Yesterday, a fellow quilter, friend and co-worker asked me how I quilt for hours at a time without being sore.
I've been thinking about that. I gave her the suggestions I've always heard. Set a time for 50 minutes and when it goes off, stretch for 10 minutes. Then, go back to it. Problem with that is, the timer never goes off at a point when I want to stop, and if I make myself stop, there's little chance that I can make myself stop for the whole 10 minutes before I'm off again, at the excited pace of a 4 year old on an adventure. And, if I do manage to do all the things I'm supposed to do, I will eventually forget to set the timer and suddenly, I'm off my schedule again.
So, what's the real story? What should I have told her?
First, when I quilt for hours and hours, I expect to hurt. Just like I'd expect a hangover after a night of partying (as if I could still party all night anymore). Sore shoulders are part and parcel of quilting for hours and should be enjoyed, just like a hangover is part of the party and should be enjoyed. I revel in how bad my shoulders hurt while I stand in front of my beautiful quilting.
But, the pain is only part of the story. The rest is how I keep that pain to a minimum and how I keep it from including my lower back, posterior region, hips, thighs and feet.
First, I break my quilts into sections. In a single section, I expect to quilt from the time I start to the time I finish. The size of the section is based on how much total time I have to quilt. So, if I'm quilting in the morning before work, the section may be 6"x6". Or, if I'm quilting on a Saturday morning, while everyone else is abed, it might be a whole border section of a quilt.
The secret is that when I cut the thread, marking the end of the section, I get up, walk around, stretch, get a fresh glass of ice water, potty, stir the soup, walk the dog, change the channel, start a new episode, any of dozens of things that I need to do during the course of a day. And, I may or may not be able to get back into that chair right away after this activity. But, the important part is that I get up. Move that chair and no matter how much my creative juices are flowing and screaming out to keep going because I'm on a roll, I get up.
Because if I don't, I can't. If I sit there too long, something will happen to my feet and when I walk around, it will feel like my left heel is coming through my sole. Or, my hips won't want to support my weight. Or, the angle of my back won't completely straighten out for an hour, leaving my belly hanging over my beltline which perpetuates my inability to stand up straight by putting weight where weight doesn't belong.
And, none of that is particular to my sewing chair (or amusing to watch). It's the same in my fancy ergonomic chair at the office. I have to get up and walk.
So, I schedule sections around my need to stretch. Or better said, around my need to move.
I also have to be conscious of hunching over my work. I tend to do that; as if touching my nose to the presser foot would somehow make my curves more curvy or my lines more straight. I catch myself bent over, twisted like a pretzel, one foot raised on the pedal, the other dangling over the floor, right shoulder high, left shoulder low. I have to remind myself to sit up straight when I catch myself doing that. Hunching is a habit, and there's no reason for it with a good chair and a good sewing surface that's the right height for my body. It helps that I keep my chair very high. As high as it will go, plus two cushions. That puts me in a position that's between a sit and a stand, the foot that's not working the pedal resting on a 70's Reader's Digest Condensed Book (because they're the same thickness as my Bernina pedal), my hips at an angle greater than 90*, and it makes it easier to sit with my spine straight because, in that position, it's more comfortable to sit straight than to hunch over the machine bed. It also keeps my arms at an angle greater than 90*, so I can use my shoulders to help me push the quilt around, in addition to the strength in my hands and arms.
And, that position is more comfortable for chair dancing. And, I am a well known chair dancer, especially at work. I'm an artist. Give me music and I will dance! I must! (think those last two sentences in your best Gretta Garbo imitation)
Add to that, regular looks around. That one is good for my eyes. I look up at the TV, or look up to adjust the light, or look off into space waiting for inspiration. About every time the machine stops for me to adjust the fabric, or when some character whose voice I don't recognize speaks, I look up and away from the quilt. Again, I have to. I have quilted until my eyes watered and I could no longer focus. Didn't take me long to break that habit. I'd catch myself unable to focus my eyes and unwilling to stop quilting, and it affected the quality of my work. Made it impossible to travel along a previously quilted line. Impossible to stay in the ditch.
Okay, so I am not an ergonomic expert. And, I probably don't follow the good rules those experts have established. But, these things work for me. I know the experts recommend looking up periodically. And, I know they tell us not to hunch. And, these are ways I've found to remind me to do the right thing, so I feel better and my quilting looks it's best.
Hope that helps someone. Or gives you a good laugh. Have a great Tuesday. Lane