Wooden Embroidery Hoops: Round Hoops, Oval Hoops, Square Hoops, Fanny Frames and Hoops with a Table Clamp

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A Primer for Selection and Use

                “Mrs. Greene was engaged in a piece of embroidery in which she employed a peculiar kind of frame called a tambour.  She complained that it was badly constructed, and that it tore the delicate threads of her work.  Mr. [Eli] Whitney1 , eager for an opportunity to oblige his hostess, set himself at work and speedily produced a tambour frame made on a plan entirely new, which he presented to her.

                Several years afterwards, his partner, Mr. Miller writes to Mr. Whitney, “I presume your skill in mechanics is likely to give you employment enough with the ladies; for your name is often coupled with work-frames, needles, &c. &c….”

                Memoir of Eli Whitney, Esq.
                by Denison Olmstead, 1846

Many years ago, one of my retailers called and told me the story of receiving a phone call from a competitor across town demanding to know if it was true that she had wooden embroidery hoops from Access Commodities in her store that cost $15.00 for an 8 inch hoop.

“I told her that it was true, and I was doing very well with them,” the retailer recounted to me.  “I assured her that these were well worth the money and more.  Needless to say, she was not happy.    When the same customers came to my shop and asked me about the hoops, I would take one off the display and hand it to them and ask them what they thought.”

“What did they say?”

“They bought them every time, or came back for them later,” she replied.

Drum Tight

Embroidery frames, (also called slate frames) with four parts forming a square or rectangular shape were long a fixture of professional workrooms.  We know this from late medieval period engravings and period inventories.  All circular embroidery hoops for sale today whether they are plastic, metal or wooden are direct descendants of a mid 18th century tambour work frame. If you have heard of the expression “drum tight”, this refers to the tambour hoop of which our present day embroidery hoop is an adaptation.

Evenly maintained fabric tension that does not shift as a hand-held needle rhythmically moves in and out of a fabric ground can be a tremendous asset in doing many kinds of embroidery.  Embroidery stitches by their very nature can distort the fabric on which they are made. Too much puckering and pulling of the fabric ground is neither attractive nor rewarding after the hours devoted to a piece of work. 

A Circle of Tension Control

Is there such thing as too much tension?  The answer is dependent on what kind of stitch and what kind of thread.  Certainly a taut tension of fabric makes it easier to do pulled thread work or split stitch, whereas chain stitches, stem, and outline stitches are easier done in hand.  A skilled embroiderer of my acquaintance when asked this question said she uses a hoop for all kinds of stitches---but the fabric is not always taut, but firm.  Depending on the stitch, she readjusts the tension of the fabric with the screw. This enables her to scoop the needle when making a buttonhole stitch, for example.

However, there are lots of people who do beautiful counted linen embroidery that would find putting their linen in a hoop a form of obstruction. 

One of Life’s Small Pleasures

At an embroidery class hearing a teacher describe a well made wooden embroidery hoop as “lifetime investment” made me reflect on value of simple instruments in a time where complexity of design often trumps purpose.  Unless you leave it out in the rain or your dog uses it as a chew toy, Access Commodities’ wooden hoops will give you many years of faithful service.

But what is the definition of a well-made hoop? As you run the tips of your fingers over both the inside and outside perimeter of the inner and outer wooden pieces, it should feel satiny smooth to the touch, with good quality brass hardware for adjusting the top section over the fabric. Handling one of our hoops as you embroider does provide a measure of tactile gratification that cannot be equaled by plastic, metal or wood that is rough to the touch

Our Selection of Hoops

Access Commodities imports from Europe and stocks a comprehensive selection of wooden hoops enabling one to perform a wide range of embroidery techniques. All of the hoops,  made of beechwood,  come in a range of diameter sizes listed in the graph at the bottom of this post.

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Access Commodities
 Widths of Hoops
5/16", 5/8", 7/8"

The fine, 5/16 inch width slender hoops are for light weight linens, batiste and cambric.  These are best for embroidering monograms, raised embroidery slips, or any kind of fancywork.   

The 5/8 inch width medium hoop is recommended for medium weight linens, and fine woolens.  The size is a comfortable weight in your hand.

The 7/8 inch width is recommended for heavier upholstery weight fabrics, and is actually my favorite for crewel work.

We also offer “square hoops” with rounded corners which are popular with counted thread embroiderers.  The size opening is better suited for sampler work than a round shaped hoop.  One of the more atypical sizes we stock is a square hoop that is 16 ¾ inches long by 12 inches wide.

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Access Commodities
Square Hoop 6.5" X 6.5"
HOP 65650

The “Fanny Frame” pictured here is another unusual frame.  It does not have an interchangeable hoop size, but the shaft does raise or lower to an accommodating height.

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Access Commodities
Fanny Frame
HOP 30560

Another type of hoop that we stock is a Hoop with a Table Clamp.  The shaft on the attached hoop adjusts to a comfortable position like the Fanny Frame.

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Access Commodities
Table clamp with hoop

Oval hoops are unusual and hard to find.  Access Commodities oval hoops have industrial grade hardware.  The wide oval is perfect for embroidering borders, and the small oval is a tactilely pleasing size for small borders, monograms and edges.  Personally, I like the way the small oval nestles into the palm of my hand as I use it.

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Access Commodities
Oval Hoop 6" x 3.5"
HOP 63500

Additional Suggestions for Success

Every hoop sold by Access Commodities is labeled with the suggestion to the purchaser:

            “To protect your embroidery fabric from marking, please wrap the hoop with twill or bias tape.”

Access Commodities has white twill tape in three widths:  3/8”, 1/2” and 3/4”.

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We recommend wrapping the inner ring of the hoop, no matter the type of ground fabric.  When wrapping, make the overlapping wraps at a 45 degree angle and do it firmly. Tack with a few cross stitches to the inside of the hoop.  Wrap the outer ring if you are embroidering on fine silk fabric or anything that will mark.

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Finally, we suggest placing your design in the hoop so that the screw is at the eleven o’clock position, to keep your threads from catching on it.  

Product Listing of Access Commodities’ Wooden Hoops

1 This story is recounted about Eli Whitney, the gifted inventor of the cotton gin. He had gone to Savannah, Georgia to work as a tutor in 1793, and was staying with the family of General Greene.  This in turn led to his introduction to local planters who complained about the difficulty of cleaning cotton.  Mrs. Greene, is recorded as saying:  “Gentlemen, apply to my young friend---he can make any thing.” 

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