Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Our working hands

Workroom plus winter: for us fabricators, that combination means sore, red, raw, aching hands.  Daily our hands are scratched, scraped, stabbed; pierced, punctured, and pummeled.  The materials we work with often cause itching, chapping, cracking, and allergic reactions.  Winter makes it worse.
I have an arsenal of products that when used religiously help keep my hands fairly happy.

Last week I stuffed a bunch of cushions with dacron-wrapped foam inserts.  I used to make cushions by the thousands but gave it up when my hands were so over-used that they no longer had the strength to do the stuffing.  Occasionally I make an exception.  By the time I finished stuffing the fifth cushion, my hands hurt so badly I could barely hold my keys to get out the door.
Even worse, the dacron threatened to rip my skin to shreds.  Using a glove makes me so clumsy that it's not an option.  Instead, before I started stuffing each cushion, I slathered my hands with lanolin.  Head for your local annual Sheep and Wool Festival and stock up on this stuff.  Lanolin is secreted by the sheep's skin as protection
against its harsh environment.  It is waxy and not oily.  I would not use it when working with any delicate fabric, because I'm not certain that it would not leave a stain, but with this sturdy ottoman weave cotton, I tested and found that it was safe.  It protected my hands from the wiry dacron and I was able to finish the job with my hands intact.
It can also save your sanity.  The week before, I was working with a Jim Thompson silk.  Those soft fluffy fibers might not hurt your skin, but they can drive you nuts, sticking to your fingers and getting in your hair.
I had been building up the space between kick pleats on a board to even out the top.
This valance is self-lined because it is hung so high up that you can see the underneath.
When I folded the fabric back down, the little shreds of silk threatened to drive me crazy so I used plenty of lanolin so the fibers wouldn't stick to my skin.
At home, my first line of defense is a good moisturizer, without fragrance.  This one by Jason is my favorite.  It's light yet rich.  Many, many, many times every day I apply as much as is needed until any roughness is sort of glazed over.  Before bed I do several coats.  As long as I don't skimp on this basic moisturizer, it will keep my hands in good condition all winter.
When I know my hands have been exposed to something particularly irritating, however, usually a fabric with a finish on it that causes an allergic reaction, as soon as I get home I will apply Working Hands.  This is glycerin based; it brings moisture to the skin surface and locks it in.  Usually this will help keep major chapping from occurring if I use it soon enough. 
Aching hands- that's another story.  Treatment should be discussed with a doctor, but my everyday product to soothe overworked hands is this herbal salve, Herbal Touch, containing arnica, calendula, comfrey, and St John's Wort.  Before bed I'll apply it generously and spend a few minutes massaging it into the sore areas- mainly that infamous spot below the thumb.  I try not to take too much NSAIDs and often this product (or maybe it's the massage!) will ease the pain all by itself.
For splinters, nothing beats ichthammol ointment- also called Drawing Salve.  Depending on what state you live in you may or may not be able to buy it in this form.  If not, you probably can buy it in a blended salve such as PRID.  This stuff is icky, stinky, tarry, black, and sticky, so it can only be used at home, at night, with a bandage to cover it up.   I have a spot on my index finger that sometimes gets inflamed- I suspect that there's been a tiny splinter in there for years- a night or two of this stuff (and a big bandage to keep it from getting on the bedding) will ease it.  The theory is that this ointment will raise a splinter to the surface so it can be extracted.  That's not scientifically proven, though I can say it does seem to have worked for me in the past.  I can't buy this in NY anymore, but this tube should last me the rest of my life.
And there you have it!  My line of defense for my Working Hands.

1 comment:

  1. Love the bicycle cushions Deb !!! Nice tips on the hand stuff too! I am feeling your pain girl