Sewing can be a real pain in the neck, but it doesn't have to be. These moves can be done right at your sewing machine.
6 best stretches for quilters who really want to avoid aches and pains
Ergonomically speaking our bodies were not meant to be hunched over desks and sewing machines for extended periods. In fact, we don’t do well in any pose for extended periods of time. It can cause aches and pains. If you are like me, however, you have just got to finish that free motion quilting design to finish your latest project or trim it with the perfect complementary (but bothersome) bias.
So how do we help keep our bodies feeling healthy during the day as we sew so that we can avoid the aches and pains of the evening?
I have 6 easy stretches you can start doing every day that will go a long way to helping keep those niggles and pains away.
6 best stretches for quilters
Here are are my favourite stretches for quilters (or anyone who is stationed at a sewing machine for a long time). Each is primed to deal with potential problem areas as a result of sewing and each exercise can be done whilst you are in your sewing chair!
Please be aware before undertaking any exercise you should always seek professional advice, especially if you suffer any illness or disability, or are taking medication. Whilst I am a trained professional, I am not your trained professional and I do not have your history to hand to make personalised advice.
Having said that, let's look at those exercises!
1. Upper back / Shoulder Stretch
Sitting up straight, lace your hands together and then push them out in front, first with palms forward, then with palms facing in, you will feel a slight difference in the muscles activated. Hold each pose for 30 seconds.
This is designed to work the muscles around your upper arm, shoulder and upper back. You should feel a slight tension, but not pain.
2. Arm stretch / Overhead reach
With hands laced together or held apart, reach up, stretching overhead, hands can be facing in or out. If you bend a little to one side, you can now feel the opposite side lengthening. Hold 20-30 seconds, then repeat bending body towards the opposite side.
Again you should feel movement in your upper arms, shoulders, back and sides, but not pain.
3. Hand Stretch
Hold your arms out either in front of you or to the sides. Give your hands a shake, get the blood pumping, now wiggle your fingers, then make two tight fists and squeeze. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat the shake and wiggles.
This helps you avoid cramps from sewing (or even typing if you are at work) and brings more movement to your arms, hands and fingers. As with all exercises, this should not hurt you, but you should feel a little tension as the muscles move to their new positions.
4. Tricep Stretch
While one hand reaches overhead to give yourself a pat on the back, the other one gently cups the elbow to hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Don't worry if you're not actually touching your back, just aim for it.
You will feel a slight tension in your arm, shoulder and top back muscles, but again no pain. If you do feel any pain you must stop immediately.
5. Wrist / Forearm stretch
Hold your hand out in front of you with the palm facing upward. Grip all four fingers with your opposing hand. Gently pull the fingers down towards the floor and hold for 10-20 seconds, gently releasing your hand back to starting position. Repeat with the other hand. The tension in moving your forearm muscles will help relieve tension from holding your arms in hunched positions over the sewing machine for extended periods.
6. Shoulder / Chest stretch
Open arms out wide with fingers splayed - jazz hands - or hands behind your back, whichever feels comfortable. Open your heart chakra by pushing your chest out and breathing deeply. Hold for 30 seconds whilst you breathe a few deep breaths. Be sure and keep shoulders down if they want to scrunch up. Visualize squeezing your shoulder blades down and together.
This is great for opening up the chest and relaxing the medial deltoids (top of shoulders). Tight chest (pectoral) muscles can really draw our neck and shoulders forward and affect our posture and can lead to kyphosis, more commonly known as hunchback. Stretching the chest is mandatory if you are at a desk, on a laptop or sewing machine or anything where your focus is forward and down.
How else can I make a difference and start feeling better?
Stretching is great and I recommend that you build simple stretches into every part of your sewing day, whether you are at your desk, standing at the cutting table, or even on the phone with a friend.
The exercises above are designed to be done at your sewing machine, to alleviate the aches and pains of a long day sewing. They can also be done whilst standing at your ironing board, or even after you have finished the gardening, keeping you healthier and happier as you go about your day-to-day.
There are other things you can do, specifically in the sewing room that will help you further. Firstly there are other stretches, that tackle other parts of your body, like my Hamstring Exercise, or exercises that improve your posture. If you’d like a monthly stretch guide, then join me in my newsletter and I’ll keep you on track!
Secondly, you can relook at your sewing machine set up, from an ergonomic angle and make simple adjustments that make a huge difference. Here’s an article I wrote that will walk you through the “ready, set, sew better” idea. This same article will help you relook at your entire sewing room, from the sewing machine to the cutting table and even your ironing board.
Why is that so important? Because every task we undertake has its own effects on the body and our posture if we spend long enough posed in the same positions, or moving in a very limited way. Doing what we can to improve our natural range of movement keeps us happily sewing for many more years to come.