Quilting

Hand Sewing with Hand Pain

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?

10 Comments

  • Trish

    I’m so glad you shared this Heather! I’m working on a hexie project and I have all my individual flowers sewn together and now need to get ALL the flowers sewn TOGETHER. I actually find that my non-sewing thumb hurts more than my sewing thumb…probably because of the way that I’m gripping the material to get my sides to line up. My thumb will start popping and then I put the hexies away. I actually haven’t been picking them up because it’s bothering my thumb so much. I’m going to seek out a thumb support and see if that helps.

    I also like Carla’s suggestion for binder clips.

  • Cathy L

    Thanks for the tips! I actually might have a needle holder and didn’t know what it was. My daughter always buys me old sewing items and I have a big box full of things – some that can’t be identified.

  • CathieJ

    I think I need to find a new hand doctor. After hurting my left-hand with a lot of knitting, crocheting and sewing last year, my doctor insisted my problem was due to an old injury and not any of my crocheting. After several shots and courses of medicine it is better, but it still swells and aches when I knit or crochet. Somehow, I think the doctor is wrong. I too have been experimenting with different ways to hold my hand when crafting. Sometimes we have to find our own solutions to keep us sane. I love the needle holder idea. I may need it in the future.

  • karenlogcabinquilter

    I slept with a wrist splint for a while too which gave me relief at night. I ended up having surgery earlier this year and now have no problems. The recuperation from the surgery is not difficult and I was soon back to stitching.

  • Carla

    I had to put my hexie project away too! For me, it my left hand and it is that pinching that does it. I have found if I use my binder clips for the pinching I can then just support the project with my left hand, so much better. So glad you figured a way to keep stitching!

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