Monday, July 30, 2012

Answering your questions: hoop-la

A blog commenter asked recently whether I use a tiny hoop in my daily stitching.  The answer is no.

When I learned embroidery decades ago from my grandmother, we used a hoop for everything.  Keeping the fabric taut makes it easier to do many stitches, and more important, keeps the fabric from puckering because you can't inadvertently pull the thread too tight.  But using a hoop also makes it a bit more difficult to stitch in the center, because you can't reach it with a thumb above and finger below, the optimal position for many stitches.

I don't remember when I gave up embroidery hoops.  I know that I abandoned a hoop or frame for quilting about ten years ago.  It was just too much trouble to keep repositioning the hoop, and you couldn't stitch long lines of quilting without letting the thread hang there at the edge of the hoop for a while till you moved it.  And after you moved the hoop, the quilt was all creased and out of position.  So I started quilting without a hoop, with the quilt flat on a table or sometimes just spread over my outstretched hand.

After I realized I didn't want to use my quilting hoop any more I made it into sculpture.

Yes, without a hoop you have to be a bit careful with the stitches so they don't get too tight, but hey, learning to control your tension is the key to mastering all kinds of needle arts.

I quit using embroidery hoops for the same reason --  I didn't like how the hoop wrinkled the fabric and sometimes crushed the stitches.  It's important to control your tension so the stitches are neither too tight nor too loose, but you can learn that.

When I'm doing my daily art project I simply hold the four-inch squares in my hand.  When I work with larger pieces of embroidery, or when I stitch my four-inch squares together into panels, I often work on a table or flat board in my lap.  Much of the time you can glance your needle off the table and back up through the fabric with each stitch without having to put a hand beneath the work.

As with any form of handwork, you will find your own rhythm and style.  Just as some people hold their crochet hooks way different than I do, people have many different ways of doing hand stitching.  Some use thimbles, others don't.  Some push the needle with the pad of their finger, others use a fingernail.  Japanese sashiko stitchers use a leather "thimble" in the palm of their hand.  What's important is to practice, practice, practice, until you figure out the way that works best for you.


  1. One artist who I saw recently using a hoop is Rosalind Wyatt ( -- for her work the hoop makes a difference as she's replicating the handwriting of individual people. I think it also makes a difference in needlepoint to do one stitch at a time rather than both the in and the out movement of the needle at once. That said, hoops are so cumbersome - and double the stitching time!

  2. I would always use a hoop with needlepoint -- or rather, a frame where the entire piece is stretched. that said, I put a piece of needlepoint on a frame 25 years ago and have never finished it. it probably isn't very taut any more. you can probably infer that needlepoint is not my favorite technique.