Have you ever had something in your life that you loved dearly but caused you pain?
[Insert joke about an ex-partner here, LOL 😆]
Sewing! You love sewing, but it can be a source of pain and discomfort if proper sewing ergonomics are not followed.
Sewing ergonomics is the study of how sewing affects the body and how to minimize any negative effects.
This article you will discover:
🪡 The importance of good sewing posture
🪡 What an ergonomic setup looks like
🪡 Techniques for maintaining good posture while sewing
🪡 Exercises to prevent discomfort and pain
🪡 Tips for managing sewing-induced pain
OK, grab an ice pack, pop an Advil, and let’s get started.
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Understanding Sewing Ergonomics
In sewing ergonomics, you create a workspace and use sewing supplies in a way that maximizes efficiency while minimizing any negative effects on the body.
Good sewing ergonomics can:
💪 Prevent pain and injury
💪 Improve productivity by reducing time spent readjusting the workspace (and body) to find something more comfortable
💪 Decrease the amount of time spent recovering from pain
And guys, the effects of bad posture and poor ergonomics are numerous (as you might suspect).
This terrible twosome can cause back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and eye strain.
What’s more, poor ergonomics can also lead to repetitive strain injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and rotator cuff injuries.
As sewists, we love to make one-of-a-kind garments for our one-of-a-kind, strong, and all-around amazing bodies.
It’s kinda horrific to think our beloved sewing practice could be twisting us into painful knots! 🤯
Tips for Better Sewing Ergonomics
In an ergonomic sewing setup, you have three big elements to consider: the table, the chair, and the lighting.
A sewing machine that is too high or too low on a sewing table or desk can cause neck and shoulder pain. The table should be at a height where the arms can rest comfortably on the table while sewing.
An ergonomic sewing chair is adjustable and has good back support. Its backrest should support the lower back.
The sewing chair should be adjusted so your feet are flat on the floor (use a foot rest if this isn’t available to you) and your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
Lighting for Sewing
Proper lighting for sewing rooms prevents eye strain. If your workspace is too dim, you’re at risk for headaches, blurred vision, and fatigued facial muscles (caused by squinting).
Good Posture in Action
So, what does proper posture while sewing look like?
- Relaxed shoulders (I struggle with this! My shoulders creep toward my ears.)
- Straight back
- Straight (not bent) wrists
- Elbows close to the body
- Feet flat on the floor
Check your body against this checklist to see which elements of your sewing space need adjustment.
This illustration, while it shows a woman at a computer and not a sewing machine, gives you a good idea of what good ergonomics looks like, particularly in the arms, wrists, and legs.
Stretching and Exercise for Sewists
Let’s get to the sweet stuff: how to move your body to relieve sewing-related ouchies.
Stretches for the neck, shoulders, back, and wrists can help to prevent injury and pain.
(P.S. The following stretches and whatnot in this article are not medical advice, and you DEFINITELY should get with a doctor for advice on movements and treatments that are best for YOU.)
Neck Pain ➡️ Try tilting the head forward and back and side to side.
Shoulder Pain ➡️ Try bringing the shoulders up to the ears and then relaxing them down.
Back Pain ➡️ Try standing and reaching the arms over the head and then bending forward at the waist.
Wrist Pain ➡️ Try flexing the wrists up and down and side to side.
Yoga poses for sewists include (links go to instruction of the movements):
As a yogi, I can confirm that a little stretch sesh of these poses would feel AH-MAZE-ZING.
How to Manage Sewing-Related Pain
Sewing may seem like a low-impact activity, but it can actually cause a lot of physical strain and discomfort, especially when done for long periods of time and when the motions are repetitive.
Pay attention to your body while sewing. If you start to feel any discomfort, PLEASE take a break!
Common early warning signs of pain and strain include:
- Tension headaches
- Eye irritation
- Sore shoulders and neck
- Back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or fingers
If you experience pain during sewing sessions, there are a few things you can do to alleviate it:
🩹 Take breaks often and switch up your sewing tasks
🩹 Stretch regularly
🩹 Use heat or ice therapy
🩹 As covered above, get your sewing ergonomics in order!
Final Thoughts About Sewing Ergonomics
Good sewing posture and ergonomics can help prevent pain and injury, increase your output (if that’s important to you), and make your sewing practice overall more enjoyable.
Assess your sewing station to see how you could be sewing smarter to avoid unnecessary discomfort.
Over to you, sweet sewing friends: How ergonomic is YOUR sewing studio? Mine could be better, especially when it comes to comfortably placing my arms on the sewing table. Please leave a comment, and thanks for reading! 💙
One thing that I’ve been keen on for a number of years now is to sitting on flat backed chairs. This information came from my late old school chiropractor after injuring my back quite dramatically to the tune that I was unable to walk. The culprit was my swivel chair and bending at the knees.
Another item that I’ve found helpful is my Sew Steady. My sewing machine is a ~1982 Viking Husqvarna that didn’t come with its extension table so I was very pleased to have found a company that customizes such. It helps because it adds height and levels the surface area for sewing which helps to keep my arms level and gives them a place to rest while I’m sewing.
Our 14+yo Border Collie is all too happy to play any chance he can get! Ever since the pandemic hit I’ve made certain that he gets his exercise and he loves it and it’s good for me too. He has found the habit of nudging my hand, staring me down or traveling in circles to get my ‘playtime’ attention. We play a version of chase as well as hide and seek, sometimes combining the two, and he never tires of it!
Another item for me is having a pair of glasses in at least two areas of my sewing area which helps to relieve eye strain.
And last but not least is sufficient lighting. I have a large window that overlooks my sewing machine; about three can lights above my layout space and I two telescoping LED lanterns that my Sweetie loaned to me. Those LEDs are invaluable for when I’m pattern drafting because they help to eliminate shadows.
Oops! I almost forgot my ironing board. I bought a used dresser and made the top of it into an ironing board. It’s a bit higher than a traditional one and far more stable and I don’t have to put it away!
Hi, Roberta. Thanks for reading! I love your ironing board dresser. That’s brilliant. Storage + pressing station = very cool.
Sometimes I feel like all the lights in my sewing room are overkill, but they make a HUGE difference. It’s such a simple thing to just bring in another light or wear a headlamp for detail things. Shadows? Who’s she?