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Hoops and Frames

In my last post, I told you about Darren who has taken over a lot of the work that I used to do in this business, thereby giving me more time.  What this means is that I can finally get back to writing all the rebellious stuff that was my original intention for setting up this blog in the first place.  
So, no more nonsense about half-dressed young men.  We’re all far too old for that anyway – and please no comments along the lines of ‘speak for yourself’.  He’s too young for all of you.  
On with the common sense approach to hand embroidery.

I was watching something or other on one or another cooking programme a while ago.  A whole bundle of famous chefs were asked to name their indispensible tool.  One of them said that he could not do without a sharp knife.  That stuck with me, for whatever reason, and came to mind this week.  For weeks, no probably months, it has been difficult to cut anything in my kitchen – from a tomato to a roast dinner and even a slice of bread.  My normal modus operandi is to know that I should be buying something and then every time I go shopping, I forget.  I get home, say “darn” and another week goes by, until I forget it again.   
The knives were no different and finally this week I bought about eight of them.   I came home, gave the blunt ones to my maid and reloaded the little butcher block thingy with brand new knives.  Every kind of knife that I might ever want to use, which is not that many because I try to leave the cooking to anyone else who offers.  But, when I’m forced to get busy in the kitchen, what a pleasure they are.  I can calmly slice through a tomato, cut a block of cheese without grunting and even look forward to making a sandwich with ease, after months of battling to hack through things.  And, it’s not as if I was bankrupted when I bought them.

If I was ever asked to name my indispensible embroidery tool, the tool that makes the difference between doing beautiful embroidery or making a bit of a mess, it would have to be an embroidery hoop.

For someone who is mildly irritated by the know-it-alls, the ones who insist that the only way to do embroidery is to stick to what was done 400 years ago, I am regularly left gobsmacked by the fact that an embroidery hoop, or frame, is something they seldom mention.  I cannot tell you how many times a person, who makes it clear when she phones me that she is an esteemed member of the local Guild, just so that I know that she is important, comes to me for a lesson and cannot work in a hoop.  Because she has never used one. 

In our part of the world – as I am sure in many other countries – ladies can do courses and sit exams that qualify them to judge embroidery and other crafts at agricultural, or similar, shows.  Some of these highly qualified souls have landed up at my embroidery classes and they can’t work in a hoop either.  One of them had to re-learn chain stitch because she couldn’t do it in a hoop.  She was judging embroidery but had never worked in a hoop!

Apart from leaving me speechless, which those who know me will tell you is something that hardly ever happens, it is these sort of revelations that strengthen my resolve to write this blog.  The Embroidery Police have had far too much influence for far too long.  Along the way they have diminished the confidence of stitchers who needed a boost, judged the embroidery of others whilst, let’s face it, hardly being experts themselves if the hoop thing is anything to go by and most important of all, given the art an elitist reputation that has made many people scared to even try it.

Just this morning two old friends popped in to my studio to pick up a few things.  I showed them one of the designs for my next book.  It is all white and I’ve been working on it for about five days.  With droopy faced dogs all around me and this being our muddy season, it’s already off-white. This happens. 

I pointed this out but said that it would revert to pristine white when it was finished and had been washed.  One asked “but can you wash it?”  Of course I can, it’s only the Embroidery Police who say I can’t.  She was surprised and was of course, just another example of so many people out there who have been controlled by all this nonsense, another person who needs to be guided towards a more common sense approach to what we do and love.

So, after that outburst, back to hoops. 

There are many hoops and frames out there, of all different sizes and shapes.  I’m not going to go into all of them, just my personal favourites. 

The thing about an embroidery hoop is that it is needed to keep your fabric taut.  Apart from improving the quality of your stitches generally, there are specific stitches and techniques that will cause the fabric to pucker if it is not well-stretched in a frame.  These stitches include long and short stitch shading and satin stitch.  Working needle lace, which ultimately attaches to a back stitch row at the bottom and stretches over the area you are covering, will definitely cause your fabric to pull if it is not held firmly in a hoop.

There are few things more vexing than a hoop that won’t keep the fabric taut and I’m afraid this applies to most wooden hoops.  Even if you bind the inner (and outer) rings and tighten the bolt with a screwdriver, the fabric loosens.   That’s an irritant.  As time has gone on I have found myself turning to plastic frames and nowadays, I don’t use anything else.  They give a better grip on the fabric; thereby holding the tension required for better stitching, are less inclined to break, and, because dogs seem to prefer the taste of wood, are less likely to be chewed.  A silly little point but one that is often relevant is that plastic doesn’t upset customs officials at borders.  It doesn’t get bugs in it and doesn’t infringe quarantine laws.

The frame I use most often is the Susan Bates hoop.  The inner ring has a little lip, which is placed at the top.  You place the embroidery fabric over that, put the outer ring in place and tighten.  You must make sure that the outer ring “clicks” over the lip of the inner ring.  As you tighten the bolt on the outer ring you simultaneously tighten the fabric.  When you’re done, a little “dog leg” is created.  This holds the fabric firmly in place and it does not loosen.  It really doesn’t.  I have had great big dogs put a paw into the middle of the fabric and it stays tight.

These hoops come in six sizes from 4 to 10 inch and for ages it has bugged me that I couldn’t get a larger one.  That is when I would have to resort back to large wooden frames. 

Part of the problem here is that I don’t live in the proper world and, even with internet, one doesn’t necessarily see the latest and greatest things, so I was unaware of some recent innovations in the hoop industry.  Fortunately, though, I travel from time to time and when I was at Beating Around The Bush in Adelaide, Australia in April last year, I saw two frames that caught my eye.  The combination of Wi Fi, an Apple gadget and a credit card is a wonderful thing because I had found them on the internet and ordered them before I even flew home, with the result that they arrived in my post box shortly after I returned.  What wonderful contraptions they are and I’m going to tell you about them.

The first is a Morgan no-slip hoop. These wonderous frames are available as single hoops, or as combinations of two different sizes, held together with legs that give you a lap stand with two hoops of different dimensions.  You use the size you need and the other one forms the stand.  Who thought of that?  Whomsoever it was deserves some sort of award.  


The hoops have a groove on the outside of the inner ring and a ridge on the inside of the outer ring, which fits into the groove.  This stops the fabric from slipping once you have tightened the wing-nut.

I ordered the 12/14″ combination before I traveled back from Australia and started using it almost immediately.  Since then I have acquired the 7/9″ combination and used it for a piece that I finished last week. I am about to order the 17″ single hoop for a very large circular design that I want to do.  Unfortunately that size doesn’t come in a lap stand set but, that’s fine.  I now know that they really work and I won’t have to use a slippy-sloppy hoop.  What a pleasure.

These hoops come from the US and if you click on this highlight or those in my description above, they will take you straight to the manufacturer’s website.

The other one that caught my eye at Beating Around the Bush is a Grip and Stitch Frame.   I often work on large rectangular or square pieces and for anything bigger than a certain size, it’s easier to move to a square or rectangular frame.  Huge round hoops are just too cumbersome and I only use them when there is no other option. 

I had never found a rectangular frame that gripped the fabric as well as I would have liked, but this one definitely looked like it was worth a try. 


When it arrived in the post, I assembled the thing and was disappointed.  It seemed so flimsy.  Then I put fabric into it and realised that the flimsiness is one of its advantages.  The fabric keeps it firm and the flimsiness keeps it light and easy to hold.
It is the plastic teeth on the edges that hold the fabric, keeping it tight.  You need to make sure you use a large piece of fabric in case the teeth damage it although, having said that, I used a loose weave hopsack in the frame and when I took the fabric out, the holes disappeared.  So, they don’t seem to be too much of a problem except that I am fairly certain that holes created in silk or tafetta wouldn’t close up.
These frames come from the UK and if you click on this highlight or the one in my description above, they will take you straight to the manufacturer’s website.
Every person has his or her hoop preference and I have given you mine.  You may have hoops and frames that you prefer and you should, of course, use those. All that is important is that you do use a hoop or frame and that you remove the fabric from the ring when you are not working, so that your finished product does not end up with a permanent crease.   
Di van Niekerk,  Trish Burr,  Wilsia Metz and I are off next week to Paris for L’Aiguille En Fete followed by a hop over to England for the Craft Hobby and Stitch International in Birmingham. I will let you know what we’re up to either while we are there or when we return. 
Now that I have Darren of the Dress Code giving me so much assistance in my studio, you’ll be hearing much more from me.