Thursday, August 2, 2007

Stress Free Ergonomic Quilting

Ergonomics is the biggest problem most people face when machine quilting. Because domestic sewing machines were never intended for machine quilting when they were originally designed, and the design has not changed much over the years, they can lead to a great deal of stress trying to manage a quilt in such a small area, but machine quilters have invented clever ways to adapt.

Usually most quilters complain of sore, stiff neck, back and shoulder pain after quilting on a domestic sewing machine, and this is usually the biggest frustration that causes people to give up or to send their "tops" out to a long arm quilter. After asking alot of people for advice, these are the things I came up with that helped me eliminate all of those limitations and problems:

Quilting on a domestic machine embedded inside a sewing cabinet allows you to keep your wrists at a comfortable position while you quilt, and is THE very BEST option, if you can afford it. However, its still not a perfect solution, because quilters have such limited field of vision on most domestic sewing machines, we have a tendency to lean forward to see better and that means our posture and our wrists are no longer where they should be to avoid muscle strain and repetitive motion injury.
There is another option thats even better, you can have a custom cabinet built just for your machine so that you are able to sit perpindicular to the machine (think of a capitol "T" and your machine is the lower portion of the T and you are the cross bar sitting at the machine). This way you have unlimited freedom to move your hands to the right or left and the quilt can comfortably spread out to the left and right of you as well. The Juki TL-2010Q is a great, affordable domestic sewing machine for sewing in this way because the head of the machine has a very streamlined shape allowing you to have maximum field of vision if sitting perpendicular to the machine (see photo above). It also has a higher and wider throat space than a standard domestic machine, and comes with an extended table that sits low to the ground. Another huge bonus is that this machine also has an automatic needle down position option, which is a tremendous help when doing free motion quilting with a marked design because it helps you save your place when you need to stop in the middle to reposition the quilt or to rest. 

There are other great options available to help improve your comfort and skill:

A Sew Steady Table, as a substitute for a sewing cabinet, helps keep your arms and wrists at the right level while letting your quilt rest on the table without you having to struggle to manage the weight of it while you quilt. It is an acrylic table that surrounds the arm of your machine to simulate a cabinet like experience. I also prop the back of my machine up from the back side with some inexpensive plastic door stoppers so my field of vision is improved. Having an extra table in front of the table you are sewing on can also help catch the quilt to prevent drag, making it easier to move around.

The one drawback to using the Sew Steady table is the friction that is created from sliding your quilt over the plastic surface. You can compensate for that by using the Sew Slip product (see below) which will help the surface become slick which is very important for any kind of free motion quilting. The other drawback is that the quilt has a tendency to get caught on the corners of this table, causing you to possibly lose your control over following a design or causing thread breakage, especially if you have a larger quilt or are using heavier batting. If someone can sit by you and help you keep the quilt moving along while you quilt to prevent it from hugging the corners, that is a nice way to fix the problem.

An Ergonomic Chair can really be of help because your back needs alot of support while you are quilting. There are alot of models available through the internet. Here is one place to get started. The "saddle chair" has been popular with some quilters, and I can personally attest to the comfort this chair provides, especially for the lower back, but there are many different models to choose from.

Banquet tables, the inexpensive, collapsable kind, are very convenient for quilters because you can place two together for layering and pinning your quilt, and while quilting the quilt, the quilt has a place to rest, rather than dropping to the floor, which will help your arms, wrists, neck and shoulders from having to constantly be strained from the weight of the quilt. These tables can be 'propped up' with inexpensive PVC pipe slipped around their legs, when you want a "taller" height for cutting your pieces, which saves alot on lower back pain.

The Sew Slip product allows you to create a slippery surface underneath the area of the quilt you are working on while machine sewing, which gives you a gliding experience rather than push and tugging your way through the experience and it does make a tremendous difference on the strain placed on your wrists and shoulders.

Quilting your quilt in thirds is another option that can add to your ability to quilt with more comfort and success. The middle of the quilt is the toughest part to quilt because the throat space fills up with bulk from the batting inside the layers of your quilt. You can eliminate that bulk by quilting your quilt in thirds. All you need to do is divide your batting into thirds, and begin with the middle third, then butt the two ends together, zig-zag stitch them together, then proceed to quilt the outside thirds. It works and you cannot tell after the quilt is finished that the batting inside was sewn together. You could also try quilting with the thinnest loft batting possible to try and eliminate bulk, but if you want alot of loft to show off your quilting and give it more dimension, quilting in thirds is a great way to go.

Long Arm Quilting Machine Options
I started this blog to document what I've learned  on how to quilt your quilt on a domestic sewing machine.  However, I have also spent many years doing due diligence on long arm quilting machines.  A few years ago I tried the APQS models, the A-1, the Handi Quilter and the Gammil.  At that time, I found the Gammil to be the worst on my list and the A1 to be the best on my list in terms of being the easiest to use.  However, recently I tried the Gammil again and learned that they had changed their track system and I was amazed at how easy it was to use and have now found it to be the best machine on the market for a long arm machine with a frame (not a sit down long arm).  Here is a video I made showing the model I was able to try at the 2016 Road to California Quilt Show.  I also had the chance to view and record the new Bernina Sit Down Long Arm that debuted in 2015.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Thank you SO much for this post, what a wonderful help.