There are a lot of options out there for holding your fabric taut while you stitch. I’ve used a lot of them, but not all of them by any stretch of the imagination. So I figured I would give you my 2 cents on the ones I’ve worked with.
OPTION 1: Nothing!
The cheapest option is to not use anything. You can hold your fabric in your hands and keep the area you are stitching tight with your fingers. Personally, I have not had much luck with this. Some fabrics are fairly stiff and can work fine this way. This is a time you may want to use the cheaper Aida fabrics. They tend to be less soft than the more expensive ones. If you plan on doing this DO NOT WASH your fabric before you stitch on it. You will soften it up and it will be harder to hold tight. I find that I have a very hard time keeping my stitches even if I don’t use anything. And my fingers tend to cramp up. But it can be done! This may not be a bad option on a small project.
OPTION 2: Wood hoops
Next up the price ladder would be wood hoops. They are usually a couple of bucks depending on the size you need. That’s a good price! That is a big pro. For example, this 6″ frame is currently less than $3 on Amazon. They tend to be cheaper at your local craft stores like Joann or Michael’s. Wood hoops also come in a lot of different sizes. Also a pro. Biggest pro in my mind is it can also be used as a frame! I will get around to another post about the process of that, but I think it is a really cute option for finishing off some projects.
What about cons? I haven’t been able to get them to hold as tightly as some other hoops. I find that the fabric loosens up easier than some other hoops. Depending on the quality of the hoop sometimes the edges of the wood can be a bit rough. I’ve never had one rough enough to damage a project, but I have gotten a tiny splinter. So there is that…
OPTION 3: Plastic hoops
Next on my list would be the plastic embroidery hoop. These usually have a screw post and nut that is used to tighten the outer ring and hold the fabric snug. I think they tend to hold the fabric tighter than the wooden version. They come in a lot of different sizes. They are only slightly more expensive than the wood version. For example, A 6 inch hoop is just over $5 on Amazon right now.
For the con side I sometimes find they can be difficult to tighten well. You have to set the fabric in and tighten it up, tighten the screw, pull the fabric a bit tighter, tighten the screw, repeat. If you are putting the frame over any stitched area, this tightening process can be a bit more challenging. But overall, a great option at a great price. This is the style I have used regularly since I started stitching a couple of decades ago.
OPTION 4: Tension hoops
Another option I have learned about recently is the spring tension version of the plastic hoop. I love these!! They are only a bit more expensive than the other plastic hoops, but I find they hold the fabric tight for a lot longer. They are also a lot easier to set. The spring just pops right in! If you want a reasonably priced hoop, this is what I would recommend. This is my new go-to hoop. Especially on small projects that don’t fit in a Q-snap easily. They come in a lot of sizes too.
To be fair I guess I need to add a con or two… They are a bit more expensive than the screw post plastics. My thread sometimes gets wound up on the metal grips of the spring. I have stitched a bit before noticing too. Had to redo the whole row! And it didn’t just happen once. Oops?
OPTION 5: Q-snap
So what is a Q-snap you say? Well, let me tell you! It is by far my new favorite way to stitch! I only learned about these this year to be honest. I am a creature of habit and have been using the plastic hoops for most of my xstitch life. So that is what I continued to use. But then I found out about Q-snaps. There is no going back for me. At least not for larger projects. Q-snaps are square tube frames. They usually come with 8 pieces – 4 sides and 4 clips. You assemble the sides into a square. Position your fabric over the top and clip the side pieces over the fabric. I find this frame holds my fabric much better than hoops. It may just be because it is easier to tighten up the fabric. Just roll the clip toward the back and it brings the tension back to your fabric. It comes in quite a few sizes, but I still use hoops for small projects because of the size. The number one reason I like Q-snap frames though is I find they are much easier to hold while stitching. The frame size is thicker and my hand doesn’t cramp up as easily. And the square shape just seems easier to hold for me.
So what are the cons? I find them cumbersome on small projects. Anything 4″ or smaller I would probably still use a hoop for. When you have lots of extra fabric it can kinda get in the way sometimes. I just roll it up and try to tuck it down. You can also use a “grime guard” to keep the fabric clean and out of the way. (I will probably talk about those separately someday, but for now just search Etsy – they have some insanely cute ones there!) You can also get a floor stand to go with your Q-snap. This can free up a hand (or prevent arm cramps!) on those big projects.
OPTION 6: Scroll Frames
Now we get to scroll frames. To be honest, I have very little experience with these. But then again I am a bit of a lazy stitcher and have never done a huge project. Yet… Scroll frames are great for large projects. They do make smaller ones too though. So again – personal preference. Scroll frames come in both wood and plastic. There is a huge range of prices. But the basic idea is you have 2 side braces and 2 rods. You attach your fabric to the rods at the top and bottom of your project. The side braces are there for you to hold on to – they do not support the fabric. As you work down your project you roll the finished part up and just keep working. One huge pro to these is they do come in so many sizes. And you can often mix and match pieces. They even sell a Multiple Size Frame Set on Amazon so you can have lots of combinations. Doing a long, skinny piece – use short rods and long braces. Have a 18 x 20 project – use large rods and braces. Scroll frames do not leave the impressions in the fabric that other options can do. This is great if you don’t want to always take your fabric out of the support. The larger ones are not portable. I tend to do a lot of my stitching on my lunch breaks and while traveling. Frames don’t work great in that department.
In the end, it is always a personal preference. And each project may benefit from a different type of support. I hope this gives you a few ideas on what I like and dislike about these options. Stitch on my friends!