top of page

Free Tutorial : 2 Fast and Easy Ways to Make a Lap Desk For Pain-Free Hand Sewing and Embroidery!

I'll say it again, Sewing can be a real pain in the neck!

We are using more than just our hands when we are hand stitching. Our entire arm from the shoulder, down to the forearm, wrist, and fingers are all involved in the fun, and let's not forget about our neck. I don't do much hand-stitching, but when I do, (like burying threads in this gorgeous wall hanging that I machine quilted) I like to have my work as high as possible. Remember to always bring your work up to your eyes, instead of bringing your eyes down to your work.

How to stay pain-free while hand-stitching

Whether you are hand sewing the binding on the back of your quilt or crocheting your next scarf, remember to always bring your work up to you. Avoid "text neck", instead of bending down to see what's happening, bring your work up to you. Your head weighs about 12 pounds, and for every inch that it is held forward in poor posture, an additional 10 pounds are felt on the cervical spine. Just 1 or 2 inches of bending forward to see your work can double or triple the load on your neck. To compensate, place a pillow or two on your lap, then place your new crafty lap desk on top of the pillow(s).

A padded piece of foam core board is just the thing to prevent arm strain when doing your embroidery, applique, or finishing your quilt. And it's super simple to make.

"When hand sewing on the sofa make sure to put a pillow (or two) on your lap to raise your work higher, try not to stoop down to your sewing or you can have shoulder problems later in life." Jo Avery page 42, Sew Healthy & Happy

Don't forget about your lighting.

Be sure you have a good light to work by. The lamps on your side tables are designed for softer, ambient lighting to relax with. For your handi-work, you need something designed specifically for the task at hand! Task lighting refers to a light source that provides illumination for a specific purpose or task. A floor lamp works well for this, some of them come with attachments that provide magnification as well. A pair of "readers or cheaters" from the dollar store will often do the job as well. If you can't see what you're doing, you'll be bending in to get a better look.

"Early evenings are perfect for cozying up with crochet and knitting projects—but you need a good light to stitch by. When you see better, you craft better!” Tamara Kelly page11, Sew Healthy & Happy

How to Make a DIY Lap Desk for your Applique, English Paper Piecing, or Embroidery.

Materials Needed

Foam core board

  • You will need a piece that's approximately 1"thick, 20" wide/long, and 15" high/deep. It's a little confusing, I think of the width as the long part that goes across my legs and the height or depth as the part between my tummy and my knees. The thickness of your "desk" varies with the material you choose. Use something firm and stable, but still lightweight. Your craft desk can be any size, but I suggest having it wide enough to cover your thighs. In the past lap desks had the pillow attached to a wooden top. These desks take up more space and the top is hard against the forearms which can disrupt circulation. Decreased blood flow can lead to increased pain in the arms, hands, and forearms.

For A Zippered Cover:

  • You will need approximately a half yard of fabric. Upholstery fabric works well, but quilting cotton works too. This could also be a great way to use up orphan quilt blocks, sew a couple together for a custom look.

  • A zipper, approximately the same length as the smaller end, about 15" - 17" long. The zipper will be on the end of the longer side.

For A Pillowcase Cover:

  • Purchase a ready-made pillowcase or pillow sham with a flap enclosure on one end. If the sham is an envelope case ( with the opening in the middle), you may not be able to insert your board as it doesn't bend enough.

Prepare foam core board

My lap desks are made with a foam packing material and not the foam core board, traditionally used for backing on posters. I found my piece of foam in the garage, (it was packaging from something purchased and shipped during the lockdown and I'm a hoarder at heart.) It was the right depth/width but way too long. Which was great as it ended up being the perfect size for me to make two lap desks.

  • To trim the material neatly, I first applied painter's tape then sliced through it with a utility knife. Using tape makes for a cleaner edge. If you only partially cut through, just fold it in as pictured and then complete the cut.

  • The traditional poster board is thinner than the piece of material I used. If your foam core is thinner than you want, cut two or three identical pieces, stack them on top of each other, then secure them with masking/painter's tape.

  • You may want to wrap your board in batting as your forearms may be lying against the board, but more importantly, the bottom edge might be tucked against your tummy or ribcage. If you add batting, adjust the fabric accordingly to accommodate for the added bulk.

Note: I didn't add any additional padding to my desk. Scroll down and see a photo of the lap desk that a lecture attendee of mine, made for an applique class. She added batting to hers and it looks super comfy.

Lap Desk Covers

Method 1: Zippered Cover

  • Cut the fabric slightly larger than the size of your foam core. Add 1.5" to both the long sides and 1.5 " on the end ( for example if the board is 15" by 20", then cut 2 pieces of fabric 18" by 23".

  • The size will vary depending on the thickness of your board. If you are not certain that this will be large enough, cut your fabric a bit bigger and baste the seams, you can always trim some away, but we all know that adding more fabric is more work than trimming.

  • Insert a zipper at one end.

  • If you've not sewn a zipper before, please refer to this zipper tutorial over at I forgot to get any photos during this step and Suzy and her contributors write very clear directions for all of their tutorials.

  • After your zipper is done, the rest is easy.

  • With right sides together, sew sides together with a .5" seam allowance.

  • With right sides together, sew across the bottom, back-stitch for added strength.

  • That's it, you're done.

  • Turn right side out and insert your piece of foam.

Method 2

  • Use a ready-made pillowcase with an envelope closure on the end.

  • To prepare your pillowcase, first, remove any existing top-stitching. If your pillowcase is an "Oxford" style, there will be a 2"- 4" fabric border around the edge, compared to a "Housewife" pillowcase which has just a plain sewn edge. There you go, learn something new every day.

  • Do not unpick the seams, they will either be used or cut off.

  • Turn the pillowcase inside out and press with your iron.

  • Trim to slightly larger than the size of your foam core, adding 1.5" on both the long sides and 1.5" on on the end.

  • Sew down the open side using a .5" seam allowance.

  • Sew the end closed using a .5" seam allowance, back-stitch on the ends for additional strength.

  • To reduce bulk, trim the corners on the diagonal.

  • Return to right sides out and slide foam core in. Done!

This lovely lap desk was wrapped in batting, before being covered in fabric and you can see how well padded and comfy it looks.

It was made by a member of the Yorkshire Rose Quilters’ Guild of Toronto, This sewist who wishes to remain anonymous shared this photo of her creation with me after I spoke to her guild about Healthy Sewing. As a thank-you, I'll be sending her a copy of Sew Healthy & Happy, Smart Ergonomics, Stretches & More for Makers as soon as I can.

Are you ready to Sew Along with me?

Have you joined the

"Sew Grateful for 2021" Sew Along over on Facebook?

It's free to join and there are $1,000 in prizes to be won, including your chance to win one of two Lap Apps.

Take a break from sewing and stretch your neck and shoulders with this stretch from my book Sew Healthy & Happy: Smart Ergonomics, Stretches & More for Makers.

Seated Neck and Shoulder Stretch:

Seated Neck and Shoulder Stretch

Option 1

  1. While seated, grab the underside of your chair with one hand

  2. Gently lean your head to the opposite side to feel the stretch.

  3. Sit up straight and hold the stretch for 5–30 seconds.

  4. Repeat on the opposite shoulder.

Option 2

  1. Place the opposite hand on the shoulder of the side you want to stretch first.

  2. The weight of your head will deepen the stretch more than just tilting your head to the side.

  3. Repeat on the opposite shoulder.

Here are more stretches for quilters, hand-stitchers, and happy hookers.




I used a plastic tote lid, of the right size, as my lap desk. Bed pillow underneath to raise it higher when on my lap. Zig-zagged batting pieces together and used a couple of layers inside a 'pillow case' and put that on top of the tote lid.

I like your idea of using a stiffer foam better. Thank you for the idea!

bottom of page