Care of Your Eyesight

By Dr Christine Hamilton

The thing that stitchers dread most is having to give up their hobby because of failing eyesight. Most eye conditions these days however are either treatable or preventable and we owe it to ourselves to look after our eyes while stitching, to ensure that we can continue to use them for as long as possible.

The commonest eye problem for stitchers is eye strain, which can easily be minimised. The main symptom of eye strain is aching eyes, but headaches over the eyes, particularly if they come on after sessions of close work such as stitching or reading, can be another symptom. If you suffer from either of these symptoms, you should get your eyes tested by a qualified optician without delay, whether or not you already wear glasses. It is also important for anyone who uses their eyesight a lot, particularly for close work, to have regular eye tests to ensure that minor changes in vision are corrected before they begin to cause problems.

There are a couple of things you can do to minimise eye strain caused by stitching. The first is to make sure you always work in a good light. Sitting by a window in good daylight is probably the best, but failing that, use a proper lamp close to your work. Daylight lamps are good but they tend to get very hot which is a disadvantage when you need them close. They also have a slight blue cast, which can distort some colours, though they are still better for distinguishing colours than an ordinary light bulb. Halogen lamps are probably better as they give a pure white light and do not get so hot. They are also much smaller, which is an advantage when you need to have them close, but they are quite expensive.

Secondly, make sure you hold your work at the correct distance from your eyes. To find this position, hold your work at arm’s length then gradually bring it towards you until you can see it clearly. If you then continue to bring it nearer, you will find another point where it starts to become indistinct again. You need to make sure you hold your work at a distance between these two points where you can naturally see it most clearly. Most people, when they reach their forties, start to find that this position gets further and further away from their eyes. If this is happening to you, you probably need reading glasses, so, again, consult an optician. When using a floor or lap frame, make sure that it is adjusted to the correct position.

If your vision is really deteriorating and cannot be improved by spectacles, there are still ways of getting round the problem to keep you stitching as long as possible. The obvious option is to try a magnifier. There are various magnifiers on the market, ranging from the simple ‘hang round the neck’ type to sophisticated ones on stands, some of which even incorporate a light. Magnifying spectacles are also readily available now. Having to adjust your eyes from the magnifier to the chart and back again can itself put a strain on your eyes. This can be overcome by looking at your chart through the magnifier.

Using different materials can also help. Obviously you don’t want to be working on 18-count fabric if your vision is not too good, but you might manage, say, 11-count. You can do perfectly good cross-stitch on 7-count binca with tapestry wool (because it is a firmer fabric than aida, your needle is less likely to go through the blocks by mistake). For a similar reason, canvas is easier to work on than a blockweave, as the stiff threads of the canvas help to guide your needle into the right place. (Any cross-stitch chart without backstitch can be worked equally well in tent stitch on canvas.) On the other hand, a blockweave such as aida is easier to see than an evenweave. (Even though 14-count aida uses the same-sized stitches as when working over two threads of 28-count evenweave, the latter has finer threads.) Enlarging your chart on a photocopier can also make life a lot easier.

Finally, even if you are really having problems with your eyes, it might provide some comfort to know that my mother-in-law is still doing intricate embroidery at 91 years of age, after two cataract and two glaucoma operations.