Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quilting with Pain

For the last 13 months, I've been dealing with pain in my dominant arm.  I won't bore you with all the details, but about two weeks ago I was treated with three shots of botox and have been 95% pain-free for a week!  I'ts time to get back to work as normal.  But first, I'll share some of what I've learned this past year just in case someone else is dealing with a similar situation.

1.  Prioritize.  Decide what you want to do or have to do, then temporarily block everything else out of mind.  None of us move as quickly when we're in pain or recovering from an injury.  We can't do all that we used to in a day.  Driving myself crazy about everything I wasn't getting done was only slowing me down further.

2.  Think small.  Small projects weigh less and are easier to maneuver when muscles aren't cooperating.  They also take less time to complete and therefore give us a sense of satisfaction more quickly -- something we all need when we're feeling down in the dumps.

3.  Find work-arounds.  One of my dad's favorite sayings was "There's more than one way to skin a cat."  Less colorfully put, there's more than one way to do almost everything.  On days when I couldn't use scissors to even snip threads between a chain of sewn patches, I cut the threads with a seam ripper.  I wedged one end of my rotary cutting ruler under a desktop bookshelf to help hold it in place while I cut.  If I'd had a couple of C-clamps handy, I would have used them.

4.  Practice the fine art of "fudging."  Even though I found a way to rotary cut fabric, my squares weren't exactly perfect.  But fabric isn't stone.  Fabric has some give and take.   I found two methods of "fudging" that made those less-than-perfect squares work: easing and short-sheeting.  If you've sewn sleeves into armholes or collars to neck holes, then you know about easing, the technique of making a slightly longer piece of fabric fit to a shorter piece of fabric. When sewing rows of patchwork together, I pinned at the seams then stretched the shorter patch as I sewed.  I used short-sheeting when the points of half-square triangle units didn't quite fall in the right place.  I matched the points where they should be, rather than the edges, giving one piece slightly less (or sometimes slightly more) than the standard 1/4" seam allowance.

5.  Utilize pre-cuts.  Dealing with fabric that's already cut in strips, squares or even fat quarters is a lot less strenuous and time-consuming than wrestling with yardage.  My favorite online source of pre-cuts is Connecting Threads ( because they have a wonderful policy of not charging extra for cutting.  They also have many of their basic fabrics (solids and blenders) available as pre-cuts, too, which makes it easy to design almost anything.  Pre-cuts can sometimes be found on sale at other online fabric shops.

6.  Invest in specialized tools.  If your "disability" is more or less permanent, it might be time to consider purchasing tools that can do the things you can't, like ergonomic scissors, die cutting machines, etc.  My one word of advice here is to test before buying expensive tools if at all possible.  For one thing, these tools aren't all made alike.  For example, I found that the handle on the Sizzix Hot Shot die cutter was easier for me to turn than the handle on the Accu-quilt Go! cutter.  Secondly, no two quilters are alike.  A product that works well for me may not work at all for you.

My last tip: never give up on doing something you really enjoy doing.  Be persistent in finding ways to adapt.