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Home > Helpful Hints > Hooping Fabric for Machine Embroidery Tutorial

Three Machine Embroidery Hooping Techniques for Professional Results

This tutorial is compliments of EmbroiderThis.com!

Proper hooping is one of the most challenging and important machine embroidery skills. Hooping the item correctly is critical to obtaining a professional result. Improper hooping can cause a myriad of issues such as misalignment of the design on the garment, puckering of the fabric , thread looping or breaking, or design registration issues (when the stitches don’t line up or “register” properly in the design, especially on outlines). Hooping for machine embroidery is a challenge because the process requires you to handle multiple loose layers of fabric and stabilizer simultaneously and it requires you to keep those layers straight and wrinkle free while they are aligned precisely and placed under tension in the embroidery hoop so your design ends up stitching out well and where you intend on the fabric. Hooping an item for machine embroidery can at first make you feel like you have ten thumbs, but with the help of the hints below and just a little practice you will soon be hooping like a pro!

The hooping process is affected by several factors:
• the type of stabilizer;
• the number of layers of stabilizer needed for the type of fabric you are embroidering;
• the size of the object you are embroidering;
• the texture of the fabric; and
• the size and type of the hoop required for the project.



The following techniques will help you learn to hoop your projects accurately and with ease. Remember that this process will be a bit cumbersome at first but practice will improve your skills and help you become proficient in a short period of time.



The Stabilizer and Fabric
Machine embroidery requires that the fabric be well stabilized. Stabilizer keeps the fabric from shifting, stretching, or puckering while under the stress of high speed machine embroidery. At least one layer of stabilizer should be placed underneath the fabric in the hoop for every machine embroidery project.

There are many different types of commercial stabilizers, each designed to accommodate particular techniques, applications, and fabric types. Some stabilizers are designed to remain underneath the stitches or around the edges of a stitched design will continue to support the embroidery during normal wear and laundering of the fabric. Others are removed entirely after the embroidery is completed. For example:

•Wash-away stabilizers can be rinsed away in plain water.
•Heat sensitive stabilizers crumble under the heat of an iron and then can be simply brushed away.
Because there are so many types of stabilizers, I will address in greater depth the various types of stabilizers and their uses in a separate tutorial document. In the meantime, below are a few notes on the most common stabilizers to use with products from EmbroiderThis.com.

A mid-weight Tear-Away type stabilizer is the stabilizer of choice for most of the linen and cotton items from Embroiderthis.com. One or two layers on the back side of the item to be embroidered is sufficient. We offer Sulky® Tear-Away stabilizer in various sized rolls and in precut sheets. Thick or textured fabrics like waffle weave or terry cloth may benefit from an additional layer (s) of wash-away type stabilizer placed on top of the fabric during the machine embroidery process. These wash-away top stabilizers can be rinsed away with water after the machine embroidery is complete and act only as a temporary support. Any thick or loose piled fabric, like terry cloth or waffle weave, should be topped with a layer of wash-away type stabilizer to keep the stitches from burrowing too deeply down into the pile of the fabric and to keep the needle from accidentally catching on a loop of the pile during embroidery.

Knit and interlock fabrics are very stretchy in all directions and can easily become misshapen under the stress of hooping and high speed embroidery. A cut-away type stabilizer that offers no stretch will keep the item stable in the hoop. We offer Sulky® Cut-Away stabilizers in rolls. Knits benefit from stabilization on the top of the fabric as well as underneath to keep the fabric from shifting, puckering, or stretching while being embroidered.

The Hoop

There are many different types and sizes of machine embroidery hoops available. Each brand of embroidery machine has hoops especially designed to fit that particular brand of machine. Most embroidery machines come with a standard 4” x 4” size hoop and many machine manufacturers also have specialty and large sized hoops available for purchase as an accessory. There are also specialty hoops like those designed for caps or hoops that hold your fabric in place with magnets. Check with your embroidery machine’s manufacturer or specialty hoop manufacturer to see if their product is designed to fit your brand and model of embroidery machine.


All hoops function basically the same. The item to be embroidered and the stabilizer(s) are sandwiched between an inner and an outer hoop ring and held in place by the pressure of the two hoop pieces. The hoop is then attached to your embroidery machine for stitching. It is important that the area of the item to be embroidered is oriented correctly in the hoop so the design will be stitched out in the proper location and in the correct alignment on the fabric.



Paper Templates

To aide in proper positioning of the design, you can use your embroidery software to print out a paper template of the design. A paper template is the same size and shape of the finished embroidery and allows you to audition placement options before actually stitching. I like to cut out this paper copy of the design and pin the paper template directly on the item, then stand back a bit to get the overall visual effect of the design placement. If you are embroidering on a garment, pin the paper design template on the garment then try the garment on. It is often difficult to evaluate the placement of a design on a garment unless the garment is on a body. Finding the most pleasing placement of the design is often easier when done by using a paper template.



Mark Vertical and Horizontal Placement Lines and Design Center

Once you have determined where you wish to place the design on the fabric, you should mark the center point of the design as well as vertical and horizontal positioning lines to help you align the design area of the fabric in the hoop properly.
Sometimes just a finger pressed crease line is enough to mark the fabric. Other times, you will want to mark the fabric using a pencil, a marker especially designed to mark fabrics, chalk, or even bits of tape. Test any marking tool on a scrap of fabric before using it on your final fabric to be certain the marks can be easily removed and that the marking method will not damage the fabric. I generally use an air erasable or water erasable marker (available in local sewing shops) to mark placement lines for my designs.
To find the center of the design and to create guidelines for horizontal and vertical alignment, fold the paper template in half top to bottom then in half again side to side creasing each fold with your finger. When you unfold the paper, the crease lines now form guidelines to mark the center of your design (where the two lines meet in the middle) as well as the central vertical and central horizontal lines of your design to mark on your fabric. Pin the creased template to the fabric exactly where you wish to embroider the design, then transfer the center mark and the central guidelines to the fabric using one of the marking methods described above. Once the placement lines are marked, you can remove the paper template from the garment and use the marked lines only to orient the fabric in the hoop, or if you prefer, you can leave the paper template pinned to the fabric until your item is hooped and you are ready to sew.



Hoop Size Workspace and Stabilizer Size

Now that you have marked the placement of your design on the item to be embroidered, it’s time to get it in the hoop! I recommended that you always use the smallest hoop that the size of the design allows. The smallest size hoop will offer the best support of the fabric around the design area giving you the most professional looking results. Smaller hoops are also easier to use and require smaller pieces of stabilizer. Rotating the orientation of the design (turning the design) in the hoop may allow you to use a smaller sized hoop.
When hooping, it is important to work on a hard flat surface. This will give you the best leverage so you can position the item in the hoop properly. Make sure the stabilizer is cut about an inch larger all around than the hoop being used. The stabilizer should extend beyond the hoop edges at about an inch in all directions. So, for example, a 5” x 7” hoop should use a piece of stabilizer cut to about 7” x 9”.

Hooping Methods

There are many different methods to place the fabric and stabilizer in the hoop. Below, I will describe three of my favorites. Like any new skill you will find that practice will improve your technique so try practicing each method before you decide which one you prefer. You may find it beneficial to try hooping the same item using these three different methods to see which one is most comfortable and gives you the best results.



Adjusting Hoop Tension

Most hoops are made up of two pieces: the outer hoop and the inner hoop. The outer hoop frame usually has the embroidery machine attachment point and a thumbscrew mechanism to adjust the hoop pressure. The thumbscrew mechanism allows you to adjust the size of the outer hoop so you can accommodate a variety of fabric thicknesses. The inner hoop (top hoop) fits inside the outer hoop and works to supply pressure on the fabric to keep it taut during embroidery. The tension between the two hoops is adjusted using the thumbscrew mechanism. The goal is to get all the layers settled snugly in between these two frames, while keeping the layers aligned properly and wrinkle free. The fabric should be snug in the hoop, but not stretched out of shape or under pressure. The proper tension is a “neutral” tension where the fabric is not stretched but is not allowed to move out of shape.


The hoop tension should be set before you hoop the actual item to be embroidered. So, before beginning to hoop the actual project, perform a hooping practice run with fabric and stabilizer of the same type you plan to embroider to set the proper tension of the two hoop pieces. Place a piece of the fabric and stabilizer in the hoop and adjust the tension of the two hoop pieces. The hoop tension should be firm enough to hold the fabric taut and wrinkle free, but not place undue stress on the fabric or stretch it out of shape. Remember, you are aiming for “neutral tension”, not stretched and not sagging! Too much pressure on the fabric can cause permanent marks on the fabric or cause stretching of the fabric and puckering of the design. Too little tension will cause your design to sag or pucker and can cause the design stitches to be misaligned. The inner hoop should seat into the outer hoop with a bit of pressure. It should not drop into place easily nor should you have to jump on the hoop to get it seated.


Determining the correct tension using this practice piece of fabric and stabilizer allows you to set the tension of the hoop to its proper place without concern of design alignment. You can then be assured that the tension will be correct when you hoop the actual item you plan to embroider and will not need further tension adjustments. Adjusting the tension screw while an item is in the hoop can cause uneven tension distribution on the fabric. The tension around the screw actually ends up being looser and other areas can be pulled a bit out of shape. Presetting the tension takes one variable out of the hooping process and ensures that when you hoop the item it will have the proper tension and there will be an even distribution of this tension on the fabric in the hoop.

Hooping Technique 1 “The Line-up”

This method uses the center marking arrows on your hoop to help you line up the fabric while placing it in the hoop. First, place the outer hoop (the one with the tension adjustor and the arm that attaches to your embroidery machine) on a flat surface and orient the hoop so the top of the hoop faces away from you and the bottom of the hoop faces you. Locate the center markings on this hoop. There should be small arrows indicating the center of the hoop on all four sides. If your hoop does not have these marks, measure and determine the center point of the hoop sides and mark it with a small piece of tape or a permanent marker. Mark the center of the 4 sides of your inner hoop as well.
Mark the placement lines for the design as described above. Layer the fabric to be embroidered on top of the stabilizer. Fold the fabric and stabilizer in half from top to bottom directly through the center of the design area and crease the fabric with your fingers to mark the horizontal center for your design. Fold again, this time side to side, directly through the design area and finger press to mark the vertical center of the design area to be embroidered. Keeping the fabric/stabilizer folded, lay it on the outer hoop, lining up both of the folded edges with the center marks on the hoop. Using one hand to keep the folds lined up with the center marks on the hoop gently unfold the item keeping the creased lines on the fabric line up with the vertical and horizontal marks on the outer hoop. Next, lay the inner hoop on top of the fabric and outer hoop. Again use the center marks on the inner hoop to check the alignment of the fabric in the hoop. Adjust the fabric so it is lined up with the center marks and smooth out any wrinkles or folds.


Next, check that the fabric is oriented in the hoop properly. Look at the design in relation to how the hoop will fit on your machine and be sure the top of your design is facing the correct way. I have been known to stitch designs upside down or sideways if I don’t check this step carefully! Once you are sure of the placement, gently press the inner hoop into place. It is helpful to first push one side of the hoop down while holding the other side lightly in place, then reverse and steady the side you have already done while applying pressure to the other side of the hoop to pop it fully in place. After the inner hoop is seated, check to be sure the crease lines in the fabric are still lining up with the center marks on the hoop and the fabric is oriented correctly. There should be no puckers or sags and the inner hoop should be even and flush all the way around in relation to the outer hoop. If you detect any issues, un-hoop and try again. It is much less of a problem to re-hoop at this point then to try to recover from a bad hooping later on!



Technique 2 “The Flip”

Mark the design center and the horizontal and vertical placement lines on the item to be embroidered as described above. Next, place all the layers in the proper order for stitching: stabilizer (face up) topped with fabric followed by a top (wash-away) stabilizer if needed. Smooth out any folds or wrinkles. Place the inner (the hoop piece that fits inside the outer frame) on top of the fabric/stabilizer layers. Line up the centering marks of the hoop with the centering marks of your fabric as accurately as possible.
The next step involves picking up all the layers including the top frame keeping center marks lined up. After a nice deep calming breath, lift the complete unit, frame/fabric/stabilizer, up with both hands scrunching the excess fabric up on either side as you hold the frame down on the fabric with your thumbs. Line the top frame with the inside edges of the “holding” or outer bottom frame.
Unfold the gathered fabric from the sides. Fan out your fingers on your left hand and gently hold the top frame in place using mild pressure. With your right hand pull the stabilizer/fabric taut in all directions. While still applying downward pressure to the frame, switch hands and again straighten layers pulling them taut and smooth in all directions. Push the top hoop down securely into the bottom hoop. Keep fabric and stabilizer as smooth and taut as possible. Check the placement and seating of the item in the hoop as above.

Technique 3 “The Non-Hooped Hooping Method”

This method is particularly helpful when stitching on an odd shaped, irregular shaped, or small items that do not easily fit into a standard hoop. In this method, rather than hooping the actual item to be embroidered, only the stabilizer is secured in the hoop, then the item to be embroidered is pressed directly on to the adhesive surface of the hooped stabilizer to hold it in place during the stitching process.


For this method you can use a commercial adhesive tear-away type stabilizer like Sulky® Sticky or a traditional tear-away stabilizer that has been sprayed with a temporary fabric adhesive like the 505 Spray and Fix that we offer on EmbroiderThis.com to make the surface of the stabilizer “sticky". Sticky Stabilizer from Sulky® is a tear away type stabilizer that has a light adhesive on one side. The adhesive is covered with paper to protect it until you are ready to use. Embroiderthis.com offers this product in various sized rolls as well as in precut sheets.


Cut a piece of Sticky Stabilizer approximately 2” larger than your hoop. With the paper side facing up, hoop the stabilizer. Using an old needle, score the paper in an area larger than your design. Then peel the protective paper away from the surface exposing the “sticky stuff”. If you are using a traditional “non-sticky” tear-away stabilizer, you can make it sticky by lightly spray the surface of the stabilizer with a temporary fabric adhesive like 505 Spray offered at www.embroiderthis.com.


Mark the center of the design area and vertical and horizontal center lines on the item to be embroidered as described above. Use the horizontal and vertical hoop marks to center the item in the hoop for embroidery. If the item is not flat, try turning it inside out to better expose the area to be embroidered. Fold the item along the vertical and horizontal placement lines as described in “The Line-Up” method above and align these placement lines with the center marks on the hoop.
Stick the item (wrong side face down ) to the exposed adhesive paper. Press the item firmly to the sticky surface of the stabilizer to hold it in place. Smooth any extra material out of the way. I use pins or tape to help hold extra fabric out of the design area if needed. If your embroidery machine has a basting function, use this basting stitch to further secure the item to the stabilizer. If not, simply begin embroidering and the item is held in place by the sticky surface.



Hoop Away!

Mastering the skill of proper hooping will make stitching easier and produce a more professional looking result. I hope the above information provides you with the tools you need to develop your hooping skills and increase your stitching confidence!

Hooping Fabric for Machine Embroidery Tutorial
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