I love my new craft room. Paint on the walls, organization in the closet, every tool within a fingertip's reach - it is like living in a dream. So what happened to the crafter who suddenly got everything she always wanted? Like a childhood chocolate-factory fantasy, she lived happily ever after. But then a pain in her wrist started to develop, accompanied by a tweak in her back and a slightly pinched nerve somewhere in between. It seems that all those years of crafting over the coffee table, stitching on the floor, and using the bed as a cutting surface (don't ask) added up to pain in all parts. So she learned a new word: ergonomics.
Ergonomics is an applied science "concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely," according to Merriam-Webster.
For a craft room there couldn't be a better plan than efficiency and safety in design. Crafters of all kinds create in small spaces meant for other activities (you know, scrapbooking at the kitchen table between meals) and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, ergonomic risk factors are found in exactly those kinds of spaces in jobs, or crafts, that require repetitive movement, fine hand-work, constant pushing and pulling, and most importantly "prolonged awkward postures." Sounds like my entire sewing experience. Though I can't go back and undo the years of cramped coffee-table sewing I endured, I can embrace ergonomics for the future and create a more friendly stitching station while encouraging others to do so too.
The first step in assessing your ergonomic situation is to sit at your sewing station as you would when stitching, stitch a few lines if you have to, and then take a look at your position. Are your shoulders raised, your wrists bent or forearms resting on the sharp corner of the table, your legs jammed as you push the pedal? These common awkward postures are often caused by a chair that is too short or too high. The goal is to create a supportive environment that keeps your body in a near-neutral position where knee, elbow and seat angle are around 90 degrees, shoulders are down and wrists and neck are elongated, not bent. Adjustable chairs, wrist pads, foot lifts and even adjustable height sewing tables are all tricky ways of getting your station to fit you perfectly.
Next, take a look at the other activities you perform while sewing. Does your hand get sore from scissors, or your neck tire from bending over to squint at a skipped stitch? Think about investing in more ergonomic spring-back and bent shears that require less force on your part. They even have electric scissors these days for just this kind of thing. Do you squint from lack of light or lack of sight? Whatever the issue, address it with a light or magnifying glass and hopefully you'll assist both your neck and eyes at the same time.
All activities you perform as a crafter have some potential for repetitiveness built-in, but that doesn't mean that every time you string a bead on a wire your fingers are doomed. The most important weapon in your arsenal against awkward pain is taking breaks and switching activities. Which means more crafts for you! So start crafting with awareness now and you might just live craftily ever after.
Find more information about ergonomics and your sewing environment at the US Government's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website