Needle In A Haystack News
The Importance of Good Lighting
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.
3 watt bulbMany 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. But the primary reason is I stitch with very strong light. And I do mean strong - I use 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 @ HomeStella 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 below. 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.
Craftlite DublinAre you trying to get more general light? By this I mean, 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.
Craftlite BrightonDo 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.
LED Lighting
Stella Desk - BlackI know this is going to sound like shameless marketing, but I love my Stella lamp. It's the first task lamp that I've found that gives me enough light to not need better general lighting at the same time. So it's fabulous for hotel rooms, friends houses and class rooms. Stella EdgeThere are other brands on the market now that are going after the high end task lighting market but I still think Stella is the best. I've been known to take my Needlework System 4 Travel Mate along on a trip just so I have something to clamp my Stella to, unless I know I might have a table to use as in the photo at right. This week I purchased 24 of the Stella Desk lamps for class use as we start doing our weekend events at the local hotel. You know I like something when I'm willing to spring for that many of them!
Whether you pick a high-end lamp light like a Stella or something more moderately priced like a Dublin, Brighton or Daylight D20, see if you can try it first to ensure it will help solve your problem. You don't want to spend money on something that won't help you. This is especially important with LED lamps since as I noted above, it's rare to find the technical specs so you can determine how bright they are. For this article I tried tracking down the Lumens for Stella, CraftLite Dublin and Brighton, and the Daylight D20Daylight's D20 and Foldi. I was able to obtain the Stella specs (127 to 1410 Lumens depending on the setting) and find the Lux rating for the Daylight (900 & 930). But mapping Lux to Lumens isn't something I have figured out, even with finding the math formula. I'm hoping someone I know who's an expert in this can help me sort it out. And then I'll post that info later.
LEDs don't blow out like regular bulbs, they fade over time, eventually dying. However that time is 35,000- 50,000 hours so longer than many of us will be stitching. As they lose their luminescence they dim vs. just fail or flicker. If you have an LED lamp that uses batteries, you'll get this affect as the batteries lose their power. The bulbs will dim. Just put in new batteries or recharge the lamp's internal battery. LEDs are generally not replaceable as they are hardwired into the lamp mechanism in a whole different way. As far as I can find most LEDs used in these types of lamps have a Color Rendition Index (CRI) around 80, which is decent for what we need. Finding anything over that in an LED is really difficult - maybe eventually they'll get there.
Florescent Lamps
Craftlite DorestTypically these are rated around 75-100 watts and come either in U shape or round. But with the advent of LEDs many of the florescent lamps are being phased out both due to concerns about the gasses in the bulbs as well as the lower cost now of LEDs, both to produce and to run them. I personally don't use CFLs in my house except in very specific places, in part because finding bright CFLs is harder than incandescent. I understand the need to conserve power, but I'm conserving my eyeballs! I do use CFLs or LED bulbs in places where I don't need as bright a light (like my porch) and I don't want to replace them often. But I don't use CFLs for stitching.
At the shop we use florescent bulbs in the overhead fixtures but we use a higher wattage (54W) with a color of 5,200K and CRI of 92. You almost never find all 3 of those ratings for task lamps but occasionally you do. For color matching anything between 5,000K and 5,500K is good. Once you get above 5,900K the light starts to look blue and throws the colors off. If you can find the CRI for the lamp or bulbs you want something at least 80, but 90 is better for stitching.
Many of you will be familiar with Dazor, which was the premium florescent task light company for many, many years. They are still primarily a producer of florescent lamps, many with integrated magnifiers used in jewelry work, component work, etc. They are not common for needlework anymore in part because none of the needlework distributors sell them any more. Dazor started selling direct and that made it harder for both our distributors and us to compete.
Incandescent Bulbs for General Lighting
If you use my incandescent method you need to make sure your lamp can handle that much heat. A 200 or 250 Watt bulb generates a lot of heat, way more than a 100 watt does. This means your lamp has to have reasonably heavy wiring and you may need a larger harp and/or lamp shade. I have a Stiffel floor lamp that's next to the couch, which is where I do most of my stitching. I didn't have to get the lamp rewired but I did buy a larger harp (the thing that holds the lamp shade on and away from the bulb) and I got a wider lamp shade made of only fabric (no plastic) to dissipate the heat. You really don't want the bulb burning up the inside of the lamp shade! We have a great lamp shade store here in Alameda (Carole Chan's on Encinal) and I took the lamp with me to find a new shade & harp eons ago. Carole's daughter (who does a little stitching herself) and I had a fine time taking the shades for a spin. If you've got a local store with good people, talk to them about shades, harps and re-wiring.
I travel with a 200 watt incandescent bulb in my luggage and I swap out the hotel bulb(s) for a 200 watt so I can stitch in a hotel room, which are notoriously under lighted. I do take my Stella Edge sometimes as well, but the 200 watt bulb fits great in my carry-on.
Where do I position my lamp?
If you sit at a table or desk, typically you want the lamp in front of you. This is also true if you use a Needlework System 4 floor stand and attach a lamp to the light holder. Position it so that while stitching your hands don't break the light pool too much(the area the light spills onto). When you get shadows it can make seeing more difficult, even with a lamp. You might be able to position it to one side, but it depends on the lamp and your working area.
If you use a floor stand to attach your lamp to, you'll need to play with where to place it, since you're trying to optimize both the lamp location and the stand that's holding your work. It'll take a bit of trial and error to find what works and it can be different for each stitching area. Some floor stands like the NS4, hold your work in front of you, others to one side. Don't hesitate to experiment.
If you use an incandescent floor lamp it should be on the side opposite your dominant stitching hand. Since I'm right-handed I have the lamp on my left. For my regular incandescent lamp (which is for general lighting) it's just to left and behind my shoulder. For my Stella Edge it's clamped to my couch arm just to left of where my wrist would be if my arm was on the couch arm. This way it's positioned about the center of my stitching area. You also want the height adjusted so you don't get blinded if you look at the lamp. Since my floor lamp is height adjustable I have it set so that the bottom of the shade is just above my eye level, that way I don't look into the bulb directly when I face the lamp to change its settings. For task lighting you need to figure out where the optimal distance is for the best coverage. Generally it's about 12" from the bottom of the bulbs, but can be up to 18" for brighter lamps (or the 200 watt incandescent bulb).
What brand or type do I choose?
Personal preference can also dictate which type or brand you want. Given the energy efficiency of the current generation of LED based lamps, I think it's the best option. You do pay more for them initially, but the energy use as well as low level of heat generation and long life are the things that put them at the top of my list.
Here are some handy notes for the lights we sell (although I did list incandescent bulbs, which we don't). This is an alphabetical listing vs. preference.
Brand Type of Lighting Color Type of lamp Notes
Incandescent Bulb General
Single color: Soft White, Bright White, etc. based on the bulb type
any regular lamp least energy efficient, can be very warm with higher wattage
Craftlite Dublin Task - LED Single color Floor or desk/table energy efficient & has a battery pack. Built in magnification
Craftlite Brighton Task - LED 3 color: warm, natural & bright white Floor or desk/table energy efficient with rechargeable battery. Also has a dimmer.
Craftlite Dorset Task - Florescent Single color Desk/Table circular florescent bulb. Built in magnification.
Daylight D20 Task - LED 3 color: warm, natural & bright white Desk/Table energy efficient, 5 step dimmer
Daylight Foldi Task - LED Single color: bright white Desk/Table energy efficient, battery powered
Stella Sky, Edge & Desk Task - LED 3 color: warm, natural & bright white Floor, desk or table depending on model energy efficient, 5 step dimmer. Excellent for those with low vision problems.
While we used to carry a lot of Ottlite products, our distributors stopped carrying them as Ottlite started selling direct and as they did more products that were sold in stores like JoAnn's (some made specifically for them). We can't compete on pricing with JoAnn's, certainly not when someone has a 40% off coupon which puts the retail price at what we pay for it. They do make very good lamps which you can purchase directly or at a craft store. MightyBright still makes a number of smaller travel oriented lights, which we can special order.
For a more in-depth review of the Stella lights you can read the review I did in 2014 on our blog or a review on Sew We Stitch as well as Mary Corbett's blog. You can find out more about the individual lights from the manufacturers websites.
Now go forth & stitch - and try not to blind your family members - or stitch them some eye shades!
Happy Stitching,
Cathe (January 2016)
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Needle In A Haystack
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