Sewing in good health : Sewing Room ideas that can avoid pain & illhealth when sewing

Let me confess this first – I am the wrong person to write this post and my husband would have a good laugh if he knows I even attempted to write about sitting postures.

He always tells me that no one standing in front of me can be sure whether I am sitting or lying in a chair. And when I am at my laptop, I slouch so much that one might fear I will get into it and disappear as Nick Jonas did in Jumanji.

Some healthy bones or good genes or my lucky angel is preventing backache from featuring in my hypochondriatic list of ailments.

Professional Sewing involves many repetitive tasks, frequent head and trunk bending movements for a long period, long duration of sitting work without a break. Poor sewing room layout, incorrect table and chair heights, repetitive actions for long hours without any break, lack of exercise – all these results in Musculoskeletal pain (MSP) – simple body pain in my language – but to be more specific  low back pain, neck pain , upper back pain, hand/wrist ache , knee pain , shoulder pain, strain of the  lower limbs.

Enjoying sewing without pain; sounds simple enough – I do not want to self sabotage my own happiness. Here are the most important issues I want to be tackled – the must do ergonomic and otherwise tips to a healthy sewing life till you are a 100+.

Sewing Room Tips

Incorrect sewing height leads to overextending of arms and wrist leading to injury and the shoulders bearing a lot of strain due to hunching over the machine.

If the table is too high, you will lean forward to extend and press the thigh against the chair to get height – if you do this for long it will result in the lower leg getting strained. If the sewing chair is not the correct height, that is, if it is high, your leg may not properly touch the ground.

Lower limb pain, buttock fatigue, lower back pain all are results of the incorrect height of the sewing chair.

An Adjustable Sewing chair is an answer to this – because then you can adjust the height to accommodate the sewing machine height on the table. No straining of legs to reach the impossible height or hunching to make yourself shorter. 

Buy yourself a good adjustable chair that gives you ergonomic support like an angled backrest, padded hand support

Sewing machine table height from 50 mm to 150 mm above seated elbow height is recommended by professionals. Ideally, the table surface should have a slight slope of 10 degrees ie – inclined at a low angle towards you. This kind of tilt will help a lot to prevent/alleviate shoulder pain.

If the sewing machine is not adjusted to your height it will cause the hands to be strained – reaching up to the machines. If the sewing machine is too low you have hunched shoulders and bend neck leading to a lot of pain after some time. The working height of sewing machines should be a maximum of 640 mms above the table surfaces

Place a footrest under the chair to support your legs if you feel that you need that. There are sewing pedals units with support for your other leg which is not operating the sewing pedal. That can alleviate foot pain if you have that because of an imbalance in keeping the foot.

Movement and Load carrying tips

If you have to carry a  lot of fabric boxes and you suffer from upper or mid or lower back pain no one else is to blame but you and the way you carry weight.

When lifting heavy objects do not lift by bending forward. Better to squat and lift – better for your back. You can learn more tips for lifting heavy objects here.

Keep materials at waist level for convenience and ease of taking them out

Keep things you use frequently near the work station to prevent mental fatigue.

Body Posture tips

Sewing, cutting and ironing in positions that strain your body and contort your posture continuously can be very detrimental to your health. You may not notice the effects straight away but over time you will feel tired continuously and may even have spinal deformities. 

The correct way of sitting while sewing can make a world of difference. You should always sit straight up all the way back in the chair with your back against the chair back, with your knees slightly lower than your hips.

Do not sit on the edge of the seat – at least not on a regular basis. 

You should have a direct view of the needle area without bending your neck and your hands and wrists should rest at a more natural position for sewing with hands kept in a straight line without bending with your wrists and forearms and your hips should stay balanced in the chair. The legs should be kept straight out, with feet touching the floor – all these can be tackled by having good sewing tables and chairs as mentioned above

But even with a good seating arrangement, sitting for long can take a toll on your body. The best thing is to move/stretch your body at regular intervals – preferably for 3 minutes every 3 hours

Stretching exercises done regularly can correct bad posture consequences and prevent many of the spinal problems you are heading for in the future. 

Better eyesight tips

If you are doing dangerous work ( Many things can qualify as dangerous in sewing. Sewing over sequins and beads for one. The sequins can fly into your eyes – that is dangerous. I can count many other issues like this) use goggles. You may look ridiculous but that is better than walking around with an eye patch because you do not have an eye.

Your sewing room should be well lit. Ensure that the light is behind you and is falling on your work. This way you do not have to strain your eyes and damage them. Blink frequently as you work to give it natural moisture.

Repetitive stress injury prevention tips

For a person who sews occasionally as a hobby, this section is not a concern – but for someone who cuts fabric whole day or crochets as a profession or knits every waking hour except for some emergencies like eating food, this injury as a result of repetitive action is a reality.

Taking short breaks between and stretching the muscles the correct way are ways to prevent injury

There are scissors available which can make your hands comfortable even if you cut fabric for hours on end. But the normal scissors won’t do that.

The best ergonomic cutting scissors come with a special design that fits perfectly and comfortably around your fingers, causing the least strain on any part of your hands. Some come with a cushioned handle, some come with a nonslippery surface which reduces slipping and thus reduces the amount of force you need to apply on it to cut

Many people prefer to cut fabric with a rotary cutter to avoid the strain on the fingers due to the pinching action.

The correct height of the cutting table is important even if you are using the rotary cutter. You should exert pressure on the cutter from your shoulders and if the table is too high this is not possible. There is a strain on the wrist and hands.  If the table is too low back pain is the result. Cutting Table heights are usually in the range of  34″ or 36″  but you may want to customize the height according to your height 

Prevent Sewing Accidents

Sewing accidents are more common than you may imagine and can cause, at best some discomfort and at worst a lot of pain and damage – here is a post with 10 sewing machine safety rules you need to follow so that these things do not happen to you.

sewing machine safety

Conclusion

The best thing is to not wait for the problems to crop up and then go for medication, surgery, massage, etc. Prevention is better than cure. So if you think that you are a prime candidate for sewing related problems, buy the necessary tools and take all the necessary precautions.

Decide on an exercise program with stretching exercises and stick with it. 

Do not work continuously without a break – regular rest breaks can reduce neck shoulder and low back discomfort and prevent almost all musculoskeletal pains.

Work in a well-knit sewing room

Keep water at hand to rule out dehydration. 

Make a heat/cold compress and use it in case of discomfort. It is really helpful to relieve aches and pains ( And – tada – here is a tutorial to make a heating pad yourself)

We are a lot more advanced than the day when this particular article was published on the effect of using a treadle sewing machine on the health of women. The paddling on the treadle and heaving for breath is no longer a pastime of anyone – highly efficient motors have eliminated drudgery from sewing. But most of us are still a far cry from being in the pink of health after sewing for long hours. Hope these tips help someone (other than me) in maintaining good health while sewing

 

Reference: https://www.academia.edu/20740103/Ergonomics_issues_among_sewing_machine_operators_in_the_textile_ manufacturing_industry_in_Botswana

Comments 8

  1. I must say I am absolutely no doctor however I have experienced sitting all days many, many and I mean many of hours sitting. v.s. standing 10-12 hour days standing and walking, stooping, climbing ladders……
    Conclusion: SERIOUSLY what has made the difference between my old heavy self to now? (without any scietific whatever, whatever), I am now 5’3 100 lbs.
    Why? WALK do not sit. WALK, SKIP,RUN, I look 37 not……. walk people walk it really makes a difference.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Melanie
      Wow, That is a nice tip. Yes our body is meant for movement and I should do that often. Thanks for giving your input.

  2. I have a bar height sewing table in my sewing room and I work standing up, for the most part. The room is carpeted and I mostly work in bare feet. I can work all day in there and not feel fatigued but, if I do, I am sure to take a break and lie flat on the floor for a few minutes to stretch.

    1. Post
      Author

      That is a wonderful way of working – standing up. It is quite the thing right now – standing desks for health. Happy that you have implemented that for sewing

  3. Great article with lots of things to think about. I would suggest that stretching only 3 minutes every three hours is not enough. I think it would be better to stand and do 3 jumping jacks every 15 minutes. It is a huge toll on your body to have compression through the thighs for long periods. On an airplane you don’t have much choice but please sassy sewers, move more often than every three hours.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Uma
      What you said is true- we ought to move more often – but at least every 3 hours if less frequent is not possible. Thanks for the appreciative words

  4. You have put quite a lot of good work into this, well done 🙂
    I will have a closer look at it a bit later.
    I hope you don’t mind if I feel the need to critic on it.
    And I hope you don’t mind if I use your written work in my teaching, I will give you the credit your work deserves. Trust me. <3
    To some the written word sinks in more than illustrating it.
    I am an old fart when it comes to the technic…
    I mean I like to teach my students how to use a treadle / & hand skills, along with an electronic one… Cause you never know. Hey. God bless you for your efforts<3

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Toni
      Thanks for the thoughtful comments . Hope that you only have good things to say when you read more in detail : )

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