Thursday, April 30, 2009

3 Steps to Sewing in Comfort

Do you ever get up from sewing and quilting and stretch, creak and groan, feeling uncomfortable and tired? It's very possible that it isn't from your project, it's your sewing table and chair!

Being comfortable while sewing and quilting is more important than your sewing machine, tools, fabrics or threads because you can have the best equipment in the world but if you are in pain or straining when using them you won't be able to sew or quilt for very long! Your body may be sending messages to your brain saying "no more sewing" because of that strain and yet you want to sew!

Ergonomic comfort is often completely overlooked, especially when we don't have a dedicated sewing area. I often hear or read about a quilter "taking over the dining room table" and it makes *my* back hurt just reading those words!

The important ergonomic factors of sewing in comfort are:

1. Height of your sewing table. A dining room table average height is 29-30 inches high, which by itself is too high for comfortable sewing, and when you add the base of the sewing machine, about another 3 inches (bringing the height up to 33") , the proportions are totally wrong. Just that small bit of difference can create strain and pain throughout your body. Here's what OSHA (US Gov't Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has to say about Sewing Stations.

2. Notice that number one on their list is height of the chair. I put it at number two because it can be easier to change than table height. An adjustable chair is a must for sewing! Here's what the Center for Disease Control has to say about chairs:

"Contrary to popular belief, sitting, which most people believe is relaxing, is hard on the back."
3. Position of the sewing machine. Many sewing cabinets (if your machine is in one) position the machine too close to the body, and the sewing head is "off center" to your body, putting shoulders and arm muscles in a strained and awkward position.

More about Ergonomics from Wiki ...


Table height: I do not advocate cutting the legs off your dining room table (unless you want to) but I do strongly advocate getting or using any other table than your dining room table for sewing. Some quilters turn a small bedroom closet into a sewing area, with a board or shelf inserted to serve as the sewing machine support. I use portable tables that have height adjustable legs ($42). Certainly an investment in your comfort is worth it! Make sure that when your machine is set up that you have a 90 degree or slightly greater angle at your elbow. You should not be "reaching up" to sew. My sewing machine bed is 27" high and I am 5'6" tall. Petite women are especially vulnerable to the agonies of mis-proportion for their sewing machines.

Your chair is your best friend when sewing! More than your seam ripper! Okay, a seam ripper is nobody's best friend but you know what I mean. A height adjustable chair is the best investment you can make (the kind for office work). Your feet should be flat on the floor but if you cannot manage this please put something on the floor for your feet and foot pedal to sit on. A strong cardboard box, a plastic bin, a small step stool or a crate, anything to take the pressure off the backs of your legs. I also like a square of gripper mat under the foot pedal to keep it from "creeping" away while I sew.

Position yourself with the needle lined up with the center of your body so that neither arm needs to strain to reach the sewing area you are using. Now push your machine away from you until your arms are at little more than a 90 degree angle, but your shoulders aren't straining to reach the needle.

I like a totally flat surface around my sewing machine and I've written more about that in my Cheap Sewing & Quilting Table posts and my videos on YouTube. Before I discovered the foam board, I was using a really strong cardboard to create a flat surface around the machine. There are also manufacturers of custom tables which accomplish this. Check your local sewing machine dealer for more information on them.

Be inventive! If you can afford custom cabinetry, have your sewing components made to fit you and don't be afraid to modify them until they do! (You should see how many cabinets I've taken a jigsaw to!) If you cannot afford custom cabinetry, make or adapt your own with materials you can afford like I did :) But either way, please make sure that you are comfortable when you are sewing and quilting and this goes for pressing and cutting too. When you are comfortable your sewing projects will really become your "Zen" haven of peace and happiness for your body and your creative soul.

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If you found this helpful, would you consider sharing the information with your sewing and quilting friends, in person and online? I am on a mission to make sewing comfortable for all - please join me and spread the word! You can share this Tiny URL:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Meet Judy

My friend Judy Wedemeyer is a quilt artist. She's also one of the nicest people I've ever met. I was a newbie to quilt pattern designing, about fifteen years ago, and she went out of her way to give me tips, business contacts, advice and encouragement when I thought I'd created "the next hot thing" in quilting. How nice is that!?

I want to be like her.

I also want to be a quilt artist someday and so I follow her around like a puppy, soaking up her art and her enthusiasm and pulling out my old attempts at quilt art and wondering if maybe I can do something really unique like she is.

Take a peek at her Art Cards, her studio, and her techniques on her blog and pull out your scraps and doo-dads and let's follow her inspiration!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Check out this adaptation of my "cheap table"

Barbara Fons used my foam insulation and clear vinyl ideas to make a "Faux Longarm" as she calls it - I might have to give this a try!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Would you consider teaching?

Today I went to my local library, after posting notices at the grocery stores, library bulletin board and on my local online newspaper, to teach anyone who showed up the basics of a sewing machine - for free.

I've given lectures about quilting before and was surprised at how many of the attendees had never threaded a sewing machine and were afraid to! Yikes! We can't let these gals be afraid of sewing!!

I set aside 2 hours, wrote up some notes (which I would be happy to share with you) and made arrangements to use the meeting room at the library (also free to non-profits!).

I had several people tell me that they were excited to attend, but who turned up was two young girls, sisters, who's mom had seen the posting and suggested that they attend. What a treat!! I LOVE teaching kids! We had the whole room to ourselves and they felt free to ask any question that they thought of - and boy did they!

I explained and then demonstrated: how a needle and bobbin work together to make a stitch; how to test bobbin tension; how to clean the bobbin and race area and what the parts are and how they are used; how to thread the machine and the major differences between the three machines that I carted down there.

They were enthralled! And then they got to sew! Straight stitch, decorative stitch and free motion! They had a great time. They enjoyed the quilts I brought along and the handled all the parts, checked out the machines with a flashlight and watched the gears in motion - - these two will never be afraid to change their bobbin tension!

I talked about threads (my favorite subject) and had them touch and then break many samples so that the understood how different threads can be. All in all, a great time was had by we three, and I am SO glad that I did this and that they patiently and then eagerly listened, learned and then tried for themselves.

Would you consider doing the same? For your local Girl Scout troup? Your after school program? Anyone who shows up for a Library gig? I can and will do all I can to help, you only have to ask - - and the reward of a new sewing enthusiast's smile is payment in full.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I love inspiration! I get it from quilt shows, group chats and PEOPLE! I meet a lot of people online and I love that so much - I *love* getting emails from new and old friends :)

I also read a lot of books (paper and and electronic). I've read Jack Canfield's books The Aladdin Factor, Goals, The Success Principles. They gave me great inspiration and I re-read them regularly, but on the recommendation of a friend, I bought Book Yourself Solid.

I am hoping to do some traveling and teaching in the future and this book is helping me in that goal as well as sparking some great ideas! (I'm also reading online A Brief Guide to World Domination.)

Alaskans in my area are keeping a weather eye on our erupting volcano, Mt. Redoubt. This is a webcam aimed at the building lava dome.

Redoubt is a pain in the neck. She's disrupting air travel and making everyone up here nervous about ash and winds and more ash. {I was very tempted to call her a pain in the ash!} But, I never argue with Mother Nature, she gives me the best inspiration of all! What inspires you? What do you read for inspiration?

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Sewing Studio

Right now my studio is a 9' x 11' bedroom and I share it with a very spoiled pet rabbit. The rabbit doesn't live in a cage, he goes wherever he wants in the house and he believes that the room belongs to him. He lets me in for a while but if I stay too long he nips at me. Then I lock him out :) {See that wire gate behind him?} After about half an hour, I let him back in again and he settles down and lays on the carpet by my feet. This wall has my pegboard with rulers, patterns and anything else I can get to stay on a hook. You can see my cutting table and the storage bins under it, my folding table and some old ironing boards. I used to use them to prop up big quilts before I "invented" my cheap sewing table :)

In this photo you see my lighting and tripod and backdrop for videotaping. Behind the quilt top {Sarahs} are the shelves we built into the closet, after taking the closet doors off. For lighting on the ceiling I have a couple of 4' long florescent fixtures with daylight rated bulbs and I love that. When lighting for video, I use the portable closet rack that you see here, with some clamp lamps that have daylight rated bulbs in them. The brown sewing desk is a recent purchase that houses a vintage Kenmore - and what a find it was! Fantastic stitching and cams that I can't wait to try out.

On this wall are my buckets of scraps, color sorted, and a couple of small tables with threads, bobbins, old Kenmore and bobbin winder among the clutter. In here we have stripped out the old carpet and I primed and painted the floor with a gorgeous milk-chocolate color floor paint. This room is eventually going to become a spare bedroom {Audrey's Room when she visits grandma?} with maybe some of the coloring and drawing supplies on the shelf. Then she will have to share it with Bunny. Won't that be fun?!

On the next wall I have a small design wall stapled to the drywall. I have a few small tops pinned to it, reminding me that they need to be quilted. The bins have my threads, sorted by color and by thread type, the rayons are in the top bins and the cottons in the small bottom bins and in the lowest bins are ribbons, interfacing and other miscellaneous sewing items. My cutting table is covered with stuff and the bins below it have unfinished projects or else fabrics (there are 4 bins total under there).

Next we make a trip upstairs, to the top of the garage, which has been unheated and partially insulated. I've stored rolls of batting up there and other miscellaneous odds and ends, and Tom used it for all of the boat soft gear (sleeping bags, raingear, etc.) as well as years of accumulated family clutter.

Now he's working hard on fixing some problems up there, adding walls, and I've been cleaning, sorting, moving stuff and painting. Here's what one wall looked like before we got started. We work on it between other tasks around the house. When this project is complete I hope to move all my sewing and quilting things up here!

So, there you have it! I invite you to check out some other sewing studios using the link at the top right of my blog and also at Quilt Videos.

If you see anything in the photos that you are curious about, just post a comment or email me and I'd be happy to tell you what it is or why it's there. Also, there are a few things missing - -my sewing table is in the living room right now, along with the machine that I use the most, my Bernina 180. Thank you very much for reading my blog :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Meet Susan

I met Susan through a Yahoo group that I belong to (Stashbusters) and I liked her from the first few lines of her post:

"I just wanted to share what I've been doing with some of the scraps members have been sending me. This Quilt of Valor has scraps from New York, Louisiana, Montana, Indiana and Ohio! How cool is that--put together for one Soldier."

If you follow the link to her blog you will see that she also loves (and made!) one of the Confetti Quilts and hers is gorgeous!

I have met some great quilters and wonderful people on the internet and I'd like to introduce some of them to you too. I think you might like them :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Imaginary Friends

I just about peed my pants when I saw this! I need some imaginary friends - doesn't everyone?

Friend Feed is the "new" place to be, and if I can create imaginary friends there, well, why write another novel?

I find some interesting stuff on this internet - and I *love* the stuff that makes me laugh, makes me think and teaches me something new. I'll share a few favorites with you in the upcoming weeks.

Meanwhile, I'll be over on Friend Feed having some tea and scones with my imaginary friends :)

Come join us, won't you?

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Applique Quilt Book Winners!

Sarah Vanderburgh and Delys are the two lucky winners of Kay's Book Easy Applique Blocks. Don't give up if you didn't win, just hop over to Kay's blog and follow her Book Tour because today she's with quilter extraordinaire Gina Halliday and Gina is giving away a book too!

Thank you for signing up for this great book giveaway and stay tuned for more!

Spring Cleaning!

We are at it again! This is part of the ongoing saga of a small (poorly insulated) house in Alaska and my never ending love of changing things. It is only slightly quilting related because I *may* be moving my quilting stuff to another part of the house soon (as in: out of the living room, bedroom and garage :)

We started with a "sort out" of stuff that's been untouched since dinosaurs roamed Alaska, and have moved on to insulating. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate fiberglass insulation? I love the foamboard insulation (as you might have seen in my Cheap Sewing & Quilting Table Tutorial) but oh how I hate fiberglass! I start itching the minute I even *think* about fiberglass!

I've insulated before, helping friends, then insulated my two cabins that I bought (and sold) here in Seward, and slowly we've been insulating Tom's old house. See me covered head to toe when I was doing one of the cabins? LOL! A (former) friend had promised to come help me and never showed, so I did it all myself, from ceiling to walls, and vapor barrier too. The folks at the local home improvement store know me by name! I propped my little camera up on a stump and put the self timer on to take this pic - I was so proud of myself for getting that job done!

Have you gotten the spring cleaning bug?