Last week, I was working on a cross-stitch project and couldn't stand the embroidery hoop I was using. Just the week before, I had bought a wooden hoop at Michaels to replace the crappy plastic hoop I bought a long time ago when they were all out of wooden ones. I wouldn't even call it real wood – it's made of several layers of pressed "wood" that is prone to splitting and splintering. You get what you pay for - $2 for this Made in China piece-of-shit (which I'll refer to hereafter as MICPOS.)
So I started thinking… What is with the options we have for needlecraft and sewing tools? People used to be able to hand down quality heirloom tools from generation to generation. Nowadays, everything is cheap, mass-produced, throw-away plastic/"wood"/metal that I wouldn't even see fit to donate to a thrift store. What happened to the handmade, lovingly crafted or carved tools of old? Thus began my search for a quality embroidery hoop.
After some webbing around, I came up with two good contenders – Elbesee from the UK, and Hardwicke Manor from Germany. Both have hoops that are hand-carved from solid hardwood. Both have rounded edges so they do not mark your fabric. And both have quality brass screws and fittings. I decided to go with Hardwicke Manor since a review said that the Elbesee didn't feel as sturdy and wasn't sanded as well as the HM. (But I think I will order one in the future just so I can see for myself.)
When I received the hoop, I was amazed at the quality and beauty of it. The weight is heavier than the MICPOS which is fine – at least it doesn't feel like a balsa airplane. :-) Here are some comparison pics with the MICPOS:
On top is the MICPOS. Notice the huge crack - I haven't used it more than a week!
The larger screw is the HM. Note the better metal quality. See the pieces of pressed wood on the MICPOS? :-(
HM hoop has screwdriver notch so you can tighten the hoop easier while it is lying flat on a table. (Look at the piece of "wood" peeling off of the MICPOS in the background.)
Although the HM tag said to wrap the inner hoop with bias or twill tape to prevent marking, a reviewer said she never had to do that with its rounded corners
The Hardwicke Manor hoops come in sizes from 4 to 12 inches in various shapes and widths. Depending on your fabric, you will want a thin hoop (5/16") for delicate linens and silks, medium (5/8") for muslin and aida, and thick (7/8") for canvas and other heavy fabrics. Prices range from $6.50 to $20.50 for circle hoops. Expect to pay more for oval and square shapes.
Both Elbesee and Hardwicke Manor are brands that are hard to find in the US. I tried ordering the HM hoop the first time from Criss Cross Row and I DO NOT recommend them. After placing my order online, I got the automated confirmation but no other replies. I wrote them email twice, called them twice (the number they posted as their voice phone was a modem or FAX), and I FAXed them a letter. No response.
Needle in a Haystack on the other hand, was an EXCELLENT company to order from. Most of their staff was away at a trade-show, and they still made it a point to write me and let me know what was going on. Now THAT is great customer service. Once shipped, my hoop got here in a short two days.