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15 Ergonomic Tips for Quilters

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Quilting is a rewarding craft that provides hours of enjoyment and satisfaction. It is also a hobby that is fraught with ergonomic pitfalls. It is important to keep these ergonomic tips in mind during each step of the quilting process.

Gathering Quilting Materials

The process of assembling the materials for a quilt often involves bending, stooping, and lifting. All these activities place strain on the body, so using proper posture and technique significantly reduce the risk of injury.

  • To prepare for lifting, position the body as close as possible to the item, to reduce reaching.

  • When lifting, the back should be kept straight, and knees should be bent. The load should be raised by straightening the knees, rather than the back.

  • To put down the load, bend the knees again, rather than bending the body at the back or waist.

  • The proper stance for lifting is with feet about shoulder-width apart. The head, neck, shoulders, and hips should face the object, to prevent twisting.
Laying out the Quilt

Most quilters spend long hours in front of a cutting table before they ever begin sewing. Because cutting requires long hours of standing and reaching, ergonomic interventions can eliminate stress to joints and muscles, along with serious injury.
  • The table height should be customized to the quilter’s height. To find that height, the quilter should stand in work shoes and bend elbows to a 90-degree angle. The proper height for the table is two to three inches less than the distance from floor to elbow.

  • Pushing two tables together to make one large work surface presents a hazard. It increases the amount of stretching and reaching, which can injure the neck, shoulders, and back. Optimum stretching distance is fourteen to sixteen inches.

  • A padded mat next to the table will reduce fatigue and circulation problems.

Ergonomics and Rotary Cutting

Besides the sewing machine itself, the rotary cutter is probably the most frequently used quilting tool. It is important to keep ergonomics in mind when selecting and using the rotary cutter.
  • A rotary cutter with a thick, padded handle reduces stress on the hands and wrists, therefore decreasing the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • The work surface for rotary cutting should be slightly lower. Rather than adjusting the table, it is easier to keep a pair of thicker soled shoes handy to wear during cutting.

  • While cutting, one foot should be kept slightly in front of the other. Bending should be done at the waist, and the head should stay aligned with the shoulders and hips.

  • The duration of rotary cutting should not exceed two hours per day, and frequent breaks will further prevent pain and numbness in the wrists and hands.

The Ergonomically Friendly Sewing Station

The final and most time-intensive step of quilting is actually assembling the quilt on the sewing machine. This task involves sitting for a long time, so body posture is an important component of comfort and injury prevention.
  • Feet should rest flat on the floor, with knees at a 90-degree angle. Elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle, with wrists and hands resting comfortably on the table.

  • It is important to center the body in front of the needle, instead of the machine. Centering with the machine requires maintaining a static twisted posture.

  • The distance between the body and the machine should be roughly six inches.

  • Rather than holding the weight of the quilt in the lap or arms, the workstation should have enough space to the left and behind for the quilt.
With thoughtful choices about work surface configuration and posture, quilting can be a safe and satisfying hobby.

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