3 sewing ideas to save your back and neck

sewing ergonomics the mini ironing board

If you’ve had your head down churning out scrubs and masks for the past few months, you’ll be familiar with how unkind repetitive sewing can be on the body.

I have no idea how sweatshop workers cope, but my own clothing factory career (as a cutter) was only kept afloat with regular chiropractic care and massage.

Too much repetitive sewing and poor sewing posture is tough on the neck, shoulders and back. However, paying attention to both your sewing habits and your sewing area set-up means you can sew for longer and more comfortably.

While I’m no occupational therapist, here’s a few changes in my work practices that have really helped.

The kindergarten chair

Is your chair the right height for your machine? Most kitchen table and chair sets are the wrong height – the chair is typically too high. Fine for dining but not sitting at a sewing machine.

In the past I put my sewing machine on phone books to bring it up to a better height, so I wasn’t cricking my neck bending over it. Then I requisitioned this old kindergarten chair and made myself lower. It’s perfect!

sewing ergonomics the kindergarten chair
Btw, this is a “reality” photo – I sew on a portable table in the corner of our unrenovated kitchen (right next to the asbestos-clad bathroom built in the corner!). Yeah, a studio would be kinda nice but this is very convenient!

The mini ironing board

If you’re tall and find your ironing board doesn’t get as high as you’d like, a mini ironing board is a handy solution. Set it up on your regular ironing board – I use it when I know I’ll be standing for a long time to iron small details. If you’re a patchwork quilter, it’s great for pressing quilt block pieces.

sewing ergonomics the mini ironing board in action

This mini ironing board was second hand but it originally came from Ikea; I got it for sewing classes to make an ironing station and I use it at home too. I made a new cover for it and beefed-up the padding.

The cushion

For the times when we need to hand sew, sitting at a table with your work supported on the table top is a good setup. But what if you want to sew in an armchair in front of the TV? A cushion on your lap will bring your sewing up to a better height. It also doubles as a giant pincushion, but don’t forget to take out the pins!

sewing ergonomics cushion on the lap

Have you got any great ideas to make sewing more comfortable? Please share them in the comments below.



  1. Sue Stoney on June 15, 2020 at 11:13 pm

    Some great ideas here Liz! I’m trying to sort out a stiff back constantly

    • lizhaywood on June 16, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Cheers, Sue. A game-changer for me for back self-management was a hand-held electric massager – it helped free up the tight muscles then I would massage by hand if possible, then stretch.

  2. Kim on June 16, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    I’ve been suffering after sewing for long periods again recently and this couldn’t be better timed. The kindergarten chair is something I could probably benefit from but would never have thought of. Thanks Liz

    • lizhaywood on June 16, 2020 at 7:40 pm

      Prolonged scrubs sewing?
      Apparently the optimal chair height is where the seat is one-hand-width below the back of your knee, and (full disclosure: I’m no ergonomics expert) the kindy chair fits this description and is the best chair I’ve used. Still gotta remember to get up and stretch every now and again!

  3. Mimi T on June 19, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Is it possible you have CCTV in my house Liz? 🙂 My mum is an occupational therapist and finds my sewing set up… less than ideal.

    Standing up and stretching regularly helps the most, but the temptation is always to push on with ‘just this next little thing first’. I am going to try your cushion recommendation.

    • lizhaywood on June 19, 2020 at 3:07 pm

      You are right about the stretching…if you can remember!

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