Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Quilting with Parkinson's

April is Parkinson's Awareness Month, so I'm thinking, what better time to address the "elephant in the room" at Linda's Landscape Quilts?

Over the years in my blog, I've occasionally mentioned shoulder and neck issues, but in 2018 a tremor began in my left hand. For a while I suspected it was a condition known as "essential tremor", but as it eventually worsened, it was time to see a neurologist. Four weeks before the Covid lockdowns in 2020, I was diagnosed with PD.

This is a gradual "degenerative" condition, but aside from tremor medication, proper nutrition and rest, it particularly responds well to exercise. Quilting is fairly sedentary, other than moving from the sewing machine to the cutting table to the ironing board. Consequently a fair chunk of of my usual designing/quilting time has been spent walking and gardening (hence the less frequent blog posts) for the last couple of springs, summers and autumns. I'm working on getting the nerve up for winter walking--cold is not a friend to the muscle stiffness and tremor inherent with PD, so an indoor yoga regimen or a gym membership may be in the offing.

What has this to do with quilting, other than loss of time? Everything.

Designing and working with fabric and quilting, especially landscape quilts, is my passion and my sanity saver. Along with knitting, it is how I would choose to spend nearly all of my time if I could. I refuse to give it up. However, I have had to make some adjustments, and might have to make more as time goes by.

Here are some of the changes.

1. Working smaller....size does matter. 😀 No more 40 or 50-inch landscapes; I try to keep them
    under 36 in. long or wide. Bed quilts are now batted and quilted in thirds or fourths to cut down
    on weight at the machine, adding and fusing the batting sections as I work from the center out.
    AND I recently discovered a local guild that will accept quilt tops that they then quilt and give
    to charities.
2.  Using more machine-guided stitching and less free motion...I could insert a "sad" face here. I love
     the variety and grace of free motion. But it's also fun to incorporate decorative machine stitches.
3.  Exceptional care using the rotary cutter...my left hand can suddenly spaz while holding the ruler
4.  Thinner batting, also for less weight at the machine. To my relief, the quilt texture is still
     surprisingly good.
5.  Somewhat slower and more deliberate movement around the studio, due to balance issues and
     slower reflexes. This one has been a challenge--I'm used to moving fast and gracefully
     for 60+ years. A couple of minor falls have nipped that in the bud.
6.  Shorter blocks of time spent in any one place or position (leg stiffness can make switching
     places and tasks necessary anyway).
7.  Fewer blog posts, due both to slower quilt production and slower typing.
8.  More patience with myself, especially with fine motor movements such as threading a needle.

I am fortunate so far that the tremor is almost entirely on the left side of my body, while I'm right-handed. But for quilting we depend on both hands for nearly any associated task. So tremor medication is necessary, but there's a fine line, for me at least, between calming the tremor and becoming too sleepy to focus. So, some tremor and some stiffness as well have to be endured and worked around.

And yes, my neurologist keeps me updated on all the latest medical info and PD exercise/therapy groups. But I love my walks with Susie, my son's "Mamalaw" (we usually get in about 3 miles a week in decent weather), and quilting IS my therapy. And knitting and gardening--especially weeding and trimming.

Any of you fellow quilters deal with PD? I'd love to hear any tips you might have for continued comfort, efficiency and quality in quilting. Feel free to comment below. We're all in this together!

All the best,


  1. Prayers for a cure

    There are plexiglass pieces from broken displays I have from a store closing sale. I use them for various projects, like hold things in place while glue sets.

    Consider for rotary cutting a 2 piece corner, one side tall 8 inches, and the other wide enough for ruler hand hold down. I'd make it long enough to shield against cutter wobbles.

    1. Great idea, thank you! And thank you for the prayers.

  2. My heart goes out to you, Linda. You are a source of inspiration for us with your adaptation of your methods and your continued work with your art. I am with you.

  3. My dad suffered from the benign tremors that you described. He was able to do most things (he was an electrician) for many years by bracing his hand differently. Although it eventually got so bad we took turns feeding him so he wouldn't give himself a fat lip! May I suggest you get one of those handles to place on your rulers? That way your hand would be further from the rotary blade? My sister and I are in our 50s and have slight tremors so I expect we will have to deal with this in the future. I use an accuqult for as much cutting as I can. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I have been eyeballing that ruler handle for some time now and should probably just go on and get one. All the best to you and your sister and here's hoping your tremors don't get any worse. My dad had tremor, too, but the doctors never gave him a definitive diagnosis. His heart was his main problem. Thanks for your suggestion, I'm going to follow through on it. Sorry for the multiple replies if they're showing up in your email, editing can be an ocd thing for me. lol

  4. Oh Linda, I'm so very sorry to hear this but how brave of you to share what's happening. I have no wise words of encouragement beyond wishing you well and hoping that the progression is slow and that your doctors are able to help you find ways to deal with this. Sending you a very big virtual hug right now.

    1. Thanks very much, MA. I'm glad I finally addressed it here; somehow it makes me feel less focused on the hindrances and more able to concentrate on the things I can do. So far I've been fairly pro-active about dealing with it, but will have to work on that winter exercise bit. lol A big hug right back at you, and thanks!!

  5. Thank you for this post. You have opened my eyes to a couple of problems I am having.....it's time for me to do something about it. I sending you warm thoughts and loads of prayers. Take care!!!

    1. Thank you, Rhonda. I will keep you in my prayers, too. All the best to you!!


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