Recently, I have been suffering with a few breathing problems and it made me think about my day to day life, where I sit a lot as I sew. Breathing is something we just don’t think about. In……. out, in……..out, in…….. out. But when it becomes arduous and you have to concentrate 100% on maintaining that shallow rhythm, then you swear to yourself that it’s something you’ll never take for granted again. Posture and breathing are interlinked- if you don’t sit properly you won’t breath properly and those niggly aches and pains at the beginning of a project can soon become a long term problem. We can also start to get tension headaches caused by the incorrect sitting position.
When we sew we breath in a different way. When we hand sew, it becomes hypnotic. Just taking the time to become aware of your breathing is as meditative as listening to the needle and thread gently pulling itself through the fabric. You’re lost in the moment. Escaping the usual hustle and bustle of life. For that short time on that day, you are transfixed with creating each and every perfect stitch. Ultimate in indulgence. Relaxing. Slow stitching. Total joy and absolute mindfulness.
Machine stitching is a totally different kettle of fish. We stop breathing when we sew- why do we do that? We’re concentrating so hard on moving the fabric, synchronising the speed, and generating a frenzy of creative energy that we don’t realised how hunched we’ve become or how we are holding our breath until we’ve finished that part of the project. Utterly joyful too whilst we’re sewing, but quite damaging if we don’t have regular breaks to stretch, walk around and take big breaths. I often shout “breath” to my ladies during a machine embroidery workshop, as I see their bodies progressively hunch over their machines throughout the day. From now on I think I’ll build in some stretching activities. I know other textile artists who have had to give up their obsession as they too suffered with lung and neck problems.
So my message today is to make sure you do create time for yourself to find yourself. Sure. Do it. Book that day out by yourself or with a friend and have something to look forward to. But be aware of how you are sitting, how long you’re sitting for and most importantly, your breathing.
Sewing has become the love of my life, be it sitting on my lonesome together with my thoughts and soulful music or in a busy noisy room full of other creatives rocking with machine embroidery. I want to sew for as long as I can so maybe I have to limit myself and think about the effects long term. Maybe that whole process means that the previous time I have allowed myself to indulge will now become more productive all round. I will have to schedule time, so will therefore have to have a clear idea what I am actually going to do in that time slot. Stitching mindfulness. Maybe it’s something we ladies of a certain age all need to spend more time thinking about.
Tips for a Happy Body and therefore more hours of Hand Stitching
- Set a timer. Be time led rather than task led- I use my phone timer and set it for about 45 minutes, then try (not always successfully) to stand up and move around for a while before settling down again. It is far too easy to become totally involved in my piece at the moment that I could quite happily ignore the timer and continue stitching. So I try to work on 2 or 3 projects at once, which is good as you automatically change to a new position with each one.
2. Posture. I see many ladies at workshops sitting at their table ready to sew but actually they perch on the edge of their chair and sew on their laps, leaning too far forward and with their neck really bent- Do try to work on the table, as it is slightly higher and your neck will appreciate it. If you like stitching on the settee, try using a lap tray.
- Stretching. interlock your fingers and raise your arms above your head; clench and open your hands a few times; turn your neck from side to side and hold for a few seconds; Roll your shoulders backwards and forwards; Take some deep breaths
- Lighting. Make sure you have the best light possible. Move your chair to the light as it changes direction throughout the day. I have an overhead standard lamp and a craft desk lamp, both of which have daytime bulbs and magnifiers. They seem quite expensive initially but soon become their weight in gold.
- Avoid crossing your legs. This is the one I find the hardest but I am becoming more conscious of how long I do this for. Just being aware of this is a good start.
Tips for a Happy Body and therefore more hours of Machine Stitching
1. Make sure that the table is the correct height- when sewing your hands should be in a straight line with your your wrists and forearms. If your table is too low, you will strain your back, shoulders and neck. If it is too high, you will be lifting your shoulders which will make you tired and tense.
2. The height of your chair should be adjustable, and you should sit upright not slouching. use a cushion so that your weight is evenly distributed and no one body part gets all the pressure.
3. Your feet should be flat on the floor or flat on the pedal, not just your toes. Wrap elastic bands around the pedal to stop your foot slipping.
4. Your elbow should be at a 90 degree angle so that you can avoid the joint pain which will create the strain in your hands.
(This picture above is a good example of how NOT to sit properly! My chair needs to be higher or the table lower, as my elbows are not 90 degrees and my chair is not far enough under the table)
This is a very watchable and informative video which I recommend:
Id love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this- I’ll keep you posted!