Sew Painful?

Posted by on December 21, 2009

Ideal sewing posture

Ideal sewing posture

Sewing can really be a pain in the neck. And in the middle back, forearms, legs and truthfully, just about the entire body. To make it worse, if your work consists of threadpainting instead of standard sewing, you are in for  A LOT more time crouched over your sewing machine.I’ve been doing some heavy threadwork lately getting several gallery pieces ready for an exhibit later this week and let me tell you, I am HURTING!

Needless to say I haven’t been working in proper ergonomic posture- heck, until recently I wasn’t really sure what proper sewing posture was! Typically, as I get further into my work I find myself leaning over further and further into my project, scrunching up both my eyebrows and shoulders in concentration.

After working for several days in pretty severe pain, I decided to do the research to find out  how to (hopefully) solve my problem. If I didn’t, I’d soon go broke from paying for all the massages I’d need!

So here goes:

SEW Painful? Avoiding a Pain in the Neck!

1. Keep it balanced. Make sure that your feet are resting flat on the floor. Ok, the one that you use on the foot pedal shouldn’t be exactly flat, but just try and make sure that your body/spine aren’t pivoting/leaning at an angle. You should be putting equal pressure/weight on each side of your body. This equilibrium starts with your feet and extends up through your hips up along your spine.  I tend to lean into my work and twist my spine to the right- no wonder my left side hurts!

The seat of your chair should be at a height so that your knees are at 90-degree angle. If you have an adjustable chair, use it- Don’t just jump into sewing without adjusting (as I often do) and regret it later.

2. Try and get your forearms level. Ideally you want your elbows bent at that perfect 90-degree angle (sound familiar?) and your fingertips resting on the sewing plate of your machine. This is easier said than done. If you have an actual sewing table with that nice little cutout your machine sits in that lets you get your work surface level with your arms, GREAT. Unfortunately, I don’t currently own one… So let’s see what I can do in the meantime…

In order to get the forearm support I need I went all Macgyver and came up with my own “sewing surface”. I’ve been using a plastic scrapbooking supply box that butts up to the machine to form an even work surface (for smaller pieces). This helps take some of the strain off of my wrists and forearms, but unfortunately does NOT form the critical 90-degree angle- thus leaving my neck and back open for a world of strain and pain. Now that I know how important it is, I’ll definitely be investing in a dedicated sewing machine table!

3. Relax! Do your best not to slouch- try to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed. Most of the time this seems impossible. I know I start out with the best of intentions, but after 10 minutes I’m back to slouching, scrunching and twisting. I find I need helpful reminders to correct my posture periodically: I’ve printed up a simple sign and posted it on a neasrby wall in direct line of sight from my work area. It’s subtle message reads “DON’T SLOUCH!!!

4.Take a break! Ok, I know this is (very) hard to do, but you have to do it! I often get so into my work that I forget to eat for an entire day, much less take a break every 30 min to hour. Nonetheless, you gotta do it! I used to think setting a timer sounded hokey- but it works. Find something active to do during your break. Get up and stretch, go outside for short walk around the house and enjoy the fresh air  (that is, if you don’t live in the frozen tundra!)

5. Mix it up! You can also try switching your craft/sewing, etc activities out. Even if it’s not as “efficient” I like to mix it up a bit. I often will switch from sewing to piecing to ironing to painting to an outdoor photography walk and back. I’m still being productive, but not killing myself in the process. There is something to be said for artistic martyrdom, but that something is NOT positive.

Well, Hope this helped out. It certainly helped me to vent. Hmmmm…. I think I’ll be adding a sewing table to my last minute Xmas list! Good luck with your projects and happy (pain-free) sewing.


Helene :)

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