Hand Sewing with Hand Pain

/ posted in: Quilting
Slow Sunday Stitching

I’ve had to take a break from my hexagon quilt from April until a few weeks ago because I injured myself hand sewing. I ended up with tendinitis in three areas of my right hand and brewing problems in my left. I lost my grip strength and had tingling in the fingers of my right hand. I had injections and slept with a splint on for months. I’m better now and here’s how I’m going to try to avoid hurting myself again.

Support Your Work

This spring I started sewing my hexagon quilt together. Once those hexagons got all together they got heavy. I’m left handed so I was using my right hand to hold the pieces together. I was gripping hard and incorrectly.

Now when I’m sewing rows together I have the bulk of the quilt sitting on a pillow on my lap so I’m not holding the weight in my hands. I can just have the two hexagon edges I’m working on held in my hand so I don’t have to use so much force.

Keep a Neutral Thumb

My hand doctor told me that I have increased laxity in my thumbs that can lead to incorrect grip and eventually arthritis. It is seen mostly in women. This is an instance where being bendy isn’t good.

Wrong Way

Right Way

When I grip small things like needles my thumbs want to collapse in instead of staying straight. The doctor told me not to grip small things. That isn’t going to work. I was thinking one day that it would be nice if I could think of a way to hold a needle with a bigger grip. I looked at my hand held in a neutral position.

And then I laughed and considered how much of an idiot I am. I’m a veterinarian. I don’t do surgery anymore but I spent years doing that. Looking at my hand brought it back. I needed needle holders.

I brought home some needle holders and surgical needles. The needles didn’t work so well because they are triangular instead of round. The needle holders held the regular sewing needles fine though. My thumb stays neutral and I can sew without pain. Previously I could sew for about 15 minutes and it would hurt for 2 days. Now I’m good.

It goes a little slower than hand sewing but with practice it is getting faster. I can also do tighter knots at the end now because I just tie suture knots with the instruments that are much more secure than hand sewing knots. (If anyone is interested I can show those. They work great for tying quilts too.)

You can get needle holders in farm supply catalogs and on eBay. Fancy ones can be really expensive but you don’t need ones that are going to hold up to being sterilized a lot. Cheap ones work great. Hemostats can work too. They are even cheaper.

Needle holders on the left, hemostats on the right. Hemostats are made to clamp vessels and come in lots of sizes. Some needle holders have scissors on them. Don’t get those if you have a choice. It seems like a good idea but every time you accidentally cut your thread when you are trying to grab your needle, you will cuss them.

I also got some thumb supports at the grocery store. It is difficult to hyperextend your thumb with them on. I’ve worn it on my right hand to keep myself from gripping so tightly. After I sew now I put a topical arnica and menthol gel on my thumbs too.

Does anyone else have any tricks?