Close up hoop

Hooping 101: Embroidery Basics

Alice Wolf is the manager of publications and education for Madeira USA. Her marketing expertise developed through accomplishments in publishing, public relations and sales within the fields of art, home decor, film and television production. Email her at awolf@madeirausa.com.

Born in the U.S., designer/digitizer Bonnie Nielsen works in the Freiburg, Germany, headquarters of embroidery thread manufacturer Madeira. Nielsen has distinguished herself internationally with her embroidered art pieces and articles that appear in international professional garment and embroidery magazines such as Eurostitch. Madeira utilizes Nielsen's expertise to work on special projects that include educating embroiderers on technique and working with specialty thread.

Beginning to embroider without proper hooping is like starting a mountain hike in flip flops. You may reach your destination, but your poor feet won’t be the prettiest sight when you get there! Like any major endeavor, laying a firm, secure foundation will help to avoid problems and provide the best possible results.

A seasoned embroiderer can spot poorly-hooped embroidery from a mile away. Do you see outlines in the embroidery not lining up properly or distortion in the design? These errors are the fault of fabric shifting during the embroidery process…and are so avoidable! Here’s how.

Selecting a Hoop

The smaller the hoop, the easier it is to stabilize the fabric you are embroidering. Choose a hoop that is just slightly larger than your design, but big enough that you run no risk of the needles hitting the frame. Use the trace feature of your embroidery machine to follow along and make certain that the design falls well within the inner walls of the hoop.

Stabilizing is Key

Fabric must be stabilized within the hoop to prevent distortion and stretching. Once you have chosen the proper backing for your job, hoop the backing with the fabric, making sure the piece of backing is large enough that it extends outside the edges of the hoop by at least 1”. 

Hooping Different Fabric Types

Striped fabrics can be tricky, and, often, a pronounced weave will give the impression of stripes even when none are printed. The natural weave may suggest a strong vertical design, almost like the grain in different types of wood. If these stripes, natural or printed, are not aligned correctly, the embroidery will not appear straight. Not only must you align the stripes, but the backing must stabilize the fabric so that there is no movement off of the vertical, or the design will appear to be off-center or distorted.

Knitted fabrics must not be stretched. When hooping them, pull the fabric lightly in the direction of the least amount of stretch. Once the knit fabric and its backing are hooped, do a test by running your finger lightly over the hooped fabric. If you see a ripple, this indicates the fabric is too loose in the hoop.
Another test for accurate hooping is to see if you can “grab” the fabric with your finger tips and pull it up, away from the backing. If you’ve hooped correctly, this should be difficult to accomplish.

Performance wear and other items with two-way stretch (think bathing suits) can be a challenge. There are two schools of thought here. Some embroiderers say these fabrics should never be stretched at all, while others believe the fabric should be stretched to the point that it resembles the amount of stretch it would withstand while being worn. To decide which approach works for you, try testing on fabric swatches similar to the garment you will be embroidering.

There’s at least one case where you don’t want to stretch the fabric: if you need to put a covering over the embroidery on the back of the fabric to keep stitching from irritating the skin. For example, if embroidering with metallic thread on a swimsuit, you want to use a finishing product that permanently bonds to the reverse side of the garment to prevent the stitching from chafing skin.

Satin, thin nylon, velvet and suede all tend to slip around within the hoop, due to their thinness or unstable nap. Some of these fabric types can also be bruised when hooped, leaving a ring (also called hoop burn) around the delicate fabric. Some embroiderers wrap the inner ring of the hoop with scraps of pliable, soft knit fabric. This allows for good tension on the fabric. But, since the surface is secured by fabric to fabric, the delicate finished product is less likely to slip or hold the hoop mark.

Other embroiderers choose not to hoop the fabric at all. In this case, an adhesive backing is hooped, sticky side up, and the fabric placed on top of the hooped backing, held in place by the adhesive. It is always a good idea to run a test on the fabric, making certain that the adhesive will not stain or otherwise harm a delicate fabric.

Thick fabrics and leather require a turn of the adjustment screw on the hoop, which allows for more space between the inner and outer rings of the hoop. If a fabric is too heavy or stiff to be properly hooped, it may pop out of the hoop during embroidery, which would destroy the item. If you can’t avoid embroidering on such thick items, a clamping system may be the only bet. When working with a clamping system, items are placed between the top and bottom clamps, which are then locked together, holding the piece to be embroidered securely.

Good Embroidery Starts with Good Hooping

Each manufacturer of embroidery machines offers a wide range of hoop sizes that are calibrated specifically for your unique machine. Invest in a good range of sizes so you will have many options, and won’t be limited by the size of a design. As one of the preliminary steps to producing outstanding embroidery, mastering proper hooping techniques is critical.