Sewing Ergonomics —12 Tips to Prevent Back Pain and Poor Posture

We tailor deserve a huge gold medal.

The back pain, sore swollen feet (just to name a few) we get from a long day of trying to make people look beautiful is excruciating. 

After a long day of sewing, I always ask my little cousin to walk on my back.

My bones crack like a bad DVD.

Let’s not even get started about how my posture declined.

I was slouching so low, you’ll think I might fall.

You probably can relate.

Recently, I reduced these pains to the barest minimum and improve my posture. 

Sewing ergonomics!

Ergonomics is simply the design of equipment to reduce operator fatigue, discomfort and injury.

Now put sewing and ergonomics together.

Sewing ergonomics is the design of the sewing room, which includes modification of machines, tools and workstations to reduce discomfort and prevent injury.

But how do you go about this?

This article will discuss a few ergonomic concepts and application in the sewing room.

I will also briefly show you a five minutes workout that has helped me reduce backache and improve my posture. 

Sewing Ergonomics – Concepts and Application

Here are some basic sewing ergonomics concepts and how to apply them.

1. Sewing posture.

The first thing you need to pay attention to is your sewing posture.

The design of the workstation affects your sewing posture. 

However, the most important part of your sewing posture is how you yourself sit while sewing. 

You should sit upright, back straight and feet directly under your body.

Be sure to align your feet with your hips.

Avoid stooping over or bending your back. 

Your hands should be straight and directly perpendicular to your body.

 This will reduce lower back pain.

2. An Adjustable Chair

Why does the chair have to be adjustable?

You might ask.

Well, for one thing, the designer of any chair didn’t have your specifications in mind while making the chair.

Therefore, discomfort is inevitable.

But when the chair is adjustable, you can manipulate it to suit your specifications.

You can adjust the height, position the head or back rest, etc. to ensure your maximum comfort while sewing.

This adjustable chair should have a headrest so your neck doesn’t hurt and a backrest to support your lower back. 

I hate sitting at a spot for a long time because my butt starts to ache, but it helps if the chair is padded.

Your adjustable chair should have cushioning so your weight is evenly dispersed.  

I recommend using a low back chair with wheels for increased and easy mobility instead of a stool or the regular wooden chair.

The chair should be placed at a reasonable distance from the sewing machine.

3. Adequate Lighting

This is very important  

The sewing room should be properly lit, with lights directly on top of the workstation.

This will give you a proper view of the machine and the fabric you’re working on without needing to slouch.

I am addicted to nighttime sewing.

I have all the time in the day to make my dress, but trust Tobi to always do things last minute.

Most times, I make my attire the night before the occasion.

I always made use of a torchlight, or a rechargeable lamp or even my phone’s torch.

One time, I even used a candle.

You know that feeling you get the morning after you visit the gym. That is exactly how I feel the following morning.

Recently, I fixed a fluorescent bulb in my sewing room.

It’s really bright so I can use it for my night time sewing.

Invest in a dazzling light fitting for your sewing room. 

If you’re trying to save cost of electricity, make sure your sewing room has an enormous window.

Ensure your workstation is close to this window, so in daytime, you don’t have to use electricity.

4. Adjustable Ergonomic Tables

Invest in a height and tilt adjustable table to help you access your work and prevent awkward positions.

A popular alternative is a tilt table or the tilt’ able table.

This tilts the table slightly towards you to improve your view and prevent slouching.            

The table should be adjusted such that the elbows and wrists are kept straight while sewing.

Any table level too low or too high will lead to a high level of discomfort for the machine operator.

There should be enough room underneath the table for leg mobility.

The table should not rest on the thighs, as this can be very uncomfortable.

5. Proper Treadle/Paddle Care.

Most sewing machine requires paddling with an inconsiderable amount of force.

This could lead to a great deal of pressure on your lower body.

Ensure you oil the joints on the treadle of your sewing machine regularly.

This will prevent it from becoming stiff and thus reduce the pressure needed to run it.

Ensure that the paddle is placed at a reasonable distance from your feet, not too close or too far.

6.  Adjustable Ironing Table

As a tailor, you will not only spend a long period on a sewing machine, you will also spend a reasonable amount of time ironing.

The ironing table should be adjusted such that it reduces muscle strain.

It should be placed at a level slightly below the elbow.

This will prevent you from stretching way up because the table is too high or stooping too low.

Ensure you stand straight, shoulders and elbows relaxed.

Also, make sure it disperses our weight on both feet.

Avoid leaning on one leg as this could cause sore knees. 

A stool is optional as many people iron while standing. 

However, if you must use a stool, make sure it is adjusted to a level where your elbows will be slightly above the table level while seating.

The iron chord can be such a pain in the butt, always crawling everywhere like a snake.

One way to ease this discomfort is to hang the iron chord.

Using a hammer, attach a medium-sized nail to the wall.

You can hang the chord on the nail so it doesn’t disturb your ironing.

To eliminate the stress of bending to switch off and on the iron, you can use a wall socket or an extension box positioned on the ironing table.

7. Ergonomic Cutting Table

 Your cutting table should also be a little lower than your elbow level.

This will prevent you from accidentally hitting your elbow on the cutting table.

This will also give you enough room between the table and your shoulders so you can cut fabric with relaxed shoulders.

8. Tools are in good condition

You will also need to ensure that your tools are in pleasant condition.

For example, stiff scissors require you to exert more pressure on your fingers.

This could lead to a sore palm and fingers.

Scale indicators on your tape rule have to be clear and fade resistant to prevent you from straining your eyes.

9. Take breaks

You don’t have to finish a garment in one breath.

Sitting for too long regardless of a proper posture can be very tiring. 

Take frequent breaks in-between.

You could set a timer to remind you to take breaks.

Walk around, stretch your muscles, and return to work full of energy and fully revitalized.

10. Exercise

Regular workout or yoga also help to reduce body pains and improve posture.

If you find out that you still have reoccurring back pains and your posture is still poor, I have a five minutes workout routine that can help you.

This routine helps me relax and stretches out all the muscles in my body.

  1. First, get a towel.
  2. Roll it up tightly and secure it with a rope.
  3. Place it gently on the floor and lay down on it, face up with your waist directly on top of the towel
  4. Place your hands above your head, but still on the floor.
  5. Join your two middle fingers and your two big toes together
  6. Hold this position for 5 minutes. Repeat this procedure morning and evening.

You will notice your muscles loosen up as you stretch your entire body.

In a short while, your posture will improve, and the back pain will reduce drastically.

11. Organize your tools

Organize your threads, needles, scissors and other tools so that they are easier to find when you need them.

Picture by: Ksenia Chernaya

Benefits of Sewing Ergonomics

  • As a designer, your best marketing tool is your own body.

You need the right posture and gait to showcase your merchandise.

  • Reduce pain of sewing.

Like I said, sewing can be a bit painful sometimes.

Sewing ergonomics can help you reduce the pain and stress that come with sewing.

  • Sewing ergonomics allows you to fully optimize your environment for comfort.

This motivates you to complete and take on new tasks.

  • Sewing ergonomics helps you to be more organized.
  • It makes sewing more fun.   

Conclusion

Minor changes in the sewing room make a substantial difference.

Sewing ergonomics improves your sewing experience by making it less painful.

The note of caution however is not to copy exactly what worked for someone else.

Ensure your sewing machines, tables, chair and tools align with YOUR body angle.

The whole setup of your sewing room and workstation has to be perfect for YOU—this is the most important part of sewing ergonomics.

Let me know in the comment section what new ergonomic concept you learnt and how you hope to implement it in your sewing room and work station.  

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