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.

4 comments on “Binding hoops and bad habits

  1. Thatโ€™s a good idea. Recently I have been making mono pictures using my machine embroidery stitches and hand embroidery then leaving it in the hoop for display. Tension seems to remain. How can I post a photo here?

  2. Do you bind the hoops that you display them in and is that why they keep tension? I have used flexi-hoops for display myself; they keep tension well, and once framed the fabric isn’t likely to be pulled about a lot anyway. Also, binding takes me such a lot of time and effort I’d hate to have to do it again for every project ๐Ÿ™‚ !

    As for posting pictures, I’m not really sure you can – no-one’s asked me that before. I’ll look into it and see if it’s possible.

  3. Ok I know I sent you an email with my embroidery after a class with you at Ally Pally. I have only just seen this idea on your website, I was thinking for decorative purposes as well as tension I could try binding the top hoop? Not sure what flexi hoops are?

  4. As far as I know (but then I don’t know everything) binding is really only done for utility purposes: improving tension, protecting the fabric etc. Most people bind the inner ring only although I have seen people bind both rings – this would be especially important if you were worried about damaging the fabric (perhaps when stitching on something very fine or delicate). I’ve not seen it done for decorative purposes, but of course that doesn’t mean it can’t be done! And it would certainly improve the tension.
    I must admit I do like the look of the binding ๐Ÿ™‚ – you’d have to make sure it was very neat though, because unevennesses in the binding do show; somehow they seem to catch the eye!
    Flexi-hoops are stiff plastic inner rings with flexible rubber outer rings; the outer rings are continuous, and you can’t tighten them, but then they don’t need it. They come mostly in a faux woodgrain pattern, but you can get some sizes in colours as well. If you search for “flexi” in the blog search box you should find a post all about hoops which has a bit more info. Hope that helps!

Leave a comment or ask a question