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Great hooping and proper underlay are mainstays to quality embroidery. If I had to choose only one, I would pick hooping. Hooping is the beginning of the stabilization process that underlay enhances. But sloppy hooping is a death knell to first-rate stitching, regardless of how well a design is digitized.
The underlay helps by marrying the backing to the fabric, but if the backing is not uniformly held all the way around the hoop or the fabric is too loose in that hoop, the trouble begins long before the underlay goes down.
The job of the hoop is to hold the fabric destined to be embroidered and allow it to move with the pantograph, which in turn is moving to the directions it gets from the machine code, also known as “the design.”
I have never met anyone who loves to hoop—but I meet a lot of folks who love to offer quality work to their customers. Hooping is a means to that end. And, while we don’t have to learn to love it, we do have to learn it.
I ran a speed test years ago to prove the value of proper hooping. I stitched the same test patterns on jersey, piqué, cotton and satin using the correct needle point and size for each fabric. (The point of the needle is dictated by the fabric, the size of the needle is dictated by the thread.) I stitched at speeds that varied from 200 to 800 spm and the ovals and squares with their running stitch outlines, the satin columns with their varying densities, were all consistent and perfectly stitched. The goods were hooped correctly—and that was the answer to the quality, not slowing down the machine or other compensation tricks. Simple, consistent, perfect hooping.
Eliminate poor hooping and things like puckering, holes around the design and inconsistent registration can be eliminated as well. Properly hooped fabrics will not form that dreaded “cup” shape when removed from the hoop; buckling, pleating and the infamous “tubing” become a thing of the past. (Tubing is the formation of an ugly roll of fabric caught under the stitches, distorting not only the goods, but the thread.)
Properly hooped goods will skim the throat plate or the bed of the machine with no flagging (up and down movement, along with the needle) that can cause the dreaded birdnest (an accumulation of thread that creates . . . a nightmare).
We all learn about the proper tension of the thread as it progresses through the path on the machine. But what about the tension of the fabric in the hoop? The stitching is really forming in the backing, while the fabric in between catches the stitches, so it is important for the sewing surface to be as flat and even as possible.
Pressure is exerted on the fabric when the threaded needle moves in and out, so the tension you create with the backing and fabric during the hooping process is every bit as important as the bobbin and upper-thread tensions. Stretch and movement must be controlled.
Choosing the smallest hoop that will accommodate the design is a good start. A round hoop will hold evenly all the way around, while a rectangular or oval hoop may have variations of pressure on the sides.
Remember to leave enough room for the presser foot to clear when choosing the hoop size. Learn to use the trace feature on your machine to eliminate all doubt, but usually 3/4” is a good clearance for the foot, which is larger in the back than the front.
Be sure to check your design when selecting your hoop. If the widest part is five inches but it falls in the very bottom of the hoop area, it won’t fit. Don’t rely on measurements alone. A good tip is to print out the design at stitching size and place the hoop over the graphic.
If you absolutely have to use a non-round hoop, you can shim any problem areas with backing, tape or paper. Wrap the hoop with bias tape, gauze, athletic tape or floral tape for a firmer hold. Velvet ribbon applied to the inside of the outer hoop makes for a better hold and a soft grip. Avoid masking tape as it leaves a residue.
When you hoop your goods, don’t stretch across the grain of the fabric, as this can cause distortion in the design as well as wrinkles. A hint that works for me is to secure the backing to the fabric before hooping, either by using a water-activated backing or spray adhesive. This creates a bond, making the fabric and the backing one. I find my embroidery, especially on stretchy goods like sweatshirts, looks crisper when I use this technique. It also helps add stability when your customer wants the design at an angle, taming the issue of being at cross purposes with the grain.
Consider the window trick. Hoop a piece of backing or tissue paper (dull side up for a better hold) then cut out a window where the embroidery will stitch. This is faster than wrapping the hoop. Muslin, bleached or unbleached, can work as well. These windows can be used over and over. Stick with neutral-color window materials to prevent color migration to the fabric. (These “windows” have an added bonus—they just about eliminate hoop burn.)
Adjust the inner hoop so that it requires just a little push to drop into place. Push the inner hoop through the outer one just a bit so that a recess forms, just enough to allow the goods to kiss the throat plate as the design stitches.
Remember not to push on the fabric when you are hooping; push on the hoop. If the inner hoop drops into the outer one too easily, remove the fabric and tighten the hoop.
If the inner hoop won’t fit or it takes a lot of effort (this can bruise and break the weave of the fabric and washing will cause it to disintegrate) then you need to remove the fabric and loosen the hoop.
I like to match my inner and outer hoops and store them in pairs. I mark them so I know which are adjusted for thinner fabrics and which for thicker. Makes hooping—and life—a lot easier.
I seldom adjust the thumb screw after the goods are hooped. You can end up not only with bruised and broken fibers, but a loss of registration and puckering when the hoop is removed.
The exceptions to this thumb-screw rule are very heavy goods—which sometimes can’t be captured any other way—and T-shirts. T-shirt fabric is easily cut so, if the goods seem fragile, loosen the thumb screw just a quarter turn or so then tighten it after you have the shirt smooth and the grain straight. Before you unhoop, loosen the screw that little bit, then tighten again on the next run.
Sometimes you might wish you had a third hand—and a hooping device can provide that extra help. Some even recess the hoop for you. I spent years hooping on a table, so a hooping device was a bonus. Smooth the fabric, straighten the grain (check first to see if the shirt is made straight), then secure the hoop so the fabric makes a “thunk” like a little drum sound when you tap the backing. Make sure the backing is secure all the way around and, if it is not, remove the hoop and begin again. If the grain is not straight, don’t push or pull, remove the hoop and begin again.
Your fabric should be smooth but not tight. If you can run your finger across it and get rippling, start again and pull it taut, but not tight. If the grain is distorted, things are too tight: Start again.
Icing on the hoop
Always hoop the backing and the goods together.
Digitize a basting stitch that walks around the edge of the hoop area for extra hold.
Spray Magic sizing on loosely woven fabrics to give them more stability.
Choose the proper backing: tearaway for wovens, cutaway for stretchy knits.
Remember that backing can help protect the fabric if stitches have to be removed.
Always mark your goods or print out the designs for proper placement. If the placement isn’t right, the best stitching in the world won’t help.
Run your hands under the goods to make sure no collars, cuffs or other extraneous pieces are in the way, Check that pockets are in the down position before stitching. (Ask me how I know. . . .)
Always trace the design before you stitch.
Follow the pocket if the pocket is crooked (or replace the shirt).