Hooping: The Foundation of Embroidery

Correct hooping may be the most important part of the embroidery process. Follow this advice for successful holding of garments and accessories.

By Deborah Jones, Contributing Writer

Plastic hoops don’t grip as well as wooden hoops, so you can use cohesive tape for a hoop wrap that cushions and grips delecate and hard-to-hold materials. The tape also prevents direct contact of the hoop with materials likely to show hoop marks.

February 24, 2014

A friend of mine recently said, “There are three things you have to master when learning to embroider. The first one is hooping and if you get that right, the other two don’t matter.”

While that is a slight overstatement, it does illustrate just how important hooping — or holding — is to the embroidery process. Hooping and stabilizing go hand-in-hand. In many cases, hooping is a vital part of stabilizing the fabric during embroidery.

In recent years, many developments have been made in the area of holding for embroidery by people who have devoted considerable time, talent and money to making it easier to hold things for this decorating process. We’ll look at hooping and holding devices a bit later in this article.

Early hoops for automatic machine embroidery were wooden. They were resilient and had a little bit of “give.” Sure, they splintered when you hit them with a needle, but they rarely broke and had long screws that passed all the way through a barrel bolt, making them easily adjustable, even for very thick items. New double-height wooden embroidery hoops still are available for holding thick or heavy items.

When molded plastic hoops became available on the market, they seemed much less forgiving than their wooden predecessors. They didn’t have the same resilience nor did they grip the fabric as securely. Still, advancements centered on these plastic hoops, including the innovative tubular system that allows the garment to hang freely around the machine’s cylinder arm.

Regardless of the hoop type, some hooping principles are almost universal. I own some great alternative holding tools, including clamps and magnetic hoops, and there are times when they are the best solution for holding items in the machine. But usually, my favorite way of holding materials for embroidery is with a traditional two-part hoop.

Here are my Top 10 hooping principles:

1. Choose the smallest hoop that will comfortably accommodate the embroidery size.
The smallest hoop simply provides the best tensioning on the fabric. Using a hoop that’s larger than necessary also requires using a larger piece of stabilizer. Fabric movement is minimized by using the smallest hoop. Crossover machines will warn you if the hoop is too small for the selected design, but commercial embroidery machines don’t. That’s why I recommend using one of the following methods to ensure you don’t hit or graze the hoop during stitching.

Print a template from your embroidery software. Lay it on top of the hooped fabric with the center mark under the active needle. Remember to allow room for the front and back of the presser foot when evaluating the suitability of the hoop.

Display the design inside your proposed hoop size in your embroidery software. Most modern embroidery software allows you to either choose a hoop size from a list or create custom hoop sizes. When evaluating the graphical display of the hoop on your screen, use a grid display or ruler function to determine whether you have an appropriate margin from the design to the edge of the hoop. I recommend a margin of about ½-inch on all sides, from the design to the inside hoop edge.

2. Hoop in cutaway stabilizer with fabrics that stretch.
This general rule has some exceptions for very experienced embroiderers, but it usually is the best practice on any fabric that stretches. You could bend the rule by hooping in soft tearaway stabilizer, which is a cross between a crisp tearaway and a cutaway.

3. Stabilizer should extend from all sides of the hoop.
Some embroiderers cut a strip of stabilizer that extends across the center of the hoop, thinking the support is needed only where the embroidery will be applied. However, it’s a best practice to always completely cover the hoop with stabilizer. If even a small area is left uncovered, there is less support on that side of the hoop. Outlines are likely to drift along that side of the design. Make sure the stabilizer is completely hooped in on all hoop edges.

4. Use tearaway stabilizer with woven and other stable materials.
When I get away from this guideline, I regret it. Generally, tearaway stabilizer should be hooped in, but there are times when it’s acceptable to slide it beneath the hoop. This is called “floating” the stabilizer, because it is floating between the machine table and the bottom of the hoop.

5. Recess the inner hoop slightly lower than the outer hoop.
Countersinking the inner hoop ring slightly lower than the outer ring provides three benefits. First, the fabric is placed flat onto the machine’s surface. When you push the inner ring lower, the fabric isn’t floating above the needle plate. If the fabric is above the needle plate rather than on it, the presser foot must push the fabric down to the needle plate with each needle penetration. This can result in the fabric becoming loosened in the hoop and puckering could occur on lightweight materials.

Second, the fabric is tensioned better. We always are told to hoop the fabric so that it is taut, like a tambourine; recessing the inner ring accomplishes this. Third, the hoop is more secure and less likely to pop off.

6. Generally, don’t use tools like pliers and screwdrivers to tighten hoops.
I know. Some hoops have screwdriver slots on the end of the adjusting screw and there are very rare times when you may need to use them. I think they should only be used when hooping horse blankets and varsity jackets. Using any tool on your hoops is a good way to strip the adjusting screw.

7. Turn over hooped pieces to check the back before inserting into the machine.
Sooner or later, you’ll see a pleated lining, incompletely hooped stabilizer or worse, part of the garment in the hoop that shouldn’t be there. After inserting the hoop in the machine, run your fingers all the way around the hoop’s edges to confirm that nothing is under the hoop that shouldn’t be there.

8. Generally, pre-tension the hoop instead of tightening it after hooping.
It’s not a good practice to hoop with a loosely adjusted hoop and then tighten the adjusting screw. Using the garment that will be hooped, test the resistance of the inner hoop ring to the outer hoop ring. Loosen or tighten until moderate pressure is needed to insert the inner ring. This will cause the hoop to spread the fabric evenly in the hooping process. No further tightening is needed when hooping most light- to medium-weight fabrics.

Better yet, try one of the new self-tensioning hoops. This patent-pending innovation eliminates the tedious task of constantly turning the adjusting screw, providing the proper tension and grip for any fabric type and thickness. The constant adjustment of the thumbscrew is the major contributor to the repetitive motion disorders associated with hooping, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

9. Mark certain items to ensure straightness in the hoop.
Some items are hard to hoop straight, including chef coats, robes and certain sweaters. I like to mark a straight reference on these garments while they are unhooped and lying flat on a table. The reference should appear straight when the item is placed in the machine. I mark a straight reference line with painter’s tape and, after checking that it looks straight when the hoop is loaded in the machine, I remove it and use it on another garment.

Hooping stations help to get the hoop straight without marking certain standard items. If you don’t use a hooping station, you might wish to mark other items for straightness, including golf shirts and sweat shirts.

10. Wrap the inner ring to cushion and grip certain materials.
Plastic and wooden hoops differ in terms of grip, so you may need to help your hoops out a bit in some situations. Use cohesive tape for a hoop wrap that cushions and grips delicate or hard-to-hold materials. For example, to hold slick windbreaker material, wrap the inner ring of the hoop with this unique tape that sticks only to itself. It grips without leaving a sticky residue.

This tape also provides protection for delicate fabrics that are easily snagged, and it prevents the hoop from having direct contact with materials that are likely to show hoop marks.

Deborah Jones is a commercial and home embroiderer with more than 30 years experience in the computerized embroidery field. She runs myembroiderymentor.com and regularly speaks at the Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). For more information or to comment on this article, email Deborah at djones@myembroiderymentor.com. Hear Deborah speak on embroidery topics at the 2014 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Individual seminars are just $25 if you pre-register: issshows.com.

My Recommended Hooping Procedure

Pretension the hoop for the garment weight.

Trap the stabilizer and fabric against the top edge of the outer hoop using the inner hoop. Smooth the fabric and stabilizer toward the lower hoop edge.

Press in the inner ring. Lift the hoop and use your thumbs to press the
inner ring slightly lower than the 
outer ring.

Turn the hoop over to ensure the stabilizer is caught in all edges of the hoop.

Place the hoop in the machine, running your fingers around all the edges.

Check that the grain or other straightness reference appears straight, then press start!