Gadget Guru: Fabric Preparation

Becky G., the Gadget Guru, Funk & Weber Designs

Becky G. is the Gadget Guru.

Anyone who’s been around here for long probably knows I am a minimalist when it comes to embroidery tools. For instance, I own just one pair of embroidery scissors. It’s possible I am the only first-world stitcher with a single pair of small, pointy scissors.

Becky and I are the Odd Couple of stitching: While I have few tools, she has many.

This is the column where Becky introduces me (and you) to her extensive collection of stitchy gadgets and explains how she uses them. It’s the Gadget Guru series!

The jury is still out on whether I will abandon my minimalist ways and adopt assorted gadgets for improved needlework results, ease of stitching, or convenience.

This week, Becky shares some of her fabric-preparation gadgets.

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Fabric-Preparation Gadgets

Fray Check / Fray Stop / Fray Block (We’ll talk about sergers another time.) You need something to keep your fabric’s cut edges from fraying. I’ve heard that some needlework shops will serge the edges of your fabrics for you; although, I’ve not actually seen that happen. I like Fray Check best of the three liquids listed; it’s a little thicker and stays where I put it.

Just be really careful using any of them; if it drips in the wrong spot on your fabric, it’ll show. And it’s permanent. Ask me how I know.

Jen: I have Fray Check, but I never use it. For small projects, I may just let the fabric fray. For large projects, I’ll serge or zigzag the edges myself. But Becky says we’ll talk about sergers later.


Gridding Thread Easy-Count Guideline has saved my life. If you grid your fabric, this stuff is great. It’s a solid polyester thread, so you can’t split it with your needle. Ever try to pull out a guideline that you’ve stitched through? Oy! I’ve also used Coats Transparent Black thread, it’s a lot thinner, and I think it’s harder to stitch with. And if you use a lot of guideline, go to a sporting goods store and buy 8# red fishing line; it’s a whole heck of a lot cheaper than the Easy-Count.

Jen: I’ve never gridded my fabric. I’ve never felt it was necessary, but I can easily imagine many stitchers finding it useful. Maybe I’m just lazy.


Fabric Gauges, Gadget Guru, Funk & Weber Designs

Fabric Gauges


Fabric gauge A necessary thing for figuring out the thread count of your fabric. Many varieties and styles.

Jen: I just use my regular old ruler.


Stitch Starter

Stitch Starter


Stitch Starter I got mine in a class by Belinda of Blue Ribbon Designs. It’s a 3” square of clear plastic, marked on three sides in ¼” increments and on the fourth side in 1/16” increments. There are also markings for a 1” square and a 2” square. It’s great when you know you purchased enough fabric for a 3” margin, you can just whip this out to measure where to start stitching. It’s also small enough to carry in your stitching kit as a small ruler.


Frames / Q-snaps / scroll rods / Evertites / Hoops Many different types of fabric holders that do the same job in the same way. Mostly. I don’t use hoops anymore, they just didn’t keep the fabric snug enough for me and I just didn’t like them. Scroll rods are okay, but I don’t like the ones with Velcro or that I have to stitch my fabric to. I like q-snaps because they’re easy to put together and take apart for travel. I have some hand-made covers for them to help contain excess fabric.

I’ve heard that slate frames are great, especially for needlepoint. I’ve never used one so can’t comment on that. But my all-time current favorite is the Millennium Frame, from Needle Needs in the UK. I have two sizes, they keep my fabric nice and tight, yet they come apart easily to transport. I bought a poster tube (for transporting rolled up paper posters) large enough to hold my biggest set of Millennium Frames including the fabric; I just take off the side adjusters, roll the frame and fabric up, and tuck them into the poster tube along with the side pieces, chart and threads. It’s unfortunately not cheap, especially the shipping since they’re in the UK and I’m in the States.

For one thing, [on a stitching frame] the project is permanently set up and accessible. For another, it makes parking threads on this type of project much easier. A frame goes a long way to ensure even tension. A frame gives you room for your chart, so that it’s right in front of your eyes. A frame allows two-handed stitching, which means you make progress a little faster.

But there are disadvantages to a frame, too. They take up room. They require a specific posture, to reach the stitching area. (You can’t always cozy down on the couch with a project on a large frame!) And it’s more difficult to pack the whole project up and away, tidily, in a small space.

Jen: Tools to keep stitchy fabric taut are things I have and use. I’m a hoop gal because I was stitching before Q-snaps existed, and I’ve never felt the need to try something new. I find the (newish) plastic Susan Bates Hoopla hoops with the little lip on the inner ring keep the fabric nice and tight. That lip really helps. However, I much prefer my homemade floor frame because it keeps the fabric nicely taut, and there are no hoop creases to deal with.

Jen again: Well, all of these things are, indeed, useful. Do you have these things—and do you have multiples like Becky? Do you use them? Do you have different favorites?

Becky and I want to know!

8 Responses to “Gadget Guru: Fabric Preparation”

  1. Oh wow I’m even more of minimalist than you Jen – I just use my sewing snips!

    But I’ll admit I have three hoops. I use them along with a bit of PUL to keep my beads in one place for sequinning! 🙂 I just hold my crossstiching!

    So interesting to learn about all these gadgets!

    March 21, 2016 @ 4:05 am
  2. Jen

    I do love my embroidery scissors, Melissa! And for travel, they’re much smaller and lighter than my sewing snips. Also, for cutwork embroidery, my sewing scissors would be heavy and cumbersome, and they wouldn’t cut as closely as the embroidery scissors. But for occasional embroidery . . . sewing snips are just fine! In fact, that’s what I’ll be using for the next month!

    March 21, 2016 @ 4:35 pm
  3. Lisa Dacko

    I like you, Jen, just used my ruler to determine thread count. But I did get a thread count ruler from The Cross Stitcher magazine (U.K.), so I use that now. I have thought about gridding thread b/c I had a project & I screwed up the count & then didn’t finish it (I will restart it again someday). Did I learn my lesson – we shall see – I still don’t have gridding thread. Finally, I had purchased Q Snaps & liked how they held my fabric but they were a little too wide for my grip. If I stitch for a long period of time, my thumb ached! I don’t like the crease from hoops. So, I fashioned my own holder. Wait for it – my husband took one of his arrow shafts & cut it to a relatively standard size & I use hair clips to hold the fabric to the shaft & then roll. It is not a wide or heavy as the Q Snaps & I don’t get creases from hoops & when I am finished I just finish rolling my project up & it is pretty easy to store.

    March 21, 2016 @ 2:39 pm
  4. Jen

    Hooray for ingenuity, Lisa! I love the arrow and hair clips solution. Can I persuade you to take a picture that I can share? If I can and you do, please send the pic to mail AT funkandweber DOT com.

    I will clamp my hoops to tables and my floor frame and anything else that works so that I don’t have to hold the hoop. My holding hand gets tired, too. These days, I use hoops primarily for small projects that fit inside the crease so I don’t have to deal with trying to get rid of them. And, of course, I take the fabric out of the hoop when I’m not stitching.

    March 21, 2016 @ 4:58 pm
  5. ME - Marilyn

    Evertites stretcher bars are the best thing to come along in a very long time. If you do lots of needlepoint on canvas, start investing in these and throw the old stretcher bars ones into the fireplace come winter. The tightness that you can get and keep your canvas is wonderful and you are less likely to have to block after you finish. I do not take my fabric out of the hoop or off the frames sometimes for years. I have never had that be a problem for me. Actually finishing the stitching is my problem.

    March 29, 2016 @ 11:48 am
  6. ME - Marilyn

    Gridding my fabric! ACK! If your project is a “confetti stitch” meaning 5000 colors scattered all across the design. One cross here and another cross 50 threads down – Save your sanity and grid. A good gridding thread is the Sulky holographic stuff. You can use it over and over again. Needless to say the older I get the less I am inclined to buy those kind of projects. I am still working on a Kustom Kraft confetti stitch of Aquila – a beautiful piece that I started in 2003 and have only finished 1/3 of the stitching since. LOL!

    March 29, 2016 @ 11:52 am
  7. Christina Arlington

    I have more scroll frames than I would like to admit. How I got them over the last 30 years I can’t remember. I am not a person that likes to start a new project before the first one is finished but , If I did use most of my scrolls I maybe could serial start and maybe finish more. ??? As for gridding it isn’t for me. I baste the center and cross center line only and I start in the middle. Can’t teach me any new tricks that way. Also Jen I am coming to Alaska soon in May do you have a shop?

    April 16, 2016 @ 6:17 pm
  8. Jen

    Christina, I do not have a shop, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one unless you’re coming through the Inside Passage on a cruise. You’ll find quilting and knitting shops, but not embroidery. Where will you be traveling, exactly?

    I love scroll frames! And having one set up and ready to stitch does, indeed, make me more productive. With something always ready to go, I can make good use of 10 spare minutes, rather than spending those 10 minutes setting up, which is pointless if 10 minutes is all I have!

    April 17, 2016 @ 6:13 am

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