Tips on Hooping Your Embroidery Project

Samina asked me to list some tips for hooping embroidery, and I’m more than happy to share what I know on the subject.

Now, let me preface with this: I am not an embroidery teacher, nor am I an expert on hooping; I do not have knowledge of every embroidery machine there is, nor have I tried every possible combination of fabric, stabilizer and thread. Having said that,

-The first place you should look for info on hooping is your machine’s manual, as well as the manufacturer’s website; you can often find at least the basics there.

-The next source of good info is the stabilizer manufacturer’s website. They’ll have charts, videos and other information about which stabilizer to use in which context.

-Another potential source is your dealer. Now, as much as they know about the machines, they may not actually do much embroidery, especially on a variety of substrates, so ask very carefully about their experience. A dealer may only regularly run tests with embroideries that come with the machine, and on plain cotton on a tearaway stabilizer – not a lot of room to mess up there!

-Run a test first, using the exact fabric, stabilizer, topper, needle and thread, in the manner you intend to embroider. Yes, I know you know to do this, but almost no one does it. Or, they don’t do it with all the materials they intend to use.

For example, you just bought a pair of boots for winter, and want to add a design to the shaft – OK, fine. But don’t test your design on a piece of cotton with tearaway stabilizer and a ballpoint needle. Does your boot have an integrated sock? Is it a vinyl boot with a fabric backing, or canvas backing? Is it microsuede; is it a knit microsuede? You’ll need to get a piece of leather, vinyl or other fabric in a similar weight and backing to the boot, and you’ll need a leather or microtex needle depending on the material. Your stabilizer will depend on the density of the design and whether you’re leaving it in place or removing it from the project.

Now, does your boot have a zipper to open up the shaft? If not, you’ll need to sew your practice material into a tube of similar diameter to the boot, to make sure you can load it onto your machine. Now hit start – did the stitch-out go as you planned? Probably not, but that’s why we’re doing a sample….

Is this an extreme example? Yes, but I want you to understand that taking a bit of time now will save you even more time later. As Major Freedman replied to Colonel Flagg’s suggestion that he do himself a favor, “who deserves one better?”

-Hoop smooth and firm, but not taught. What’s the difference? When I first started embroidering, other people – students and teachers alike – were always recommending that I get my fabric “drum tight.” Well, we’re embroidering, not making tympanies, so that isn’t necessary. In fact, if it’s too tight, when you unhoop it and the fabric relaxes back, it’s going to bunch up against the embroidery, since it can’t go back to its original position. Remember fabric is flexible, and try to keep the grain in the correct position.

-But don’t either hoop loosey-goosey. If the fabric is too loose, then it may wrinkle or even pull loose from the hoop, no matter how much you’ve tightened it. This is more likely to happen with multi-needle hoops, but can happen with single needle hoops.

-Make sure your fabric and stabilizer are smooth – if you put wrinkles in, you get wrinkles out!

-Use the right stabilizer. I know several people who are still using the same jumbo roll of medium weight tearaway they bought 30 years ago, for all their embroidery projects. While I realize that’s about all they had at the time, there have been real innovations in stabilizers since. Yes, some of it is probably a “scam” designed to get you to buy more stuff, but I don’t think it’s any more of a scam than using the right type of needle. That and, paper doesn’t last forever, it may have lost some integrity over the decades. I know for a fact that sticky stabilizers don’t last all that long (the adhesive changes; some get stronger, some get weaker), and clear toppers can go bad too. Buy what you need, keep your stock rotated!

-Some items can’t be hooped; you’ll need to float them. This means laying the item down over the hooped stabilizer. You might use a sticky stabilizer; you might use a fusible. You might also use the basting stitch if your machine has one to hold the item in place. You might use clamps, or pins, or tape. You will likely use several of these techniques together on one project!

-Once in a great while, you’ll hoop the item and float the stabilizer underneath. This mostly happens with cutwork embroidery, but if you’re having a time with your project, it won’t hurt to try.

-Make sure you’ve opened your hoop enough. One reason fabric and stabilizer get misaligned when you hoop is that you’re trying to force the inner ring into the outer ring, so the layers slip. You shouldn’t have to force anything; the inner ring should slip easily into the outer ring. Once it’s in place, tighten the screw.

-You may need a leave-in stabilizer. Most people are keen to remove the stabilizer from their project, even when it can stay in. Yes, I know it’s called tearaway, but if removing it is causing your fabric or stitches to deform, you may need to use a leave-in (often called a cutaway.) Or, use a washaway if you really need to take it out, if appropriate for your project.

Let’s look at some photos!

This first set of photos shows loosey-goosey vs. smooth and firm. On the left, note how the fabric dips below the hoop. You may also notice that the bottom of the outer ring is level with the bottom of the inner ring; in this type of hoop, that is incorrect. The inner ring should be proud of the outer ring – note the photo on the right. To correct this, just push the outer ring on a bit further (try turning it upside down); it takes out the slack and gives you correct tension.

In this next photo, on the right is our well-hooped fabric; on the left, I have “fixed” it by tugging the fabric at both sides of the hoop. I used a stripe so you can see: even when you pull evenly on both sides, you’re still pulling the grain out of alignment.

When I unhoop both pieces of fabric, you can see that, though both have a bit of “hoop burn” (which is normal and will press out of most fabrics), the center of the fabric on the right is still quite smooth; the one on the left, even though the tension has been released, is still catawampus. If there had been embroidery in place, the grain would be stuck in this position.

The hoop in the next set of photos is what most of us will have on a single needle machine. On the left, I have only pushed the inner ring down into position, and it is well aligned. All I need to do now is tighten the hoop. Because of bad habits, most people will tug on the fabric after tightening the hoop – don’t do that! As you can see in the photo on the right, the grain is now misaligned.

In this next photo, all I have done is to loosen the hoop. As I slowly loosened, I could see the grain going back to its previous alignment – see the straight stripes again?

Now, in the above photos the fabric was hooped without a stabilizer; this was for simplicity’s sake, so you could better see the fabric. But all the above still stands when you use stabilizer. In fact, you will almost never not use stabilizer. Even if you’re embroidering on something as stable as oilcloth or a heavy leather golf bag, you will use stabilizer. Why? Because extra firm items will likely slip in the hoop, the stabilizer will help reduce that. Also, the stitches need support on non-woven substrates; firm things like vinyl, leather or pleather can perforate, which means you stitching will pull out.

Let’s look at a few more photos!

I found this test stitch-out when I was cleaning out a drawer. Apparently I started to remove the stabilizer at the time, but didn’t finish.

As you can see, where the stabilizer has been removed, the fabric is puckering a bit. (I’m holding the piece up so you can better see the puckers.) What’s happening here? Is the design too heavy for the fabric? Did I hoop the fabric and stabilizer wrong? Did I over-tighten the fabric in the hoop? Maybe it just hasn’t been pressed yet – did you know, you should be pressing most of your embroidery after it’s finished, just like all good sewing. Let’s remove the rest of the stabilizer, press it, and see what happens.

Well, not much. I used an embroidery pressing cloth and steamed, and left the iron in place while it dried, but got bupkis.

(This cloth from OESD is nice and inexpensive. You can also get a larger size for your ironing board – it makes a nice pad under your cover for all your pressing. You can also use a nice, fluffy towel to press on. Place your embroidery design side down, then steam and press gently from the back.)

Well not quite bupkis; the right(hand) side of the design looks better after pressing. The left side however, still puckery.

If I lay it down flat, you can see the ripple along the outer left edge of the fabric. What does this tell us? I probably pulled the left side too tight while I was hooping. It could also need a different stabilizer, or, it could be too heavy of a design for this fabric. I can change the stabilizer, change the design, or change the fabric and see what happens.

I hope you found some good tips to try today – don’t forget to experiment to see what works best for your project, and good luck!

4 thoughts on “Tips on Hooping Your Embroidery Project

  1. Great article Kasey! I liked that you approached it differently. Most articles talk about which stabilizer to use on what type of fabric. That’s good information, but you approached it from a practical, hands on point of view. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with that.

    I may be a bit of a perfectionist, but as you suggest, I have always stitch out my designs before putting them on a final article. I put the test designs, trimmed with stabilizer in place, in a sheet protector and put them in a binder. This gives me a great reference of all the things I’ve ever embroidered, along with colors I’ve used, for reference if I ever want to stitch that design out again. It is a great learning tool too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Kasey, the “bupkis” (not sure about what it actually means, but is so appropriate to my embroideries 😂) is what happened to my embroidery on linen. Also, I might have chosen a very dense design. Thank you!


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