Show of hands, please – do you ever get so involved in a project that you lose track of time and sit or stand in one position for too long? What? It hurts to raise your hand because you have spent the last 6 hours straight at your sewing machine (or potter’s wheel or easel or…)? Rose Parr can relate and wants to be a pain-free quilter for as long as she possibly can. Her studies of wellness and ergonomics are integrated into her daily studio practice, and she shows us how to do it, too.
What inspires you to create?
I tend to create utilitarian items. I’m more inclined to make a queen size quilt over a wall hanging. Before I had kids I enjoyed designing clothing from scratch, then moved on to sewing curtains and clothing for them. So I guess the need at hand motivates me.
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Why textiles? Why quilting? How did you get started?
Sewing in my house was just something you did. It wasn’t a conscious decision to learn to sew; my mom sewed, my older sister sewed and I sewed. I grew up in a small village and we had an active 4-H community. So I completed various units in sewing, embroidery, cross stitch, you name it, although none of the hand-stitching ever stuck. I have a diploma in Home Economics and studied pattern making, colour and design and even tailoring.
I made my first quilt 30 years ago for a friend’s baby. When my kids were small I made them fun clothing and curtains and my mom made quilts for all of us. When they were older I began making my own quilts. Somehow I missed the window to share quilting with my mom. I lived 5 hours away and our visits were all about the grandkids; now that she’s gone, I regret that. I have 4 adult children, and I’m fortunate that 2 of them and 1 of their partners have taken up sewing. I truly treasure the time we get to sew together.
How did you become interested in the ergonomics of quilting?
It was a natural combination of my work experience, education, hobby and familial history.
My mom had several chronic health conditions that forced her to stop sewing in her late sixties. Watching her slow down and give up all the hobbies she loved was a strong motivation for me to outsmart my genes.
I’ve always had an interest in nutrition and did a concurrent diploma in Nutrition and Risk Management with my Home Economics diploma. After graduating college I went on to the University of Guelph. That’s where I met my husband and soon we had 4 young children. In 2005 I became a Certified Personal Trainer, and later a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. For years, I had a home based Wellness Studio, which worked well with a young family. We had 4 children under the age of four. I always say that I’m so efficient that when I had my last child, I had 2 at once. Over the years I upgraded my education to include certifications in Reiki, Older Adult Fitness, Group Fitness Instruction, Emotional Freedom Technique, Meditation, Stress Management and others. I also consulted with an Employee Wellness company and am also certified in Office Ergonomics. That’s the long answer.
Short answer – a few years ago I decided to transform my wellness studio to a longarm quilting studio, which still keeps me busy. One day I was advising a friend about ways to stay pain-free while crafting and she suggested I offer a talk to our quilt Guild. There were so many things I did in my sewing room that others did not.
One guild talk led to another and another. In 2019 my husband and I were travelling to Scotland and I was on the Festival of Quilts website wondering if I could sneak in a visit. On a whim I applied to be a tutor and was accepted; it was a great experience.
What are some of the unique physical challenges that quilters face?
Quilters have several areas to take into consideration. When we sit in an ill fitting chair, position our ironing board just a little too high or too low or use our rotary cutter at an awkward angle, we often cut off circulation to various parts of our body. It’s not just one workstation we need to think about, but three. In addition, some of us have long arm machines or sit and do handiwork as well.
One of the big reason’s quilters and crafters get stiff and sore is because of a lack of blood flow. Often less than ideal positioning may be placing pressure directly on a nerve, and this prevents the blood from flowing correctly to your nerves. When our limbs don’t get enough blood, our hands or feet may feel cold or numb, we may feel tingling, numbness, throbbing and even pain. Here’s the thing – we may not feel anything different at all, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. When you move, it brings oxygen to your cells. Remember, sitting is the new smoking, and quilters sit a lot.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Sew Healthy & Happy: Smart Ergonomics, Stretches & More for Makers?
You don’t have to be stiff and sore! So many people just assume it’s normal because all of their friends have the same issues. A little preventative medicine goes a long way. Set your studio up ergonomically, stretch every chance you get, hydrate your fascia and eat lots of healthy fat. We need to work to stay pain-free, but it’s worth it. The less time we are at physiotherapy or heading out to buy anti inflammatories, then the more time we have for sewing!
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
I like Pax Storage units from Ikea filled with clear plastic bins. I’m easily distracted, so the closed doors allow me to focus on the project at hand. However, I’m also “out of sight, out of mind”, so the clear containers keep things from disappearing forever, if that makes any sense.
Some of the indispensable tools to keep your back happy aren’t sold in quilt shops. How do they improve your work and maintain your health?
- Bed Risers are an easy, inexpensive way to raise a cutting table.
- A mechanic’s telescopic magnet is a great tool for retrieving pins off of the floor, and it’s less than 10 dollars in the automotive section! I wasn’t blessed with great genes. Osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, scoliosis and degenerative disc disease run rampant in my family. To combat some of my own spinal cord and joint issues, I don’t bend. I use tools to pick things up. I do the golfers lift when possible and I try to always hinge, instead of bending.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal?
I like to buy them, but I never really use them.
What plays in the background while you work?
Audiobooks keep me focused, usually murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, sometimes podcasts on behavioural economics and social psychology.
How do you stay organized and keep all of the balls in the air?
I try to respond to emails, contracts, longarm requests and course deadlines immediately. If I wait, they add up and become a dreaded chore. For longer term deadlines, I set shorter times, and tackle what I need to do that week. I’m far from perfect and often stay up too late trying to find a few extra hours in the day, which isn’t the healthiest option.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My blog focuses on all aspects of healthy quilting; nutrition, stretching, building strength, ergonomics, studio design, helpful tools. With the book release and Sew Along (465 members in 4 countries), I haven’t had time to write as many blog posts as I’d like. There is so much useful information I want to share – I just need a few more hours in the day to do it all.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you.
I used to lecture in person to guilds in Southwestern Ontario and the greater Toronto area. Now I speak to quilt guilds across North America and the United Kingdom several times a week via Zoom. I’m already booked solid through 2022. Most guilds have decided to have a few virtual presenters even when meeting in person. It’s cost effective and a great way to host presenters from all over the world. My contact information, rates and contract are all on my website healthyquilting.com
My sewing studio with drop in table, longarm studio with anti-fatigue mat, office with DIY treadmill desk, workout studio with free weights, MELT roller and Total Gym, customized cutting table with another anti fatigue mat, design wall, Pax fabric storage, TV area, dressmakers form (with dress from Sew Different wip) and professional lighting system for zoom lectures and YouTube videos of stretches for quilters. Adult ADHD is real, but you can accomplish a lot with the right setup.
Interview posted May 2021
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