When were embroidery hoops invented?

by Cheryl Kinkaid
(Vancouver, BC, Canada)

I'm watching a show on Edwardians and the ladies were stitching without hoops. I was wondering when hoops were invented. I would have assumed a long time before the 1900s.

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A brief history of embroidery hoops
by: Carol

First I must apologize for the time taken to reply to your submission, Cheryl. It took some research to fully answer your question. Here we go...

Adjustable hoops

The adjustable embroidery hoops were first created in 1903, by a lady named Helen A Harmes. In November of that year, she was granted a patent for their construction.

Her hoop differed from those we use today, as both the inner and outer ring were adjustable in size. This meant you could set the size before starting work, thus avoiding the need to remove the fabric part way through the work to move the hoop to a different area. Part of each ring could be slid inside and then fastened with a catch at the desired size.

Quite ingenious really! This invention certainly seemed to increase the popularity of embroidery.

Before this, embroiders used a variety of devices to hold their fabric while they embellished it.

Tambour frames

The tambour frame (named after the drum of the same name) perhaps most closely resembles today's hoops.

These were used in lacemaking where a silk net or other delicate fabric was held in place, while a tambour needle or hook was used to create the pattern on the surface, giving the appearance of a fine chain stitch.

tambour hook

This craft was first practiced in India and spread to Europe in the 1700s. However, it lost popularity by the 1840s as machinery had been invented that could produce a similar effect more quickly.

Slate frames

Going further back in history, slate frames were used to keep fabric taut while embroidery was in progress.

These were made up of four side pieces with holes or notches cut in them. They were held together by pegs in each corner and the fabric was stretched over them and lashed through the holes in each side, with strong thread. The embroiderer laid the slate frame flat, supporting it on a trestle table, while they worked.

A painting by Francesco Del Cossa, named the Triumph of Minerva, painted in 1470, depicts an embroidery slate frame in action.

Del Cossa painting

Still in use today, they are recommended by the Royal School of Needlework for serious embroiderers.

They do take time to prepare and need to be large enough for all of the embroidered area to fit inside, as they are not moved around the project as the work progresses.

It is popularly believed that they were named due to the fact that children would use the old frames that surrounded the "slates" they wrote on in school. A good form of recycling after the slate itself had broken!

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