As someone who spends a lot of time looking at screens, for both work, school, and crafting (I watch Sherlock, Dr. Who, and Poirot when I stitch – don’t judge!), I need to make sure that both my eyes and hands are comfy for long periods of work. Embroidery and lacework are fabulously portable, but what happens when you want to embroider for a long period? One hand holds a hoop, and let’s be real, we grip it like we need it to survive, and the other hand is back and forth around the fabric. Also, some stitches, such as french knots, require two hands. Putting the hoop on your lap while wrapping the needle, picking it up again to pull it through, and trying to balance the hoop with the wrapped threads…well, that’s just more than I want to do, especially if you’re making more than one knot. Let’s talk about embroidery stands – that magical ancient invention that everyone forgets about!
What is an Embroidery Stand?
Embroidery stands are usually wood or metal and come in a variety of shapes based on where it is comfortable for the user to place their work. They hold the work in one spot to allow free movement around it. This creates a more ergonomic workspace and thus – more regular and perfect stitches! They come in standing, lap, clamp, or even sit-on styles! Depending on the type of chair you generally work in, or the room you have to place a stand, different styles may work better for you.
Reduce Eye Strain
So, you work all day, you come home to do a little crafting and relaxing, and you pull out your embroidery. Fabulous – except staring with your neck bent or your hands held up to your face to see your fine work is really hard on your eyes. Your hands make little movements every time you make a stitch which moves the entire work, whether you’re trying to or not. As a result, while you’re working, your eyes are constantly adjusting to where your work is, and usually refocusing if it’s fine work or a small piece. This can result in eye strain, fatigue, and a general desire to stop embroidering, which is horrific!
Keeping it in one relative place and attached to a stand reduces involuntary movements and helps you keep at it for longer! Another benefit to a stand is the ability to attach a lamp or light to it – providing direct light on your project, and also helping to reduce potential eye strain.
Reduce Hand Strain
As with any repetitive work, long use of hands and wrists can cause pain, swelling, or discomfort. Fine needle work is no different. For the most part, if you are working for small amounts of time, you will not experience this for a longer period, but if you’re like me and get addicted to crafting all day while watching British television…well….it gets a little sore about four episodes in.
An embroidery stand both reduces hand strain AND prevents you from dropping your work when you come to a particularly intense part of a show and just HAVE to pay attention. Seriously though, some stitches, such as French or English knots, wrapped or bullion stitches, or even wagon wheels and spider webs, are just easier when you have two hands free to manipulate the thread.
Keeping the work closer to your natural hand position also helps prevent fatigue, and you’ll notice the difference the first time you try to add beads or sequins to a piece. Without a stand, lifting and lowering the hoop for each stitch is a real pain if you’re adding embellishments. With a stand, not only are you stitching faster and smarter, but more accurately and consistently.
Increase Work Quality
Consistency in embroidery stitches is one of the first things you learn, and one of the hardest to master. Pulling too taut or leaving the stitch too loose creates a puckered or sloppy finished product. With an embroidery stand, your work is held for you, and you can stitch more consistently, applying adequate but not too much tension to your stitches. It is also easier for longer loop stitches, lazy daisy, or even stem stitch to be able to let your fingers on either side of the fabric guide your needle. Your petals will be more even, your loops will all be the same length and your stem stitches will finally let you hold them out of the way to get a good wrap around.
What is Available?
Alright – we’ve talked about why they’re helpful, now let’s see what’s out there! Keep in mind that there are many styles based on what you need for your work. The price ranges vary, so I’ll try to give an example of both ends of the spectrum for each type.
These are the larger stands, which sit on the floor like a floor lamp, and are able to hold your work while you sit in a chair. Many of them also have the option to extend so you can change your position, and embroider while standing up, which is a nice change every once in a while.
Floor stands range from around $30 dollars, like this one, up to $130 dollars for a sleek extendable model. I have the 30 dollar model, and it is very serviceable, but I will be upgrading to a metal one for Christmas, I think. The wooden models are sometimes difficult to keep in the place you want them and require a bit of finagling with tightening bolts. However, if you’re on a budget and just want to get started with a stand, they are just fine and work well.
Seat stands are designed to be tucked under one leg and then extend up and over your lap so that you are holding the stand by sitting on it. It is definitely more portable than a floor stand, and depending on the type of chair you are in, super effective at keeping embroidery where you want it to be. Seat stands like this one are right around $30, and I wouldn’t go much less than that if you’re looking for quality and longevity. One huge consideration is that some seat stands have hoops already built in, which limits your working area and your fabric size. A better option is the style which has a clamp for the hoop, ensuring that no matter what you’re working on, you’ll be able to fit it to the stand.
Clamp stands are designed to attach to a work table. They could also attach to a non-cushioned chair arm, but what are you doing embroidering for long periods of time in a non-cushioned chair? Clamp stands position the work above a table, giving you a place to rest not only your elbows, but your scissors, thread bits, computer, patterns, coffee, cat, and snacks. This, in my opinion, is a win-win. A clamp stand like this one or this one will run you about $30.
Lap and table stands have shorter legs and sometimes have a second round hoop at the bottom to provide support to your work as you shift in your chair. Some have legs that fit on either side of you as you sit in your chair or on your table, and you’ll have to find which kind works best for your work station. Lap stands on the lower end of the price spectrum, like this one, are about $25, and range up to around $50 for higher quality or handmade stands.
Save Yourself, Save Your Art!
So, as you’ve read about embroidery stands, which have been around for ages but are less well-known then they should be, can you feel your wrists aching and eyes straining to get one? If you’ve learned something about the ergonomics of stitching, or have experience with your favorite kind of needlework stand, please let me know in the comments below. I’m always happy to learn, especially from people who love to stitch!