Embroidery hoops can be the key to joyful stitching — or make you totally miserable. So it's definitely worth the time to choose the right hoop for your project. There's no real substitute for old-fashioned trial-and-error, but having a little info up front can help.
Embroidery hoops come in two pieces: the outer edge (or framing piece) which has a spring or screw for tightening, and an inner piece that fits inside of it. Round hoops, the most common shape hoop, range in size from 3 to 14-inches in diameter.
The right size hoop depends on the size of the project. The hoop should fit around your fabric with some overhang. You want the fabric to lay taut within the hoop, but not be so tight that it causes the fabric to pucker after your run the floss through.
Choose a hoop that fits comfortably in one hand, so you can stitch with the other. The hoop doesn't have to frame the entire embroidery pattern, it can be larger or smaller, but do remove the hoop from the project into between stitching sessions — you don't want to the hoop to leave a permanent indentation on your fabric!
Material: wooden vs. plastic
Embroidery hoops made out of wood or bamboo have a smooth inner hoop. Sometimes that inner hoop needs a little extra padding, so wrap it with twill tape for a snugger fit. Quality matters when it comes to wooden hoops — if you buy the cheapest one you can find, you run the risk of having to crack while you're stitching. No thank you.
Plastic embroidery hoops often have a groove or lip on the inside where the inner hoop locks into the outer hoop, in addition to having the screw hardware to tighten the hoops together. This makes for a snug fit and allows the fabric to be held taut for hand embroidery projects.
Metal embroidery hoops aren't common — I've really only seen vintage ones in the wild. If you like to feel connected with the hand embroiderers of days gone by, definitely give it a go.
Round hoops are the most common shape — you'll find them readily at craft stores — but they're not you're only option. If square or oval shaped make more sense for your project, then seek out one of these special frames.
Embroidery hoops vs. quilting hoops
Hand quilters have their own special hoops, but that doesn't mean they're off limits. Quilting hoops are larger than embroidery hoops and can support thicker fabrics. A square hoop or Q-Snap frame, often used for hand quilting, is made out of PVC and has outer clips that fit snuggly around each of the four edges of the project, leaving the corners exposed. It works just as well for embroidery as it does for hand quilting.
Now you know your options. But ultimately, the right choice comes down to personal preference. Pick something that fits your project and is comfortable for you to hold. The best way to find your perfect hoop? Go Goldilocks and on them and try out a few.