Lighting for sewing rooms can make the difference between a garment finished with time to spare and a WIP cast aside in favor of a nap to ease a headache.
It sounds extreme, but poor lighting in a sewing room can contribute to physical discomfort, including headache, a sore neck (from crouching over a project), and more.
Don’t worry, though — there is a ray of hope (LIGHT PUN ALERT 💡) when it comes to lighting for sewing rooms. Ya gotta understand how much light you need, where you need task lighting and where you need fill lighting, and a handful of other lamp-and-bulb-related features.
Keep reading this ILLUMINATING 💡 guide to finding light for sewing tables and more. You’ll be the boss of lumens and lux in no time, and your eyes, and sewing projects, will be better for it.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why is Lighting Important?
Lighting is important because humans receive most of our information about our environment through our eyeballs. Sufficient light makes it less taxing for our eyeballs to process information, and we are consequently able to work — ahem, sew! — with greater ease.
Additional benefits of sufficient lighting include reduced eye fatigue and headaches and fewer mistakes and injuries.
If you have any of the following symptoms during or after your sewing practice, you may have eye strain — and your stitching space may have insufficient lighting:
- Unusually watery or dry eyes (“tired” eyes feel different to different people)
- Blurred vision
- Facial muscle fatigue (from squinting)
- Neck, shoulder, and/or back pain (from poor posture)
In a nutshell: Good lighting improves your sewing practice, and poor lighting can hurt your sewing practice and body.
Check Out Amazon’s Best-Selling Lamps & Shades
How Much Illumination Do I Need for Sewing?
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has guideposts about lighting needs (as measured in lux — lumens per square meter).
When it comes to measures of brightness, lux is how much light falls on a surface, and lumens is how much light is emitted from a light source.
- Performance of visual tasks of low contrast or very small size: 1,000-2,000 lux
- Performance of visual tasks of low contrast and very small size over a prolonged period: 2,000-5,000 lux
- Performance of very prolonged and exacting visual tasks: 5,000-10,000 lux
For context, CCOHS reports that “adequate general lighting” is 500 to 1,000 lux when measured 30 inches above the floor.
And, for even more context, Philips, the global lighting brand, says that office lighting for “writing, typing, reading, and data-processing” averages 500 lux.
Sewists working on the most challenging types of projects need at least 10 times the amount of light (5,000 lux) you find in the average office (500 lux).
Does it make you think about your sewing space lighting a little differently?
Types of Lighting for Sewing Rooms
In a sewing studio, you need two types of lighting: task lighting and fill lighting.
Task Lighting for a Sewing Room
When we start talking about lighting for a sewing room, what we REALLY want to chat about is task lighting — targeted illumination of a work zone.
Sewists need impeccable light in two primary work zones: where we use a sewing machine (a sewing table of some persuasion) and where we perform close-up tasks.
Most (all?) sewing machines have a built-in light. But, that’s often not enough.
You may consider augmenting your sewing machine’s light with a dedicated desk or floor lamp, placed behind or to the side of the sewing machine.
Avoid placing a lamp behind your body (lamp-body-machine). Your body will block the majority of the light from the lamp, and the needle will stay dim. (Body-machine-lamp is a better arrangement.)
There also are lights that attach to your sewing machine. For example, self-adhesive strips of LED lights, stuck to the bottom of the arm, illuminate the needle.
Task lighting for close-up tasks prevents eye strain when you’re using a seam ripper or sewing by hand.
A camping-style headlamp brightens anywhere your head is pointed, and the closer the lamp is to your work, the brighter your work will be (and the easier it will be to see what you’re doing).
There are some lights with a built-in magnification. So, along with lighting up your hands-on work, a magnifying lamp brings the work (metaphorically) closer to your eyes.
What is So Special About OttLite?
If you’ve spent any time shopping for any sort of crafty stuff (in person or online), you’ve probably come across an OttLite daylight lamp.
According to its website, OttLite says its proprietary technology creates light that’s closer to natural daylight than other LEDs.
“Natural daylight is healthier for your eyes,” according to OttLite, “because it has a more balanced spectrum of color that’s easy on your eyes.”
Sunlight is made up of all colors of the rainbow; this is where “full spectrum” in relation to light comes from. Artificial light may look “white” like day/sunlight, but it doesn’t emit all the colors (it’s not full spectrum), which means it doesn’t render colors as purely as sunlight.
OttLite, with its full-spectrum-sunlight-mimicking technology, also reports that its lights show colors more true to life.
Reviews show the brand is doing something right. A desktop Amazon search for “ottlite” in October 2022 showed 24 OttLite products that all had four-star (or better) average reviews.
In your sewing space, you may also consider illuminating your stored stuff: fabric, sewing supplies, and more. Many times I’ve dug through a drawer for one tool and come up with something else because I couldn’t see.
There are lighting products to banish the darkness surrounding stored sewing gear. You can place round puck-shaped lights and skinny strips of lights inside closets, cupboards, and drawers.
Many lights for cabinets and the like are battery powered and self adhesive; hooray for no hardwiring! Some lights have motion sensors and automatic shutoff.
Fill Lighting for a Sewing Room
We’ve got task lighting, for something in front of your face or in your hands, and then we’ve got fill lighting.
Fill lighting is indirect, uniform, general, ambient lighting. It’s more like, “lights on, lights off”-type lighting.
Overhead ceiling lights usually are fill lights, and lamps (usually large-ish floor lamps) also can be fill lights.
And, of course, natural lighting is the ultimate fill light.
Lighting in My Sewing Room
Because it’s fun to creep on other people’s sewing rooms, here’s my lighting scenario.
My Sewing Room Task Lighting
Light for Sewing Table
Light for my sewing table is two desk lamps. They are repositionable LED lamps from IKEA — the Härte.
- Pro: I love that they are bright and I can direct them right at my needle for max brightness.
- Con: The on-off switch hangs below table height, which means I have to bend over the top of the table or crouch below it to turn on the lights.
RELATED: 10+ Small Sewing Table Options for Space-Squeezed Sewists
For close-up stuff, I wear this rechargeable LED camping headlamp from Target.
- Pro: It’s bright as the sun and GREATLY eases eye fatigue when ripping seams.
- Con: It’s dorky looking as heck.
- Pro: I don’t care about looking like a dork when I can flash people in the eyes as if they were a raccoon digging through my trash.
Lightbox for Sewing-Adjacent Tasks
I almost always trace my sewing patterns, and I have a makeshift light table to ease this task. My IKEA glass-top desk also is great for gluing together PDF patterns.
The light table components are the Glasholm tabletop (no longer available) and two Alex desk cabinets.
You can see it in action here:
- Pro: The lightbox desk lets me do jobs I’m not hot about — assembling PDF sewing patterns and tracing sewing patterns — more quickly.
- Con: Honestly, I can’t think of something I don’t like about it or could be better. It’s rad.
My Sewing Room Fill Lighting
I have three sources of fill light: a window, an overhead light, and a floor lamp.
My sewing machines are in front of my window, and it faces northwest. There’s a teeny bit of tree obstruction.
- Pro: I have a sewing room with a window! Viva natural light! It’s great to compare thread and fabric in front of the window.
- Con: This isn’t a light thing, but the cranks for these casement windows are below my sewing desk, so I have to get under the desk to open the windows. (Don’t feel sorry for me; there’s a big window in my sewing room.)
The ceiling light is a flush-mount drum fixture from CB2. It has two 60 watt LED bulbs and throws diffused light.
- Pro: It’s worlds better than the dangly crystal thing that used to be in this room. It gives MCM vibes while still being understated enough for most decor styles.
- Con: Sometimes I wish it were a little brighter.
The floor lamp, an IKEA Ranarp, is a fill light and a task light.
I direct it at the ceiling to throw more light around the room, and I direct it at my glass-top desk when I’m working there.
- Pro: It’s easy to adjust the lamp arm and head to direct light.
- Con: I don’t like picking it up when I’m vacuuming or sweeping. (This is a lame con, I know. It just works well for me.)
RELATED: New Sewing Room Setup: An IKEA Sewing Room Makeover | TOUR
4 More Things to Think About When Making Lighting Decisions
As you evaluate options for a space, keep these sewing room lighting tips in mind.
1.) Type of Bulb
There are four(-ish) main types of bulbs you’ll probably consider for sewing room lighting: incandescent, halogen, fluorescent (and compact fluorescent, aka, CFL), and LED.
- Incandescent: The bulbs that were most common before LEDs took over. Use more energy vs. other options but are budget friendly. Get hot.
- Halogen: These are the floodlight/funnel-shaped bulbs. They get hot and use a medium amount of energy relative to the other options.
- Fluorescent: Those long tube light bulbs often found in utility-type spaces. Low energy usage.
- Compact Fluorescent (CFL): Usually spiral shaped bulb. Low energy usage.
- LED (light-emitting diode): Look like traditional, old-school incandescent bulbs with more heft. Smart light bulbs are LEDs. They’re more expensive upfront but have the longest life of the bulbs listed here.
Many bulbs show watts (W). Watts are the amount of power consumed by the device; it’s not a measure of brightness. Look for lumens and lux measurements.
This article has a good table that converts watts to lumens. To emit 1,600 lumens, here’s what you need from different bulbs:
- Incandescent: 100 W
- Halogen: 72 W
- CFL: 23 W
- LED: 20 W
2.) Light Features
Lights, lamps, and whatnot can have many different features. Here are features to assess against your needs (in no particular order):
- Material: What is the light made of (e.g., steel, plastic), and what does this mean in terms of its robustness? Does it look or feel (exceptionally) cheap?
- Base: Is the base solid (stands on its own) or clamped to a surface?
- Flexibility: Can the head and neck/arm be repositioned? What are the mechanics of adjustment (e.g., pivoting joints, flexible metal gooseneck)?
- Switch: Where and what is the switch (e.g., button on top of lamp head, toggle on the cord)?
- Power: How does the light get power (e.g., hardwired, cord + outlet, battery)? Does it need to be charged?
- Adjustable Brightness: Are there multiple levels of brightness?
- Color Temperature: Are there multiple color temperatures from which to choose? Light on a sunny day is about 5,000 kelvins (K). Light gets cooler/bluer the closer it gets to 10,000 K, and it gets warmer/yellower the closer it gets to 1,000 K, per this graphic from Ergonomic Trends.
- Shade: Does the lamp shade expose or cover the bulb(s)? If exposed, do you want a more aesthetically-pleasing bulb whose internal elements are concealed (e.g., round bulb vs. spiral bulb)?
- Cord: Is the cord vinyl, textile (fabric), or something else? Do you care about its color?
3.) Electrical Situation
Based on where you want the light to go, what’s your electrical outlet situation? Will you need a power strip or extension cord or surge protector?
Also: Will you need a cord management system?
4.) Furniture and Paint Color
Furniture and paint color also impact light in a sewing room.
Obviously you know that lighter-colored furniture and walls will reflect more light, but have you thought about their surfaces?
Glossy, shiny surfaces could throw too much light and cause unintended glare, which can be annoying and painful to the eyes.
So, maybe go with a flat paint vs. high gloss.
Final Thoughts on Lighting for Sewing Rooms
Sufficient lighting for sewing rooms will help you work on projects with greater accuracy and ease, along with making your sewing practice less taxing on your eyes and other body parts. When your hobby causes pain, it’s time to re-evaluate what’s going on.
It’s nice to know that the fix could be as easy as adding a lamp to pump up your lux.
And, remember: If you feel like your room is inexplicably dark, it could be that you’re standing between the overhead light and what you’re working on. (I do this CONSTANTLY when I’m ironing.)