Your Guide to Embroidery Hoops: Everything You Need 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 your preference.

I recently discovered an embroidery project I completed years ago. 

Sample embroidery that was not worked on a hoop

I took some photos of the part I embroidered without using a hoop to make it obvious what happens when you don't keep the tension even across the fabric. As a result, the fabric has bunched up and wrinkled in spots where the thread tension changed.

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

I never framed this finished work, and I think you can see why. These days, I almost always use a hoop instead.

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, as you can move it to different sections as you work. However, if you and incorporating beads or using metallic threads or blending filaments, such as in my dragon cross stitch design Old Smokey, it would be advisable to leave these until last. 

Keep in mind that a smaller hoop will be easier to handle, and will keep the fabric more taut than a larger one.

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

You may see extra deep hoops, which are often of a greater diameter as well. Designed for quilters, that extra depth grips hold of all three layers (top fabric, wadding and backing fabric) and prevents them from slipping, something a thin hoop would not be capable of. 

What if your smallest hoop is too big?

If you have bought a kit and the embroidery 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. Securely hold your embroidery fabric in place on all four sides by tacking it onto the middle. 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 screw that you can adjust 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 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 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 comprise a hard plastic inner ring and a flexible outer ring that stretches over the fabric, to grip it. However, if you have difficulties with your hands, because of 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 comprise lengths of plastic tubing that fit together into a square or rectangle. You push separate sleeves onto each side of the frame, and they hold the fabric in place.

Q-snaps are light, and you can take them 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, originally designed for machine embroidery, are almost flat so that they will slip under the sewing machine foot.

They comprise a 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 avoid these! I also find the thread gets caught over the "handles" wherever you position them. They keep the work nice and taut, though.

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

What Other Visitors Have Said

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