Embroidery Hoop Basics 960x640b

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Complete Guide to Embroidery Hoops for Cross Stitch [with VIDEO]

What is an embroidery hoop?

An embroidery hoop is made up of an inner ring and an outer ring into which fabric is placed in order to keep it taut for hand embroidery. Embroidery hoops are excellent, reusable tools that keep your fabric taut and your stitching even. They also make convenient and pretty frames for your finished cross stitch projects. 

Here you’ll learn all about the different types, materials and shapes that embroidery hoops come in. You’ll also learn when, how and why to use an embroidery hoop for cross stitch. (And when NOT to use one.) Plus how to find out which embroidery hoop you should use for your next cross stitch project.

Part 1: Embroidery Hoop Types, Materials, Shapes and Functions

Watch the Embroidery Hoop Basics Part 1 Video Tutorial

Do you need an embroidery hoop to cross stitch? 

You do not absolutely need to use an embroidery hoop for cross stitch. You can cross stitch without an embroidery hoop.

I recommend using embroidery hoops for cross stitch beginners because they make it easier to keep the tension of your stitches even. They are lightweight and portable, helping you take your new cross stitch hobby anywhere. Like many things in cross stitch, it is a matter of personal preference.

Click here to see must-have tools and supplies for cross stitch beginners.

When should you use an embroidery hoop?

3 cross stitch embroidery projects, the first in a large, wood  embroidery hoop with a cup off coffee in the center that reads coffee, because murder is illegal, the second in a medium, wooden, embroidery hoop with a butterfly that has rainbow wings, the third in a small, wood embroidery hoop with a pink flower stitched in the center
Patterns in this photo: Coffee, Because Murder is Illegal pattern, Rainbow Butterfly pattern and the Cross Stitch Fringe tutorial project.

Embroidery hoops have two basic functions: to help you stitch and to display your finished projects.

Using an embroidery hoop to help you stitch is a good idea for beginner stitchers because it keeps the fabric taut, making it easier to stitch on. Taut fabric enables you to make even stitches and prevents the fabric from puckering under uneven stitches.

You should use an embroidery hoop if your hand cramps when you stitch in-hand, i.e. just holding the fabric. An embroidery hoop can make it more comfortable to hold the fabric, so you can stitch longer.

Embroidery hoops are also a great way to frame your finished cross stitch projects. A hoop can give your project a traditional look and feel. Or you can decorate your hoops or purchase specialty hoops to embellish your finished embroidery.

Click here to try my crazy easy hoop finishing ideas (with videos)!

A good time to avoid using an embroidery hoop is for very, very large projects. It can be cumbersome to try to gather up the extra fabric around the hoop when you are stitching in one section of a huge cross stitch pattern. In this case, a scroll frame will work better.

4 Types of Embroidery Hoops

1. Screw Tension Embroidery Hoop

A wood embroidery hoop with chrome fastenings resting on top of a flat, wood surface

This is the most common type of embroidery hoop. A screw tension embroidery hoop consists of an inner ring, an outer ring and a screw mechanism. You tighten or loosen the tension by twisting the screw with your fingers or using a screwdriver.

Screw tension hoops are available in many sizes, shapes and materials. 

Screw tension hoops are easy to find, easy to use and the wooden, circular hoops are inexpensive. These are used the most during stitching and sometimes for framing finished cross stitch.

2. Flexi Hoop

A wood-grain flexi hoop held in a pair of hands with a flat wood surface in the background

A flexi hoop is made up of an outer vinyl ring that fits very tightly over an inner ring made of hard plastic, plus a hanger. The outer ring slides and stretches around the inner ring and holds the fabric very taut. This sliding action can be a challenge to work with, and I often need to remove my fabric from the flexi hoop and try again to get it placed the way I want.

Flexi hoops are available mostly in a faux wood pattern, and come in the most unique shapes.

Flexi hoops are great for framing your finished project. But because it can be challenging to get the fabric in the hoop, I don’t recommend using them for stitching.

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3. Spring Tension Embroidery Hoop

A spring tension embroidery hoop with the inside metal hoop held in a right hand squeezing the metal handles and the pink, plastic outer hoop resting on a flat wood surface with a left hand touching it

Spring tension hoops create tension with a metal inner ring that fits into the slot of a plastic outer ring. You squeeze the metal handles to make the inner ring smaller, then carefully place it into the outer ring.  

Spring tension embroidery hoops are always round because the shape contributes to creating tension.

The smaller spring tension hoops hold the fabric very taut. However the larger hoops seem a bit more loose. 

I don’t recommend spring tension hoops for hand embroidery.  

4. Q-Snap

A 6 inch q-snap on top of a flat light wood surface

The newest type of embroidery “hoop” is the Q-Snap. They are made of thick, plastic pipes that fit together at right angles. Each side of the square or rectangle has a plastic clip that snaps on. The ridges on the inside of the plastic clips hold onto the fabric.

Q-Snaps come in many different sizes to mix and match. They can be square or rectangular in shape.

These are good to use if you have trouble gripping a regular embroidery hoop because the Q-Snap frame is thicker and easier to hold on to. They are heavier than traditional embroidery hoops. If that is a concern for you, you will want one of the accessories.

Q-Snap frames have some add-ons available. There are extension kits to make your Q-Snap frame larger. You can also purchase lap stands, table stands or floor stands for your Q-Snap. Some stitchers (and their partners) have made their own accessories for their Q-Snap out of PVC pipes.

Wood vs. Plastic vs. Metal Embroidery Hoops

Three embroidery hoops, a metal hoop at the top, and green, plastic hoop to the left and a wood hoop to the right, all on top of a flat wood surface

Embroidery hoops are made out of wood, plastic or metal.

Metal embroidery hoops have a spring on the outer ring that keeps the tension, and a cork lining the outside of the inner ring to prevent the fabric from slipping. They are usually antique or vintage.

A metal embroidery hoop with a spring at the top, open with the cork exposed on the outside of the inner hoop, held by a pair of hands over a wood background
Metal Embroidery Hoop with Spring and Cork Center

If you find one in good condition, they work pretty well to keep the fabric taut without fiddling with a screw or handles. But metal embroidery hoops went out of style because if the metal rusts, it will stain your fabric.

Wood and plastic are the most popular now. 

I prefer using wood embroidery hoops for stitching. Beech and bamboo are popular. I buy bamboo because it is an inexpensive, renewable natural resource and easy to find in any size I need. The wood embroidery hoops may take more time to frame your project in if you want to paint them or add other embellishments.

A wood embroidery hoop separated with the outer hoop held in a left hand and the inner hoop held in a right hand with a green, square plastic embroidery hoop in the background on top of a flat, wood surface

Some stitchers complain of getting splinters from their wood embroidery hoops, but I’ve never had a splinter or a snag from a wood embroidery hoop in 30+ years. 

Plastic hoops are a delight to work with because of the bright colors they come in. Avoid stitching in plastic embroidery hoops where the inner and outer rings have a smooth surface. Your embroidery fabric will slip and sag in these hoops. They’re pretty for framing your finish projects.

Pick out plastic hoops with a groove or ridging between the two rings to hold the fabric.

The inner hoop of a plastic embroidery hoop shows a ridge that works to hold the fabric tightly.

Embroidery Hoop Shapes

In the top left is a hexagon embroidery hoop, to the top right is a metal, oval embroidery hoop, to the bottom left is a plastic, square embroidery hoop and in the bottom right is a circular, wood embroidery hoop, all laying on a flat, wood background

Round is the most common shape and it’s the shape of embroidery hoop that most stitchers use.

Embroidery hoops are available in square, oval or even specialty shapes! You don’t have to use a square hoop for a square pattern, for instance, but it looks nice for framing and finishing.

Which type of embroidery hoop should I use? 

Look at the table below. Check the column headers for your stitching situation and find which type of embroidery hoop will most likely work best for you.

The first row represents the situation for using the hoop: Easy to Use, Low Cost, Use to Stitch or Use to Frame.

The left column indicates which type of embroidery hoop or the material it’s made from: Screw Tension, Flexi Hoop, Spring Tension, Q-Snap, Metal, Wood, Plastic.

A green Y means YES, that kind of hoop would work well for that situation.

A red N means NO, that kind of hoop would not work well for that situation.

TypeEasyLow CostStitchFrame
Screw YYYY
Flexi NNNY
Spring NYNN
Q-SnapYNYN
WoodYYYY
PlasticYYYY
MetalNNNY

How big should my embroidery hoop be?

Your embroidery hoop should be 2 inches bigger than your pattern. This leaves about an inch or more of fabric space on all sides.

Embroidery hoops are measure by diameter. They come in a range of sizes from tiny 1-inch hoops to wear as jewelry to large 12-inch hoops (and larger) for quilting.

If you’re stitching up a very large project – larger than 12 inches, the best size embroidery hoop for cross stitch is 6 inches to 8 inches. When you’re done stitching a section of your cross stitch project, remove the fabric from the embroidery hoop and place it over a new section. At this size, the embroidery hoop is easily manageable while providing room to get in several hundred stitches before moving it.

An embroidery hoop larger than 12 inches is just too big and unruly to hold on to and stitch in. Hoops this size or larger are more easily manageable when used with a lap stand or floor stand – but that’s a tutorial for a different day.

Many cross stitch kits will have a perfectly-sized embroidery hoop included in the kit.

Use the Cross Stitch Calculator to see how big your fabric should be.

How much does an embroidery hoop cost?

New embroidery hoops range in price from $1US to $30US. Smaller, round hoops made from common materials will be less expensive than larger hoops or hoops made into irregular shapes.

Used embroidery hoops are a GREAT find because they are often available at a teeny, tiny fraction of the cost of new hoops.

Where can I buy embroidery hoops?

Embroidery hoops can be purchased at your local hobby store. You’ll also find a large variety available on the internet. My favorite places to shop the net are:

Find second hand embroidery hoops at thrift stores, yard/garage sales, estate sales and places online like Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, or your neighborhood might have a local trading website. 

How do I know if I should use an embroidery hoop?

If you’re not sure about whether or not you should use an embroidery hoop, get a small kit that comes with a hoop. There are many available at your local craft store or online that are less than $10 USD. I recommend the small kits for beginners put out by Dimensions. Then, try it out!

If you don’t like cross stitching with an embroidery hoop, you can always ditch the hoop and keep stitching.

Part 2: How to Use Embroidery Hoops

Getting Started with Embroidery Hoops

Before you start, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands. I know, I know – it’s not a RULE, per se, more of a guideline. 🙂 Washing your hands before you handle any embroidery supplies will help keep your fabrics and threads in the best condition and looking their best.

Then, prepare your fabric as needed. If you’re using one of those small beginner kits that I recommended above, you can skip this step. If you’re using your own fabric, check out this tutorial for how to prepare your fabric for happier cross stitch.

 

Watch the Embroidery Hoop Basics Part 2 Video Tutorial

Secure Fabric in a Screw Tension Embroidery Hoop

Loosen the screw, but not all the way.

Two hands loosening the screw on a bamboo embroidery hoop over a flat wood background.

Then separate the inner ring from the outer ring.

Drape your fabric over the inner ring. I like to press down on the fabric so I can see the shape of the ring underneath, and check that the fabric is right where I want it. The fabric might sag a little, and that’s ok at this point.

Note: Some plastic screw tension embroidery hoops have a mark that reads: “This Side Up” on the inner ring.

Two hands, open and pushing down on embroidery fabric so that a round shape can be seen from an embroidery hoop underneath.

Place the outer ring over the fabric press down so that it slides over the inner ring under the fabric. Use both hands to press down evenly on opposite sides of the hoop until the inner ring is snug inside the outer ring.

Try not to pick up the hoop until the outer ring is all the way around the inner ring. Keeping it on a flat surface will help you line up the rings so they’re even. If you pick it up, it’s easy to push too hard on one side of the outer ring and it slides off at the opposite side.

If you can’t get the outer ring over the fabric, loosen it a bit more and try again.

And if it feels really loose, remove the outer ring, tighten the screw, and try again.

The tension of the fabric should already feel tight. Tighten the screw with your fingers, but not all the way.

Place the hoop with fabric top-down and tug around evenly on all sides in a circle. You can also tug at the opposite edges of the fabric. Push back on the inner ring to keep it from coming loose while you tug. You want your fabric tight and snug in the hoop all around. This will even out any bumps or puckers in the fabric. Don’t pull so tight that the fabric becomes distorted.

Tighten the screw all the way this time. With some hoops, you can also use a screwdriver!

fabric in a screw tension embroidery hoop

Secure Fabric in a Flexi Embroidery Hoop

Separate the inner and outer rings. You need to sort of roll the outer ring away from the outer ring.

A flexi embroidery hoop with inner and outer rings separated laying on a flat word surface

Place fabric over inner ring. Position this exactly where you want it because it’s harder to adjust the fabric after getting the outer ring back on. I like to press down on the fabric so that I can see the outline of the inner ring through the fabric.

Two hands, open and pushing down on embroidery fabric so that a round shape can be seen from an embroidery hoop underneath.

Push and stretch the outer ring over the inner ring and fabric. This will take a bit of maneuvering and dexterity. Sometimes, I ask for help from my husband because I need another set of hands!

The edge of a flexi embroidery hoop is getting stretched over the inner ring of the hoop.

If your fabric isn’t taut enough, or if it isn’t centered the way you want, you’ll have to remove it from the flexi hoop. Most are so tight and strong, you won’t be able to tug at the edges of the fabric to move it around inside the hoop. 

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Secure Fabric in a Spring Tension Embroidery Hoop

Squeeze the metal handles together and separate the inner right and outer ring of the embroidery hoop.

Squeezing the metal handles of a spring tension embroidery hoop and separating the inner and outer rings

Place the outer ring on a hard, flat surface. Drape your fabric over the outer ring and press down a little so you can see the shape of the ring through the fabric.

Two hands, open and pushing down on embroidery fabric so that a round shape can be seen from an embroidery hoop underneath.

Squeeze the handles on the inner metal ring, and push it into the fabric until you feel it nestling inside the groove of the outer, plastic ring.

Pushing inner ring of screw tension embroidery hoop inside the groove of the outer ring

Is your spring tension embroidery hoop too loose? Stretch out the inner ring by pulling apart the metal handles and it will stay more firmly in place. Then, try placing the fabric in the hoop again.

Be careful when using spring tension hoops! Let go of the inner ring the wrong way, and it can spring out of your hand. Also, the handles are big and I find that the embroidery floss catches on them while I’m stitching.

Stretching out the inner ring of a screw tension embroidery hoop by pulling apart the metal handles

Leave the hoop and fabric top down on a hard, flat surface before tugging on the edges of the fabric. Otherwise, it could pull the inner ring right out.

white fabric in a purple screw tension embroidery hoop

Secure Fabric in a Vintage Metal Embroidery Hoop

First, separate the inner and outer rings of the metal embroidery hoop. 

Separating the inner and outer rings of a vintage metal embroidery hoop.

Then, drape your fabric over the inner ring. If you press down on the fabric, you can see the shape of the ring underneath and check that the fabric placed where you I want it.

Two hands, open and pushing down on embroidery fabric so that a round shape can be seen from an embroidery hoop underneath.

On the outer ring, gently pull apart the two sections connected by the spring. Most metal embroidery hoops are vintage, so be very careful with this. Try to avoid pulling so hard that the spring breaks. 

Vintage metal embroidery hoop with compressed spring
Vintage embroidery hoop with compressed spring
Vintage metal embroidery hoop showing the decompressed spring on top
Vintage embroidery hoop with decompressed spring

Place the outer ring over the fabric press down so that it slides over the inner ring under the fabric. Use both hands to press down evenly on opposite sides of the hoop until the inner ring is snug inside the outer ring.

Try not to pick up the hoop until the outer ring is all the way around the inner ring. Keeping it on a flat surface will help you line up the rings so they’re even. If you pick it up, it’s easy to push too hard on one side of the outer ring and it slides off at the opposite side.

Push down outer ring of a vintage metal embroidery hoop over the inner ring with fabric in between.

If the fabric is a little loose, flip the hoop over and gently tug at the edges of the fabric while holding down the inner ring.

Left hand holding down a vintage, metal embroidery hoop with white fabric inside while the right hand gently tugs at the edges of the fabric

When the fabric is firm and taut, start stitching!

fabric secured in vintage metal embroidery hoop

Secure Fabric in a Q-Snap Embroidery Frame

First, assemble the Q-Snap. It usually comes in 4 pieces that fit together to form a square or rectangle.

Q-snap hand embroidery frame in pieces

How do you assemble a Q-Snap hand embroidery frame?

Avoid putting the pieces together two at a time (left). When you are ready to assembly the final piece, you won’t be able to fit it together.

Instead, assemble two pieces, then assemble the two other pieces, so that you now have two sections (right). Done this way, the two sections fit together easily.

If your Q-Snap came with the clamps attached, remove them now.

Q-snap hand embroidery frame with clamps lying nearby on a flat, wood surface

Next, drape your fabric over the Q-Snap frame. If you press down on the fabric around the frame, you can see the shape of the frame underneath. Use this to make sure your fabric is where you want it to be on the frame.

Two hands, open and pushing down on embroidery fabric so that a square shape can be seen protruding from underneath

Take each Q-Snap clip and press it down over the fabric until it clicks into place. Do this for all 4 clips.

To tighten the fabric in a Q-Snap, first grip opposite sides of the frame (left). Then, slowly rotate the clips from the inside to the outside of the frame (right). Turn the frame 90 degrees in your hands so that you are now gripping the other two opposite sides. Repeat the rotating action, so that the clips are turned towards the outside of the frame.

That’s not going ANYwhere!

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