Needle In A Haystack News
Picking A Needlework Frame
Since I included a note about the availability of slate frames in previous newsletters, I've had a number of people ask me about why they'd want or need one. So I thought I'd explain a bit about the various "stitching frame" types on the market and update some information that I wrote about a couple of years ago. Keep in mind these are my opinions only - ask another shop owner or stitcher and they might disagree. In the end what you use to help you stitch is in large part, personal preference. If you want to see what we carry in the shop click on the section titles below.
I personally stitch in-hand for about 80% of my projects and that's true whether it's a large needlepoint canvas or a small over-one cross-stitch on 40 count linen. I like being able to roll or scrunch my fabric and in many cases, I stitch using a sewing motion. Rather than stick 'n stab (stick the needle in, stab it back up), sewing motion is more like hand-sewing (which I've done longer than I've stitched). I make the in-out motion in one pass. To do that I need my canvas or fabric to be flexible so I can bend it and get the needle to make a single pass. However, there are many times when I do use a frame of some kind. If I'm working a piece where I have to lay the threads (e.g. a needlepoint piece stitching with Neon Rays) and I'm using a laying tool, or I'm working with slippery threads (Soie Gobelins) I'll put it in a frame of some kind. I use all of them, stretcher bars (regular, mini & Evertite), hoops, Q-Snaps, scroll frames and a slate frame (I own 6 in various sizes). A frame allows my work to be stable and allows me to use two hands when I need to.
The various types of frames on the market are:
EZ Stitch Scroll Frame
Scroll Frame (vertical)
Belt Frame
Belt Frame (horizontal)
Q-Snap                                                Frame
Q-Snap                                                mounted fabric
Square                                                Round Hoop
Wood Hoops (Square, Round or Oval)
Plastic                                                Hoops
Plastic Hoops
Slate                                                Frame
Slate                                                Frame
Slate Frame
Stretcher Bars  Evertite                                                Stretcher Bars
Stretcher Bars
I suspect that most of us have used an embroidery hoop at one time or other, whether for hand work or machine work (I also do machine embroidery in my personal life). The kind of wood & plastic hoops I grew up with have matured into wonderfully smooth Hardwicke Manor hoops, Susan Bates Hoop-La Hoops and Q-Snaps. You can still find the inexpensive wood and plastic hoops in craft stores, but if you're going to work on nice fabric, use nice tools. Your fabric will thank you for it.
I use a hoop when I want the fabric to be pretty taut and it's not big or if I'm working on silk gauze. You can use a smaller hoop and move it around a bigger piece of fabric but you can end up with creases where you don't want them. If you stitch on Aida I don't recommend a hoop but do recommend a Q-Snap. If you look at the edges of a hoop you'll see that the radius of the wood is very small. A small radius means sharper folds, which translates into sharper creases. Most Aida is made from cotton, which holds a crease really, really well. I'm sure you either experienced or have seen a stitched Aida piece with hoop marks. Getting them out is a pain (to be polite), if you can even manage it. So to avoid that problem, don't use a hoop with Aida, use a Q-Snap. The PVC pipe Q-Snaps are made out of has a larger radius so a gentler curve to the edge. This means minimal Q-Snap "marks" if any at all. Also, needlepoint canvas is too thick to be mounted into hoops and Q-Snaps. You might be able to get Congress cloth into a Q-Snap but frankly, it's too much of a pain so I use stretcher bars, a scroll frame or slate frame for canvas.
Q-Snap baseQ-Snap w/fabricWhy do I lump Q-Snaps in with the hoops? In practice they are closer to a hoop than to stretcher bars in my personal opinion. Once you connected the PVC pieces that form the "frame" you lay your fabric on it and then snap the holders into place. You can use a smaller Q-Snap than the design area of your project and move it around, but if you are going to be placing the snap holders over stitched work, lay a strip of muslin or cotton over the threads. The underside of the snap holders are ridged so you don't want to run the risk of having them catch on your stitching, Q-Snap                                        inside ridgesespecially when you slide the snap holders off. I don't recommend that use Q-Snap or hoops if you are adding beads and need to move the frame around. There's too good a chance of smashing the beads. If you prefer to work in a hoop or Q-Snap for stitching, take the project off the frame and put the beads on at the very end.
Mounting silk gauze into a hoop requires sewing it to a larger piece of plain fabric (e.g. muslin or left over quilt fabric) and then cutting a window in the underside. Mary Corbett has a great article with photos on how to do that with a hoop or even stretcher bars.
Hardwicke Manor Hoop                                        thicknessesHoops are generally made either round or oval but Hardwicke Manor also makes a hoop called a square round (see the photo above). You can't really make a square hoop so this is what happens when you bend the wood to make a square shape. The corners are rounded. They are significantly more expensive due to the method of manufacturing but they do give you more surface area than a round hoop does. Hardwicke Manor hoops also come in different heights or thicknesses, which makes it easy to find the right fit for your hands. Smaller hoops come in 5/16", some in all 3 heights and larger hoops only in 7/8". The square round and oval hoops only come in 5/16".
Susan Bates Hoop-La                                        lipSusan Bates Hoop-La plastic hoops have a lip that helps hold the fabric tight. Also, plastic has give to it which means you can pull the fabric more and even if it distorts the shape of the hoop it's not a problem. I use one when I'm doing punch needle as that fabric has a stretchy component to it. With a Susan Bates Hoop-La hoop I can get punch needle fabric drum tight. Non stretchy fabrics, not quite so tight but still pretty tight. Again, it's not what I would use with Aida as you'll end up with the crease problem.
Whether you wrap your wood hoop or not is one of those almost religious discussions. For me I base on two simple factors. First, is my hoop smooth and second, is my fabric slippery. If both are true, definitely wrap it with twill tape (see Mary Corbett's blog for a how to). If my fabric is slippery I'm still likely to wrap my hoop. But if my hoop is smooth and my fabric isn't (e.g. linen, Lugana, Linen Twill, etc.) then I don't use a wrapped hoop. You'll need to experiment to see what works best for you, or have a conversation with your teacher if you're doing a class project.
EZ Stitch Scroll FrameScroll Frames work by allowing you to scroll the fabric as you work. Typical scroll frames scroll vertically, so you have rods that are at the top and bottom which are as wide as the fabric and then the side bars dictate how much of the project is visible. For a project that's 18x27 it would need 18" rods but your side bars might be 8", 10" or 12" (or more) depending on what you want visible. You can get scroll frames to hold the work stable, but not tight. If you think about it, as you work your stitching and roll it up, there's going to be stitching that affects the density of the fabric. Even if the fabric is completely empty you can never get a scroll frame as tight as any other method. You can get it a bit tighter by either lacing the sides or using elastic with clips, but you have to move the lacing or elastic as you scroll the project. But generally you'll have a looser project than on stretcher bars or a slate frame.
If your project has beads or raised stitches you might still be able to use a scroll frame, but you want to lay strips of batting between the layers as you roll. This helps prevent crushing the beads or the raised stitches. One of my staff wraps her scroll frames with batting first so even with just stitches, she can get it to compress more but not crush the stitches. Get a thickness of batting that works best for your particular project (quilt, fabric and some craft stores carry a variety of thicknesses). Cut it into strips as wide as the fabric and about 4" to 6", then layer it as you roll up your work.
NS4 Belt FrameHave a project that is wider than it is tall - don't fret, you can use a Belt Frame. While it has a different name and sounds like a single use tool, it's really a scroll frame that scrolls horizontally. So whether it's a belt or a banner, you can scroll the appropriate direction. If you look at the photo of the horse above, you'll see it's mounted on a regular vertical scroll frame, but the piece is really wider than it is tall. At the time we put it on the scroll frame as a sample at the shop, we didn't have any belt frames. But it would be easier to stitch it on a horizontal scrolling belt frame. K's Creation makes a belt frame as does Needlework System 4.
Mini, Regular and                                          Evertite Stretcher BarsStretcher Bars - You can mount any kind of fabric onto stretcher bars, but typically they are used for needlepoint canvas or heavier fabric. Attach the fabric/canvas with tacks or staples directly to the wood. Whether you tack with the work on top of the bars or on the underside is again, a somewhat religious discussion :-). I like to attach mine on the underside of the bars, facing up so that if I drop the work on the floor the right side of the stitching never touches the floor. Plus as I work closer to the edge my needle doesn't get hung up in the bars.
There are 3 kinds on the market but all use the same mortise & tenon joint at the corners. Mini bars, which are 1/2" thick are made from 4" to 18" so are used on smaller or lighter weight projects. Regular bars are 3/4" thick and are made from 4" up to 36" or more. These are used for heavier, larger projects or if you want more surface area to hold onto (or mount into a table, floor or lap frame). And Evertites, which we can get custom made larger than 40".
Evertite EndsThe reasons you might want to consider Evertite bars are two-fold. 1) they have a screw & bolt in the mortise & tenon joint that allows you to spread the bars apart. So once your work starts to stretch, you adjust the bars to make the fabric/canvas tighter. 2) they are physically wider bars (1" to 1 1/4") so will take the stress of cranking on those bolts to stretch your project. 
Regular bars (3/4") from any vendor should go together, mini bars (1/2") from any vendor should go together and Evertites will work with any size of Evertite. But you can't mix types together - so you can't have a Frankenbar made up of an Evertite pair and a regular pair. Stretcher bars as always sold in pairs so to make up a frame you need 2 pair.
Slate Frame lacingSlate Frames - If you want your fabric or canvas drum tight - and I do mean tight enough to bounce a quarter from across the room, then a slate frame is the best option. With slate frames you attach the fabric/canvas to the top and bottom rods and then lace it to the sides (using the pegs to adjust the height). The trick with slate frames is that you have to tighten the lacing thread making at least 3 times to get it tight enough. I learned that lesson years ago from Leon Conrad when I took a Blackwork class from him. If you're working on project for along time you will likely have to tighten the lacing thread multiple times during your work, but it's easy enough to do. Slate FrameI've seen many different ways of dressing a slate frame so you might want to do some research and see what works best for you (see my note below for Mary Corbett).
Unlike a scroll frame, a slate frame needs to be at least as big as the fabric you are mounting. So if you're working on a project that's 18" wide by 27" tall, that's a big slate frame, but you'll have very taut fabric and it will be easier to use both hands. Mounting a slate frame into a stand is a bit of a problem since most US stands are made for thicker things like stretcher bars and the pegs or cotter pins can get in the way. Traditionally a slate frame is mounted on a trestle stand, which supports it from underneath, not from the top or side like most common US stands. I use mine by balancing it on my legs or if I need both hands, sitting at a table and balancing it on the edge of the table. Someday I plan to purchase a trestle for mine, once I figure out where it will go in my house.
Lamora at Access Commodities, where we get many of our slate frames from, recently wrote a great article on her blog about slate frames. Titled Setting in a Frame” – Some Evidence in the Use of Needlework Frames for Embroidery, it includes a lot of history and some great insights. Mary Corbett also has great information on her embroidery blog about slate frames as well as other methods of mounting your work, including how to dress a slate frame.
So What Do I Choose?
Here's the considerations you need to look at:
  • I need it drum tight - consider a slate frame or a hoop if it's small, or Evertite bars for canvas
  • I have a big project and don't want a big frame - consider a scroll frame
  • I have a tiny project and don't want to stitch in-hand - consider a hoop or Q-Snap if it's fabric, small stretcher bars if it's canvas
  • I stitch on Aida and need a frame - consider a Q-Snap or a scroll frame
  • I have a really wide project - consider a belt frame
  • I want to mount my project in a floor, table or lap stand - most stands hold stretcher bars well but others can be an issue. NS4 makes both a scroll frame holder and a Q-Snap holder that work very well. K's Creation and Lowery stands will hold hoops, Q-Snaps and scroll frames with a bit of help (use cork to line the underside of the clamps so they don't slip as much). Because the later 3 have rounded edges vs. the square edges of stretcher bars, they tend to slip a bit more often - hence the cork.
If you're still not sure what to pick feel to ask us or your LNS for help. Those with dexterity concerns as well as visual and reach concerns might need a different option than what we'd normally suggest.

Thanks for reading the newsletter and I hope it imparts a bit of useful information.
Happy Stitching,
Cathe (January 2016)
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