Hand signals

As I sit at the machine quilting The Misery Quilt, I remember with great fondness the days years ago before my hands began sending me these hard to ignore signals that say “stop, you’re hurting me!” While I was quilting the endless stippling on Stars in My Hand, I had to cut down my daily time at the machine to about 30 minutes because that amount of time was about all I could do without pain. I said to myself and others that when the quilt was done, I’d take a break and maybe go in a different direction with my quilting, some direction that didn’t involve tiny stippling on king size quilts.

I did take a break, but the direction didn’t change much. I made Grasping Reality, which had some stippling but it was a larger size pattern, and a smaller quilt overall. I don’t remember having too many hand signals with that quilt. Since then, I’ve finished a few of the projects on the Creativity List, none of which had tiny stippling, though some were quite large. Other than that, I’ve worked on this Misery Quilt since early 2007, so I’ve definitely taken a step back in the productivity department. Unfortunately, despite taking it slow (not always intentionally, as my posts about The Misery Quilt can attest to), it seems that I’m back in the same position I was in before, with a large quilt that needs lots of detailed stitching.

Since I hadn’t planned lots of stippling on this quilt, maybe not any, I thought I would be okay. Now I’ve discovered that while tiny stippling can make my hands hurt pretty fast, other small, detailed patterns can be just as painful, especially if I’m working near the center of a large quilt, where just holding on to the quilt and keeping it in position on the machine bed takes Herculean strength sometimes. And just for the record, when I started this quilt, I didn’t know how bad my hands would turn out to be, nor how big it would end up; I made the center star in the fall of 2004 I think, and it sat until late 2006 or early 2007 when I started thinking about finishing it up again. The design just grew, and Bob’s your uncle, now here we are and the quilt and I are fighting to see who’ll break first.

The quilting that’s right in the middle of this monster is done, and today I’m trying to finish up some grid lines around the feathers on the star points. There’s a lot of stitch in the ditch involved which I’m doing free motion because to do it with a walking foot would entail changing direction every ¼” or ½” which would be even more painful. Still, free motion stitch in the ditch does require some major accuracy, and what with the working area being in the middle of the quilt, the small size of the stitches and the margin for error, my hands and arms are screaming the instant I start quilting.

With only two more sections of the original eight left to complete in this particular area, I hope to be done today and then I can post some pics tomorrow. The larger issue though, is what to do about the rest of the quilts I want to make, some quite large and detailed, some that are already planned and others as yet undreamed of? This is just my style of quilting, and I’m not quite sure what to do if I can’t make the quilts I want to make because of pain. There’s no cure it seems, for this pain thing, except not doing whatever it is that causes pain. The physical therapist I saw about it couldn’t even really tell me what it was exactly, except probably tenosynovitis, but after reading about that I’m not sure I believe it. The exercises he showed me that were supposed to strengthen my hand and arm muscles so that the situation would be better didn’t help much either.

I suppose in the wider scheme of things, like world hunger and war in the Middle East and such, this is trivial. But I don’t have to be happy about it…Meh, I’m off to the machine to listen to some more screaming before it’s time to put on my “Mom’s taxi” uniform this afternoon.

6 thoughts on “Hand signals

  1. I think this is why some quilters go to the Long Arm or send out their quilts. Personally I have to stick to much smaller quilts and am now having trouble with my focus (eyes) and I am only 53. Sigh. By the way – loved your bookmarking post. Some of the places are in my SoCal neighborhood and I have always meant to visit Soft Expressions.


  2. Hi Kelly! Don’t think I haven’t thought about a longarm machine honey, ’cause I have. A lot. Frequently. Right now though, I have no space for it, and beyond that, I’m really scared about the learning curve. I know it would take me ages to get the quality of quilting back to what I can do now on my domestic machine.

    I try to make smaller quilts, really I do. They just seem to get away from me sometimes…And I’m fearful of my eyes as well, and I’m just 40.

    Glad you liked the Bookmarks—more coming next week!


  3. Pain is not good. Have you seen Carole LeRoy’s web site or her book? http://www.painfreequilting.com The book is kinda dorky, but she identifies several actions that cause the body stress and has recommendations for each one. Her web site has quite a bit of info, too. The one solution I’ve been considering is her quilt cradle (which could pretty easily be made from her kit or even from scratch, if you’re handy), which supports the quilt during machine quilting so that your back, arms, and hands don’t have to. It should improve the look of my quilting, too, since having the quilt tugging off to one side is decidedly bad for stitch quality. Diane Gaudinsky has some good recommendations too. Hope you feel better and work out a way to keep machine quilting!


  4. Hi Meg! Yes, she gave me her book actually, and I published a Podcast about this pain issue and her wonderful book. I think I would try her quilt cradle at a show if possible before I bought it, just to make sure it would help. I know she and her husband do the shows (or did anyway) since I met them originally in Houston in 2004. Lovely people, and I must get one of those chairs eventually!


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