As one of the main tools in cross stitch, it’s no surprise that we’ve spoken about hoops before, at length. We even suggest them as one of the best cross stitch frame types, but there is a fairly constant discussion in the cross stitch world; if you use hoops, are wood, plastic, or spring hoops best?
Today, we hope to answer that. Or at least help. Or maybe just fuel the discussion, who knows. But we’ll give our take at least!
When it comes to cross stitch hoops, most people instantly think of bamboo ones. The reason for this, is they are normally included in kits as production is actually the cheapest for all the hoop types. As a result, the concept of a hoop is defined by those bamboo ones, but there are actually a whole bunch of options out there.
We’ll discuss each type, making note of their ease of use, ability to be decorated, cost, and any other considerations.
We’re going to start with one of the alternatives to wooden hoops; plastic. By this, we mean straight-up, plastic copies of wooden hoops. For many years plastic hoops had a bad wrap, being often thought of as prone to snapping, however, with more modern manufacturing processes, this is mostly a thing of the past (you can still get plastic hoops from places like aliexpress that will break in seconds). Therefore these are now worth thinking about. From a user perspective they’re pretty much identical to wooden hoops, but unlike their wooden brothers, won’t splinter, can get wet, won’t warp over time, and won’t stain your work if you accidentally leave your cross stitch in the hoop.
So what about decoration? Well actually, there are options here too. Unlike wooden hoops that come in wood, wood, or wood, plastic hoops come in a variety of colors, including funky ones, textures, and even shapes (oval, square, stars, and beyond). But even if you’re bored with those options, you can also cover them in fabric, or washi tape. There really is no limit to the creativity on offer here.
Now comes the cost. In the past, plastic hoops have always been more expensive than bamboo hoops, mainly due to manufacturing costs, however, prices have dropped recently, and getting your hands on a plastic hoop will likely cost you the same as a good quality bamboo hoop.
Finally, we come to other considerations. This is a simple one too; environmental impact. Now, we know not everyone is bothered by the environmental impact of cross stitch, but using a plastic hoop is something to think about. By and large, the impact of a plastic hoop is 20 to 30 times as bad as a bamboo hoop (although other wooden hoops can be worse). Just something to think about.
Plastic Spring Hoops
Next up, we have the weird alternative in cross stitch hoops, the part plastic, part metal hoop. Unlike the other hoops on this list, these hoops are spring-loaded. This does have the advantage of holding the fabric very very tightly, however, the impact of this is that you may get marks on your work when you don’t want them. They also tend to lose their spring after a while, meaning we’re not a big fan.
When it comes to decoration, these are all but useless. In fact, spring hoops are only to be used when stitching, and not for decoration.
The final nail in the coffin for these hoops however is the cost, and we really mean cost too. Spring hoops can be two or three times more expensive than the best quality wooden hoops. For a product that isn’t as good as its wooden counterparts, the cost is just too much to handle.
Wood Hoops – Hard Wood
So finally, we get to wooden hoops, however its not quite that simple. You see, there are two types of wooden hoops; hardwood, and bamboo (softwood can’t be used for hoops as it snaps).
Hardwood hoops, look fantastic, truly they have class written all over them. However, as a cross stitch tool, they aren’t that great. They do work, and in many situations will do fine, but as the wood is steam bent, it doesn’t have the same force bamboo hoops do. They also tend to be slipperier thanks to the smoother wooden surface.
You can decorate these hoops if you want, however, the cost of these hoops is a big factor in their lack of success, and if you intend to cover the hoop, you might as well go for a cheaper option. On the cost point, this varies heavily depending on quality, wood type, and size, but they tend to be much more expensive than their bamboo alternatives. As a purely decorative hoop, they’re great, but not so much as anything else.
Wood Hoops – Bamboo
Now we’re going to talk about the hoops you had in mind when reading this; the standard bamboo hoop. The fact of the matter is, these hoops are cheap, do the job, and can be found anywhere. They are the hoop you use to compare the other hoops, they are basic but work. And that’s pretty much it. With a hoop that ‘just works’, many wonder why anyone would go for an alternative.
In addition to their basic but useful function as a cross stitch tool, you also have a massive wealth of decoration options too. Want to cover it in fabric, cover it in tape, paint it, or stain it; you can do it all. Depending on the quality you can leave some out as they’re frankly beautiful sometimes too.
This is when we start talking about cost, or more specifically, what people think the cost is. You can pick up a 6-inch hoop for 20c if you wanted to. And you know what, it’ll do the job. But you can also pick up a different 6-inch hoop for $30. Both hoops work, both are made from bamboo and both are initially fine, but the cheapest hoops are actually likely to have problems. These might be from breaks, pealing of the wood edge, or rusting and stripping of the poor quality metal used on the screw.
The above said, one of the biggest factors in bamboo hoops is quality. In our mind it worth spending a little more to get the middle-range hoop, but we wouldn’t fall into the trap of spending big bucks for a brand name, as it’s usually just paying for the brand name (looking at you DMC). Another consideration is actually a positive; bamboo grows fast, it doesn’t take up much space or water, and thanks to its structure, hoops use very little of it. Of all the options on this list, bamboo hoops are the most environmentally friendly (if reused and not added to the project permanently).
So with all that in mind, in our eyes, there are only two real options; bamboo or pure plastic hoops.
Picking between the two of them is mostly a point of personal preference, however in our mind, bamboo hoops win out narrowly. The fact that you can decorate them easier, and you can pick up a whole set of sizes for the price of one plastic one means they’re our pick, and they’re the most environmentally friendly too!
Interested in other cross stitch hoop fun? You might want to check out our double hoop cross stitch ring donut.