Cross stitching, physically demanding? No really, it is a real thing that a lot of people may not realize can be a problem. Issues such as eye strain, neck / back pain, hand and wrist repetitive strain or just the problems that can arise from sitting for long periods of time. Here we will discuss these issues and offer suggestions to help reduce them. But it is not all doom and gloom there are many positive benefits to stitching so we will also look at those too !
Look After Your Eyes
As tempting as it is to continue stitching when you are on a roll you have to consider the strain that is placed on your eyes. Symptoms of eyestrain are sore and tired eyes which can be accompanied by headaches and blurred vision - do not ignore the symptoms and take a break. Also, if you are consistently having any issues consider getting your eyes checked by an optician. Pushing through may seem tempting but it is not worth the long-term risk to your eyes which would adversely affect your ability to enjoy your hobby permanently. Plus you are much more likely to make mistakes anyway.
Tips to avoid eye strain
- Make sure you have lots of light - sit near a window or use a lamp (ideally one with a ‘daylight’ bulb)
- Use a magnifier
- Take frequent breaks
- Choose the right fabric for you. If you are really struggling with one of the higher count fabrics, try switching to another lower count - the results are the same it will just be a bit bigger and use more thread
- Make sure you are positioning your work the correct distance away from your eyes - hold your work away from you then move it towards you until you can see it clearly, if you continue to bring your work closer it will become harder to see again, you need to be holding your work somewhere between these two points. Yes, at some point our age may mean our focus no longer matches the length of our arms … that’s why glasses were invented :)
Get Up & Move Around
There are lots of scary medical issues that have been linked to sitting for long periods of time so make sure you take frequent breaks, move around and stretch. This is especially important if you sit all day for your work as well as your hobby.
Sit Up Straight
Posture is very important - if you spend a lot of your time hunched over your cross stitching, this can lead to pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders. Personally I have had many of these problems which I think is a combination of sitting all day at a desk at work and then stitching for extended periods and my husband has often told me that I always end up hunched over while I’m stitching (the bugger started calling me ‘Quasimodo’ !). Be sensible and stop when you have to - as much as we all love our stitching time it is not worth risking health problems for and you’ll ultimately lose more stitching time. The times when my back and neck issues have flared up have stopped me stitching for weeks at a time
Tips to avoid neck, back & shoulder pain
- Get your setup right to avoid hunching over and straining your back, neck and shoulders, position your frame so you shoulders are straight
- Use a lumbar support in the middle of your back to encourage you to sit up straight
- Shorter bouts of stitching time - stop before you start to feel it
- Be aware of your posture - it is very easy to slip back into bad habits
- Take breaks and stretch it out - slowly move your head from side to side and up and down
- If you are consistently have pain issues see your doctor or physiotherapist
Video that shows some exercises to relive neck and shoulder pain
It’s All In The Wrist
Repetitive Strain injury can be caused when the same movement is done repeatedly for a long time - which happens to be the definition of cross stitching! Alot of people get this in their wrists, hand or elbow joints, it is caused by inflammation in the tendons, muscles and soft tissue.
Tips to Avoid Wrist Pain and Hand Stiffness
- Use a lap-stand to hold your hoop - if you are stitching while holding a hoop you are putting extra strain on your wrists by supporting the weight of the fabric (especially in a large project) plus the weight of any clip-on lamp if you use one.
- Stitch two handed, using a stand will make this possible. If you stitch two handed with one hand under and one on top you are limiting your movements which will reduce the chance of injury
- Use shorter lengths of thread again to avoid large repetitive movements in your joints
- Relax and get comfortable - tension in your muscles can contribute to RSI
- Stitchers compression gloves can help with hand stiffness, arthritis pain in thumbs and wrists
- Don’t over do it - again take breaks
Here is an interesting article written by Dr Christine Hamilton about RSI and cross stitching
Although there are lots of issues that can arise from stitching can also be physically beneficial as it will keep your hands flexible if you are prone to arthritis
Here is a useful video showing exercises for your wrists - it mentions knitting and crocheting but would also apply to cross stitching
So overall with all these issues the general rule is not to over do things and listen to your body. If something is hurting do not push through as it will only get worse and ruin your enjoyment of stitching.
The Benefits of Cross Stitching
So now we have all the gloomy, ‘hurty’ stuff out of the way lets look at the benefits of cross stitching.
This is obviously a personal subject and everyone has their own reasons but here are some of the benefits of cross stitching that I have found.
Calming & De-Stressing
For me cross stitching is the best way for me to de-stress and relax, especially after a hectic day at work. I find the repetitive motion relaxing and a good way to switch off and calm down from the day or forget about anything that is worrying me for a while
Channeling your energy into something creative gives you a sense of well-being and satisfaction, especially when you have completed pieces to adorn your walls. Cross stitching to me is not just about the finishes though but more about the journey to get there, the reasons for doing each piece and working one stitch at a time.
Concentration & Focus
We all have the usual stress of life in the modern world to deal with - bills to pay, issues to sort out and so on. Having something else to focus on can help you keep your balance, recharge your batteries and come back to the hum-drum re-invigorated. If nothing else, stabbing a piece of cloth with a tiny “stabber” thousands of time can let you work out frustrations.
Sense of Community
A big part for me is the sense of community and is one of the reasons I started writing these blog articles - I’ve been stitching for years but only recently joined some Facebook cross-stitching groups and it has really inspired me to keep stitching as well as teaching me a lot!
The only other person that I know who stitches is my mum but I live in Canada she is in the UK so we only get to see each other once a year, when we do get together it is so much fun to see what each other is working on and go on a shopping trip to the craft store together. I find sharing the hobby a huge benefit for our connection.