3 tips to finding your best ergonomic sewing posture
Sewing can be such a pain in the neck, literally!
I want to help you change that so that you find your best ergonomic sewing posture, which will allow you to enjoy the act of sewing for longer.
Here are three simple tips for you.
1. READY: Check your equipment
Setting up your equipment in the right way makes a significant difference to how you feel as you work. In fact, it can be the difference between crippling back pain at the end of the day and skipping out to dinner with your family.
Let’s start with your essential sewing room equipment; your sewing machine, chair, cutting table and ironing board. These all need to be adjusted to your individual height to avoid any aches and pain.
Your sewing machine
If your sewing machine is higher than your elbow measurement you are raising your shoulders to sew, causing back and neck pain. This can make bigger projects much harder to finish and even cause you to stop sewing long before you are ready to retire your favourite hobby.
To find your perfect height you need to understand your best ergonomic height from your individual ‘baseline ergonomic angle measurement.’
Sounds complicated but believe me it really isn’t!
Here’s how to do that.
Sit tall, relax your shoulders, let your arms hang at your sides. Without moving your shoulders, keeping upper arms at your sides, bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Measure from the bottom of your elbow to the floor. This is how high the sewing surface of your sewing machine (or machine bed) should be.
Yes, the machine is almost sitting in your lap. If your sewing machine is higher than your elbow measurement you are raising your shoulders to sew, causing back and neck pain, and even RSI.
You could adjust the table height to elbow level by cutting down the legs or if the table can’t come down any further, move the floor up. Raise your chair until your hands are resting on the sewing surface with your elbows at 90-degrees. Build a platform under the sewing table until your feet are resting flat, and your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Use boards or blocks with grip to get the right height safely.
Remember, check behind your knees to ensure there is no pressure from the front edge of the chair on your sciatic nerve and artery. The floor pedal should be under your foot with your knee bent at 90 degrees. Don’t sit in a position where you are stretching out to reach for it. That changes your hip position and twists the back.
Sew with both feet. Use the right foot for a bit, then move the foot pedal over and switch to the left. Simple tricks like this will relieve pressure points as you work.
Your sewing chair
Just like any other chair, your sewing chair should be set at the best height for you. If your sewing chair is too low you stretch up to meet your work, causing shoulder and back overstretching. If your chair is too high you stoop your shoulders over your work to compensate, leaving you with neck and back pain after a brief time.
Here is how to adjust your sewing chair, or chose a new one to suit your safest ergonomic height.
Your cutting table
Stooping or overreaching to cut fabric on your sewing room table can also cause stretching or tensing of your muscles, both equally leave you with pain after hours of work. Here is how to adjust your current cutting table, or choose a new table to suit your safest ergonomic height Having your table at the right height can also improve cutting accuracy, which in turn will help you save waste.
Your ironing board
Your sewing room ironing board is another crucial piece of the sewing triangle, it is something that you use several times during the day. Again, stooping or overreaching can cause pain and discomfort after too long. Start with your ergonomic baseline angle and reduce the depth of your iron.
Here are some tips on how to set up your ironing station.
2. SET: Warm-up before you start
I wrote an article for Make Modern magazine about treating your body as the most important piece of equipment in your sewing room, which is something I am incredibly passionate about. In that article I talked through some simple exercises you could do whilst waiting for your longarm quilting machine to finish a program run, or your iron to heat up. The idea behind these exercises can also be applied just before you start sewing for the day.
I know it sounds crazy to warm up before you sew, but think about it, your body is about to tackle a full-on day of labor, making sure your muscles are ready for that will keep those aches and pains at bay.
Let’s do the Shake, Rattle and Roll Exercise
Stand in the center of your room
Shake your fingers, hands outstretched for 5-60 seconds.
Rattle the floorboards by stomping your. if you are standing then shake your fat quarters or jiggle your jelly rolls. for 5-60 seconds
Roll your shoulders for 5-60 seconds
Repeat or start sewing.
Doing this everytime you get a spare minute, it will help warm up your muscles and your circulatory system, an important part of your body’s health.
You should feel some tension in your body as you exercise, but never pain. If it hurts at any point, then stop. Disclaimer - Consult your Doctor or healthcare provider before starting any exercise program or trying any of the stretches or exercises, especially if you have any injury, disease, disability, are taking medications or have other concerns.
3. SEW: Check your posture as you sew
As we get in the zone, chain piecing one block after another, our shoulders roll forward, the head extends to see better, the neck bends and the back begins to hunch. But who cares I’m getting so much done! Not good.
Posture correction as you sew will stop you from falling into unhealthy habits. I admit I am just as guilty of reaching for my sewing pedal as it gets away from me as I sew but taking some time to reposition it during the day, will save leg overstretching and hip twisting.
Here are some tips for better posture in the sewing room:
Sit tall – imagine a string on the top of your head pulling you up tall.
Roll your shoulders back, slide them down your back, drawing your shoulder blades together – don’t squeeze or tense.
Relax your shoulders, don’t let them scrunch up.
Reposition yourself and your equipment if you need to.
Remember to look up occasionally and away from your sewing
Don’t forget to take regular breaks
Understanding your best ergonomic posture and following some simple tricks will have you feeling great, not only throughout a long day of sewing but for years to come as you develop and enjoy your sewing hobby. Take some time and rethink how you sew, I promise you won’t regret it!