When I read this article last week in the Needle in a Haystack newsletter, I was blown away. It tells you everything you need to know about using special lights for your needlework.
It’s going to be a special three-part guest post running through Sunday. Thanks to the owner of the shop and author of the article Cathe for permission to reprint it!
Back in 2010 I wrote a short article for the newsletter on the importance of lighting and I’d like to revisit the topic and expand on it. So much has changed in 6 years in the lighting world, especially in needlework. At that time the best lamp you could buy for needlework was a Holtkötter Halogen lamp, which for its time was fabulous (and one of the few dim-able Halogoen lamps). We wouldn’t have considered using an LED lamp as anything other than accent lighting. The technology hadn’t matured enough to be mainstream and products like the great LED lamps from Stella Lighting were just a twinkle in someone’s eye. The first generation of LED lamps from Mighty Bright and others were good, but as time has marched on we’re getting better power and color from LED technology that has matched or exceeded the tried and true Incandescent or Florescent bulbs.
Many customers ask me how it is that I can stitch so easily on 40 count linen over one and 45 and up counts, especially given I reached my 6th decade in 2015. I don’t use additional magnification for this. I’ll talk about my progressive lenses next time when I cover magnification [Note: subscribe to the shop’s newsletter to get this]. But the primary reason is I stitch with very use very strong light. And I do mean strong – I stitch with a 50/200/250 Watt incandescent bulb or my Stella Edge. When I’m watching TV or typing on my laptop, I use the 50 watt setting. But when I stitch, I put it on 200 or 250 setting or use my Stella. My husband has been known to pretend to be blinded by either – but he’s really a mushroom anyway so we’ll skip over that part :-). With my Stella Edge I have it set on the color setting that’s the combination of both the colored LEDs (classified as Natural) and the 2nd setting from the bottom (~285 lumens). So not as bright for my my incandescent bulb, in part because the lamp is closer to me and it’s a “clearer” light. The joy of the Stella is that LEDs generate very, very little heat. I don’t use both an incandescent bulb and the Stella, I only use one or the other.
As we get older one of things that diminishes in our eyes is light vs. dark contrast. And it’s that contrast that helps us see the holes in the fabric. So having a brighter light helps offset some of that loss of contrast. I’ve worn glasses since I was six while my husband only started wearing them about 10 years for computer work. Even before that he couldn’t understand how I could see tiny print in not-well-lighted situations when with 20/20 vision he couldn’t. In the end we decided it was that my eyes could better detect the contrast than his could. Still true today when he’s trying to read the recycling symbols on various packaging and I can read it just fine.
Do I need better light?
How do you know if you need better light? My first question to any customer for this is: Can you see to stitch outside in direct sunlight? If the answer is yes, then light is a big chunk of your problem and solution. That doesn’t mean that you might not need additional magnification, especially if you have other vision issues. But that simple “test” will get you a long way toward understanding what the problem is you’re trying to solve. What I recommend after that illuminating moment is that you purchase a higher wattage incandescent bulb to try out in your usual stitching spot. If you’re just doing a test chances are you’re not going to melt the wiring in your lamp or cause your shade to burn up. If you do decide on a higher-wattage incandescent as your solution you do need to do a few more things, which I’ll cover [in the next posts]. If you choose a different type of lamp as a solution then you don’t need to worry about the same issue.
What type of light do I need – general or task?
My all time favorite question from my days as a software engineer is the sentence I had earlier: What problem are you trying to solve? Understanding your lighting problem will help toward the right solution. It’s one of the reasons I ask people to do the sunlight test when they ask about magnification as well. Knowing your problem is the first step.
Are you trying to get more general light? By this I mean [that] you’re after a better overall lighted area vs. task lighting. My incandescent bulb solution solves my general lighting problem. I want to be able to read my chart or instructions as well as see my stitching (or beading as the case may be). So I want a wider area illuminated as good as I can get it – without blinding the neighbors (my husband can fend for himself :-)). If I’m working from my iPad as the source for my pattern or doing needlepoint I don’t need general lighting as much, I need more task lighting.
Do you have ok general lighting but need more task lighting? Task lighting is usually concentrated lighting, regardless of how bright it is. At the low end of task lighting are the little clip-on lamps that are more like tiny spot lights. At the higher end of task lighting are the Stella lamps, which offer a wider area and varying degrees of brightness. In between are the older generation of Florescent (usually about 50-75 watt equivalent – e.g. Dazor, Ott-Lite, etc.) as well as the newer LED lights. One of the pieces of information missing with LED lights is that they don’t usually give you watt equivalents or even Lumens, so it’s really hard to gauge just how bright they are.
For decent task lighting Craftlite’s Dublin or Brighton lamps work, are portable and have a built in magnifier. Ottlite and Daylight also make lamps with 20-30 LEDs that have pretty decent task lighting (Foldi & D20 from Daylight). Stella lamps provide excellent task lighting, with a broad enough area that they can provide some general lighting as well.
Being clear about you lighting need will reduce the chances of you being disappointed. When I have this conversation in person with people I would say 60% of the time people are moderately disappointed that they can’t get by with just their “craft” light (whatever the brand) because they expected to be able to have it cover a wider area. Task lighting is only part of the overall lighting solution. It can give you the extra oomph you need, but it’s not always the entire solution. It depends on the lamp and your use of it.
Tomorrow’s post will describe the different types of lighting. Sunday’s post will give tips on placing your light and have a summary of different popular lights.