Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Be Safe, Quilters

       I'm making progress! I finished making the X Marks the Spot blocks and actually cleaned up the floor of the sewing room. The room looks spacious (not really, but comparatively!). I am still sewing strippy pieces for the wacky log cabin (thought I had enough--Wrong!) but I may have enough now.  When I went to the cutting table to trim and square I couldn't find the rotary cutter anywhere. Not only was the fabric cutter missing, but the paper one also. OOOOH Mystery!!!! I would have asked Emma if she had seen them but #1 she has been in bed sick for 2 days and #2 she is scared to death of the things. I knew they weren't on the floor-it was clean. The cutting table was neat and organized and that left the sewing table which wasn't all that bad either with all the strips and pieces neatly organized in their boxes. I could even easily find the TV remotes which is always a challenge. Then I picked up the sewn pieces to move to the ironing board and there they were. Why? I don't know. But while I was finally trimming I decided it was a good time to write about rotary cutter safety.
        Now the obvious issue with a rotary cutter is the danger of cutting yourself so I always have a couple rules: #1-- always have a sharp blade. The harder you have to press to cut, the more likely you are to hurt yourself. #2--No bare feet in the sewing room. No matter which cutter you have, if you drop it on the floor, it can open a little and if it lands on your foot you're in trouble. My friend Cheryl used to have a fabric shop and she had this happen to someone so she had to make the "no sandals" rule there. #3--ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS  close the cutter before you lay it down. So obvious but apparently the hardest thing to learn!
        Now the less obvious danger with the rotary cutter is actually one that can be the MOST dangerous--the way you hold and use the cutter.  Ergonomics (properly fitting the body to the tool and the job) is so important. The least stressful position of the body is a neutral position. For the hand and arm, neutral is your arm hanging limp at your side while standing. Well, that is not practical so the next best thing is a natural bend at the elbow-90 degrees up in front of you. Probably not too practical either but we're getting there. In this position look at your hand--it should be pointing straight ahead, thumb up. Now put the cutter in your hand in this position, placing your index finger on the top of the cutter. Your arm should be a straight line from fingertip to elbow. This is the best and safest position for holding the cutter.
       Now for cutting. Table height is important. Standing is better than sitting unless you can position yourself higher than the table. With your index finger on top of the blade, your wrist straight and in neutral, cut straight forward away from your body. Turn the fabric, not your shoulder or your wrist. It makes me CRAZY to see people cutting across in front of themselves, holding the cutter with the wrist bent and not supported by the finger. How many quilters do you know who have had carpal tunnel or rotator cuff problems? Too many! These things can be prevented by proper ergonomics! And also--take frequent breaks because the final issue of ergonomics is repetitive stress injury--if your arm, elbow, shoulder, wrist or hand hurt they are telling you something--take a break!!!
      So, please, friends, be careful out there. Reteach yourself to cut if you have to, but be safe!

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