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).
2. 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.
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!
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 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!