Sewing is a Pain in the Neck

Ergonomics - Is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely —called also biotechnology, human engineering, human factors.

Do you get a backache and neck pain while sewing? Are your legs cramping? Is there tingling in your hands and forearms? These are all symptoms that your posture is not right while you are at the machine. There should not be any pain or strain associated with sewing. One of the key concepts of ergonomics is keeping your body in a neutral position as much as possible. Neutral position is the most relaxed state for your body. Your weight is centered and your limbs are relaxed.

Your sewing chair should be a secretary type with a rounded front edge without arms. With your hips all the way back in the seat your feet should be flat on the floor. Now run your hand behind your knees. There should not be any pressure on the front edge of the chair. Pressure on the front edge of the chair cuts into you sciatic nerve and your popliteal artery. Your knees should be equal to or slightly higher than your hips. This will move your weight from your thighs to your seat. Your lower back will feel better because it is straight and your stomach is sucked in. This chair is much lower than you think. If you tend to slide forward in the chair the seat is too high. Second hand office furniture stores are a great place to find chairs. Make sure that they go low enough for you.


Sit up straight with your back against the back rest, relax your shoulders, let your arms hang limp at your sides. Now with out moving your shoulders, with your upper arms at your sides, bend your elbows up to a 90 degree angle. Measure from the bottom of your elbow to the floor This is how high the sewing surface of the of the machine should be. Yes, the machine is almost sitting in your lap. The distance from the seat of the chair to the bed of the table is usually about 9 inches. If your sewing machine is higher than your elbow measurement you are raising your shoulders to sew. That is what is causing back and neck pain.

This is also the height your computer keyboard should be at. The middle of the monitor should be at eye level. Between sitting at the sewing machine and sitting at the computer your back is spending a lot of time in the wrong position.

Adjust the table height down to the level of your elbows by cutting off the legs. If the table can not be adjusted down, move the floor up. Raise your chair until your hands are resting on the sewing surface with your elbows at a 90 degree angle. Build a platform under the sewing table until your feet are resting flat and your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Use boards or blocks to get the right height. Remember, check behind your knees to ensure there is no pressure on the front edge of the chair. 

The control pedal of the machine should be positioned under your foot with the knee bent at 90 degrees. This is not a car. Don’t be stretching out to reach for it. That changes you hip position and twists the back. Sew with both feet. Use the right foot for a few minutes, then switch to the left. Yes, you can sew with your left foot. You walk with it don’t you?

The cutting table should be about 3 to 4 inches lower than your elbow when you are standing. If you are using the dining room table put bed risers under the legs and it should come up to about the right height. You will be able to cut for longer periods with more accuracy on a higher table. If the bed raisers are not high enough nail them to wooden blocks.

The ironing board should be a couple of inches lower than the cutting table. This allows you to get over the iron and apply pressure. Look for a heavier wide body ironing board with four legs. They are more stable, therefore safer, than the T-bar type.

Twice as much light is needed for sewing than for reading. A large swing arm desk light is great for over the machine. The more light you have the easier it will be to see what you are sewing. There are some LED lights available that stick under the neck of the machine they really light up that dark area. Always keep a spare lightbulb for your machine on hand. The rule is that they only burn out on Sunday evening when you have a project that must be finished by Monday morning.

Having the right glasses will reduce strain. The focal distance for a sewing machine is longer than for reading. It is usually the same as your computer focal distance. While sitting nice and straight, measure from the tip of your nose to the needle of your machine. When you have your eyes checked ask to have a prescription for this focal distance. It is often the middle focus  in trifocals. Get an inexpensive pair of glasses that you will use while sewing or computing. You can also try cheaters from the drug store. Measure from your nose to the advertising. Try on glasses until you find a pair that helps you focus at that distance.

This is all about you. The sewing area should be set up to your requirements. It is your space, your hobby and your creative time. Be good to yourself and you will get more done in less time.