Hoop, Q-snap, or Scroll Frame? Which should you use?

Whether you’re a beginner or a long time stitcher you already have a preferred method for cross stitching. Whether you realize it or not. The way your Xs are made. Your favorite place to stitch in. What count fabric you prefer. Whether you use a Q-snap or a hoop. These are all ways in which our craft differ, and we embrace those differences when sharing our own preferences with others.

Why, then do we spend often spend so much time agonizing over whether we’re stitching ‘correctly’? Comparing ourselves to others and their preferred methods.

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I mentioned this briefly in my Cross Stitch Beginner’s Guide, but I believe that there is no wrong way to stitch. That said, it’s important for you as a stitcher to try out various methods in order to figure out which one is right for you. So here’s just a few of the more popular ways to hold your fabric while you stitch.

Stitching In Hand

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way early. Stitching “In Hand” refers to simply holding the fabric yourself. In your hand. No fancy tools or stands.

Cross stitching in-hand

For some reason long time stitchers seem to believe this method is “wrong.” And often are very vocal about it. So many new stitchers seem to believe they need to run out and get a hoop first thing in order to stitch ‘properly’.

Well I’m here to tell you it’s okay. Especially when you’re first starting out and don’t know whether this is even a craft you enjoy. There’s no need to spend extra money if you’re not going to be here long term. And even if you are here to stay, how will you properly understand why a Q-snap is so wonderful if you’ve never tried stitching without one?

The main reason stitchers recommend getting something to hold your fabric is to keep tension. If tension isn’t properly kept, what can happen is that your Xs become uneven in size and skew a design. If you are aware of this, you can easily keep tension yourself while stitching in hand just by being mindful of keeping the fabric taut in the area you’re stitching, and not pulling your thread too tight.

Cross stitching in-hand

But even if you do normally use a hoop, Q-snap, or scroll to keep your fabric tight, there are benefits to stitching in hand once in a while. Small patterns can more easily be worked in hand, for example. If you’re using plastic canvas, perforated paper, or vinyl aida you won’t be able to use such tools, and will need to stitch in hand anyway!

Another reason you might want to stitch in-hand is to use the sewing method. This actually allows you to stitch much faster than you would normally, but takes a lot of practice to master. Basically, it’s a way to stitch entirely from the front of your project without having to spend time reaching around to push the needle back up.

Regardless of your reason for stitching in hand, don’t let anyone tell you that you have to get a hoop. It certainly is helpful to have something to hold your project while you work. But it is not required. That said, let’s talk about the pros and cons of each of them the common tools so you can decide if any of them are right for you.

Embroidery Hoops

The most commonly used method for holding your fabric is the embroidery hoop. These have been around for what feels like ages and is considered the ‘traditional’ way to sew. But it was only patented in 1903.

Plastic and Wooden embroidery hoops

You can get hoops in both wood and plastic, and older ones were even made of metal! But the general concept is the same: you get two concentric rings, the larger one having a small screw used to tighten the outer ring onto the fabric. By placing your fabric between the two rings, it holds your fabric in place while you stitch.

They come in all different sizes, and you can use a large one that encompasses your entire project, or work with a smaller rings and just move it around as needed to work on your stitch.

Demonstrating how to use an embroidery hoop

I say rings, because circular hoops are the most common, but they do come in other shapes as well. Regardless, they’re designed to hold your fabric taut while you work. Hoops are thin, light, and easy to hold. Though you can also get a stand to hold it for you.

The other benefit is that these hoops can also be used to hang your design after. They now double as frames to display your finished piece in to give it an even more kitschy feel. You could even paint or tape your hoops to match your design!

Examples of items framed in an embroidery hoop

Everything has its downsides though, and I personally find that the tension gets loose as I work and I have to constantly re-tighten the screws. This may just be the particular hoops I have worked with, so investing in a well known brand might be beneficial in the long run.

The other issue I have with hoops is the rings they leave on your fabric. While many wash and ironing their projects regardless, hoops make it pretty much a necessity if you plan on using a hoop unless you start with one large enough to frame your piece and leave a decent amount of room around the border of your design.

Stitching using an embroidery hoop

Scroll Frames

Another way to hold your fabric is by using a scroll frame. This seems especially useful for larger projects that will probably take you a long time to finish. These weren’t patented until 1994, so it was likely created to resolve some of the things people didn’t like about hoops.

Wooden scroll frame

Scroll frames also come in plastic these days, but it’s still more common to find them made of wood. The basic premise is that the two rods are split, allowing you to slide your fabric in between. By rolling the fabric around the rod and securing the rods in place with the outer clamps it keeps your project in place.

There are also types of scroll frames that come with a strip of fabric stapled to the frame, and you would then sew your fabric onto that strip before rolling it up.

Demonstrating how to load a scroll frame.

Now before someone points out that I’ve loaded my project onto the frame ‘incorrectly’, you can also roll the fabric the other way, so that the front of the fabric is behind the bars. But that’s more a matter of personal preference, and if you get a scroll frame you should experiment with which makes more sense for you.

The benefits of using a scroll is that due to the rolling motion, you don’t get crease marks on your fabric like you would with a hoop. It’s also a lot easier to find stands for them, as most were designed with large projects in mind and may even come with a stand already.

Project held in a scroll frame.
oh no I lost a screw at some point.

The main downsides seem to be that some have trouble learning the motion of loading the fabric onto the frame. If not perfectly straight on the frame, it can cause the fabric to bubble in areas and throw off your tension. And it can take a few attempts if you’re just starting out.

Some also note that the sides of the fabric that aren’t held in the rods tend to sag. That is easily remedied with some elastic clips, but should be noted that it may come up.


Lastly, my personal favorite of the bunch. The Q-snap. Now, when I say Q-snap I mean the specific brand of plastic clip frames. They’ve become synonymous with snap frames and some see it almost interchangeable. Most would sooner ask for a Q-Tip than a ‘cotton swab’ even if you don’t buy that specific brand, and Q-snaps are similar in concept.

Q-snap plastic snap frames

Whether you get an official Q-snap or not, you’re looking for a square plastic pipe with pvc clamps. You can find them as small as 6″x6″ and up to huge quilt sized 24″x36″, and with extensions you could make one even larger than that!

You can opt for a cheaper off brand, such as in-store brands at your local craft chain, or by ordering knockoffs online. But keep in mind I’ve heard plenty of stories of the off-brands not holding the fabric as well, leaving white strips on the fabric, or simply not holding together very well.

Q-snaps work by placing your fabric over the inner frame, and using the clamps to clip it in place. I find these a bit easier to hold due to their thickness, and the fact that it comes apart means it can be easily stored away or taken on the go.

Example of a project in a Q-snap frame.

The clamps are easy to clip on and remove so that you can shift your project around to the area you’re working on next. They also don’t leave the same creases a hoop would.

As an added benefit, you can fold the fabric over and clip the extra in place too, so you don’t have to deal with a bunch of extra fabric while you work. This may also help keep tension if you have a loose off-brand one. Or you can place small rectangles of felt there instead to protect your piece if you prefer.

Some find the thickness a downside though, so if you feel like you have small hands or it is simply not comfortable for you to hold a thick frame, you may be better off with a hoop.

Another downside is that stands aren’t as readily available for these guys yet, so you might have trouble finding a pre-built one with a clamp thick enough to hold a Q-snap in place.

Despite that, you may also choose to make your own stand out of PVC piping as pictured above. There’s a lot of different styles and designs that people have made over the years, so be sure to search for Q-snap stands online to get an idea of how you want it to look before you start building!

So which should you use?

Again, every single one of these tools have been used and loved by many stitchers. None of them are better than the others as a whole. But unless you give them each a try, you may never know which one is best for you.

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