How to look after your eyes while embroidering

You may have heard the stories of medieval embroiderers whose eyes were so strained from hours of candlelight stitching that they went blind. Yikes!

Thankfully stitching ourselves blind is unlikely now we have electricity 💡

In any case, I still like to be mindful of taking care of my eyes. As I want to ensure I have a long and enjoyable stitching future ahead of me!

Let’s be honest, when I was younger, I didn’t give this any thought. But in the last few years I’ve started to pay more attention to how I can look after myself for the long run.

In terms of looking after my eyes, just a few changes have really made a big difference for me. So I’d love to share them with you.

Before jumping in, I think it’s worth pointing out that I’m no expert in eye health. I’m just sharing what I’ve learnt from personal research and listening to people who know better.

If you have any concerns about your eyes, please get an eye test and seek advice from a qualified professional.

An eye and eyebrow stitched with black, brown and white crewel wool.

The 20-20-20 rule

The close work and focus of embroidery can put a strain on our eyes. Especially if we’re working on something small scale. I find the 20-20-20 rule is an easy one to remember to help with this:

Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

If you’re like me, it can be very easy to lose track of time while you’re stitching! So I tend to use starting a new thread as a reminder to take a look away from my work for 20 seconds. I find it much easier to stick to a habit if I can tie it to a trigger.

You could also try setting an alarm on your phone to go off every 20 minutes if that works better for you.

Check your lighting

This has made a huge difference for me.

I first realised the difference that good lighting can make when I noticed that my eyes were getting tired while I was working on my Royal School of Needlework (RSN) blackwork module at home. But when I was stitching in the RSN classroom, my eyes would be ok for the whole day.

That’s not so say I wasn’t tired after class! I’d be generally tired at the end of the day as it can be quite intense. 😅 It just wasn’t my eyes that were specifically tired.

Which is when I paid attention to the quality of the lighting in the classroom. Even when it was grey or dark outside, our classroom was beautifully lit.

So I decided it was time to invest in a craft light for my home stitching.

I went for the PURElite Tri-Spectrum rechargeable magnifying lamp.

I love the flexibility of being able to easily move it around, so I can use it wherever I’m stitching. Getting a lamp with a good daylight setting was also important to me to minimise colour distortion.

It’s been quite astounding how much more enjoyable good lighting has made my embroidery.

So now, unless it’s a sunny day and I’m sitting by the window, I’ll always use my light to help me.

The direction of the light matters

Just having a good light may not be helping you as much as it could if you don’t have the light set up optimally.

You want to make sure that your light is actually lighting up your work. Rather than your stitching hand and thus creating a shadow over your work. That won’t help at all!

I most often stitch with my left hand on top of my work and my right hand below. So my light is usually positioned to my right.

Stitching my embroidered eye with my left hand on the front of my work, so my light is on my right.

If I’m working a stitch that needs both of my hands on front of my work, then I’ll move the light around so it is coming in from the top of my work. That way it lights up my stitching in between my hands.

Use magnification if you need

I’ve been lucky so far and have always had good vision so it was a long time before I tried a magnifying glass while stitching.

I first used one on a silk shading class at the RSN. It felt really odd at first! After I’d gotten used to it though, I found it incredibly helpful for stitching split stitch with a single strand of cotton.

So when I brought my lamp, I made sure to get one that also had a magnifier.

I’m not a big fan of regularly stitching on a small scale, so I don’t use the magnifier all that much. However I’ll always use it when I’m working the split stitch foundation for other stitching. As it makes the stitching more enjoyable for me.

So my take on this is if a magnifier helps you, then use it.

Close your eyes

Our brains have so much information to process all the time and a large chunk of that is coming from our eyes.

So sometimes while embroidering, I take a break for a minute or so to shut my eyes. I think of it as a little reset. Kind of like how if your computer is running slow, restarting it usually speeds it up again!

I’ll often give my neck and shoulders a bit of a stretch at the same time.

Another great way to make sure your eyes get the rest they need is to get a good night’s sleep! I certainly notice that my eyes are more likely to struggle when I’m generally tired.

I find that embroidery helps me to relax, which in turn helps me sleep better. Then sleeping better helps my concentration and my eyes feel better, so I can do more embroidery. A win-win!

Embroidery and your eyes – key takeaways

To sum up, the two main things that are helping to keep my eyes fresh while I’m stitching are:

  • Give my eyes regular rests
  • Ensure that my embroidery is well lit

Which are thankfully both pretty quick and easy to do!

I’d love to know if you have any other tips for looking after your eyes while embroidering?

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