Stitching on black fabrics can be eye-straining, frustrating, and down right difficult. All that said, why do we even do it? Because the results are always stunning and awe-worthy. Here are my tips and ideas for making the process less painful.
Good Lighting, Quality Lighting, More Lighting!
The number one most important thing you can do when stitching on black (or any dark colors) is to have good quality light, and a lot of it. I’m not saying you have to rush off and buy an expensive Ott Light or anything, though they’re certainly nice to have.
Get as much light into your stitching area as possible. If you like stitching outside or near a big window, natural light is an amazing helper when stitching on black fabrics. If you’re stitching in the evening I find that an LED headlamp or booklight can be helpful if you feel like you’re not getting enough light.
You can try putting a second light below your project, too, either a lightbox or a small lamp. One of those little clip on booklights comes in handy here too. Putting the light underneath will illuminate the holes in the fabric from behind, making them much easier to see.
White Cloth or Paper Across Your Lap
A favorite trick of many stitchers is to simply place a white cloth or paper across your lap behind your project. The contrast of color helps to make the holes in the fabric clear to your eyes, almost as if there were a light underneath the project.
Bigger things are easier to see, right? If you have a magnifier attachment for your lamp this is a good time to employ it. Personally, I prefer the magnifying reading glasses that you can pick up at the drug store and I keep a pair in my stitching corner 😉 When you go shopping for a pair of magnifying glasses, take a piece of your favorite count fabric with you. Look at the fabric while trying on the different strengths of magnification and hold it about where you would while stitching. Quick note, if you use magnifiers for reading already, you might want a slightly different strength for stitching purposes. I’ve found I need a little extra for stitching.
If you have a jeweler’s headlamp with magnifier, you’re golden with magnification and extra lighting all in one.
Use Counting Pins
When I first got a set of counting pins I thought, “I probably won’t use these all that much, but they’re so darn pretty.” Boy, was I ever wrong. I love my counting pins. When you’re working on a difficult project like dark fabrics keeping the frogs and errors away is a huge stress relief, so counting pins are your new best friend for keeping your place marked and properly counted.
(Check out our article on how to use counting pins for more information and links to pretty counting pin sets)
Shorter Stitching Sessions – Rest Your Eyes
This is probably second most important, right after having good light. Working on darker fabrics is eye-straining, so you’re going to need shorter stitching sessions and lots of breaks to step away from the project and rest your eyes.
Project Rotation – Work on Something Else
If you feel like you’re wearing yourself out on the project, try a project rotation and work on something else that’s a little bit easier every other time you stitch. That way you’re not feeling stressed out or giving yourself a headache when you sit down to the work on the project.
Actually, I recommend a project rotation any time you have a difficult project that you’re working on, no matter what color the fabric is. If I have something with a lot of blended and quarter stitches in it, I’ll rotate that with a project that’s all solid monochromatic stitching so I don’t burn out and get frustrated.
Alternatives – Change the Fabric, Change the Supplies, Make it Easier
If you’re absolutely stressed out about the project and it’s giving you a headache, it’s just not going to be fun or relaxing to keep working on. Change the fabric something lighter and easier to work on. Swap white for black in your fabric and pattern. Try a grey fabric instead. Try a fun color of fabric; dark fabrics can still be difficult to work on but can be easier than working on black, so look for something that fits your project and test it out by stitching a small area.
Have a tip not mentioned here? Leave a comment below to share 🙂
A few related q&a posts:
- Can I Wash Finished Cross Stitching on Black Fabric?
- What kind of lighting?
- Do you use counting pins while stitching?
Great tips, Loretta! And you are so right, the most important one is good lighting. I can’t believe how many people try to stitch using just a table lamp on the end table next to them. My Dazor is part of my ‘decor’.
I agree! I have a bright positionable desk lamp on the desk where I stitch, plus changed the bulbs in the room to brighter bulbs.
A few years back I ditched all our standard bulbs for full spectrum bulbs, it made a huge difference in our little ugly rental with dull walls :-p
When we bought the house we’re in now we put in natural spectrum LED bulbs. It’s been almost two years and I haven’t had to replace a single bulb and my electric bill is pretty small, so I guess they’re working.
we’re doing the same 🙂 makes all the difference!
I don’t have a fancy task lamp at the moment, but I do have a lot of lights pointed in my direction when I’m stitching; the ceiling light and two lamps, and a big picture window behind me if I need the natural lighting.
great timing, I am just starting a project on dark fabric. I will definitely use your tips.
I’m glad it was helpful. I’d love to hear how your project goes after you start it 🙂
These are all excellent suggeations. I find back lighting and the white paper or light colored clothes to be the most successful. Thanks for a great article.
Thank you for stopping by. It really is amazing what a simple sheet of paper or cloth can do to help with stitching on the dark fabrics!
Stitching the Night Away says
I want to thank everyone who has read, liked, shared, and/or commented on this article. You are all awesome <3
I did a nativity piece on black Aida. I did not have a lot of problems with my eyes. Let me go out on a limb and recommend black Aida instead of evenweave if you have issues with black fabric. Aida tends to be easier on the eyes because the “squares” are already set up. I’ve worked with dark evenweave and you definitely have to have good lighting but dark Aida isn’t nearly as bad.
(To be fair, I also did a “no count” on black Aida as well but let’s not talk about that. I’m not rushing out to do another no count any time soon….)
Annie Flagg says
I put a bed pillow on my lap with a white pillowcase and found I like using it most of the time now. Nice to rest my hands and arms on if I am stitching while conversing or watching TV
A tip I have is use the torch on your mobile phone as back lighting , its cheap and portable.
Jyl Milner says
I haven’t tried them myself, but it seems like the ball tipped “easy guide” needles might come in especially handy on a black fabric project. Has anyone tried them?
I also have found that besides using the clip-on book lights that if you are stitching on a table, I position the book light so that is shines at an angle when I stitch on black canvas.
Donna Hitchcock says
Thanks for the tips. Just purchased black Aida for a Halloween project, I figured it was going to be difficult but wanted to try it. I often work on a sun porch (lots of Windows) and I have an ott light.
I am currently working on a project on dark blue (not black but the same thing!). I’ve found that I do stitch in shorter sessions than I usually do. I think it’s just more work. But I’m liking the result and will try the light cloth/paper in my lap.