Have you ever thought much about the lamp you currently use while you read or stitch? You probably take it for granted until your electricity goes out or you go tent camping with a lantern. At those moments, perhaps our thoughts go to imagining our great-grandparents stitching by candle or oil lamps. The flame flickers and the burning wax and wick let off a smoky residue. How fortunate we are today to have lighting that won’t ruin our eyes and our needlework. How did we go from flame to L.E.D.?

History of Light

Human beings have had some artificial light sources for thousands of years, probably since man discovered fire. To save time and paper let’s skip ahead to more modern times, say the 1800’s.

Candles were a primary lighting source for centuries and still play a part in how we look at light today. The basic components of a candle are a wick, a burning agent (such as tallow or wax such as bee’s wax or spermaceti from the head cavities of the sperm whale) and a container. The quality of materials made the difference between a sputtering or steady light. Candlepower is one of the ways people measure basic lighting. Candlepower is defined as “illuminating power, as of a lamp, or gas flame, reckoned in terms of the light of a standard candle.” Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) It was established back in 1860 using a very specific type of spermaceti candle with a set weight and burning rate. The measurement was revised in 1948 to candela (cd). The technical description of one candela is “equal to one square centimeter of a blackbody radiator at the temperature at which platinum solidifies (2046 degrees Kelvin).” (reference link)

When you are looking at modern options, you want to find the best lumen which is illumination, not power. “The lumen (symbol: lm) is the international system of units of luminous flux, a measure of the perceived power of light. Luminous flux is adjusted to reflect the varying sensitivity of the human eye to different wavelengths of light.” (reference link)

Along comes the invention of the incandescent bulb. While most people think of Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb, historians credit over 20 inventors who worked on the theory of incandescent lamps. The reason we think of Thomas is because his version was a better quality product in terms of materials and construction. In addition, he didn’t stop with the light bulb, but developed an entire system to deliver the electricity to use the product.

An incandescent bulb produces light by the transition of electrons from one energy level to another. The measurement for these bulbs is watts. “A watt is a unit of power where one joule of energy is transferred in one second, the watt is relatively small so power is often measured in kilowatts which is 1000 watts.” (reference link) An incandescent light bulb produces more heat, thus consuming more power, than a fluorescent lamp. Incandescent light bulbs tend to put out a yellow or white light. A typical lifespan of an incandescent lamp is 1000 hours. People often wonder how much a light bulb costs them to use. To figure the cost for an incandescent bulb you take the wattage multiplied by your cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and divide by 1000. So if you have a 75 watt bulb and your kWh is 6.2 cents then your cost is 75 x 6.2 / 1000 = .4875 or about a half a penny an hour.

Along came fluorescent lamps. The world saw the first fluorescent lamp at the New York Worlds’ Fair in 1937. “The fluorescent lamp is a low pressure gas discharge source, in which the light is produced when electricity is used to excite mercury vapor. The mercury atoms produce an ultraviolet light that causes a phosphor to fluoresce. Fluorescent lamps have a ballast that regulates the power flow.” This source has a lower energy cost to operate and generally lasts longer, but tends to be bulkier and cost more in the initial purchase. A fluorescent lamp has a lifespan of 10,000 to 20,000 hours. Compact lamps can vary from 1,200 hours to 20,000.

One of the drawbacks for crafters is colors may be distorted under this light source. Have you ever noticed that under some fluorescent lights your face may look washed out or clothes don’t match, but they did when you were outside in the sun? This is caused by the light’s spectral composition and is measured by its Color Rendering Index (CRI). “CRI is a measurement of the color shift an object undergoes when illuminated by the light source, as compared to a reference source at the same color temperature. Color rendering is measured on an index from 0 – 100, with natural daylight and incandescent lighting both equal to 100. Objects people viewed under lamps with a high color rendering index (CRI) appear more true to life.” (reference link)

The most modern lighting invention is the Light Emitting Diode (LED). “An LED is a semiconductor diode that emits light when an electric current is applied in the forward direction of the device.” An LED is usually a small area light source such as flashlights. The color of the emitted light depends on the semiconducting material used and can be infrared, visible, or ultraviolet. LED’s have some benefits, among them are high efficiency, small size, durability, and mercury-free. Their life spans average 50,000 to 60,000 hours.

Having the right light source is the first step to stress-free stitching. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • The older we get, the more light our eyes need. Ever marvel at the kids who can sit and read in the dark?
  • Where will you use the light most? Will you be sitting in your favorite chair, at a table, or going to classes?
  • Where will the lamp sit? You will probably want the lamp on the opposite side of your dominant stitching hand, so the shadow of your hand stitching will be reduced.
  • Did you know that having a glare on your work will wear you out faster? To find out if there is a glare, put a small mirror on your frame where you are stitching to see if any light hits your eyes. If so, adjust the location or height of the lamp.
  • Don’t use your stitching light as the room’s only lighting source. You need to have natural or room light on when you stitch because it will strain your eyes looking between a darker room and your lighted work surface (reference link)

Now that you have a little knowledge of the types of lighting available, here is some information about the more popular companies and the lamps they manufacture. They are listed in alphabetical order. All the information contained in the description comes from the companies’ websites.


In 1990, Patrick Jacquelin discovered the daylight bulb on a trip abroad. Recognizing that natural daylight is the healthiest and more comfortable light for our eyes, he realized that this ‘daylight simulation effect’ could benefit thousands of individuals who need natural light for everyday tasks, or more specifically for hobbies that involved intricate detail and color matching. All Daylight™ lamps are fitted with high quality Daylight™ bulbs or tubes. The bulbs are made with a high quality blue glass which reproduces the effect of the yellow sun (the yellow filament) filtered through the blue sky therefore emitting a white daylight light. Some of the reason the company suggests you use Daylight:

  • Daylight™ light enables you to see intricate details and the finest of designs with ease.
  • Daylight™ light ensures you see colors accurately at anytime of the day or night which is essential for color matching of material like paint, threads and wool.
  • Daylight™ bulbs and tubes are environmentally friendly as they are low energy light which dramatically reduces the amount of electricity used. Also, the bulb or tube itself runs cold so you can enjoy powerful light without the uncomfortable heat.

Click here for Daylight Lamps

Mighty Bright

Since 1985, Mighty Bright has been on the vanguard of personal lighting for the book, music, and craft industry. The company headquarters and warehouse are located in Santa Barbara, California.

Click here for Mighty Bright Lights


The invention of the Ott-Lite is a true Cinderella story. Dr. John Nash Ott was a photobiologist who was given the task by Disney to record the growth of a pumpkin through time-lapse photography which would be used for the transformation of Cinderella’s magical carriage. It turned out not to be as easy as it sounded and after several experiments Dr. Ott discovered the proper range of light wavelengths needed to grow the pumpkin indoors. So what does that have to do with stitchers? Turns out that some wavelengths let you see colors better, others emit a glaring light, and others let you see high contrast. Each one has its positive and negative effects. Ott-Lite balances them for the best contrast and brightness. Colors are vibrant and details are clear.

Click here for OttLites

Here are several lamps designed for table usage.

Here are several lamps designed for floor usage.

Here are several smaller lamps designed for clip-on or craft usage.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was published by Nordic Needle in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their newsletter, visit”

1 thought on “Lights

Leave a Comment