The Perils of Quilting (and more importantly, how to avoid them)

Posted by & filed under Safety Tips.

As a quilt magazine publisher, a member of a number of quilt guilds, and a friend of many quilters, I hear plenty of stories related to quilting injuries – bloody fingers, sutured wounds, broken toes, and more. Here’s one that came across my desk recently, from Becky Pilkington of Fresno, California:

“Some time in my past, like maybe a month ago, unbeknownst to me I lost my sewing machine needle. Last week I found it, with my foot. I pulled it out but there was no tip, so I assumed it was a broken one. (Like what quilter never breaks a needle on her machine.) 

I gave it a couple of days for the swelling to go down; it didn’t get angry and red. So, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m good.’ 

A few days passed and (my foot) still hurt. I explained to my husband that it felt like I was still swollen, and it hurt sometimes when I was (standing) on it a long time. He had a metal detector and ran it across my foot. The light turned green. We found the tip! 

I went in to urgent care today, they took an x-ray. They tried to get (the needle tip) out. They couldn’t, so I have to see a specialist.”

Ouch! And since Becky lives in the US, I imagine that trip to the hospital was a pain in the pocketbook, too.

How can you prevent going through a similar experience to Becky’s? A little forethought, and a few extra minutes of your time when you are quilting will help you avoid accident and injury. Here are three important tips that will help you avoid unnecessary hospital visits:

A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place (aka – An Ounce of Prevention)

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our projects that we avoid the little things that need to be done while we are sewing. I’ve been known to change a sewing machine needle in mid-project… I put the old needle on the table beside the machine, thinking “I’ll put that away later”, and then forget all about it. I find the needle several days later, fortunately still sitting on the table, rather than in my foot like Becky did!

 Lesson Learned: Don’t avoid the little steps, just because you’re having too much fun, or need to get something done. Keep an “Old Needles” bottle in a drawer close to your sewing machine. Each time you remove a dull or broken needle from your machine, put it in the bottle immediately and close the lid. 

Put things back where they belong as you use them. My friend has a cup hook on the side of her sewing machine where she hangs a pair of scissors. After every use, she hangs the scissors back on the hook. Every time. She’ll never stab herself with the scissors that are hiding beneath the quilt block on her table. I use a pencil holder beside my sewing machine for my scissor. Make a habit of returning items to a safe location every time – it’s the best ounce of prevention. And the bonus, if you put an item back in its place every time, it won’t ever get lost! (You know what I mean.)

Take Five

Just the other day I was sitting at my sewing machine and happened to look down at the floor. I noticed something shiny in the carpet. When I bent down to investigate, I realized it was a straight pin. It must have dropped off the counter when I was last sewing (I did not follow tip number one and put the pins immediately back into the pincushion). I’m glad I noticed it BEFORE it ended up in my foot!

Lesson Learned: Take a few minutes to tidy up your sewing table and area at the end of your sewing session. Return all those stray pins and needles to their rightful place. Pick up larger items like books (tripping hazard – ask me how I know) from the floor. Grab the vacuum or broom and go over the floor to pick up anything small that may have fallen. The advantage is, the next time you walk into your sewing room, it will be neat and tidy. Isn’t that a nice feeling?

Slow Down… and Enjoy the Process

(Not so-) Hypothetical Scenario: It’s 4:30pm and I’m sitting at my sewing machine, frantically sewing the binding on a table runner I’m giving as a hostess gift for a dinner we’re attending tonight. The dinner is at 6pm. I haven’t had a shower yet, and I have no idea what I’m going to wear. As I finish the binding, I jump up and rush over to the ironing board for one final pressing. Ouch! I’ve just stubbed my toe on the table leg.

Sound familiar?

Lesson Learned: It’s never good to rush through a project. Not only will your workmanship be sub-standard, but that is when you are more likely to hurt yourself – you could sew through your finger with the machine, burn yourself with your iron, or trip as you rush from one station to the next. Plan your projects in advance, and plan your time, too. If you do, you will enjoy the process and the experience much more. And isn’t that what hobbies, like quilting, are all about?

These are just a few ideas to help you stay injury-free in the sewing room. Take the time to reduce your risks – it will make for a much happier sewing experience!