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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hand Quilting for Beginners: Hoops

This is the fifth article in a series of articles by Caron Mosey geared for the beginning hand quilter.  If you have NEVER hand quilted before or just dabbled in it with no instruction and want to know how, this is for you!

Do I need to use a quilting frame or hoop when I quilt?

Yes, it is strongly suggested that you use either a frame or hoop for quilting.  This article will explore quilting hoops, and the article which follows will cover frames.

sandwichQuilting refers to putting three layers together that make up a “quilt sandwich.”  These layers are the quilt top, the batting (or wadding, as it is called in some countries), and the quilt backing. 

The three layers need to be held together so they will not shift during the stitching process.  A quilt frame or hoop holds the layers together.

Quilting frame or hoop?
A hoop is portable.  You can sit with it anywhere and stitch.
A frame is a stationary item, much like a large piece of furniture in your home.  You quilt where the frame is.
A hoop is more affordable than a well-crafted frame that you would purchase.
A frame can be expensive, but once you have a good frame, it will last you for life.
If you have a bad back or any arthritis, a hoop may be a better choice, as you can position yourself to be comfortable.
Sitting at a frame for an extended period of time may cause your shoulders, back or arms to become sore.  For some people this is a problem, but not all.
When preparing to use a hoop, the quilt sandwich should first be basted together with thread or small pins to hold it together.
Depending on your choice of frame (two or three poles), you may or may not need to baste your sandwich prior to quilting.
With a hoop, the entire quilt will be in your lap while you quilt.
With a frame, only a narrow strip of the quilt is in front of you.  The rest is rolled up on the poles out of your way.  Nothing is on your lap.
With a round or oval hoop, it is more difficult to quilt the borders of a quilt.  This is easily solved by using a border half-hoop.
Edmonds quilting_hoops2 
Quilting borders is easy!

What kind of hoop should I get?


There are two basic kinds of hoops:  wooden and PVC.  Wooden hoops are available in a variety of sizes and are either round or oval.  The hoop that I use the most is a free-standing hoop, 18 inches across.  Anything larger is too cumbersome, anything much smaller and I have to reposition the quilt more often.

ovalhoopstandYou can also get a hoop on a stand.  This is the kind of hoop I started with.  The stand helps support the weight of the quilt so that it doesn’t all rest on your lap. 


I also use a Hinterberg hoop from time to time.  It pivots on the stand, which is mighty handy!

qsnap frame

Some people prefer a small frame/hoop made of PVC pipe.  This one is called a Q-snap.  I haven’t tried it, but the fact that it is made out of plastic/PVC pipe just doesn’t work for the wife of a woodworker. 

There ARE some people who quilt without a hoop or a frame.  I don’t advise it, as the quilt can easily shift, distorting your pattern and making the quilt batting uneven between the top and bottom layers.  Your quilting stitches can be more uneven when you quilt without a hoop or a frame as well.  If you’re going to put the time and effort into hand quilting, it’s best to make a small investment and learn to do it the way quilters have been doing for hundreds of years. 
Have you read the previous articles for beginners?
1) Fabric  2) Needles  3) Thimbles 4) Thread


  1. Look at Sara Casol's April 2, 2012 article "DIY an (inexpensive) home hand quilting frame". I immediate went to the local hardware store (where I easily found everything) and put everything together in no time. I did add a hairdresser's swiveling stool - no back or arms, adjustable height, and I can push it from one side of the frame to the other and quilt both sides before turning the bars. I can also roll up a quilt in progress, take the frame apart, toss it all in the car and put it back together somewhere else in about 10 mins. I have different length bars too. It's brilliant !!

    1. Gail, can you provide a link the Sara's article? Thanks :)

    2. Linda, the article is here on Celebrate Hand Quilting, in the April 2012 archives.


  2. I have tried both of those hoops they eventually get very uncomfortable on your back. Also they start to loose their shape they fall over or dont move right.

    1. Everybody is different... what works for one person might not work for another. I prefer just a lap hoop now myself.

  3. When I started quilting in the early '80s, my teacher's hubby had made her a lap frame. I did try to quilt with just a hoop but it was just awkward for me, so I had her hubby make one for me. I have had that lap frame for almost 30 years now. I also have a Grace EZ3 floor frame and love that too. This series of articles is filled with great information and will be very helpful for beginners.

  4. What do you do with the rest of a large quilt when you use a hoop? Do you let it just hang free or clip or pin it together?

    1. I just let it hang... in the winter it's nice and warm on my lap (I'm usually cold in the winter up here in Michigan!).

  5. I bought a half hoop, and for the life of me, can not figure out how to use it! I even e-mailed the company, and they were no help.

    1. The half hoop goes on the quilt at the outside edge, so that the long flat end is at the straight outside border. The purpose for it is to make it easier to do borders. You do the rest of the quilt with a regular round or oval hoop.

  6. Will you say something about how much tension should be on the fabric in the hoop .... because if I use a lot of tension I don't get my stitches through from only the fornt, and if it's not enough tension and I get the quilting done, then it's so loose I could as well leave the hoop away ... maybe that's just a training thing ... but maybe you have some hints ..

  7. Don't diss plastic rectangular frames until you've tried them. At 11" x 17" typically, they are not "small", although you can get kits in all sizes, and they are easy to extend too. I vastly prefer them to wooden hoops. It's much easier to get the tension right, and also you can adjust it whenever you like with a slight tilt of a clamp. They don't mark the quilt as badly as a wooden hoop. They are far easier to put on. Since they're rectangular, they will tile over the surface of the quilt in a way that a round hoop can't, so it's much easier to work through the quilt regularly. The shape is also surprisingly easy to use. At 4'11", I find that small hoops don't hold enough quilt to work on properly, and I can't reach across a traditional 16" hoop comfortably. With my Q-snap, I can always angle it so that I can get to whichever part I like. They even break down easily for storage or transport. I use the 11" x 17" for general quilting, and have used the extensions for when I'm beading and want to minimise how much I move the frame over the quilt in order not to disturb the beads.

    Wood is lovely stuff. I have a beautiful collection of wooden hair forks, for example, lovely oak floors, and really adore the wood on my piano. But that doesn't mean it's the best thing for everything, and for me plastic is far and away the best material for a handheld quilting frame. I can't speak for the floor frames, which do exist, as they wouldn't fit at all well with my style of quilting. But I understand they're quite popular amongst quilters who use floor frames. I've looked at them hopefully once or twice, then remembered that I can't quilt in all directions, which I understand is essential with a floor frame, and that my back would be killing me if I tried to do that.


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