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Learning how to hoop fabric correctly when machine embroidering is one of the most important aspects of ensuring professional results.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the things that embroidery machine user manuals don’t do justice! And, it’s something that many new embroidery enthusiasts don’t master until they’ve messed up several projects thanks to improper hooping.
Hooping can be tricky trying to align your stabilizer, fabric, and hoop all at the same time. It’s even worse if you’re on a slippery surface and your hoop is moving all over the place.
Therefore, let’s learn how to hoop fabric properly! There are many different embroidery hooping techniques and tricks, so I’ll show you a couple of methods to try to see what works best for you.
I’ll also show you how to float fabric if it won’t fit in a hoop. (And, as a note, this machine embroidery hooping tutorial focuses on how to hoop fabric using a single-needle home embroidery machine hoop. If you have a multi-needle commercial embroidery machine, hooping may be slightly different.)
Common Beginner Embroidery Hooping Mistakes
Before we get started, here’s a quick list of common beginner hooping mistakes that can cause a myriad of issues.
- Pulling fabric and causing distortion
- Hooping too tightly or too loosely
- Marking improperly or hooping items in the wrong direction
- Picking the wrong hoop size
- Hooping two layers and stitching them together accidentally
- Hooping only one layer but forgetting to move the bottom layer out of the way
Am I the only one who’s accidentally sewn through two layers of a project? Or embroidered something upside down? I usually blame my mistakes on “exhausted embroidering” late at night after I get my kids to sleep, so I’ve now learned to always double-check before starting to stitch.
What Can Happen With Poor Hooping?
Now, if your fabric is not hooped properly, it can cause any number of problems. I’ve listed some common ones below:
- Bobbin thread nests and top thread breaking
- Crooked, uncentered designs
- Stitches in the design not aligning properly (poor registration)
- Holes or puckering in the fabric
- Hoop burn (or permanent creases) in the fabric
Let’s try to avoid these by learning how to hoop correctly!
Parts of a Single-Needle Embroidery Machine Hoop
There are two main pieces of a home-use embroidery machine hoop. Different brands and different machines have slightly different hoops, but this is my Brother embroidery machine hoop above.
There’s a bottom, outside hoop frame, and then a top, inside hoop frame. Frames have a definite top and bottom, so make sure you know which way goes up.
On the bottom hoop frame, there is a bracket on the left side where the hoop attaches to your embroidery arm. On the base of the outside hoop, there’s also a small screw that will tighten and untighten to add or release the tension on the hoop contents. This allows you to accommodate different fabric thicknesses.
You will be placing your fabric and stabilizer between the inside and the outside hoop when preparing to embroider.
Hooping Fabric and Stabilizer: End Goal
The end goal of a successful hooping is to have all layers oriented properly and fit tautly inside the hoop with no puckers, wrinkles, or stretching.
Don’t worry too much if you’re not exactly centered, though, if your design doesn’t take up the entire embroidery field. Most embroidery machines allow you to rotate designs and move them around for perfect placement.
Choosing Size and Orienting Your Machine’s Hoop
Unless you’re appliqueing and need space to clip your base fabric, choose the smallest hoop size you can use for your chosen design. This saves stabilizer, makes hooping more accurate, and provides more support for the fabric while it’s being stitched.
Also, double-check that you’ve oriented the hoop in the correct direction relative to your machine and fabric. Sometimes, you may find that rotating your design 90 degrees allows you to fit a larger line of letters in your hoop, for instance. If you’ve decided to rotate your design, remember to rotate your fabric as well when hooping.
Marking Your Fabric For Design Placement
Before marking, it’s best to press your fabric. Just don’t use sweeping motions with the iron as this may also distort the fabric.
Now, find the location on your fabric where the design will go. It may help to print out a paper copy of your design from your embroidery software to assist with proper centration.
Then, mark your fabric. I typically use a water-soluble fabric marking pen, chalk wheel, or fold and crease. While I’m sometimes lazy on designs that don’t need much accuracy and only place a small cross in the center of the fabric, it’s better to mark long, straight lines on your fabric, especially when precision is important!
Embroidery Hooping: Method #1
Now that you know where your design will go, we need to center and hoop that part of the fabric.
First, loosen the hoop tension screw, and remove the inner ring from the outer ring. Check the bracket orientation on the bottom hoop, and make sure you know which side of the bottom hoop frame needs to go down to later connect to your embroidery arm.
Then, find a flat, hard surface to sit the bottom ring on. I hoop on my daughter’s old non-slip meal mat from years ago as it keeps my bottom hoop frame from sliding all over the place when I’m trying to get things situated perfectly.
A more professional-looking option is the DIME hoop mat shown above, which is non-slip and has grids.
Next, place an appropriately-sized piece of stabilizer on the top of the bottom frame. The stabilizer needs to extend outside the hoop on all four sides, ideally an inch or more. (I got rid of my mat for the pictures.)
If you buy precut stabilizer sheets, a 4″x4″ hoop uses 8″ x 8″ sheets and a 5″x7″ hoop uses 10″ x 12″ sheets. You also can hoop more than one piece or even type of stabilizer if your design or fabric requires it!
Next, place the fabric with the wrong side facing the top of the stabilizer.
If you have difficulty centering and hooping, consider adhering your stabilizer to the fabric first.
To do this, spray a thin layer of temporary fabric adhesive (like Odif 505) to stick the stabilizer and fabric together. Make sure to spray in a well-ventilated area and protect your work surface from side spray. (Pretend like my fabric is pressed in the picture below!)
If using water-soluble topping, you can float this on top later if you prefer not to try and hoop 3 pieces all at the same time!
Now, gently place the inner hoop on top of the fabric and stabilizer, covering the bottom hoop. Align the marked center of the fabric with the center of the inner hoop.
Depending on your machine manufacturer, there should be either small marks on your inside hoop or at least a plastic grid that comes with your machine. You can use a permanent marker or fingernail polish to add marks or enhance existing ones on the inner hoop frame if needed.
Below is an example of the plastic grids that fit within the inner hoop and help with centering.
Practice Run for Perfecting Tension
If you’re new to embroidery, it’s worth doing a practice hoop for each project to get the perfect tension before doing a final hooping.
Because adjusting the tension screw on hooped fabric can cause uneven tension across the hoop, plan to adjust the tension on a “practice run” instead of on the final hooping. Once you’ve been embroidering for a long time, you might be able to eyeball the right thickness and can skip this step.
To do the practice hooping, keep the fabric centered and gently press the inner hoop frame into the larger hoop frame using a continuous motion from one side to the other.
I like to first press from the side closest to me while gently holding the other side. Then, I’ll reverse directions to make sure the frames are perfectly aligned. I also find it easiest to make sure that I’ve oriented myself so the tension screw is farthest from me.
Then, adjust the tension using the screw to make the fabric taut but not stretched, and carefully remove the inner hoop. This is your ideal tension.
The Final Hooping
Now, repeat the above hooping process once more for your final hooping.
Try not to adjust the tension screw unless absolutely necessary this time. And while you can remove excess fabric with gentle tugs outside the hoop, it’s best to keep this at a minimum. If you pull too hard, you can stretch the fabric, causing distortion. You are better off trying a final hooping one more time rather than making big adjustments.
Once satisfied, remove the plastic template, and push the inner hoop slightly below the outer hoop to increase the tension enough to flatten any small fabric ripples.
Before you run to put your hoop into your embroidery machine, check to make sure the fabric is aligned and oriented in the correct direction. If not, make sure to change your design direction or location using your machine’s interface.
Next, try to lift the fabric from the stabilizer; if you can pull up the fabric, as shown below, rehoop. You want the fabric to be tight “as a drum” with no puckering. As such, you should also not be able to run your finger over the fabric and bunch up the fabric.
Lastly, turn your hoop over and check that the stabilizer is flat and smooth. And, make sure the inner hoop is even all the way around the outer hoop.
Embroidery is time-consuming and worth doing right. If your hooping job wasn’t very good the first time, try again!
Hooping Fabric for Embroidery: Method #2
If you have difficulties laying your stabilizer and fabric over your bottom hoop and then inserting the inner hoop, give this second hooping method a try.
First, set your bottom hoop on the table as before. Then, lay your stabilizer and fabric on the table next to the hoop. Place the inner hoop on top of the fabric, and line things up. Pick up the three (or more) layers together with both hands and then insert them smoothly and carefully into the bottom hoop. Continue on as above with the test run and then final hooping.
This method doesn’t work as well for me, but it’s worth a try if the first method wasn’t easy for you!
Embroidery Hooping Stations and Aids
If you plan to start a home embroidery business, a hooping station saves time and is great if your hands get sore from continual hooping.
Hooping stations also help line up designs more easily, especially on tubular pieces of fabric.
Moving Fabric Out of the Way Before Embroidering
Since you don’t want to accidentally stitch the front and back pieces of shirts and other two-layered items together, remember to always move the bottom fabric out of the way of the hoop.
If you have thick fabric, you need to place your hoop in the machine first and then start attaching your fabric out of the way. If you gather it beforehand, you may end up with mounds too large to fit underneath the embroidery foot!
I like to use painter’s tape and hair clips the most to hold the fabric out of the way, but I also use pins, masking tape, binder clips, and even clothespins at times.
It all depends on how much fabric there is and how difficult it is to manage! You’ll learn your preferences once you’ve embroidered your first several projects.
With a multi-needle embroidery machine, you do not need to worry about moving fabric out of the way because of its free arm.
Hooping Stabilizer and Then Floating Your Fabric
Floating your fabric or embroidery blank is easier to set up.
However, my results are never as good when I float because the fabric moves around more. So, when possible, always try to hoop fabric and stabilizer together first. Some projects that are smaller than the hoop or are very bulky will always have to be floated, though.
When floating fabric, first hoop only your piece of stabilizer. Then, line up and adhere the fabric or blank to the stabilizer.
There are many ways to do this! You could use spray adhesive, pins, or stitch a basting box before starting. You could also use a sticky adhesive stabilizer as I do in my baseball cap embroidery tutorial. Or, even painter’s tape like I did in my cardstock embroidery tutorial.
One trick for lining things up, if using fabric, is to mark the center of your stabilizer with vertical and horizontal lines. Then, fold the fabric in fourths (around the center of where your design will be stitched) and match the inner corner to the marked center of the stabilizer. Then, unfold, making sure the vertical and horizontal center lines of your fabric match with the lines on the stabilizer.
A Note About Removing Hoop Marks
After stitching, your fabric may have what’s called hoop burn, or marks left on the fabric by your hoop once you release the fabric. Remove this with a damp cloth, Magic Spray Sizing, or even pressing. Laundering many items will also remove the marks. This is the case when embroidering towels, for instance.
If Hooping Properly Doesn’t Fix Stitching Issues
If you found yourself on this post because you’re troubleshooting an embroidery problem and proper hooping doesn’t fix the issue, here are a few other things you may need to consider.
- Pick the correct embroidery stabilizer for your fabric and design.
- Make sure you’re using the right needle size and type.
- Evaluate if you have the right type of embroidery machine thread and the right settings. (For instance, a metallic thread requires special settings.)
Machine Embroidery Hooping Tutorial – Conclusion
I hope this hooping tutorial has taught you more about hooping fabric for machine embroidery. I’m always learning, so please let me know if you have any other tips & tricks that work well for you!
And, if you’re new to embroidery and overwhelmed, check out machine embroidery for beginners: the basics.