It is a righteous Jewish custom of Jewish women not to do any work, such as sewing, knitting, manual laundry, and other such manual labor during the initial half-hour the Chanukah candles are lit. However, women customarily do not abstain from light tasks, such as baking and cooking, during this time.
There are some women who abstain from doing work for the duration of Chanukah. Nevertheless, the Poskim write that this custom has no basis whatsoever and it should be discontinued, for inaction causes boredom and boredom begets sin.
Hagaon Ya’abetz writes in his Sefer Mor U’ktzia that the reason for the custom of women to abstain from work while the Chanukah candles are lit is that before electricity was common, people would do all their work by candlelight. Since it is forbidden to benefit from the light of the Chanukah candles, it became customary for women to abstain from working while they were lit (for the first half-hour).
Thus, the Bayit Chadash (Hagaon Rabbeinu Yoel Sirkis zt”l) writes that it is also customary in some place that men likewise refrain from working while the Chanukah candles are lit since the above reason why women customarily abstain from work applies to men as well. Nevertheless, nowadays, the custom is that men do not abstain from working during this time and only women customarily act stringently in this regard.
There is actually a reason for this custom that applies specifically to women which is that the miracle of Chanukah was brought about through a woman, namely Yehudit, sister of Yehuda the Maccabee, who killed the general of Antiochus, King of the Assyrian-Greek empire. It is for this reason that women observe these days, which are actually their holiday, in a special manner by abstaining from manual labor while the Chanukah candles are lit.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 670) as well as Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l quote this righteous custom of Jewish women. One should not treat such a custom observed by these women lightly, as it has strong roots in the words of the Poskim.