Hoops are an integral part of hand embroidery. Not only are they necessary during the work to keep the fabric taught, stitches from puckering, and reduce strain for the hands and eyes, but they also can be a beautiful framing option. Artists wrap them in ribbon, color them with paint, or even decorate them with all manner of items to add pizzazz to their work.
The difficulty arises when you go a-hunting for just the right one. Unfortunately, due to the rise of popularity of needle arts, hoops are being mass-produced, and they are not all created equal! Some hoops found at your favorite hobby stores are crafted in pieces, glued together, and sold quite cheaply. These are fine for beginners, or for work that you’re not going to give away – but imagine the horror of passing on a beautifully finished piece, and two months later the hoop falls apart! Some have gaps between the wood pieces, and can be either warped, bent, or don’t fit together tightly. Let’s go over some alternatives, and talk about what to look for in a hoop.
The Sustainability Argument
Hoops are crafted out of wood, plastic, bamboo, rubber, or metal. If sustainability is important to you (and it should be!) I’d opt out of plastic, unless you want to use them for a pop of color.
They are super fun, and it’s very pretty to use them, but I avoid them too much unless it’s for a specific project. The pro of plastic hoops, however, is that they hold fabric well, and there is no warping.
Wooden hoops, as described above, are not all fabulously constructed. They can sometimes have warps, gaps, or even splinters! Be careful when purchasing a hoop, and look for wood that isn’t layered and glued, has no gaps or warps, and where both rings fit together tightly. Sometimes a cheaper wood works for a project, but sometimes not.
BAMBOO! I love bamboo. It grows fast, is easy to use, a sustainable alternative from everything from cloth and toilet paper to embroidery hoops! You can find bamboo hoops at Michael’s which are made from all one piece of fiber, reducing the risk of splintering, splitting, and warping. Hurrah! Also, you’re doing good things for the environment. Bamboo also takes stain quite well, so if you want to dress it up a little – go for it!
A beautiful alternative to wooden or plastic hoops is the “wood grain” rubberized plastic hoops that you can see in many of the stitching design photos. They are beautiful, hold fabric well, and are easy to use.
The outer ring stretches and fits into the grove of the inner ring, locking the fabric tight, and holding it beautifully, even as a frame. I’m torn between the beauty and ease of these and their sustainability.
I’m pretty much using them as I use plastic – sparingly, and for specific projects. If you know more about the sustainability potential of these hoops, please leave a comment below. I’d love to use more of them! They also come in lovely shapes like extended octagons and ovals.
I had a breakthrough the other month, and in a tiny little thrift store, I found metal embroidery hoops! They are held together by a tiny and strong spring, and you push the sides together to get the bottom ring out. They are lined with cork, and so far are holding my fabric really well!
Metal may not as beautiful (mine are very old), but they do work very well for getting the job done. My only concern is if the metal leaves marks on the fabric, so I keep taking it off and checking. Metal embroidery frames may not be your first choice for passing on a gift, but for the right piece, it would look striking and beautiful!
Cost and Availability
All of us want to be doing the best we can for the recipients of our art and for the environment. The reality is that what we consume is regulated by price, ease, and availability. If it’s so expensive that we can’t afford to purchase it, then we simply are going to go with the cheaper, although potentially less sustainable option. I get that.
Luckily, with embroidery hoops, you’re not looking at a huge investment (most of the time!).
First, I always think it’s a good idea to check out thrift stores. Embroidery is one of those hobbies that looks great until you try it, and then you love it or you don’t. There are plenty of people who don’t have the time or patience and would love to get rid of their craft supplies.
Joann’s, Hobby Lobby, and Walmart are going to carry hoops of varying sizes and types, usually at lower costs of less than 5 dollars for wooden. JoAnn’s plastic embroidery hoops can range from around four dollars to around 12 dollars, depending on quality. Loops and Threads hoops at Michael’s are a bamboo alternative, and they start around $1.85. If you’d like them pre-stained, there are artists on Etsy who sell them!
Hoops of a rubberized plastic with wood grain are a little more expensive, but on Amazon you can find a great deal for three hoops of varying sizes at around $12.99, or 4 hoops for $15.99. Metal hoops are available on Amazon or Walmart and are going to run you around 10 dollars, depending on size.
Dressing Up a Hoop
Wrapping a hoop with ribbon is a simple way to complement your piece of art, and you can find tons of easy-access ribbon at craft stores. I also love the inspiration from other artists who glue shells around nautical pieces or turn their hoop into a frame of fake flowers or a wreath of greens. Hoops can be just as beautiful as your piece of art.
Hanging a Hoop
Hanging a hoop varies widely depending on the type, shape, and art within the hoop. Most hoops have a tightening screw on the circle, and people will attach a hanging mechanism to this, either a string, ribbon, chain, or another method. If you wrap a hoop with ribbon, tying a bow with the two ends creates a beautiful way to hang it incorporated into the piece itself.
Rubberized plastic hoops come with a brass hanging toggle screwed in, which can be either taken out or used as the hanger. Other hoops are wide enough to attach a picture frame hanger. Whatever way you hang your hoop – make sure that it’s centered, so that your art hangs just the way you want it to!
Whether you use plastic, bamboo, wood, or metal, hoops are just one part of the embroidery experience. Choose one that makes your life easier for your stitching, and enjoy the journey of finishing your art. Which hoops are your favorite to work with? Share in the comments below, and I’m curious to see if anyone knows a more sustainable option!