Proper Quilting Posture protects you from injury and, in the long run, will make you a more skilled quilter. If you have ever experienced pain in your back, arms, or hips while piecing and quilting, then learning about posture may be helpful for you! Keep reading to learn how you can enjoy sewing and take good care of your body!
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Unfortunately, posture is far from a popular topic, and I wouldn’t be surprised it it’s not something you’ve thought a lot about. Even more unfortunately, I frequently see amazing quilting instructors— folks I admire deeply— slouching at their machines. It makes me sad because I suspect they are in pain, and, if you struggle with slouching while you sew, you probably are too. Please, let me help!
A couple of years ago when a new chiropractor took over the practice I frequent (Healthlink Family Chiropractic, if you’re in the NE Atlanta suburbs and need a great chiro!), he asked me at one of those early visits, “What do you do on the weekends?? Play rugby??” You see, I was about a year into my free motion quilting journey and didn’t know about proper posture. As a result, I had sports injury like symptoms in my elbows, shoulders, and neck. Fortunately, Doc not only adjusted me, but also began to teach me about how to align my body to prevent future issues. I’m only human, so I won’t claim perfect posture, but I’ve come a long way in both my understanding and practice of how to align and hold my body while I work. I want to help you, too!
Basic Sitting Position
According to Dr. Mario, “Sitting is the new smoking.” If he’s right (and I suspect he is), then we’re all in a heap of trouble. We sit a LOT, and it’s doing damage to our bodies. When it comes to sewing, we need to do some sitting, of course, so let’s make sure we do it as properly as possible.
(stay with me if you’re concerned that “properly” = “super uncomfortable.” While healthy posture takes time to develop, it is not a super uncomfortable position— promise!)
Our general habit when sitting is to be back on our tailbones, making a “C” with our abdomens, and rounding our shoulders. Add to that the fact that we’re trying to see better, and we tend to jut our necks out at a strange angle. If I’m honest, when I do this, I look like an angry turtle. Alas!
Proper posture, by contrast, is much more upright and open. Think of how you might sit if you’re excited or anticipating something— sit forward on your sit bones, engage your abs so your rib cage is over your hips, and relax and open your shoulders (you’ll feel a slight “pinch” between your shoulder blades). Finally, slide your head back over your shoulders and feel the strain release at the base of your neck.
At first, this position will feel unfamiliar. It’s not even uncommon to be a little sore at first as your muscles adjust to this new way of sitting. Over time, though, you’ll find that other discomforts are lessened because you’ve invested in your posture and are taking care of your body. Pay attention while you sew, give yourself grace if you find yourself slipping back into slouching, and check your posture often to maintain alignment.
One last note: notice that the sewing area of my machine is level with the bottom of my rib cage. Adjust your chair or table situation so that your actual stitching space is thus aligned as it makes it so much easier to hold your posture AND do all the moving around you need for sewing.
Basic Standing position
If you’re working at a standing table (such as for cutting) or on a longarm, the basic positioning is the same. Keep your feet about shoulder width apart, and keep your work (or longarm) directly in front of you so you are not twisting or leaning while you work. Be especially mindful of your neck position when long arming. It’s so easy to find yourself with your nose down by your needle, but such positioning over time will cause pain or even permanent damage to your neck and spine.
Remember— use your eyes to do the looking, not your nose, and don’t be afraid to slow down or pause in order to see what you’re doing. Preserving your body is worth working a little slower!
Good Movement Habits
In addition to having good habits while you are working, it is important to have good habits when you’re not working, too! This includes taking breaks and caring for your body after a long quilting session. While these aren’t necessarily habits that jump to mind when we think about “how to be a good quilter,” I consider them extremely important
Take Breaks- I’m all for focus, working hard, and getting the job done, but for something that is as physical as machine quilting (or cutting or piecing), it is important that you change things up every 30-60 minutes. Walk away from the machine, get your blood flowing, maybe do a little yoga or go check the mail. Sitting in particular, but standing in place, too, can restrict circulation in your legs, so make sure to move around a bit throughout your quilting session.
Drink Water- Right along with moving around is water! Be sure to stay very hydrated while you’re quilting. It will help with circulation, but it also will help your muscles recover more quickly at the end of your quilting session.
(Speaking of recovery, I also use doTERRA’s DeepBlue Rub on my arms, neck, and shoulders after I quit. it’s an all natural muscle rub that is amazing for reducing inflammation and soreness. You can find out more about doTERRA here)
Yoga- I love doing yoga after I quilt because it promotes healthy circulation, helps prevent back pain associated with prolonged sitting, and encourages relaxation. If you’re new to yoga and stretching, start with these 5 Poses for Healthy Hip Flexors.
More of a visual and auditory learner? Follow along while I talk you through these ergonomic sewing basics!
The bottom line is that while posture and exercise might not be the “sexiest” of topics when it comes to talking about free motion quilting (surely feathers and McTavishing have much more pizazz!), they are crucial to long term success and health as a quilter. In fact, if you are ready to take your free motion quilting more seriously in general, I’d like to invite you to Free Motion Quilting Academy, my online course that takes you from being a beginner quilter to a confident intermediate quilter in just a couple months. You can truly be a quilting rockstar!
PS Don’t forget to pin this post so you can find it later!