Sunday, September 1, 2013

Warning: Quilting May Be Hazardous to Your Health!


            For all it’s been portrayed in the past as a little old lady activity, let me tell you this straight up – quilting  is  not  for  sissies.   What seems like an innocent creative process is in fact, rife with danger – a regular landmine of potential for bodily harm!   In fact, it’s a good idea to be in tip-top shape if one wants to complete with the big girls and avoid being sidelined by potential quilting injuries.  Perhaps there should be a warning label on your sewing machine-something like this:   

            As with any activity, see your doctor before attempting quilting activities.  Possible side effects occur with every stage of quilting and may include the following:  Cutting  fabric, which depending on design and size of the piece, can take hours – many hours-of standing in the same place and  carries the risk of moderate to severe varicose veins, sore feet and bunions.  Repeated hunching over may increase crick in the neck and crossed or blurry eyes due to lining up and squinting at fabric for hours at a time.  Tendonitis may develop at wrist or shoulder from repetitive cutting motion, and the potential for blood on the fabric and extreme annoyance may arise from using a sharp rotary cutter, especially exacerbated when drinking alchohol while operating machinery.   

            Please note:  A cutting table that is the incorrect height may lead to mild to severe sore back.  It is recommended therefore to have the exact correct dimensions before attempting this stage of quilting.   ( I do my cutting on my kitchen island, which was handmade by my husband for our family, and so is the perfect height for 5 foot 11 inch me.  But the kitchen is downstairs, and my studio is upstairs, so I often find myself going up and down the stairs 50 times a day , which greatly increases the chances of tripping and falling down the stairs and sore knees, not to mention extreme fatigue! )

              Seemingly the least dangerous of the quilting activities, piecing carries some of the most worrisome health hazards for the unsuspecting quilter.    The potential for smallish injuries such as sewing one’s fingers (yes I have done it and yes, it hurts – badly) or poking one’s fingers with the needles while changing them, or sticking pins in your hands or legs while pinning is greatly increased at this stage.   While obviously not life-threatening, these wounds can be quite  painful and annoying– like paper cuts - they seem like they shouldn’t hurt at all, but they just bug you all day.   A less common, but most serious side effect is the slight chance of heart attack or stroke.  (This risk is increased by certain activities, for example, let’s say one is doing curves and it is going badly…naturally this is not a risk for the zen quilter, but still, the potential  for extreme frustration  must be mentioned. )    Running oneself ragged going back and forth from the sewing machine to the iron (which carries the added risk of  burns) has been known to occur in some quilters.

              Sandwiching the quilt is potentially backbreaking work, especially if one is doing it on the floor.  Make sure to have good ventilation to avoid inhaling the harmful chemicals of the adhesive spray  and also, a pillow is recommended  to protect the knees from severe arthritic damage.  Dizziness may occur from the awkward position one is in while pinning.  Dry mouth and even severe dehydration from sweating profusely are the most commonly reported side effects of sandwiching.  Remember:  the larger the quilt, the more potential for harm to back, knees, shoulders – a queen size has the  potential for more serious problems and a king size – well, that could lead to death.

             Aside from the aforementioned hazards of sewing machine operation, the act of quilting carries with it an inherent danger of mild to severe crick-neck and hunch back and less common but more problematic is the potential for moderate to serious shoulder injury from pushing the heavy quilt around for countless hours at a time while tensing muscles to control the direction of the quilting.  ( For example, I have developed such a pain in my shoulder from quilting a queen-sized quilt on an eleven-inch armed quilting machine that it is keeping me awake at night!   It took me a while to realize that this is what caused it as I hadn’t had any obvious occurrence that would have caused this much pain,  but now I refer to it as “my old quilting injury.”   But it’s not all that funny, really, since it hurts, and it’s stopping me from further quilting!)  

            It should also be mentioned that quilting carries with it the potential for accelerated aging due to additional wrinkles that might occur from squinting  at  tiny stitching, or even broken teeth due to tensing jaws or clenching teeth while concentrating for countless hours or spending endless frustrating moments pulling out said tiny stitches in the pursuit of perfection.

            It is recommended to stop quilting if severe side effects occur, and immediately seek a doctor’s help (preferably a psychiatrist) if despite above injuries you still continue to have quilting symptoms.  Regular exercise is recommended to prevent further quilting injury, including sit-ups, yoga and deep breathing to relieve stress.   Do drink alchohol while operating this machine, as it may help reduce the symptoms of frustration and rage associated with quilting.

            Last, please see the insert for the further warnings and additional mental health risks associated with quilting, all of which cannot possibly be addressed on this warning label… 

            Yep, quilting can pose a serious health risk - I’m surprised anyone over forty even attempts it!  But despite my injuries and even the potential for rapid aging, I still love it and I’ll take the risks again and again  - probably until I am one of those (not so little) old ladies myself.  And I’ll have the scars to prove it...IF I make it that long!