Glasses and magnifiers are not the same thing and do not work the same way. Eye glasses are used to correct vision problems while magnifiers are used to enlarge a particular item.

Our eyes focus through a series of reactions beginning with the retina reacting to light. The brain gets the information and somehow turns it into an image. When all goes well, we see things clearly. However, because of disease or aging, we may encounter trouble focusing. A majority of vision problems are actually due to blurriness, not being able to bring the image into focus at the retina. The most common problems are:

  • Nearsightedness (Myopia), you can see well up close, but far away items are blurry.
  • Farsightedness (Hyperopia), you can see far away, but up close is blurry

That means that for the majority of us, eye glasses are needed to reduce the blur by focusing light on the retina.

The actual history of eye glasses is somewhat sketchy. The Chinese used magnifying lenses in about the 10th century. Roger Bacon was an English philosopher who is credited with making the first written record about glasses. There wasn’t a great demand for eye sight correction until the 15th century, when printing presses made reading materials more accessible to the common man. It is documented that a guild of "spectacle makers" was formed in England in 1629, so the science of optometry had developed quite a bit in one hundred years. Benjamin Franklin is well known for many of his inventions and experiments, and he developed something that is near and dear to many of us-bifocals! The story goes that he got tired of changing glasses depending on his activity. So, he cut his reading glasses in half and attached them to his regular glasses. For a great article to learn more about your prescription and how lenses are made go to:

Sue learned from her optometrist the majority of people in Mazatlan need glasses at a very early age because of several factors that put them at a higher risk for cornea damage….they are closer to the equator, they spend a lot of time out in the sun with no sunglasses, and the reflections off of the ocean or sandy beach increase the harmful effects. The worst time to be outside, unprotected is from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. especially during the summer. Children are actually at a higher risk for ocular damage than adults because they spend more time outdoors, during this time frame, playing. We can learn from this and take precautions to protect our own eyes when we are outside. Remind parents that even little eyes need good sunglasses. Also wearing a wide-brimmed hat or cap may block up to 40 per cent of UV radiation.

So, if eyeglasses reduce the blur, what do magnifiers do? They enlarge something only in appearance, not in physical size. This enlargement is quantified by a calculated number also called magnification. (reference link)

The first magnifier was invented over one thousand years ago. It was called a reading stone and was a polished glass dome. When it was placed on top of an item, the curvature of the glass caused the item to appear larger. But just how does it work? Magnifiers bend the light rays making the image appear larger than it really is. The curvature of the lens will determine how much stronger the magnification. So, the greater the surface of the lens is curved the more light is bent and the magnification is greater. This means that the higher powered magnifiers are actually going to be the smallest.

The optical power of the lens is stated in diopters (D). The higher the number, the more the lens will bend the light. "In one respect, magnifiers are unique optical instruments in that the magnification (how many times the image is enlarged over normal) can change as you hold the magnifier closer or farther from the subject, though you are much more likely to notice this phenomenon with low power magnifiers. Since magnification can change with the distance the magnifier is held from the object, the lens in a magnifier is sometimes given a diopter rating. Diopter refers to the strength of the lens, not the magnification and it rates all lenses as if they had the same focal length. Overall, though, no need to worry about diopter unless you have a specific technical need to do so. Just check the stated magnification and focal distance if listed and go from there." (reference link)

A diopter is stated as the reciprocal of the focal length in meters. If it is a 3 diopter lens, then it focuses best at 1/3 of a meter (about 12-13 inches). With that said, here is what they are referring to. This information is from the back of an Opticaid – Spring Clip box.

Power Working Distance Diopter
1.50X 20" +2D
1.75X 14" +3D
2.00X 10" +4D
2.25X 8" +5D
2.75X 6" +7D
3.50X 4" +10D

Here is a visual example from the MagEye packaging.

Visual example from MagEye packaging.

Just as with lamps, finding a magnifier that works for you is a very personal choice. You may find you need several different styles and strengths depending on what type of stitching you are doing and how you sit to stitch. It all depends on how far your stitching is from your eyes or magnification source. For example, if you don’t use a hoop when doing Hardanger embroidery you might hold it closer to your eyes than when you cross stitch using a table frame. The first step is to determine the distance from your eye to your hand. If that is 10", then you should start with the +4D lens and see how that works. You may need different lens if you are wearing bi-focals versus stitching without them. It is important to find the style and strength that works best for you. If it doesn’t work, you won’t use it, so don’t be shy when you go shopping for a magnifier. Ask to try your choices out. Take a piece of work along and sit down, just as if you were going to stitch. Let’s look at some options!

OpticaidIf you wear glasses….

Opticaids are a spring clip attachment that will fit most plastic and metal frames to allow for hands-free magnifying while reading or stitching. The magnifier does not rest on the glasses, but extends out a little bit from the frame. They are lightweight and swing up when not in use. The lens are hard-coated scratch resistant and a soft vinyl storage case is included. We carry several magnifications.

MagniclipsMagniClips are clip-on magnifiers that rest close to the eyeglass frame, yet they sit low enough you can look up and see over them easily. These lightweight magnifiers also flip up when not in use.

Daylight Clip OnDaylight Clip On has four lenses and the glasses clip in one black box so you are guaranteed to always have the right magnification for your needlework. Four lenses include 1.7x, 2.0x, 2.5x, and 3.0x magnification. The clip can be attached to most eyeglasses and the lens can be flipped up for normal viewing.

Lighted Head Visor is worn like a headband and has an adjustable magnifying lens, plus it has an LED light that is also removable as a standalone light.

Whether you wear glasses or not…

Mag EyesMagEyes uses a head-band style for hands-free magnification. You slip the plastic band around your forehead and then adjust the height of the magnifier lens. The lens extends six inches from the band, and cannot be adjusted any closer or farther out. The lens is positioned so that you are looking down at your work and can look up and over the lens to look at the pattern. If you wear bifocals the company generally recommends the double low (1.6x (+2D) and 2.0x (+4D) lenses). For special eye conditions such as macular degeneration, you might prefer the use of the double hi (2.25x (+5D) and 2.75x (+7D) lens).

There are four different magnification lenses that can be used interchangeably in any MagEyes headband.

  • Lens #2 – 1.6x working distance is approximately 12-14"
  • Lens #4 – 2.0x working distance is approximately 10-12"
  • Lens #5 – 2.25x working distance is approximately 7-10"
  • Lens #7 – 2.75x working distance is approximately 4-7"

The MagEyes Original includes +2D (1.6x) and +4D (2x) lenses or you can get the MagEyes with +5D (2.25x) and +7D (2.75x) lenses!

LumiCraftThese hang around your neck…

Magni Shine – This 2x power lighted magnifier has built in LED lights and provides bright, shadowless illumination.

The LumiCraft Magnifier is a wearable 2x power hands-free lighted magnifier that has a 4x power spot lens and crystal clear acrylic lens. Built-in light prevents eyestrain and provides bright, shadowless illumination. Adjustable neck cord.

2-in-1 LED Magnifier Floor and Table LampSome floor and table models…..

The Carson Optical 2-in-1 LED Magnifier Floor and Table Lamp is easily convertible it to a table-top lamp or work space magnifier. There are 30 super bright LEDs that last up to 40,000 hours. The magnifier is a 5″, 2X magnifier that features an integrated handle for easy positioning. The flexible neck helps position the lighted magnifier right where you need it. The height adjusts from 15.75″ to 56.75″. The sturdy base measures 10.5″ x 8″.

The 42" Dazor circline fluorescent magnifying lamp has a 5" lens with a +3D magnification. Use as a free-standing model with purchase of a pedestal or wheel-base floor stand. Comes in In almond or in black. The pedestal or wheel stands are sold separately.

The Daylight 5″ LED Naturalight Floor Mag Light is a practical and versatile floor lamp and is ideal for the stitcher or hobbyist in your home. 21 high performance, energy efficient Naturalight LEDs surround the 5″ magnifier (2.0X). The flexible gooseneck aims light exactly where you needed it. Remove the pole to use as a lamp on a table. The height is 44″..

The DeskBrite 200 – 2x LED Magnifying Desk Lamp by Carson Optical has two super-bright LED’s to illuminate your stitching area. The large 4″ acrylic lens provides a large viewing area and has a 5X spot lens. The lamp sits on a base with a 12″ flexible neck that lets you position the magnifier right where you need it.

Flexilens Daylight also carries magnifiers without lights. The Flexilens version clips to the table or hoop and has a 7″ flexible arm. The rimless lens is 3.5 inches in diameter with 2.25 magnification (+5D) with a 3/4″ spot magnifier (4x).

Miscellaneous magnifiers to enhance your stitching experience….

Need to determine your fabric size but can’t see the threads? These clever magnifiers set on top of a piece of fabric and you look through the lens.

LumiDome LumiLoupe

Have trouble keeping your place on a chart or page of copy? Use the Magnetic Bar Magnifier! Use this bar magnifier on any magnetic board. When combined with the Prop-It Page Magnifier, it will enlarge patterns 6 times! Bar bar measures 5″ x .875″ with a handy tab to make it easy to move your bar up and down the board.

Magnetic Bar MagnifierLED Tweezers

Do you struggle seeing the threads you need to pull out? This compact 4x power magnifier combines with a built-in fine point tweezers and bright LED light.


OpticlothsKeep your lenses clean and protected. Never use paper towels or tissues to clean your glasses or magnifiers as these contain wood fibers that will scratch your lenses. Use a cloth specialty made for the job. Use one of these microfiber cleaning cloths instead. Also suitable for cameras, Ipods, phones, PDAs and CDs. Opticloths come in vibrant colors and designer patterns.

If you use tri-focals, try a Clip-On magnifier. Several customers have told us that it is hard especially with tri-focals to use a hands free magnifier. Instead, they have had the best luck with the Clip-On magnifiers.

Sharon Shetley, Threads in Bloom, also recommends the clip-on type. "They sit out a ways from the glasses, making them VERY adjustable, and you can look over the top of them through regular glasses to see TV, etc. They come in different strengths, although more expensive than some to the others, they are worth every penny. I have had this pair for at least 2 years, and I use them a lot, so they hold up. I would highly recommend these to anyone. Also, nothing hanging around your neck, or those things that go on your head, squishing your hair…."

If you are experiencing a significant loss of vision, you may be able to find products through a company such as Independent Living Aids who specializes in products for people with low vision.



"To Mary Frances Sherlock, in 1992, her invention of a hands free, head mounted, dual lens magnifier seemed just a prayer and a dream; but by 1997 MagEyes had sold by the thousands and was a 1995 product finalist for the product Excellence Award sponsored by Craft Trends magazine.

It all began with a trip to her dentist (he was using an expensive medical magnifier which he gave to her to use) and Mary Frances being a keen observer of anything that could help those with visual acuity limitations or hand-related disabilities saw this was a product anyone could use. As I was sitting and smocking in the beauty shop in Houston wearing this expensive magnifier, all these ladies asked, "Where did you get that!" I immediately saw a need for it and finally decided on New Year’s in 1992: "This is it! I was going to do it or quit thinking about it." MagEyes’s first patent was issued in May of 1995 and two subsequent patents were issued in the next several years.

MagEyes, Inc. is a true American success story of one woman’s vision, faith, courage, and determination. Mary Frances Sherlock is a uniquely blessed and gifted businesswoman." To learn more about her journey go to:

We hope these "helpful hints" make your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was published by Nordic Needle in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit”

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