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Cross Stitch 101: Hoops, Q-Snaps, Stretcher Bars, and Scroll Frames

There's no shortage of tools to help you hold your embroidery while you're working.  But which one is the right one to use?

Like a lot of things in life, it largely comes down to preference and what you're working on. The four most common tools are hoops, Q-snaps, stretcher bars, and scroll frames, and they each have their pros and cons.



Embroidery Hoop


Embroidery hoops are the standard and most widely-used method.  They come in a variety of materials, most commonly in wood and plastic.  Metal hoops can be found from time to time, but they're not as popular as they once were.  Plastic hoops are gaining traction, but while they may be nicer to work on, framing a finished piece in a wooden hoop will probably never stop being a thing.

Pros:

  • Easiest to work on without a stand.  Hoops are generally easy to hold onto, and if a stand is preferred, can easily fit into most lap stands.
  • Easiest to find in most stores.  While other options may be available, hoops tend to have the largest selection.
  • Cheapest option.  You can usually buy several hoops for the price of any one of the other options.
  • Largest variety in size.  Hoops can rage anywhere from 3" to several feet in diameter.
  • No upper limit to the size of the project, since the hoop can be easily moved around.

Cons:

  • Fabric can get very dirty.  Without the use of a grime guard, your hands are constantly touching the fabric, and can cause brown rings to appear if the project is large and takes a long time to complete.
  • Can crush your stitches and distort your fabric's weave.  You don't want to leave your project in a hoop for very long, especially if the project is large and the hoop is going to be overlapping with something you've already stitched.
  • Tension is difficult to control.  Some hoops will hold onto your fabric and never let go.  Others will slide about and lose tension quickly.  Keeping tight tension with a hoop may make the project easier to work on, but may also damage the project.

Q-Snap


Q-snaps are like hoops, but they're square.  Made out of PVC, they come in many pieces that can be mixed and matched to create various sizes.  The use a set of four round camps to secure your fabric to the frame. 

Pros:

  • Is easier on areas that have already been stitched, and can be used with a layer of felt between the clamp and your fabric to protect the stitches.
  • Mix and match capabilities means you can work in a variety of sizes and dimensions.
  • Sturdy material makes them less likely to break or wear out than a wooden hoop.
  • The square shape makes the tension on both axes easier to control
  • No upper limit to the size of the project

Cons:

  • Wide PVC pipe makes it difficult for some people to hold onto comfortably.
  • Fabric can get very dirty.  Without the use of a grime guard, your hands are constantly touching the fabric, and can cause brown lines to appear if the project is large and takes a long time to complete.
  • Larger size may make it difficult to fit the frame into some stands.
  • Large or high-quality frames can be expensive.

Stretcher Bars


Stretcher bars work by stretching your fabric over a frame like a painting canvas.  The fabric is secured with tacks, and is a more permanent solution for long-term projects.

Pros:

  • Tension remains fairly consistent for most projects and rarely needs to be adjusted
  • Fits into most floor stands.
  • Allows you to see the entire project at once
  • Modular design lets you build a frame that's exactly the size you need.

Cons:

  • Limited size constraints.  Depending on how long your arms are, you may only be able to do projects which are 12" tall.  Most sets of stretcher bars only go up to 18".
  • Can't move your project around.  Tacks damage the fabric, requiring wide margins between the edge of your design and the edge of your fabric.
  • Square frame makes it difficult for some people to hold onto comfortably.  Large sizes can't be worked on without a stand at all.
  • Not compatible with many lap stands.

Scroll Frames


Scroll frames are similar to stretcher bars, but instead of having four fixed edges, the upper and lower edges allow you to scroll along the project, making larger pieces easier to work on.

Pros:

  • Fits in most floor stands, and many lap stands
  • Allows you to work on tall projects comfortably. 
  • Multiple methods for securing your fabric to the frame, allowing you to find a method that works best for you.  Velcro, basting, or clamps are common.
  • Available in a wide variety of sizes, allowing you to construct a frame that's the right size for you.

Cons:

  • Tension can be fiddly.  Lateral tension especially difficult to control.
  • While your fabric can be any size vertically, you're limited horizontally by the size of your frame.
  • Rods can come in sizes up to 36", and extender bars up to 24", but become unwieldy even with a floor stand
  • Huge variety in quality results in some frames being made poorly.  This is an item where research is most important when buying.
  • Depending on the design, can be very difficult to hold onto.



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