Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Most Helpful Hoop!

Image from Joann Fabrics

Honestly, this is not the post I meant to write tonight! I was hoping to have some more progress on my Twilight Angel to show you, but I honestly haven't put a single stitch in her this week! The weather has been miserable; it's rained all week, and today the temperature soared up and it was actually too hot to stitch! *rolls eyes*

So instead, I'm going to talk a little bit about the hoop that I used for my Bluebirds Test Piece. I promise that this will be the last time I talk about this project, LOL :)

Usually, I use wooden hoops for working my cross-stitching, as I find that they are light and comfortable to use. They also have the benefit of being inexpensive and readily attainable. I worked Bluebirds in a 10" inch wooden frame.

However, when I was looking for a smaller hoop for another project, a new product caught my eye - the Hoop-La, by Susan Bates, which is part of the product line of Coats & Clark, the U.S. company that makes Anchor embroidery floss.

They are available in a range of bright colours and sizes. I chose a 6" inch hoop in yellow (it was either that or neon green, which is a bit hard on the eye, LOL) to try.

Prices vary by store that is retailing the item, but I paid less than $3.00 CA for mine.

Here is the front view:

And here is the back view:

Sorry that the top screw is cut off in this picture; I had meant to take different pictures for the product review, but found that photographing both parts of the hoop separately didn't really give a clear idea of how it worked.

The Coats & Clark product page states that the Hoop-Las:

"...feature our exclusive "Super-Grip-Lip" which is designed to maintain consistent tension without distorting or snagging your fabric or threads. Incredibly durable and flexible, our hoops make it easier for the needle to pass through the fabric, allowing your stitches to form evenly."

This "Super-Grip-Lip" is actually a tongue-and-groove system. The inside (bottom) hoop has a small raised line that runs along the middle of the outer part of the hoop, and the outside (top) hoop has a small recessed line running along the inside of it; when you place your fabric over the bottom half of the hoop and place the top of the hoop over it, the two parts of the groove "lock" together, helping to hold the fabric in place. In addition, the outer (top) hoop is very slightly extended on the inside to help keep the hoop from sliding to the middle or back of the inside hoop during working. These raised edges are very slight, and I found that I did have to readjust the fabric in the hoop occasionally. So I would call it a "Good-Grip-Lip" :)

The feature that most impressed me about the Hoop-La isn't actually mentioned in any of the product guides I've read. It's the unique screw top mechanism!

Here's a close-up of the screw on a regular wooden hoop, for comparison:

And here's a close-up of the Hoop-La screw:

As you can see, it's a much heavier design, with a nut at the left end and a large grooved bolt head on the right. This is so much easier to tighten, I can't even tell you! I find the small screws on the wooden hoops hard at the best of times, and I can imagine that they must be torture for anyone with weakness in their hands.

I also find that once you get the screw on a wooden hoop tight, it seldom stays that way. I've had to resort to taking a pair of pliers to some of mine on occasion. Not only does this make unscrewing the screw very difficult, but the pliers can strip the threads of the screw overtime, necessitating the purchase of a new hoop.

Not only is the Hoop-La screw mechanism much larger, but it is much heavier, with deeper screw threads. The large bolt, with it's grooved edge, is actually very easy to turn and tighten! It is also very easy to unscrew, which is great when you need to loosen the tension. One of the things I really dislike is losing my tension, when I've finally gotten it to the drum-tight level I like working with. Unfortunately, I find that the wooden hoop screws rarely keep the same tightness for long and it's hard to get back to that level if you loosen the hoop for any reason, and so I often leave my hoop drawn tight for the entire duration of a project.

Common Stitchy Wisdom holds that you should loosen the tension on your hoop between stitching sessions, to avoid hoop marks and unnecessary stretching of the fabric. But this is something I'm not able to do very often.

With the Hoop-La mechanism, ratcheting the tension back to a drum-tight level is easy and achievable - you can actually count the turns if you like, and therefore if you know you like the 5-turn tension level, you can reach that level again with ease. This is remarkable to me, and definitely the main benefit of this product!

The only drawback that I noticed is that the Hoop-La is significantly heavier to hold than a wooden hoop. Charlotte Kuchinsky has a two-page product review on Associated Content from Yahoo!, a user-contributed articles site, that states:

"Hoop-La is made from heavy duty Luxite. That means the hoop is sturdy, long lasting and not prone to easy breakage. Luxite is a form of Lucite that is highly durable. It is used in some craft supplies; most notably those supported by Susan Bates. These include embroidery hoops, knitting needles and crochet hooks."

I was not aware of Luxite previously. The Coats & Clark site has a product listing for Luxite Crochet Hooks by Susan Bates and Luxite Knitting Needles by Susan Bates, which verifies Kuchinsky's claim that the company uses Luxite extensively.

However, I think that Luxite must be a patented material owned by the Susan Bates company, as I was unable to find out anything else about the material. The name is also used by Luxite Industries, an automotive company, and Luxite Hoisery, an old business famed mostly for its advertisements.

The extra weight, which would be a little of a drawback while stitching, was actually surprisingly helpful for embroidery. The thicker frame of the Hoop-La sets easily and evenly on a small cushion. When trying to work the French knots in the middle of some of the test flowers, I found that it was helpful to bring my thread through to the front of the fabric, set the hoop down on the cushion in my lap, and then use my two hands to do the thread wrapping necessary for the stitch.

Once I had my loops on, I placed my needle where I wanted it to go with my right hand, lifted the top edge of the hoop slightly with left hand, gave the end of the needle a tap with my thimble, and then picked up the hoop to slide the needle all the way through. It worked perfectly. It helped me conquer my Stitchy Foe! The Hoop-La and my Clover Thimble are entirely responsible for my victory, I believe :)

For that alone, I consider it favorably! LOL. Overall, I think that the Hoop-La is a great product, although it might be a bit heavy for large works done holding the hoop in one's hand, and is probably more suitable for smaller works. It is a definitely an interesting alternative design worth adding to your Stitchy Stash, and I hope to see more hoops with such easy to use screw mechanisms on the market in the future!

Have you used one? What do you think? I'd love to know!

I'm hoping to have some WIP progress to post the next time I see you :)


Rainy Day Crafter said...

I don't think we can get those hoops over here unfortunately (well, I did find one website selling them, but a 6" hoop was £40!!!!), which is a real shame as they do look good. And anything that helps with the dreaded French knots has my vote, lol!

Trying to tighten the screws in the wooden hoops really is a pain (literally sometimes) isn't it, and I definitely can't face keep loosening and tightening it back up on a daily basis, so I always just leave them as they are until I'm finished too.

I'll have to see if I can see anything similar over here as I'm going to have to start thinking about starting my Christmas cross stitch soon (!!!) and I'll be needing a new hoop for that.

PS liking the crochet background to your hoop photos! :)

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Good gracious! They're good, but not that good, LOL! Talk about inflated prices!

I'm glad I'm not the only one with problems with the mechanisms on wooden hoops; honestly, with all the new advances in technology, you'd think they'd come up with something a bit easier to use, wouldn't you?

Ah, Christmas. Yes, indeed, that time has come again! I better get cracking on some ornament designs soon too. I just find it so hard to get into the Christmas-y Spirit earlier than, say, November :)

Re: the crochet - you have very keen eyes ;) That's an afghan I can't actually take credit for (my Mother made that one), although I have made smaller ones like it :)

Karen said...

I'm a Q-Snap and scroll frame girl. I haven't used a hoop in years, but I do remember stitching with my mom's wooden hoops way back when and I remember the frequent loss of tension. There is the odd time I'm looking for something smaller to work with, and since they seem to be so inexpensive, I might try one. I think it might be handy for traveling. Did you get your's at Michael's?

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Ha! You know me well :) Yes indeedy my Hoop-La was found at Michaels! They range from 4" inches up to 10" inches, and there's supposed to be a few oval ones as well though they aren't carried at my store. The colours vary, which is kind of strange; since there's only seven sizes, you'd think they would be colour-coded for ease of finding, but no.

I think they would be good for traveling too!

I do have a rectangular Q-Snap that I have used for really large works, and will likely use again, but I find it rather heavy and awkward to hold. I've never used a scroll frame, though I've admired those scroll/stand combos!

I may get a 4" inch myself since Ornament Season will soon be upon us and most of my stitchery then is in smalls :) Good Luck finding a Hoop-La of your own!

Dani - tkdchick said...

Its great to have good to honest product reviews like this.

I bought my first hoop this year (I usually stitch in hand or with q-snaps which are heavy). Its a german one, not cheap but its so light and the tension rocks.

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Dani - Thank you very much for your wonderful comment, and Welcome! With so many stitchy products on the market, I'm often overwhelmed by the choice, and really enjoy reading about why others did or did not find something helpful, so this is my small contribution to that :)

I'm glad that you found a hoop that works for you! I stitch in hand as well, and also find the Q-snaps to be heavy. It's always awesome when you can find the tools that are right for you, as it makes stitching (and a lot of other crafty things) so much more enjoyable!

Meari said...

I've never used one. Actually, I haven't used hoops in years. JG is on scroll rods, and I use qsnaps or stitch in hand otherwise.

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thanks very much for your comment Meari! I've been eyeing scroll rods enviously for sometime myself, and am trying to work up my courage to try a set. I have a large project I've been dying to start for a while, and a hoop is just not large enough, or the right shape. It's always interesting to learn how other stitchers work! :)