my shoulders are already bent toward me. I try to stretch. Thank you for the great advice. I love your chair!

  14. Teje March 8, 2017 at 12:20 am #

    Thank you for reminding! Great post and good tip for trimming! My ironing board is also so that I need to get up and I everything else than sewing by standing. Dogs help also getting me up often. Still should stretch and sit correct – how it’s so difficult. x Teje

  15. Jean March 8, 2017 at 2:09 am #

    Thank you for wonderful tips, Allison! It was sweet of you to take time to share that info with us! Happy sewing! xo-Jean

  16. Christina in FL March 8, 2017 at 3:55 am #

    Great tips! I’d like to add to smile! 🙂 For me, it affects my whole body and disposition.

    • Debbie March 8, 2017 at 7:34 am #

      Because we LOVE to sew. 🙂

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:49 am #

      Yes! Smile! 🙂

  17. farmhousequiltsblog March 8, 2017 at 5:29 am #

    Great reminders! I always have to chuckle at the advice to keep everything within reach of your sewing machine so you can just swivel one way and press, and swivel the other way to trim blocks. I am like you. My ironing board is across the room ( which is only 5 feet away!), but by the time I dodge a dog or two, I figure I have gotten my exercise!

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:49 am #

      LOL “dodge a dog or two”! 🙂

  18. Marianne March 8, 2017 at 5:31 am #

    I have to remind myself to change out my rotary cutter blade more frequently as I discover I press down too hard for too long sometimes. Thanks for these reminders!

  19. Cindy Mizer March 8, 2017 at 5:35 am #

    Yoga is a great method to rejuvenate muscles after quilting. I especially like to do the back stretches like downward facing dog or child’s pose.

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:14 am #

      I need to get into Yoga more! I’ve been trying but I really need to take a class!

      • tisha @ quiltytherapy March 9, 2017 at 5:44 am #

        There is a great free site called Doyogawithme.com. They have a couple of back specific classes that last about 20-30 mins. We need a quilting yogi to come up with something just for us.

      • Allison March 9, 2017 at 9:48 am #

        Thanks for the tip I’ll check it out!!

  20. Sylvia Anderson March 8, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    Love today’s post, and I also bought the exact same chair from Costco about 18 months ago and am very happy with it. Guess I’m not the only one who uses the chair to scoot over to the ironing board and back again. It’s fun too! We also have the same taste in socks, and I love them. On our last visit to Costco, they were on sale, and for $7, I got 6 pair, 3 grey and 3 gray and pink. Thanks for the exercise tips as well.

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:13 am #

      Pretty much my whole life is from Costco! 😉

  21. Peggy March 8, 2017 at 5:45 am #

    I have neck pain related to these very same posture issues and I have to constantly correct myself to sit properly. (I work at a computer all day and then sew a couple of hours each night.) Thanks for this reminder.

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:13 am #

      Neck pain is the worst! Good for you for sitting properly…it’s so hard isn’t it?!

  22. rl2b2017 March 8, 2017 at 5:47 am #

    Hi Allison! Great article and great tips. I cannot agree enough about the chair and actually thinking about relaxing your shoulders. If you concentrate on it now and then – like I did when I read your tip! – you can force yourself to relax. If you don’t mind, I’m going to share a link to your article on my blog. All points that need to be shared with all our quilter friends. ~smile~

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:12 am #

      Go for it and thanks for visiting!

  23. Grandma Sue March 8, 2017 at 5:58 am #

    These are all good reminders! Especially about using a dull blade on the rotary cutter (I am so guilty of that). I try to have music on when I quilt. It is harder to tense up when you are humming to a favorite song. Get out the old iPod and load some of your favorites.

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 9:12 am #

      I’m guilty of using a dull blade too! Great tip on the tunes!

  24. Kathy O March 8, 2017 at 6:05 am #

    What a great “reminder” post….thank you! The chair – oh, the chair – makes all the difference in the world!

  25. Nancy March 8, 2017 at 6:40 am #

    Thanks so much for this. I’ve got it pinned!

  26. Debbie March 8, 2017 at 7:33 am #

    Great reminders! This is good for our outside jobs too. Thanks.

  27. pennylanequilts March 8, 2017 at 7:52 am #

    Grat reminders and suggestions. As an older quilter, I can attest to some of those repetitive movement injuries! I have to be very mindful to take breaks and stretch especially when I am doing handwork.

  28. Ramona March 8, 2017 at 8:51 am #

    Thank you for the reminders of taking care of ourselves. When sewing is important to you, you do need to take care.

  29. Tiffany March 8, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    Great tips! Thank you!

  30. Fussell March 8, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    This is something all of us overlook, great post! I have wrist and arm problems so I wear braces to FMQ and take frequent breaks. I’ve also noticed that quilt drag is hard on my arms and shoulders so I’m better about making sure to have my project supported thoroughly. As much as I love sewing it can be fairly sedentary so I’ve been working on taking a walk or two everyday and I’ve noticed my overall health is better which means sewing is easier.

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

      I’m guilty of not having my quilt supported while I work…and yes it is harder on my arms and shoulders when it’s not! I need to work on that. A brisk walk everyday is the best and my “quiet time”…I can’t wait for it to warm up so I don’t freeze on my walks!

  31. Julie Moss March 8, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    The timing of your post couldn’t have been better! I have struggled to get my sewing done for my t shirt quilt business this past month because of back and neck muscles that are shutting down. 40 plus years of sewing is catching up with me. So now I’m doing elastic band exercises to help strengthen those muscles so I can get back to work. Ladies take care of your bodies!

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

      Resistance bands are so great! I use them too and they’ve helped a lot. I’m sorry you’ve had issues with back and neck pain lately! I hope it will improve so you can continue sewing!

  32. Linda Smith March 8, 2017 at 2:36 pm #

    I did one aerobic quilt. The pieces were laid out downstairs on the living room floor, and the machine was upstairs. I would gather up a row, carry them upstairs to sew, then back down for the next row. I got in my steps for the day, and the quilt got done! It was fun, but I’m back to my old ways. Thanks for the reminders.

    • Allison March 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

      Okay that is the best idea I’ve ever heard! An “aerobic” quilt LOL! Love it! I lay my quilts out in our master bedroom which is just across the hall…I thought that was a good workout but maybe I should do it downstairs! 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  33. Katy(LethargicLass) March 8, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    That flying geese trick is invaluable LOL! I also tell newbie sewers that their muscle health is important to future sewing

  34. Meta Bonnell March 8, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

    Did I miss where you were going to talk about your light at the end of the post?

  35. Debbie Lee March 9, 2017 at 5:32 am #

    I love your blog! Great tips, but hard to break those old habits. How did you hang the mini quilts on the wall??(I assume that’s athe your house)

  36. Bear Creek Quilting Company March 9, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    Wonderful tips! Thank you so much for sharing.

  37. Tavia March 9, 2017 at 6:13 am #

    Thanks for the great tips, its so sad when you want to sew and your back, neck or shoulders are killing you. I was having a terrible shoulder neck episode and I put those really firm rubber chair leg coasters under the back of my sewing machine to tilt it forward a bit. I swear this has helped so much!!!!!

    • Allison March 9, 2017 at 9:47 am #

      Great idea! I might try that!!

  38. Pamela Arbour March 9, 2017 at 6:37 am #

    Thanks for all of the good tips and reminders. I do try to do all of those things regularly, but since I read your post it had made me even more mindful how important all of these good habits are to our body and for our sewing! Thanks.

  39. Chris March 9, 2017 at 7:37 am #

    Thanks for this – great reminders. To all you young sewers and quilters (I’m 67!) I’m a life long stitcher, and I ignored this kind of advice for years. I was young, flexible, invincible………….not so much! I’m paying now for all those years of bad habits, so you all are SO smart to be thinking about this earlier than I did.

  40. kaholly March 9, 2017 at 8:42 am #

    Excellent tips, especially about sitting correctly!

  41. Lynette Reilly March 9, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    This is fabulous and while my sewing chair is gt8 I never seem to sw for more than 20 minutes at a time
    ( that’s. A Long. Seam)
    I would like to tell you I am going to apply this to my occasional cake decorating. This. Is when my upper back & neck get me. Sure I move around more but I spend entire an days at my table decorating from start to finish when I decorate Fillings buttercream Fondant and decorations. Yes I’m slow but I’m a perfectionist & they are such fun for my grand children. I’ll stop to take excercise breaks in the upper core and neck. In the past I’ve waited too long till I’ve been in so much pain
    Gr8 idea thanks.

    • Allison March 9, 2017 at 11:53 pm #

      Yes! Any kind of “craft” or baking this could apply too…I decorated 72 cupcakes a few weeks ago and I was sore the next day!

  42. Beth March 9, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

    Very timely reminders after I forgot to stretch my hands during 2 hours of cutting and making HSTs. Here I am in thumb splints thanks to arthritis that started when I was 48. Ten years later and I have to follow every bit of the advice you offered – or I won’t be sewing or knitting!

  43. Ann March 9, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

    I want that yellow timer!

    • Allison March 9, 2017 at 11:51 pm #

      It’s from Anthropologie YEARS ago!

  44. Susan March 11, 2017 at 4:25 am #

    Great post – thanks so much for sharing. I, too, suffer from various pains and need to remember to not take things for granted! So important that we take care of ourselves and not to push to get so much accomplished – so, we can avoid all the pain!

  45. kiri March 11, 2017 at 7:01 am #

    great advice, I would also included a yoga class at least once a week for a really good stretch.
    thanks, k

  46. Jaye March 11, 2017 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks for the tips.These are sensible and you didn’t venture into diagnosis, which I appreciate. I will share the link to your post on my blog next week.

    Those types of times are now available at Cost Plus World Market (no affiliation!). I saw a red one and a turquoise one last week.

    Be well.

  47. Margaret Swan March 12, 2017 at 2:18 pm #

    My standing desk is the best thing I EVER got! I’m tall so I raise it up for machine sewing (easily mastered the foot pedal but with bare feet not shoes!) and lower it for any cutting. Lowers instantly and effortlessly even to cut just one piece, then back up again for machining. Has been great for my back and shoulders (and the size of my posterior from not sitting on it all the time)

  48. Bear Creek Quilting Company March 13, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

    Wonderful tips! Thank you sharing.

  49. Lisa LeBlanc March 16, 2017 at 4:06 am #

    Hi Allison! I noticed the Juki in your pictures. Is that a new machine for you? I hadn’t read anything about it on your blog posts. Do you like it, and what made you choose this machine? I’ve actually read posts about how it has helped quilters with neck and back pain.
    Thanks!
    Lisa

    • Allison March 16, 2017 at 10:32 pm #

      Yes Lisa I do love it! I posted about it maybe a year or two ago…I’ve had it for a long time. I have a post somewhere on my blog (search Juki in the top search bar) comparing it to my Bernina. It’s a good machine!

  50. Debbie Scheibel March 31, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    We are starting up a new business where we will be “printing” on fabric (not silk-screening or heat transer) — full color, minimum 1. We are not up and running as yet, but hopefully will be by the end of April. A quilting friend thought that this might be of interest to quilters where we could print their specific design or photo.

    Do you think this would be of interest? And if so, how would your suggest I get the word out to the quilting world?

    We have just launched a KickStarter campaign to help fund the cost of the machine — https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1983537337/shykatz-limited-artparel — to see more about us and the opportunities of this printer. And of course, pledges are welcome if anyone would be interested.

    Thanks for your time — appreciate your guidance.

  51. Sally Baker April 1, 2017 at 7:42 am #

    GREAT advice! I have a tip to add that can be done right at the machine. I call it my Yes, No, I Don’t Know. Slowly turn head to left , then right several times. Then lower head slowly to chest then return to normal position several times. Don’t strain, just stretch. Then shrug shoulders several times. This gives me goosebumps almost every time and ALWAYS helps.
    Also, I have same machine, love it and am buying the light as we speak. It is called Inspired LED sewing machine light on Amazon. I also bought an adjustable table that my machine is lowered in with a plexiglass insert that makes it all level and the right height. Available lots of places but I got mine thru the Leah Day site.
    My only regret is not doing it all sooner.

  52. gayle greene May 30, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    To cut down on hand strain, I use Martelli’s rotary cutter. I could only make a few cuts with the regular cutter until I hound this ergonomic cutter. You can order online. i love mine so much that when they are on sale last time, I bought an extra one to share.

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