I recently did an internet search for “Essential Sewing Tools.” I knew what the results would be — pages of articles talking about scissors, cutting mats, rulers, and everything else one might expect. Some even included things such as masking tape in their list of “Everything a Beginner Needs!”, but what every article left out was the one essential tool that is so often overlooked, light.
Light has played a crucial role throughout my creative career as a graphic artist and photographer, and is equally important to me now as a sewing pattern designer and quilter. It’s a tool that I utilize every step of the way in my sewing and design process. My patterns begin with the basics, pencil and paper. I sketch out my subject matter in true-to-life form and then begin the steps of creating a usable sewing pattern with the aid of my absolute favorite tool, a light box. I place tracing paper on top of my sketch on the light box and begin creating an angular version of the subject, figuring out how to break it up into sections and where all the seams need to be. Once I am satisfied, I scan my design into the computer and finalize the pattern pieces in Adobe Illustrator.
When I’m ready to sew up a sample, I once again turn to my light box. I first trace the lines of my pattern onto the back of the paper patterns and mark my numbers and fabrics in each segment. This is something I recommend to everyone! When you can see the pattern on the side where you are placing your fabric, it allows you to check your work as you go and helps prevent common errors such as cutting your fabric too small or missing segments of the pattern.
I also use my light box to precut all my fabric before sewing. It is especially useful when fussy cutting, but also allows you to cut your pieces to the exact size and shape you need, eliminating waste and ensuring you don’t end up with pieces that are just a little too small once you sew them on. Oh, the horror of seam ripping when paper piecing! I currently use the Wafer 2 Light Box by Daylight Company and it is amazing! It’s only 3/8” thick and weighs next to nothing. The 12.5” x17” surface area is large enough for most any task, but still small enough to travel with. The LED bulbs stay cool and are dimmable, my favorite feature! I also use it when doing appliqué, embroidery, and a variety of other crafts.
Once I’m ready to sew a sample, I rely on a different type of light, my sewing lamp. I bet that I’m not alone in getting at least a little (or a lot!) jealous when I see amazing, sun drenched spaces on HGTV or while scrolling through social media. We all long for such a space to create in, but let’s face it, how many of us actually get to roll out of bed, make a cup of coffee and spend all day sewing in the sunlight? I sure don’t! Even though sewing is my “day job”, my daylight hours are often filled with chores and business tasks that push my actual creating time well past dusk, not to mention when I’m pulling an all-nighter to complete a tight deadline. Even when I am able to sew during the day, I found the built-in lights on my older machines were never enough. I was left with horrible shadows in the throat, right where I needed to see the most. Some modern machines I have tried do have much better LED lights built in, but they still tend to provide only condensed light in a specific area. Sometimes I would use the flashlight of my phone and stand it against the front of my machine. I even tried wearing a headlamp!