Many of us suffer with ailments of one sort or another that interferes with what we love to do. In many cases, there is no need to stop our favourite past time, just change the way things are done. Over the last few years I've had to change a lot. Arthritis has virtually rendered my thumbs useless. Yes, there's many things I'd like to do but I've had to be realistic and accept those things can no longer be part of my skills set. Here's a few things I've put in place to help me continue quilting and sewing so that there's much less pain to endure at the end of a busy day.
Anything that takes pressure off the thumbs is good. A machine with a thread cutting mechanism is essential. Another digit can use this tool and there's no need to grab the scissors. The opening and closing of said scissors is something I really need to avoid. Occasionally they need to be used, so I have a pair of spring loaded scissors to make the job of trimming and snipping easier. A pair of the lightest(weight) scissors are sometimes the only things that can be used for a few jobs.
I use a knee lever to lift the machine foot - just the best. All the hand strain of lifting the foot with the lever is gone, yeah! So much easier too, when having to manipulate my work under the machine foot, a quick flick of the knee and it's done. Many modern machines have a foot lifter button.
Quilting gloves - got to have them. Gloves adorn my hands almost every time I sew. With limited gripping power in those thumbs, this enables me to grip fabrics and makes manoeuvrability of projects so much easier.
This cute little light weight iron does heaps of work for me. I'm able to cup my hand over the top dome and glide it easily over fabrics and seams. No more heavy irons for me.
With preparing projects, an AccuQuilt Cutter does some of the work. Otherwise, I use a Foundation Paper Piecing technique that eliminates paper tearing and I only need to cut pieces as I work rather than, as usually practiced, all at once at the beginning of a project.
Another great alternative is Quilt As You Go. I vary the QAYG techniques each project, depending on how I've designed the piece, and what construction best suits the project. Even with QAYG, I usually only cut what I need at the moment, as I improvise many of my projects.
One of my favourite improvised QAYG projects; my ruler bag. It has batting pages inside too, to hold blocks I'm working on or samples I may need for a class.
Pins are another item I seldom use. This project sure didn't see too many. I have pins with the biggest pinheads of all time, some of them measuring up to 1/2cm in diameter just in case I do need to use them. Quilt As You Go also prevents having to use some sort of pins for the quilt sandwich. I love spray basting. Small or large projects, they all get the spray treatment. Anywhere that I can substitute glue for pins is the go for me. On binds, I use binding and hem clips. These can be opened and closed using fingers rather than thumbs.
Here's a few projects I've done that use either QAYG or FPP or both.
These projects vary in size from 150cm square to 56cm square. The largest QAYG I've done is a whopping 240cm square; and while it gets large at the end of the project, because I designed it, I can control the amount of quilt that will have to be managed inside the harp area of the machine. Hence, much less pressure on the thumbs trying to manipulate the quilt and lugging it from side to side and around about while quilting.
I've done trials on pre-washing and not, and I've definitely come to the conclusion that I'm a pre-washer. Where is this leading? Well, I have to tell you about these amazing pegs too. THEY ARE HUGE! There's no need for any pinching to open them, and they are just push on. They are big enough that I use the open palm of my hand to push them, and to remove, I just have to grab them with my fist and pull up. No thumb work required. Although washing is not my favourite task (and you need to see a doctor if it's yours), these little babies allow me to get through it without inducing more pain. Seeing as I'm a committed pre-washer, thats got to be good.
I hope this will help and encourage others to continue their craft. It's often not a case of having to stop, just change the way we do things. Sure, sometimes there are limitations, but they can also lead to some great places where we wouldn't have otherwise travelled. In my case, I've gone back to teaching where I'm able to help others learn techniques that are less strenuous for their bodies.
Should anyone reading this know of other little tidbits about coping with arthritis and quilting, let me know, I'm all ears.