Framed—A Brief History of the Embroidery Hoop

Keeping fabric taut throughout the ages

Dennis Clegg Aug 30, 2023 - 4 min read

Framed—A Brief History of the Embroidery Hoop Primary Image

Embroidery and lace-their manufacture and history from the remotest antiquity to the present day. A handbook for amateurs, collectors and general readers (1888). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The idea of using a frame to stretch fabric or canvas dates to the 1400’s and many of the frames we use today are not much different than the frames from back then. Those ancient needlework tools are referred to as tambour frames and slate frames. A fresco painting from 1470 by Francesco Del Cossa, the Triumph of Minerva, shows an embroidery slate frame in use. These square or rectangular wooden frames were often set on a stand or trestle to support the project while stitching. They were adjustable, using holes or slots, and pegs to adjust the dimensions. The project was attached to the frame using a heavy thread to stretch the fabric being stitched. This type of frame was particularly suitable for embroidery with heavier fabric or mesh grounds.

Francesco Del Cossa’s Triumph of Minerva, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hoops which were constructed with an outer and an inner ring became available at the same time that tambour embroidery (embroidery worked with a fine hook, instead of a needle) rose in popularity. The word tambour is French for drum, and these circular wooden hoops allowed for the fabric to be pulled so that it was extremely taut—which was necessary for the hook to penetrate the fabric. It is believed that tambour work originated in India in the seventeenth century, and became popular in England and Europe in the eighteenth century.

In addition to the advantage that a tambour hoop could be wrapped to protect the delicate working fabric, hoops were also more portable than frames. Portability was very useful for pieceworkers, those who had to seek elusive sources of outdoor light, and also for ladies who were rarely seen without the handiwork that occupied their time. In 1903 a patent was awarded to Helen Harmes of Missouri for the Adjustable Embroidery Hoop. The diameter of the hoop could be adjusted to fit the working area of a design. This invention greatly increased the popularity of embroidery in the early 1900s, and was a precursor to the adjustable hoops of today.

F.A. Edmunds kindly provided the hoops shown in our Twelve Months of Ornaments collection, available to All-access subscribers. Photo by Katrina King

The F.A. Edmunds Company began producing needlework frames in the 1950s, and the first frame was a rug frame which produced for the Sears Roebuck company. Eventually, because of their woodworking capabilities, the F.A. Edmunds Company was asked to produce frames for other needle arts, and by the 1960s they began to make scroll frames, tapestry frames, quilting hoops and quilting frames. As the twentieth century needlework world evolved, most of the ideas for these frames came from customers and needlework enthusiasts, and all of the modifications help make the art of stitching more enjoyable for the modern stitcher who stitches any of a variety of world techniques.

Dennis Clegg uses his spare hours to pursue recreational activities such as golfing, biking, and fishing. He resides in the Chicagoland area with his wife, Becky. Dennis is the President of F.A. Edmunds.