A hand holding a single sewing needle. In the shadow of the hand and needle cast on the wall is a heart.

Reviving a Neglected Sewing Machine and Long Lost Passions

As I picked up the straight pin, I thought to myself, “Wow, there was a time that I never thought I could do this again.”

Picking up skinny metal pins is not what I do on a normal day, but these past few days I’ve been doing a bit of sewing. I’m not a seamstress by any means, but I was fortunate in that my mother and great-grandmother taught me many things about sewing, crocheting, and overall craftiness.

A sewing machine and precious memories

When my mother died last year, many of her belongings became mine. Her sewing machine being one of them. The last time it had been used was when my mother made the pillow upon which rings were tied when Rob and I got married. That was now several years ago, but I found the spool of burnt orange thread still on the machine.

Learning how to hand-stich

By getting the sewing machine out, I instantly became nostalgic for all of the wonderful things my mother did for me over the years. I’m thankful that she taught me how to hand-stitch almost anything. Because of her, I loved to cross-stitch when I was younger and I still have many supplies packed away for projects that have not come to life.

In cleaning out boxes shoved in every corner of the house, I have also found many of the quilting projects my mother had planned to complete ‘someday’ but never had. Maybe now that the sewing machine is working and I can pick up a straight pin, I’ll finally make the infamous Christmas quilt which was meant to become a family heirloom.

RA hand stiffness and limited mobility

When rheumatoid arthritis first attacked with a vengeance, I was unable to use my hands. I couldn’t play the piano. I could hardly type. Every fingertip hurt terribly with any touch. My grasp was so weak that I dropped many things. I was in so much pain that I dreamt of the potential relief it would be to chop my arms off.

Regaining function in my hands

RA made me afraid of doing things for fear of pain or lack of success. Trying to play the piano was a disaster (in my mind). But months of occupational therapy combined with DMARDs, such as methotrexate and sulfasalazine, slowly helped me to regain some of the function and confidence I had lost.

However, even as my severe RA came under control, I never did pull out those cross-stitch patterns or threads. Nor did I bring out the yarn for my own Christmas croquet throw project to be completed 'someday.' Even in near remission, my hands tend to cramp up if they are held in one position for too long.

Revisiting sewing with a new project

In working on the present sewing project to make protective gowns for staff at the local assisted living facility, I have realized that I can trust my hands to do what I want them to do. With patience, I can pick up those straight pins. Getting smart, I can even use a magnet to give me some assistance in doing so. My hands and foot remember how to work together to get the sewing machine running.

An old toothbrush used to brush away the dust, machine oil to grease all the moving parts, and a quick read of the sewing machine manual helped me to get the 50-year old neglected sewing machine to purr a bit more smoothly.

Maintenance and extra attention to our joints

Just as routine maintenance and a little extra attention help to make the sewing machine move with less effort, I find that routine maintenance of my own body helps my RA body move with less effort.

Taking care of our bodies

Sitting for too long in one position makes my legs stiff and awkward. Getting up to walking around and stretch is important. A few circles of the wrists and rotations of the elbows and shoulders help to make typing go more smoothly, too. The motion is like a lubricant for the joints applied from the inside.

It’s so very important that we ‘lubricate’ our body through motion, nutrition, and hydration when we live with RA. No matter your level of disability, even a little bit of attention to each of these things will make a positive difference. We can’t let our bodies sit in the corner and be neglected as my mother’s sewing machine had been.

Rediscovering interest despite RA

Even if you can’t do what you once could, do what you can. You might surprise yourself and find that things are easier than you feared. You might even rediscover an interest or passion you once thought lost and buried. Since I’ve uncovered the red, green, and cream-colored yarns hidden in the closet, I may just get that Christmas blanket crocheted by the end of the year.

Be well my friends,


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