Sewing with Arthritis

Surprisingly Effective Ways to Sew With Arthritis (with less pain and stiffness)

About 1 in 4 people in America have arthritis and a lot of those people also love to sew and quilt. Arthritis comes in many different forms and severity and they all will affect each of us a little different but there are commonalities no matter who you are. 

Are you an arthritis sufferer?  If so you don’t need me to tell you that it can make sewing and quilting a challenge, but it shouldn’t stop you from doing what you love. I have osteoarthritis among other things that cause chronic pain and this topic is something I felt motivated to research and hope that you can find some helpful tips.

Here are some things to do to make sewing with arthritis more manageable no matter if you machine sew or hand sew:

  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Eat right
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Exercise/Water exercise
  • Hot or cold therapy (depending on what helps you)
  • Massage therapy
  • Relax – reduce stress
  • Stretch
  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Positive thinking
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Topical creams – be careful not to handle fabric and quilts with creams on your hands as it may stain.
  • And of course any medications your Doctor prescribes.

Sewing with Arthritis - Hand Sewing or Machine Sewing?

– they each come with their own problems when you have arthritis.  It depends on your individual symptoms and severity of those symptoms and if you are having a flare, but either kind of sewing can be problematic at one time or another. 

Let’s look at how you can sew with arthritis with less pain and stiffness.

Hand Sewing with Arthritis

hand sewing with arthritis

Photo by Manlake Gabriel on Unsplash

There are a few things you can do to prevent or at least help lessen the pain and stiffness from your arthritis.

  • Warm up before sewing, if you are going to sew by hand then you can warm up your hands under running warm but not too hot water.  You can also use a hot paraffin hand bath where you dip your hands into the melted wax and then peel it off after it cools. I had one of these when I did massage therapy for a living and it helped tremendously (I think I need to get another one).
  • Stretching your hands and forearms also is very beneficial. Here is a great list of 10 exercises from WebMD
  • Sew in short spans of time instead of marathon sessions and stretch those hands and forearms when you take your breaks. Set a kitchen timer or one on your phone to remind you to get up and move around.
  • Use a needle threader (I like this Bohin Easy Needle Threader) or have someone thread a bunch of needles and put them into your pin cushion ready for you to use. Sometimes it is really hard to get the thread and needle to cooperate without help. 
  •  Sit in a comfortable chair with your sewing supplies in a handy location.
  • If you are really having trouble sewing by hand consider moving to the sewing machine till your hands feel better.
  • Try leather- or rubber- fingertip thimbles. You’ll increase traction without the need to tightly pinch the needle.
  • Elevate your feet if you have arthritis in your feet and knees.

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Machine Sewing with Arthritis

How about machine sewing with arthritis? Many of the things you would do for hand sewing are also effective for sewing on the machine. 

  • Warm up before sewing, this is just about as important when machine sewing as it is when sewing by hand 
  • Stretching your hands, forearms, shoulders, back, and neck is very beneficial. Here is a great list of 10 exercises for your hands and arms from WebMD and here are 3 great stretches for arms, shoulders, and neck.
  • Sew in short spans of time instead of marathon sessions and stretch those hands and forearms when you take your breaks. Set a kitchen timer or one on your phone to remind you to get up and move around.
  • Alternate feet on the presser foot to prevent one foot/ankle from getting all of the strain.
  • Use a needle threader if your machine doesn’t have one built in (Dritz makes a handy needle inserter and threader combo that I use). 
  • Make sure your sewing machine is at the proper height to prevent stress on arms/shoulders and neck.
  • Put your ironing surface far enough away from the sewing machine you have to get up to use it. (I still keep my little ironing surface next to the machine for little projects).
  • Use a sharp rotary cutter and a good cutting mat – or invest in an Accuquilt cutting machine (the electric Accuquilt GO Big would be easiest but I have an Accuquilt GO and don’t have any trouble using it)
  • Take breaks – did I mention that already – good because it is really important.
  • Don’t set yourself really tight schedules to get your projects done. You don’t need the extra stress and your body will suffer if you do.
Photo by Maria Krasnova on Unsplash

Photo by Maria Krasnova on Unsplash

*I am an affiliate of some of the links on this page – this means that I get a small compensation if you click on the link and purchase something. It cost’s you nothing extra.

Sewing gadgets to help when you have arthritis.

There are a fair number of gadgets and supplies that are more arthritis-friendly and that is a great help.

  • A rotary cutter that has a bent handle – ergonomic like the Ergo 2000 or the Olfa 60mm Deluxe ergonomic rotary cutter (this is the one I use all the time)
  • Lightweight iron
  • Accuquilt Go Big
  • lightweight scissors
  • Spring-loaded snips next to your machine
  • A magnet on a retractable stick to pick up pins and needles from the floor – I got mine from Harbor Freight
  • Bent tweezers – mine came with my serger. They are great to hold the thread when threading your needle or picking small things up.
  • Compression gloves – they are fingerless and made for arthritis sufferers.

Be kind to yourself, loving, gentle and forgiving.

Testimonials

I am binding the two quilts today and I just want to say what a nice job you did on them. Thank you so much for generously helping Stitches for Kids supply camp quilts to children in grievance counseling.
Debra! Just received my quilt you finished for me and it's FABULOUS! Can't wait to send you more! Thank you

More Resources:

Arthritis Foundation
Arthritis Foundation

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