How to Protect Your Fingers When Hand Sewing
Using a sharp implement such as a sewing needle always carries the risk of injury. How to protect your fingers from pokes and soreness, especially when facing a time-consuming project, is an important consideration.
I have heard and read of sewers losing the feeling in their fingertips by not protecting them properly or overtaxing them. Take the time to take care of an asset as critical as the use of your fingers and hands every time you approach sewing or other tasks that require extended, minute movements.
Keeping your fingers and hands strong will enable you to enjoy your sewing hobby for many years and keep you from unnecessary disabilities. Here are some tips to avoid injury.
1. A Thimble Defense
There is no better defense against poking your fingers than thimbles. I know some sewers have difficulty using them. There are reasons for that, and they’ve been covered in a different article on this website.
Thimbles come in different sizes and materials. Metal is the most common. Thimbles are most commonly worn on the middle finger for pushing the needle through the fabric. Adjustable thimbles may also be worn on the thumb or forefinger, but metal thimbles on too many fingers make sewing almost impossible. Explore sizes and styles of metal thimbles to find what works best for you.
Leather thimbles are also an option, especially for wearing on the thumb and forefinger. Leather thimbles can sometimes be used to pull the needle through the fabric rather than pushing from the backside. This can be a consideration when working with thick material or multiple layers. Once you get used to them, thimbles can be worn for extended periods and are convenient to use for any sewing project.
2. Staying Sharp
We tend to forget that needles, like most other sharp objects, become dull with regular use. If you are a frequent hand-sewer, it’s a good idea to replace your needle from time to time and certainly with each new project. Some sewers have a favorite needle with just the right sized eye, length, and weight for favorite crafts and sewing projects. But with a bit of research, any type of needle can be adequately replaced.
Needles cannot be sharpened by hand. Trying to do so may result in damage to the needle and the project you use it on. Since needles are relatively economical accessories, there’s no need to try to sharpen rather than them.
Using a sharp needle makes hand sewing less stressful for fingertips, hands, and wrists. Choose a needle that is appropriate for the type and thickness of the material you’re sewing. Just a few of the many categories of needles include darning, embroidery, sharps, smooth, upholstery, quilting, and leather.
3. Some Extra Pull and Push
Needles are generally tapered, which means that the pointy end is smaller than the eye end. The needle may start through the fabric easily enough, but pushing or pulling it the rest of the way can be challenging and become painful before long.
Rubber needle pullers are available for more strenuous jobs. The options include pullers specifically made for hand sewing and pulling tools sewers have turned to through sheer desperation.
There are two main types of rubber pullers. Thimble-style rubber pullers are worn on the thumb alone or on both the thumb and forefinger. The other type is a thin, flat disc-shaped piece of flexible rubber wrapped around the needle for a better grip. Either type has the same basic effect. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference.
Needle-nosed pliers make excellent needle pullers. However, they can also be awesome needle benders or breakers. I’ve used them a few times. Remember to grip gently and pull straight, and you’ll be fine. Pliers can give relief to tired fingers since they employ more of the whole hand to use.
Sailmaker’s Sewing Palm
A sailmaker’s sewing palm can be a helpful tool for projects requiring larger needles and heavy fabric or leather. This tool is a little more expensive but can be a lifesaver (or hand-saver) for some sewing or crafting projects. The tool fits snuggly around the hand. It provides a special pad for pushing the needle through with the heel of the hand.
I’ve read some interesting ways to stave off finger and hand pain on various blog sites. Some of these I’ve tried and some I haven’t. It’s just fascinating to note the ingenuity of other sewers. And it may give you some new ideas of your own.
- Finger gloves: Also called finger cots, these covers are specially made to protect fingertips from injury. They’re made from rubber, leather, or other material. Besides sewing, finger gloves can be used for crafts like fly-making, gardening, beadwork, etc.
- “Corn” pads: These are the little pads used primarily on feet to keep corns from rubbing against the inside of your shoe or other toes. Apparently, you can also stick them on your fingers to keep them from getting sore. Who knew?
- Band-aids: I don’t recommend this one. I’ve jabbed myself in an unprotected finger, put a band-aid on it so it didn’t bleed all over everything, then stabbed myself again straight through or around the band-aid. ‘Nough said.
- Coins: This one takes some coordination, but it can be done. I’ve tried it a few times. A coin–preferably one with a nice raised edge on it–can be used to push a large needle through thick material. Go slow and steady, or put the coin on your sewing table and push the needle against it. I don’t recommend it for small needles. The needle will probably bend before you make it through the fabric. Also, needles easily slip off coins with no lip and jab the nearest finger.
4. Give Yourself a Break
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither can you expect to complete that giant hand sewing project in one sitting. Especially for beginning sewers, you’ll need to work up to hand sewing for long periods of time. Even experienced sewers can experience sore fingers after a while.
Take a break. Work on the project for short periods, then switch to something else to give your sore fingers a chance to recover. Remember, the more painful you let your finger get, the longer it will be before you can stand to pick the project up again. That’s how things get shoved to the bottom of the project basket, never to emerge again.
By hand sewing is short spurts, you can build up strengths and even callouses if you need to. It can help to look up some exercises to prepare for a project or relieve cramping finger muscles. I have used some hand and finger exercises for years as a seamstress, writer, and musician. They help tremendously for any age and any manual task.
5. The Finger-bone’s Connected to the…
Although I’ve focused on fingers in this article, it’s essential to safeguard other body parts when performing close work, such as hand sewing. Here are a few tips to make your project more enjoyable.
- Wrists: Carpal tunnel is a scary thought. Take time to stretch and exercise your wrist before and after long periods of hands sewing to prevent injury.
- Back and Shoulders: Many hand-sewing projects can be done from the comfort of a high-backed recliner or rocking chair. If not, proper posture and frequent breaks can help prevent cramped, sore muscles. There are also a variety of easy stretches and exercises to avoid discomfort in the neck, shoulders, and back areas.
- Hands: Arthritis becomes an issue as we age. A pair of open-fingered support gloves can be helpful. I have tried a couple of brands. They all seem to work about the same to me. They give extra support that may enable you to stick with sewing or other handcrafted projects for a bit longer. But once it gets painful, it’s time to take a break.