stretcher bar frames
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How to Hand Embroider with a Stretcher Bar Frame – Easy and so worth it!


What is a Stretcher Bar Frame?

stretcher bar frame

This is a frame which consists of wooden bars that you fit together to form a square or rectangle. You then attach your piece of fabric to the frame with pins ready for stitching.

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I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to get away from the round designs that make up a lot of hand embroidery patterns.

Whilst working on my latest design I decided it would look really nice worked in a square shape and then mounted on a canvas board when finished. My plan was to just stitch the design in a hoop and move it around as I went but I soon realised I would need to think again.

garden glory embroidery pattern

Constantly removing the fabric and rearranging it in the hoop was not only annoying (!) but it made the whole piece look more ragged and the stitches that were getting squashed (even though I was as careful as I could be) didn’t look as good as they could have.

So I started looking around for alternative frames that could tick several boxes…

  • inexpensive
  • easy to use
  • be nice to stitch in
  • have the whole design on view
  • fit in the seat frame I already use.

Not too much to ask surely!

Stretcher bar frames seemed to be the thing that ticked all the boxes so I decided to start the design again and I am so glad I did. For a little bit more effort than popping in a hoop, the bar frame for me has been a game changer.

There are several different types of frames available – Siesta Stretcher Bar Frames are readily available, come in a variety of sizes and are really good value for money.

You can get the bars in all sorts of sizes to make lots of different frame sizes – each set is sold as a pair so you need 2 sets to make a frame! These Siesta bars are fitted together by the interlocking edges.

I also wanted to try the ‘Elbesee Universal Craft Frame’ – which has plastic corner connectors to fit them together rather than interlocking edges. (again sold in a pair so you need to get 2 pairs to make a frame!)

So, which one to choose. Purely as I liked the rigidity of the Elbesee Bars, I decided to go with this – as you can see in the photo – the Siesta ones do move so its personal choice. Once your fabric is tacked on I doubt it makes much difference.

Once you have got your frame, all you need is your fabric and some pins to tack it on to the frame with.

Make sure the fabric extends outside of the frame by at least 2 inches on each side.

Trace your chosen design on to your fabric prior to putting on the frame.

To prevent fraying, you can edge the fabric with masking tape or cut with pinking shears.

Place your design face down on a clean flat surface and place the bar frame on the back- make sure the design is central in the frame as best you can.

Pull the top edge of fabric over the frame bar (making sure your design stays central) and put your first pin in the middle of the bar. Pull the fabric over and continue to pin along the bar from the centre outwards on both sides.

Once all the pins are along the top bar you can pull the fabric nice and tight on the bottom edge and pin in the same way from the centre out – keep the tension nice and tight and even. You should have all your pins on the top and bottom bars as in the photo above.

Next, you need to pin the 2 side bars. I found it easier to pin each side in the middle first to provide some tension and then put the remainder of the pins in one side and then the other.

As you can see from the photo above, I have kept the tension really nice and tight and the fabric is lovely and taut.

Here’s how it looks from the front…

Now you are all set to get stitching.

Here’s how it looks part way through stitching – it’s clean, taut, I can see it all for colour choices and best of all I am not messing around taking it in and out of a hoop – yay!

This pattern is called Garden Glory and is available from my Etsy Shop.

Since I first wrote this post, I have used Stretcher bar frames countless times.

My personal favourite are the Siesta Stretcher Bar frames as I find the wood is softer and much easier to get the pins in and out of.

I use them for larger designs ( 8 inches and above) both for round and square designs. I just prefer the fact the whole design is available to me in one go as I feel this helps with colour choice as well as a balance of stitches.

I still prefer the ease of a hoop for smaller designs – why change something if it works already!?

If you do decide to venture in to using a bar frame for your designs and find you like the whole process – (weirdly I find it strangely satisfying stretching the fabric and hitting the pins in!) – then there are a couple more inexpensive items you may want to consider  to make things a little quicker and easier…

A Hobby and Craft Hammer makes putting those pins into the frame an absolute breeze.

A Tack Lifter – oh my goodness! if only I had considered one of these from the start, I would have saved my poor fingers so many sore moments!

So there you have it, hopefully this has opened your eyes to using something different if you want to extend your embroidery skills or make a design that is just a bit too big for a hoop.

Happy Stitching!


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