Updated March 5, 2019
Although it might sound old-fashioned or romantic, doing needlepoint by candlelight or oil lamp is probably not a good idea. And if you are stitching on fine mesh canvas or are older, stitching under the light of a table lamp might also be a bad idea.
In many ways, I’m lucky because my stitching chair is in a room with lots of natural, but indirect, light, so I can easily see my needlepoint in its true colors without a lamp during the day. But even so, often you have little or no control over the light in a classroom or at a shop.
For many stitchers the solution is to get a specialized lamp for stitching. These break down into basically three types — magnifying lamps, “true color” lamps, and task lamps.
Task Lighting and Magnifiers
Task lamps have been around the longest. These are small lamps which send a bright light onto a small focused area. Tensor lights were one of the early popular kinds of these lamps. In fact, if you have a tensor light, it would work well for needlepoint. Book lights are another possible choice. The battery-operated ones are especially good if you may not be near an outlet. Just clip it onto your frame.
Probably the most popular choice for task lighting are the hobby lights made by companies like Dazor and Mighty Bright. Both these companies also make lights with magnifiers attached to them. The lamps are small, can collapse, clamp onto your needlepoint, or sit on the table next to the stitching. Remember though that if you are buying a lamp to take to classes, make sure it is battery-operated. Some organizations do not allow lamps with cords and other locations may not have plugs nearby.
A tip from the folks in my ANG Chapter: use felt bags to cover the lamp itself and the magnifier. You can make or buy bags like this, but one lady uses the purple bags Chivas Regal whisky comes in.
But perhaps you don’t have a table nearby. ASF Lightware makes lamps and magnifying lamps which hang around your neck. These kind of lamps are particularly popular with those hobbies which have lots of miniature work like dollhouse making and model railroading.
I use and like ASF’s Beam n’ Read for my needlepoint. You can read my review of it here.
“True Color” Lighting
Good as task lights are, they change the colors of your work, making them different than daylight. You may not have noticed it at home, but remember those make-up lights which had the different filters for different kinds of lights? They were doing the same thing.
Daylight is naturally bluish in most parts of the United States. Fluorescent lights cast a green tone. Lighting in your home is pinkish. These overtones of the lights can dramatically change the colors of threads, sometimes so badly that two shades which looked like they go together in the store, don’t match when you get them home.
If this is a concern, then you need to consider getting lighting which mimics sunlight. Ott Lite makes task lighting with true color bulbs. The bulbs in these lamps are fluorescent and they are covered with a film which makes them look like daylight.
Because of the fluorescent bulbs and the associated flickering, these lights can be difficult for many people to use (like me). True color lights and bulbs are becoming more common. Several companies make them, including Stella. Daylight bulbs can be much more expensive than regular lightbulbs.
Lighting in Strange Situations
If you are like me, you carry your needlepoint everywhere and will do it anyplace. So sometimes you want to stitch where the lights are bad — airplanes, hotel rooms, outside. There are some simple solutions to make it easier to see when you stitch in these kind of locations.
Hotel Rooms: The lightbulbs in hotel rooms are never very strong. So the easy way to fix the problem is to bring along one or two 100 watt bulbs wrapped inside your clothes whenever you travel. Replace the low-wattage bulbs with your bulbs from home. But don’t forget to remove them before you leave.
This is more difficult these days because many hotels us non-standard light bulbs, so a more universal solution is to bring along a clip-on light or a battery-operated light.
Airplanes: Planes do not present the best lighting environment, but they do provide wonderful opportunities to stitch. First, make sure you are stitching something which has high contrast. This is not the place to stitch a dark background on dark canvas, nor is it the place to work on black cloth. Second, make sure you turn on the light above your head, even if it is during the day. If no one is in the seat next to you, turn on that light too.
Outside: Sometimes you have a chance to sit outside and stitch. While this can be pleasant, it can also lead to a bad case of eyestrain. Whenever possible stitch in the shade. You get the benefit of the lovely natural light, but you don’t have the glare of sunlight. If you can’t work in the shade make your own shade by wearing a hat and/or wearing sunglasses or both.