Exploring Ergonomics

This post ended up a lot longer than I intended. If you are interested in improving the ergonomics of your quilting space, then it is for you. If your set-up is good already, feel free to bypass this post.

Sew Fun 2 | Sample blocks for MeI have been thinking a lot about ergonomics lately, mostly because of my frustrations from quilting my County Picnic quilt (blocks on the design wall, shown above). Typically once I baste a quilt, I quilt it and then finish it before working on any other project (mostly because I am anxious and excited to see it finished). However, with County Picnic I became so frustrated while quilting that I just stopped working on it and set it aside. I have never stopped a project mid-quilting and let it languish for days, let alone weeks. I am doing very simple straight line quilting but I feel like I am fighting with the quilt. My lines are not straight and frequently jagged from my starts and stops. I know that mostly has to do with the fact that the quilt is fairly big (for me) at 72″ square as well as heavy since it is made of decorator weight fabric + a layer of cotton batting. Even though my sewing table is a good size, it is inadequate for handling larger quilts.

Seeing as how I want to be able to happily and successfully quilt quilts larger than baby size, I began to research how other quilters manage their quilts.

I found information from two quilters – Leah Day and Marguerita McManus – very helpful in my research.

One of the big things that Leah stresses is making sure you have a large L-shaped area around your machine that is flush with the machine bed so that your quilt can move with the least bit of friction and drag. At the 7:25 minute mark in this video, she shows her table set-up. And this video also shows her set-up.

[Aside: In both videos Leah talks about modifying a $8 darning/free motion quilting foot so that it does not bounce and for better visibility. In this video she shows how to do the modifications. I have not modified my generic foot yet, but will before I FMQ again. I looked to buy a Janome FMQ foot that functions essentially the same as Leah’s modified foot and it is $50 (packaged with another bobbin case). Uh… no thanks.]

Marguerita has a series of videos showing how to make a cheap quilting table, plus she has a video specifically about the best ergonomics for quilting.

With all of that in mind, I quickly realized where my problems lie with my set-up.

  • My sewing surface is too high at 32½” which is chest level when I sit. Ideally my sewing surface needs to be around 24″ so that my feet can rest on the floor with my knees bent at a 90° angle, and my hands can rest on my machine bed with my elbows bent at a 90° angle.
  • I need a larger area that is flush to the sewing machine bed; the small table-top extension table that came with the machine is not going to cut it.
  • My chair is not comfortable.

Creative Space Update :: FinishedI thought I had finished setting up/decorating my sewing space last year (see above; more pics here), but I guess I will be modifying it once again. I am pursuing function over form this time, so it may not be as pretty when I finish, but it will be more comfortable.

First up, a quick fix: the chair.

I confiscated the office chair from our study and took the arms off. I am not sure why I did not make this change earlier. We now need to buy a new office chair for the study, but that is easy to do.

Next up: expanding my workspace.

We went to Sam’s Club and found a reasonably priced ($35) adjustable-height folding table. It is very similar to the one that Marguerita talks about in her videos, if not the same.

Photo credit: Lifetime Products

It is 48″ x 24″ and adjustable to four heights. The plan is to pull out this table when it is time to quilt and set it to the left of my chair to support some of the quilt’s weight. When I am done quilting, I can fold it up and put it away.

Last, the search for a drop-in sewing table.

I knew that Janome makes one (494702002) specific to my machine (the Memory Craft 6600P), so I called my sewing machine dealer to ask about the price. The little table must be made of gold now because it is over $600 (last year when I bought my machine it was $300 something).

So after a little more table research and reading some reviews, I narrowed down my choices to two tables: the Gidget II and the Sew Perfect J table.

Photo Credit: Arrow Companies, LLC

The Gidget II, a table that Leah recommends and sells on her website, is reasonably priced ($245 shipped with custom insert), has tabletop dimensions of 40″ x 19″, can fold up, but is not height adjustable (ultimately, not being able to adjust the height is what is stopping me from getting this one).

Photo credit: Sew Perfect Tables, Inc.

The drop-in Sew Perfect tables vary in price depending on style and size ($299 – $657 shipped). Luckily, there is a Sew Perfect table designed specifically for my machine: the Sew Perfect J table (shown above). The J table does not require an insert so the cost is lower ($299 shipped). The Sew Perfect tables are built with industrial strength K-legs and are height adjustable. The tabletop on the Original and J tables is 48″ x 20″. The table will not fold or collapse and I am guessing it is fairly heavy. It also has a little drawer. My only real concern about the Sew Perfect J table is that it is custom to my machine. What if my machine does not last a lifetime? It should, but what if it doesn’t? One alternative would be to get the Original Sew Perfect table, but it is $507 shipped (including custom insert) which is a little out of my price range. I think I may press my luck, order the Sew Perfect J table and then make sure I treat my machine really well so that it lasts for years. If it doesn’t, then surely I can get another tabletop made using the first one as a template.

I will say that I momentarily contemplated making a drop-in sewing table myself. You can buy the industrial adjustable sewing machine table K-legs here for $90 shipped. I am fairly handy with power tools, but I was not sure that I wanted to try and figure out how to make the tabletop extra smooth (laminate?) or how to secure the drop-in portion. If the cheaper J table wasn’t available to me, I probably would have gone the DIY route.

I have not ordered a sewing table yet, but the we are budgeting for the purchase in September, so I should have it in a couple of months. When I do get it, I’ll post new pictures of my sewing set-up. I cannot wait!