Go Towards the Light

So…. Earlier this month I ran a blog about items you may want to put on your Christmas list for that significant other to have for you under the tree.  One of those items was this:

The Cuttipillar Light Box.  I will readily admit this is my very favorite light box to date.  Yes, it’s a little pricey, but it came with a carrying case and a translucent cutting mat that can sit on top of the wafer-thin lighted surface, allowing you to cut fabric on top of it.  It’s has LED lighting and three brightness settings.  I love this thing…I use it weekly.  I work with a lot of applique and it has been worth every red cent I paid for it.

However, if you don’t applique often, or not at all, it really doesn’t make sense to throw that much money into a light box.  Chances are if you did, that light box would end up collecting more dust than anything else.  But there still may come a time when you need a light box for quilting or another craft.  In this blog I want to talk about some other ways to deal with this dilemma without breaking the bank.

The first way, of course, is simply purchase an inexpensive light box.  Walmart has them.  Amazon has an array of them.  I purchased the light box I used for years (before I found my Cuttipillar) from a tattoo supply house.  If this is what you plan to do, make sure the lighted surface is large enough to fit your needs.  If the box is only going to experience occasional use, a cheap light box will work just fine.

Nonetheless, there’s a few of you out there that are  just dipping your toes into applique and aren’t quite sure if that’s a technique you plan to stick with.  Maybe you’re trying to still figure everything out and any purchase beside fabric and pattern is completely off the table.  But you still need a light box to trace the pattern.  Have no fear, I want to share with you a few easy ways to make your own light box without spending a red cent (or at least not many of them).

Old X-Ray Light Boxes – If you happen to know a medical office that’s re-upfitting its establishment and can wrangle your way into purchasing one of their old x-ray light boxes (these were used to illuminate the x-rays, allowing the doctor to read them), these are great!  The lighted surface is large and is wonderful.  My mother has one of these that she uses in her stained-glass classes.  They may even give it to you, so they don’t have to deal with disposal. 

Flat-bed Scanners – Before printers  developed the capability to scan as well as print and copy, folks had to have flat-bed scanner in order to scan and send documents or pictures.  When turned on, the bed will light up, and that lighted surface is pretty large.  The only downside to this is that the top of the scanner is attached to the bed and isn’t removable.  That is about the only issue that will need to be dealt with.  Check out thrift stores for these.  Most of the time old flat-bed scanners can be picked up for a few dollars. 

Storage Box – A clear plastic storage box (generally priced between $10 – $15) can be converted into a light box.  You may even have one in your quilt area that’s full of fabric you could shift somewhere else.  The box needs to be deep enough and long enough to add the light with a little room to spare.  The lid should be flat, so the drawing surface will be smooth.  You’ll need a light source to go in the box and there a couple of ways this can be accomplished.  You could cut a hole in the side of the box, close to the bottom and insert a light source that plugs into an electrical outlet.  However, my favorite light source is this:

These are battery operated and can be purchased at most dollar store establishments.  Simply put these in the bottom of the box, press them on, return the lid to the box, and trace away.  If the box is big, a couple can be used.  And if the light is too bright, just tape down a piece of white paper over the lid to diffuse it a bit. 

Acrylic Sewing Machine Extension – If your sewing machine has one of these, it can do double duty as a light box.  Simply put one of those press-on lights underneath the extension and get busy.

These are “small” fixes for a light box – they’re only so big.  There may come a time when you need a bigger one – especially if you’re making a Baltimore Album Quilt or working with a quilt that has large applique panels like this:

Commercial light boxes and those homemade light boxes listed above can only be so big.  So, what’s a quilter to do?  Below are some solutions that will not cost you anything but a few dollars.  In fact, you may already have these in your home or garage.

A Kitchen or Dining Room Table that Has an Extension Leaf Capability – Pull the table apart as if you’re inserting the leaf.  Measure that area and head to the hardware store/building supply house and pick up a piece of Plexiglas that will fit that area.  The Plexiglas will fit into the area the table extension would go.  Be sure to tape the edges of the Plexiglas with some kind of tape to keep it from scratching any of the table’s wood surfaces.  Place a light source beneath the Plexiglas and you’re good to go.  Bonus factor in this set up is that it’s just the right height to take the strain off your back. 

Window or Sliding Glass Door – If you don’t have a table that has extension leaf capability, you can always use a large window or a sliding glass door.  Simply tape the pattern to whichever one you’re using and trace away.  Of course, using this method means you have to do your tracing during the daylight hours (unless you can talk someone into standing outside the window or door with a light source at night)

Light boxes are wonderful tools for any quilter, and if you really like to applique, they’re a must.  If your budget allows it, purchase one that fits your need and your wallet.  If you’re only an occasional appliquer, one of the homemade light boxes may fit your needs better.

Until Next Week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

PS — Thanks to everyone who commented on The Quilt That I Can’t Finish. Ya’ll had some wonderful ideas and I’m thinking about exactly what I want to do. I’m leaning towards making it a wall hanging with the picture of my dad and me in the middle. I’ll let you know what I decide.

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