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Self-Care Tips for Sewing Hands

I’ve been a professional costume maker for more than 30 years.  My hands have logged many hours at the sewing machine, wielding an iron, or pulling a needle. In order to maintain and sustain my hands for another 20 years of sewing, I’ve been implementing a variety of strategies to keep my hands in good condition. So today I’m sharing my top six tips for keeping your sewing hands in tip-top shape!

Pre-Game Routine

Trim and Smooth Nails

Before I do any sewing, I give myself a mini-manicure.  My goal is to make sure that my nails are smooth to avoid catching on thread or fabric. Once the nails are in decent shape, I take a moment to lotion my hands up.  Not only will this process soften my skin, but I’m also giving myself a mini-massage.  It’s just nice to give these hard-working muscles a little TLC before I abuse them.

Warm up your hands

Taking a moment to stretch your hands before you dive into a long sewing session.  Because I’m a belly dancer, I start with a slow piece of dance music and work on smooth flowing wrist, hand, and finger moves.  Hand waves, finger ripples, wrist circles, and finger taps. Then when my warmup song is over, I give myself a little stretch.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been warming up to the song “Yearning” by Raul Ferrando.  Listen here on YouTube.  Of course, any slow music you enjoy will work. The goal is to keep your hands moving for 3-4 minutes.

During Sewing Sessions

Take Frequent Breaks

Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m more productive if I take regular breaks rather than sewing for long unbroken stretches. I like to use the Pomodoro method to manage my time.  In a nutshell, a Pomodoro is a 20 minute time interval.  For me, I sew for 20 minutes and then take a short 10 min break. After working for 4, 20-minute segments, I take a longer 30-minute break. I always have my phone nearby, so I use the built-in timer with a “gentle” alert sound. When I hear the sound, it reminds me to give my body a break.  I stand up, I stretch, I put on some music and have a wiggle.

Pause to Hold Something Warm

When I’m taking my 10-minute breaks, I like to spend some of that time warming up my hands.  Preparing a hot beverage and spending some quality time cuddling your mug.  When I’m spending a lot of time sewing, I will use a rice-sock to warm up my hands.  I filled a crew sock with three cups of rice and tied the sock in a knot.  I toss it into my microwave oven for about a minute, or a minute and a half.  Then I old the sock in my hands during my break. 

Sometimes when I’m ready to get back to work I’ll lay the sock over my shoulder or tuck it between my back and the chair.  Of course, petting a warm cuddly kitty or pup is another great way to warm the hands!  At right, my studio assistant Stormy reminds me that the timer sounded and it’s break time!

Invest in Comfortable Tools

Over time, I’ve learned that I can work longer and have more control over my tools if they are designed ergonomically with chubbier handles.  I’ve also lightened the load, replacing all metal shears with lighter-weight versions with plastic handles. Switching from tiny or skinnier handled tools to easier to handle larger versions will help you get a better grip!   You can even find spring loaded scissors that will assist in the cutting process. While sewing tools can be quite expensive, replacing over time.

Ergonomic Handle Seam Ripper

Last December, I commissioned a custom “chubby” seam ripper from my wood-working brother.  He created two for me, one in wood and one out of acrylic.  He dubbed it his creation “Jax, the Seam Ripper” and he’s now got them for sale on Etsy.  This tool has been the best change I’ve made lately.  Seam ripping is always a pain, but having a better tool means that it only hurts my ego not my hands!  Check out his store and if you decide to pick one up, tell him I sent you!

Use Thimbles and Needle Pullers

When hand sewing, I find it essential to wear a thimble to aid in pushing the needle, and a silicon thread puller to help me grab the needle and pull it through.  I keep a selection of different styles of thimbles, (my favorite metal thimble) which I choose depending on my project.   My goal is also to reduce the amount of thread drag, so I always prep with beeswax.  When I’m settling in to do a lot of hand sewing, I will pre-prep several needles with thread, wax them, then hit them with an iron to melt the beeswax.  Having them ready to grab at a moment means keeping my sewing flow going.

Practice Hand After Care

Once I’ve completed my sewing time, I like to give my hands a little TLC.  Fabric can pull the natural oils from your skin. Other fabrics can scratch the surface of your skin, specifically fabrics covered with sequins, metallic ribbon, and rhinestones.   I have a three-step hand care routine that I use after each major sewing session.

First, I like to wash my hands in warm soapy water to remove any crocked dye and dust.  Sewing can make your hands very dirty.  Next, I take a moment to treat my cuticles and check my nails for breaks. Then I finish up by using the hand cream du-jour.  If you are like me, you might have a collection of hand lotions to choose from. Personally, I  love mixing up what I use so I keep a tray of lotion and hand care tools near my workstation. 

If you aren’t stocked up, I recommend picking up a lotion that has a texture that works with your skin and a scent you love. The lotion that you reach for and use is the one that is best for you!   Currently on my desk is a Body Shop Satsuma Hand Cream,  a small travel-sized Caudalie Hand & Nail lotion, and some Aveeno Skin Strengthening hand cream.  (I’ve included links – but I buy my hand lotion on sale at my local TJ Maxx.)

The Ultimate Treat: Hot Wax

But if you want a SERIOUS treat for your hands, invest in a hot wax machine.  There is nothing that provides a such a deep and penetrating heat as a dip into hot wax.  On days when I have a lot of sewing on my schedule, I turn the unit on in the morning and then treat my tired hands to a dip when I’m done working. Here’s an affordable model over on Amazon but these are often available on the used market so check your local craigslist and thrift stores for even better deals.

This might sound like a lot of work, but these steps are part of a routine that really help me keep my hands in great shape for plenty more years of sewing!

Happy Costuming,
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
August 4, 2018

 

 

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