I’ve had sexy orthotics in my runners for years, but my legs will still pay the price if I stand on a hard surface for too long. Even if, like me, you are already wearing the right shoes, you may still benefit from using an anti-fatigue mat in your sewing room. I have two: a large one in front of my longarm and a smaller one by my cutting table. When I have a lot of pressing to do (but not enough to sit down) I just drag a mat over to the ironing board. When I'm cutting out a new quilt, I position my anti-fatigue mat in front of my cutting table.
Here in Canada, all of our building supply and home furnishing stores carry anti-fatigue mats in varying degrees of quality and price points. While speaking at the Festival of Quilts in the UK, this summer, I was surprised at how many people were not familiar with them. I had lectured attendees from Germany, England and Ireland that had never noticed these for sale. They may have just not been looking for them, but they sure are now! My dad and brothers are machinists and I've worked in a few restaurants, so these are all too familiar to me.
Anti-fatigue mats are specifically designed to reduce the fatigue and discomfort that happens when standing on hard flooring for extended periods of time. They provide a cushioned surface that encourages slight leg and calf muscle movements. These micro-movements increase blood flow and circulation , reducing the amount of stress and fatigue on the body. A perfect mat will be firm enough to support your weight, but will still ‘give’ slightly under your feet to create instability and promote blood circulation, which relieves tension from pressure points in the lower back, knees, calves, ankles, and heels.
In 2012, two professors at Loughborough University, George Havenith and Lucy Dorman, conducted a study of anti-fatigue mats in a special laboratory created for the test. The study involved 14 participants who stood on either a concrete floor (no-mat condition) or on anti-fatigue mats (mat condition) for 90-minute sessions over a 5-day period. Pain, discomfort, tiredness and fatigue that might develop after standing for prolonged periods were measured by a variety of methods; these included infrared thermal imaging, body temperature sensors placed on the participants, infrared photographs and post session questionnaires.
After evaluating the results, the researchers found that standing for the 90-minute periods caused serious discomfort to the feet, legs and back of the study participants. The researchers also found it caused stiffness to the neck and shoulders. The study concluded that the use of mats designed to reduce stresses on the feet and legs, when standing for long periods, made a statistically significant difference in helping to prevent many of these health concerns.
6 Things to consider when purchasing your mat
Size Matters - Softer and thicker may not always be better. Choose a mat that provides some elasticity, but at the same time is not so soft that you feel wobbly or cannot stand on comfortably. Mats that are 1/4″ or 3/8″ thick will provide very little relief for your feet and back. Halfway-decent mats begin at 5/8″, and the very best will be 3/4″ thick. Keep in mind, though, the material matters as much as the thickness. A 3/4″-thick sponge mat won’t provide as much support as a 5/8″ thick solid polyurethane mat.
Compression – Material compressibility is what determines how comfortable a mat will be for prolonged use. If a mat is too squishy and soft, it will compress too much (‘bottom out’) under your weight, becoming virtually as hard as the floor. They should be soft and have enough cushioning to provide relief and encourage subtle movements throughout the day. On the flip side, a mat that doesn’t compress at all, will create too much pressure on the legs and feet.
Grip - Mats should have enough grip against the floor, so that they cannot easily slide, but not be so sticky that you can’t reposition them with your foot.
Sloped edges - This lessens the chance of having them become a tripping hazard.
Durable - Mats that are completely sealed, with no visible seams will ensure that no water from an overfilled steam iron or spilled coffee are absorbed into the mat.
Aesthetics – Quilters and sewcialists are creative makers that like colour and design. We are visual animals. With so many quality mats in aesthetically pleasing colors and textures, why invest in something you’ll hate looking at every day? I purchased neutral ones that I plan to paint someday. If anyone has any tips on that, please let me know, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Not All Anti-Fatigue Mats Are Created Equal!
Anti-fatigue standing mats were originally designed for factories, warehouses and industrial kitchens. Some of today's versions are great for 20 minutes in the kitchen and are often designed with sock wearing use in mind only. A more durable mat will withstand having shoes on it, yes, we all occasionally sew barefoot, but those pins can hurt. Office-grade standing mats or industrial mats are specifically designed for longer use with shoes.
The best anti-fatigue mats will be much firmer and will maintain their buoyancy, throughout the workday.
Just like a mattress it’s what’s inside that counts. Low-quality mats can’t withstand the daily pounding of feet without breaking down; they tend to lose their cushioning over time. However, for the average sewing enthusiast who is not standing in one spot for an 8-hour shift, a less expensive version might work just fine.
Over the years, I've purchased smaller mats from big box stores and they all worked well for a time. I move my smaller mat between my cutting table and ironing board when I've got a lot to do. Now I have a Vigurus one in the studio, and the older one has found a home elsewhere.
The original one at my longarm machine was $229 from uline.ca, it's 2ft x 12 ft and 5/8" thick. Lucky for me it was a christmas gift from my hubby a few years ago. We're pretty romantic like that! After four years of usde, it too was beginning to decompress, added to that I shortened my frame from 12 feet to 8 feet, so it was time for a new one. Currently I have one of the larger Vigurus Sp1ke mats ($59.95 / $48 with my discount code). The big ones are Inter-connectable, I may add a second one, we'll see.