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While I infrequently practice now, I’m still an eye doctor by training.
Hearing patients tell me they’ve stopped sewing, cross-stitching, or embroidering because they can’t see well enough is so sad! Especially when there are sewing aids and sewing tips for low vision patients that can get many of them back to pursuing their hobbies.
If you’re also struggling with poor vision or your eyes are just not working well enough, let’s talk about some sewing aids and tips that may help!
(And for liability’s sake, while I am a doctor, I’m not your doctor, and I can’t make a specific medical diagnosis or treatment plan for you. Please consult your doctor about that.)
Sewing Tips for Poor Vision
I’ll start with basic tips if you’re new to decreased vision and then move on to cool gadgets that can help you sew better with poor eyesight.
1. Get an Eye Exam First.
There are two basic types of vision loss.
- First, permanent vision loss from underlying, incurable eye disease (dry macular degeneration, for example).
- Second, vision loss that can be corrected due to refractive error (needing glasses) or treatable eye disease (dry eye or cataracts, for instance).
If you haven’t seen your eye doctor recently (optometrist or ophthalmologist), this is the first thing I recommend if you have started to struggle with seeing to sew!
It might be that you simply need a new glasses prescription. This is especially true if you’ve noticed an increase in near blur but not distance blur.
Starting around age 40, near vision becomes much more of a problem for sewists. Cue the reading glasses!
2. Choose the Right Type of Glasses for Sewing and Quilting.
If you have a bifocal or progressive prescription and have difficulty finding the “sweet spot” to see near, consider getting a separate pair of glasses with a higher prescription just for sewing.
Measure the exact distance you want to see clearly, tell your eye doctor that measurement, and get a prescription for single-vision readers to use just when sewing. (Don’t use them for distance. These are just your “sewing glasses” or “quilting glasses.”)
The entire area of the lens will be clear for your chosen sewing distance, and you shouldn’t have to worry about any head tilting or peripheral vision blur!
3. Practice the 20/20/20 Rule.
To alleviate eye strain when doing near work, one general rule is every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, and look at something 20 feet away.
Bonus points if you get up and walk around because that’s good for your body, too.
Giving your eyes a break from near work helps your eyes’ focusing mechanism relax and gives your eyes a chance to relubricate themselves. This decreases headaches, eye strain, dryness, and many other issues affecting your sewing or embroidering.
4. Set Up Extra Lighting: Room Lighting and Workspace Lighting.
Adding an extra overhead light will make things easier to see if you have difficulty in low-light settings due to cataracts or other eye problems.
For instance, hand sewing, picking seams, and even threading a sewing machine needle are more easily done with extra light.
Aim for using a natural daylight lamp, as this gives the best, most comfortable vision.
One example of a good free-standing sewing light is the Ottlite Natural Daylight LED Floor Lamp.
Another example of a lighting aid is the DIME Perfect Vision, which clips on the side of a table and has both magnification AND lighting modes!
Make sure to aim lights where they don’t cast shadows because that can worsen things.
Once you’ve gotten your general room lighting taken care of, you can also add a strip of extra LED lights to your sewing machine for an added benefit in the work area.
LED light tracks, for instance, are loved by many sewists!
The Dritz Magnified LED seam ripper is another lighted option to consider, making picking dark stitches on dark fabrics much more manageable.
5. Choose Sewing Tools Carefully.
Choosing sewing tools and aids with modifications for users with poor vision can go a long way in helping you achieve your sewing goals.
Here are a few sewing aids I’ve suggested in the past to my patients:
Magnetic seam guides are beneficial if you have difficulty seeing the seam allowance markings on your needle plate. (The contrast is just horrible otherwise!)
Tape measures for the visually impaired include larger, darker numbers or tactile markers for accurate measuring.
Sewing machine finger guards can keep you from accidentally placing your fingers underneath the needle while stitching.
Magnetic pin wands help users clean up pin messes and sweep projects for pins that may be hidden where they can’t see them.
6. Add Extra Magnification In The Workspace.
For instance, Brother has a magnifying lens for its top-tier machines, Juki has a stitch area magnifier for its HZL-DX series machines, and even Janome has its AcuView Optic Magnifier for a wide range of machines.
Check with your machine manufacturer if there’s a compatible stitch magnifier for your sewing machine.
If not, you can try a generic sewing machine magnifier instead.
7. Add Magnification At The Eye Level.
If you are legally blind or have a high level of visual impairment, ask your eye doctor for a referral to a low-vision specialist.
Your insurance should cover low-vision devices that will help you sew!
However, if you don’t have insurance or can’t get a referral because your vision is not reduced enough, you can make or purchase some devices yourself.
Jewelers and even doctors like me use devices like these daily! (We call ours a binocular indirect ophthalmoscope, though, and use it with a 20D lens to examine the back of the eye in detail instead of crafting.)
Magnifiers increase the size of your sewing projects and stitches by 3x-4x, which makes a huge difference, especially when dealing with tasks like threading a needle or sewing on buttons.
You can also purchase magnifying lenses that clip directly onto glasses if you don’t want a headset type of magnifier.
8. Check Out Needle Threading Aids.
I have an entire post on how to thread the needle on a sewing machine that mentions needle threading aids for sewists with poor vision.
Examples of needle threading aids include the Dritz needle threader, silver wire needle threaders, and free-standing needle threaders like the Clover Ultimate Needle Threader. (My Dritz is shown above.)
You also have the option of self-threading or side-threading needles.
There are self-threading needles for sewing machines (like the Schmetz self-threading needles) and then self-threading needles for hand sewing (like Clover Self-Threading Needles and Sench Side-Threading Needles.)
While not perfect, these options can be helpful.
9. Choose a Machine that Works With You, Not Against You.
If you’re in the market for a new sewing machine, choose a sewing machine with an automatic needle threader.
You wind the thread around a separate apparatus, and the machine threads the needle for you.
Also, choose a sewing machine with high-contrast buttons and dials (NOT like the one on my Brother CP60X above. White on light blue is not your friend.)
I think computerized machines are easier to see and use for the visually challenged, but older mechanical sewing machines with large markings are also easy to use.
I hope these sewing aids for the visually impaired and tips for sewists with bad eyesight have helped you gain more confidence for mastering your craft again! While it’s admittedly not easy to sew with poor vision, practice is essential. As is taking advantage of every medical resource you have.
Whether it’s your eye doctor, low vision specialist, or even a local vision non-profit (Lighthouse for the Blind is here in Texas), trying everything to make your vision work for you is worth it!