Embroidery hoops -
all you ever wanted to know!

Are embroidery hoops essential when doing hand embroidery? Well, to a certain extent it depends on what type of embroidery you are doing, and also on personal preference.

I recently found a piece of embroidery in the cupboard, which I had done years ago without a hoop.

Sample embroidery that was not worked on a hoop

I photographed part of it to illustrate how working without a hoop can result in puckered fabric due to uneven tension.

This is most obvious on the unstitched areas of the panda and beside the leaves on the left.

I guess this is why I never bothered to get the finished work framed. Nowadays, I nearly always use a hoop!

What size hoop should you use

When I teach, people always ask me what the best sized hoop is. My answer is normally the one that feels right to you. If you are not happy holding and using it, you won't enjoy your stitching.

It isn't necessary to choose a large hoop that your whole design will fit inside, unless of course you are doing bead embroidery (crushing beads between the two rings of a hoop is not a good idea!). For other techniques it is normally possible to move the hoop as you complete a section of the design.

A smaller hoop will be easier to handle, and will tend to keep the fabric more taut than a larger one.

Hoops are generally available in sizes from 4 inch to 12 inch diameter. I find the 5, 6 or 8 inch sizes are most useful.

What if your smallest hoop is too big?

If you have bought a kit and the fabric provided is too small to fit in your smallest hoop, then what do you do? Well, you have three alternatives here...

  • Don't use a hoop, and stitch in the hand instead
  • Buy a smaller hoop.
  • Or use the following technique...

Find some spare fabric, not too flimsy mind, that will fit in your embroidery hoop. Tack your embroidery fabric onto the middle of it, making sure it is securely held in place on all four sides. I use a large backstitch for this.

Place your smaller, inner ring on a hard surface. Lay the fabric on the ring with the embroidery fabric face up, then push the outer ring down onto the inner. Turn the work over and with a small, sharp pair of scissors carefully cut away the spare fabric where it covers the area that you will embroider.

Once you have completed your embroidery you can remove the work from the hoop and cut the basting stitches.

Adjusting the tension of your embroidery hoop

Good quality wooden embroidery hoops will usually have a brass adjustment screw that you can tighten when necessary to keep the fabric as tight as a drum. In fact I keep a small flat headed screwdriver in my workbox so that I can tighten it as much as possible. If you can flick your fingers against the fabric in the hoop and hear a drum like sound then you know it is just right for stitching on.

Do you ever find that you get your thread caught around this adjustment screw? Here is a tip for preventing that from happening. Think of the hoop as a clock face and ...

  • If you are right handed, position the screw at 10 o'clock
  • If you are left handed, move it around to 2 o'clock

You should find that the screw is no longer in the way.

What if my fabric slips and keeps sagging?

One solution to this is to bind the inner hoop with fine fabric, bias binding or a finger bandage.

Wrap the thin strip of fabric around the ring tightly and secure the end with a few stitches. This will help keep the embroidery fabric taut, clean and prevent any snags from a rough hoop.

Do I need to remove the hoop each time?

I would advise you not to do this as the ring can mark the fabric, if left in place for extended periods. When you put down your work at the end of a session, loosen the ring or even better, take it off completely.

What alternatives are there to an embroidery hoop?

Wooden embroidery hoops are traditional but there are more modern alternatives that you might like to try.

Flexi hoops offer one choice. These consist of a hard plastic inner ring and a flexible outer ring that stretches over the fabric, to hold it in place, tightly. However, if you have difficulties with your hands, due to arthritis or similar, you may find flexi-hoops difficult to assemble.

Flexi hoops can also double up as a frame for the finished piece of embroidery.

Q-snaps are another option. These consist of lengths of plastic tubing that fit together into a square or rectangular shape. Separate sleeves are provided that can be pushed onto each side of the frame to hold the fabric in place.

Q-snaps are light, can be taken apart for easy storage in between projects, but I find they do not keep the fabric as taut as a hoop and I am constantly adjusting them.

Spring hoops were originally designed for machine embroidery. They are almost flat so that they will slip under the sewing machine foot.

They consist of an plastic outer ring, and a spring-loaded, metal, inner ring with handles that you squeeze together, in order to position it inside the other section.

After accidentally letting go too soon, and having the inner ring spring back into me, I tend to avoid these! I also find the thread gets caught over the "handles" wherever you position them. They do keep the work nice and taut though.

Again, it comes down to personal preference as to which kind of embroidery hoop you like working with best.

This is your chance to talk about embroidery hoops!

Which type do you prefer? When do you use them, and when don't you? Feel free to ask questions, or answer other people's queries.

This is your section of the page, so feel free to add anything that you think will help other embroiderers find out which are the right hoops for them.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Left in Hoop too Long 
I had not realized that leaving the work in hoop for too long would cause deformities in the fabric. Is there a way to fix this? Spray and iron maybe? …

Cross stitch fabric too stiff  
Is it OK to wash the fabric to soften it before starting a cross stitch project? It is very hard to get the Hoop on and work with it.

Conditioning a wooden hoop 
Is there a way to condition the wooden hoop? It is probably over 40 years old, and seems very dry. I always use a wooden hoop because I think it holds …

Making the fabric taut 
I am starting on my second cross stitch project. The first one I never finished because it was looking so bad. What I am having a problem with is getting …

Cross Stitch Baby Afghan 
I am about to begin a darling baby afghan for my first grandchild -- the afghan material bag indicates that I should not use a hoop as that will distort …

needlework frames that keep the fabric taut 
Is there any scroll frame that holds the sides of the fabric? I find that with a scroll frame, while the fabric can be tight, it always sags on the …

Can I move a hoop over already stitched work, will it damage the cross stitching? Not rated yet
I have returned to doing cross stitching from years ago and never used a hoop or frame. But now I am, and like it feel my work is neater. However, …

Wood embroidery hoops Not rated yet
What kind of wood are embroidery hoops made from? I am embroidering a large tablecloth as a keepsake. What size hoop is optimal? Help please! Carol …

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