The right hoop for the right project, and more binding

My RSN hoops arrived this week. I splashed out on three of them, to make the most of the flat rate postage (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it). To put the sizes in perspective, that tiddly one in the centre is actually 8 inches. As my husband remarked, “I thought you were a small project girl. What happened?!?”

Large, deep hoops

Well, what happened was the Tree of Life. Generally speaking it’s true: I’m a Small Project Girl. In Hardanger this means on the whole nothing larger than 220 stitches square (less than 9 inches on 25 count fabric) and usually much smaller; in freestyle embroidery this translates into a feeling of mild panic if the transfer pattern can’t be printed on a sheet of A4.

And just as I want my printed designs on a single A4, so I prefer my stitched designs to fit well within the boundaries of whatever hoop or frame I’m using (this also means I don’t feel guilty about leaving projects in the hoop for months on end, as any hoop marks will disappear in the framing/finishing anyway). The revamped Tree of Life, although it will just fit inside a 10-inch hoop, really needs at least a 12-inch and preferably a 14-inch hoop to meet that requirement. Either that, or it will have to go on the Millennium frame, where I may *gasp* need to scroll to reach every part. I know that’s what it’s designed for, but it feels uncomfortable. That’s purely my little idiosyncrasy, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t give in to it smiley.

Then I had a sudden flash of insight: I want to do two versions (because it is likely to become a SAL), one in crewel wool and one in silk & gold. Well, the silk one can be done smaller than the crewel one – so I could use a 14-inch hoop for the crewel version, and put the smaller silk one on the Millennium frame!

Now I have hoops in all… well, not all shapes obviously, as most of them are round (barring a couple of vaguely squarish ones), but certainly all sorts of sizes. But my largest wooden hoop pre-RSN-order was 12 inches – and it’s an ordinary, shallow wooden hoop. And having worked with the RSN’s 8-inch and 10-inch quilting hoops, I’ve come to prefer those deeper hoops (20mm wide) for the larger sizes anyway. So off I went to the RSN shop, to order a deep 14-inch hoop. Somehow the deep 12-inch and the standard 8-inch joined it, on the grounds that they were bound to Come In Handy some day, and, as I said before, to make the most of the postage.

So all that that remained was to bind them. And large hoops take large amounts of tape, so that to begin with the set-up looked rather like a pile of pasta or a tangle of tapeworms. It was up to me to transform this unpromising-looking collection into beautiful bound hoops.

Large hoops ready to be bound

Based on the carefully measured tape requirements for an 8-inch standard hoop, I had calculated that a deep 12-inch hoop would take about 6½ metres. Oddly enough, at the end of the process I had a little over 7 metres left, and I’d bought two 10-metre lengths of tape. Measuring the other 10-metre length showed it to be nearly 11½ metres, so I have no idea how much tape it took to bind the 12-inch hoop. But having pre-measured the second length I can tell you that the 14-inch deep hoop took 5¼ metres – rather less than I had expected.

Large hoops with their binding complete

In some ways, binding a larger hoop is easier than binding a smaller one, even though it takes longer – you’ve got more room to work in, and the curve of the hoop is more gradual, so getting the tape to lie flat is much less of a struggle. And when it comes to securely finishing off the end of the tape, a large hoop gives this near-sighted stitcher a much more convenient way of getting close to the sewing!

Finishing off a hoop if you're near-sighted

Incidentally, I’ve discovered why I find binding hoops such a hassle. Because I make things difficult for myself, that’s why! While having a look at some RSN online classes, I noticed a freebie video about binding hoops. And the stills illustrating it showed a bound hoop that took me rather aback – the tape looked positively wrinkled! Now I will admit that even in my own estimation I am a bit obsessive when binding a hoop; I want every wrap to overlap by exactly the same amount, and I want everything to lie absolutely flat, even though I realise neither of these things is essential. So has this made me think differently? Well, my mind did say “if the RSN is happy with a hoop like that, it’s bound to work” (ha ha). But I simply can’t get myself to do it like that. When I look at my very tidily bound hoops, I get a happy feeling, and I just know that a wrinkly hoop would annoy me whenever I look at it. So, as binding is a one-off process for each hoop anyway, I will stick with my time-consuming, finger-cramp-inducing method, and smile at the finished product.

An RSN-bound hoop which undoubtedly works Tidy hoop-binding

And now I’m off to stitch that tree!

Binding hoops and bad habits

Some time ago – last August, in fact, just before the medieval embroidery retreat – I told you about binding my first ever hoop. (That is, it was my first ever binding of a hoop. Not my first ever hoop. That is probably lost in the mists of time.)

Preparing to bind a hoop Bound inner hoop Bound inner hoop, fitted inside the outer hoop

Having reported that I found it terribly fiddly (my verdict being “unless the effect is really really noticeable, never again!”) I promised to let you know after the retreat whether I would ever bind another hoop. And I didn’t. Didn’t let you know, I mean – but I did bind more hoops!

Does that mean I found it worth the hassle? Yes, though not quite for the reason that is often given, that you can get better tension with a bound hoop. My problem with wooden hoops (and one of the reasons for my love of flexi-hoops) is that they do not keep the tension. Setting up the project and getting it good and taut is one thing, but if you have to keep pulling the fabric taut again whenever you’ve been putting a bit of strain on it (for example by pulling through a very thick thread, or pulling a needle through a very densely stitched area) it’s not an encouragement to use that type of hoop.

I found that the deep hoops – also known as quilting hoops – which I got from the Royal School of Needlework held the tension better (more grip, as the hoops are about 2cm deep instead of the usual 1cm) but were still not ideal. The bound hoop I took to the embroidery retreat, however, behaved impeccably in that respect!

In fact it held its tension so well that it encouraged me in a Bad Habit: I do not take my project out of its hoop after every stitching session. Until fairly recently I was not aware that this was a bad habit. You put your fabric in a hoop, and when the project is completed you take it out again. Simple, right? But apparently there are two reasons for not doing this. The first is that it can leave permanent marks on the fabric, and the second is that it can stretch the fabric beyond its powers of springing back.

Warning: I am going to go against received embroidery wisdom!

They sound like compelling reasons – but I’m not convinced. The second one I can’t say I’ve noticed; yes, there is always a certain amount of give in a fabric, some more than others, and I can see how permanent stretching over a long period might leave it, well, permanently stretched. But as I have often thought my work looks best when it is still stretched in the hoop, and as I tightly lace any of my works that will be framed anyway, I’m not bothered by that.

As for the first, I ignore that for a purely personal reason, which is that all my projects are small enough to fit well within the confines of the hoop I’m using. Yes there are permanent hoop marks, but they get cut off when I prepare the work for framing or whatever finishing method I use. If your projects are larger than the hoop you’re working with, and you have to move the hoop around and sometimes have it cover previous stitches (something that makes me nervous simply contemplating it) then do take it out of the hoop every time you finish a stitching session.

So I have what is generally regarded as a Bad Stitching Habit, but at least it is now off-set by a Good Stitching Habit – I have bound all my wooden hoops, right down to the tiddly 3-inch one (which is probably overkill, but I got into the zone).

A three-inch hoop, bound

Incidentally, for those who like facts and figures, I use 14mm cotton twill tape for smaller hoops (up to 6 or 7 inches) and 20mm cotton herringbone tape for anything larger, and anything deep. Some people prefer to use bias binding. Having forgotten to measure how much I used on all the hoops I bound in one go, I did remember to make notes when I bound my new 8-inch hoop: 2.25 metres. I assume that a deep hoop of the same size would take twice that, and that you can work out the requirements for other sizes by comparing circumferences (diameter times π). That’s quite a lot, and it’s partly because I choose to overlap my binding by about half the width of the tape; some people abut it exactly, which would take considerably less. I hold the start with a clothes peg, and at the finish oversew the folded-over end several times, making sure it’s on the inside of the hoop. Definitely fiddly – I still think so after binding about eight hoops – but worth it.