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How to buy and use an embroidery hoop

Here’s a question: how would anyone know how to buy and use an embroidery hoop if they have never bought or used an embroidery hoop? Thing is, when it IS time to go looking for one (when, say, you are starting my Easy Embroidery! course for complete beginners) it’s a bit of an alien landscape. That’s how it was for me, at any rate. The first time I ever touched such a beast was on the day I bought one. Now, they are like an extra limb and while they are easy to use, if embroidery hoops are new to you the chances are that you could do with some guidance. So, here it is:

What is an embroidery hoop?

Well, if you are going to buy or use an embroidery hoop, we may as well start right at the beginning. It’s simply two narrow concentric circles or frames of wood which sit inside each other and are tightened by a screw at the top. That’s it!

How does it work?

It works by ‘trapping’ the fabric you are working on between the two wooden circles, holding it tight enough for you to work on without creating uneven or puckered fabric or stitches. Some people happily work without them but I like that they give me one less thing to worry about so I can focus on my work.

Embroidery hoops

How do I use it?

Simply place the circle without the screw on a flat surface. Lay your fabric over it, making sure the design on it is centered and then slip the circle with the screw over the top of these, ‘trapping’ the fabric.

Fabric in embroidery hoops

Ideally, when you transferred your design to the fabric, you did it so that the threads of the actual fabric sat horizontally and vertically. It just makes a more pleasing finish. This is also how I suggest placing the fabric in the hoop, so that the fabric looks ‘straight’ and won’t stretch because it is on the bias (at an angle, in other words). It’s also worth putting the screw at the top of the hoop and central to where the design will be. It saves you having to take it apart later on to get everything central and even.

Taut fabric in embroidery hoops

Then just tighten the screw to stop the fabric from moving, gently pulling at the fabric edges to remove wrinkles. The aim is to get the fabric flat and tight enough that you can almost do a drum beat on it.

What’s the best type of hoop to buy?

There are all sorts on the market and some are cheaper than others. In my experience the really cheap ones can lose their shape and the screw at the top doesn’t hold as firmly as it should. That means you have to keep pulling at your fabric to keep it taut and it just becomes a mahoosive pain.

As for hoop brand I think that Elbesee is the best one. It’s reliable and the screw at the top is easy to use and holds its position really well. You can find them here but shop around for different prices because they can cost more than other versions. I pick up mine in bulk from a teeny haberdashery I’ve found near my static caravan because the prices are amazing. Try to find somewhere local to you that does the same.

Hoop label

Do I need a particular size?

Hoops come in all sorts of sizes but most popularly 3 – 12 inches wide (the measurement is the diameter of the inner circle). For the purposes of my Easy Embroidery! course I’ll use a 9 inch hoop but you can use whatever suits you. Just remember that smaller hoops may give you a little more control when you hold them but there is less room for wandering with your designs and stitches.

How much fabric do I need for the hoop?

I always cut my fabric a couple of inches larger than my hoop. It gives me a little wiggle room if it slips for any reason. You can cut it closer to the size of the hoop when you have finished your work but still giving you a generous enough overlap that you can back it. Remember that if you cut your fabric to the exact size of the hoop it won’t catch properly between the concentric rings and you won’t be able to back it at all.

Prepared embroidery hoop

Are hoops reuseable?

Yup, unless you want to hang your piece in the backed hoop. Then you’ll have to get a new one for each project.

Where can I buy embroidery hoops?

Haberdasheries have them and you’ll often find them hanging on a wall where you can rifle through to find the size you want. If you can’t find them, just ask. My experience of haberdasheries is that they are so packed with treats that they can be hidden. The prices are usually brilliant in these little places too.

Embroidery hoops on display

You can also buy them online. Ebay is a great place to get hoops. Shop around for good prices and remember to buy from UK sellers. I learned early on that mistakenly buying from a seller in China means a carbon footprint that makes me weep, made all the worse by a six week wait.

What else do I need to know?

Keep your hands clean when handling your hoop to protect your fabric and when you have finished your day’s work store it somewhere safe and clean. I use a fabric drawstring bag or a small canvas tote.

And that’s it! That’s how you buy and use an embroidery hoop! It’s not as mysterious as it looks, right? RIGHT?

Embroidery hoop with bunting decoration