Whether you're new to embroidery or are just curious about the different types of needlework hoops that are out there, here's a run down on some of the hoops I have in my collection.
Unfinished Wood Hoops
These hoops come in a variety of sizes and shapes, like circles and ovals. They can be found in most craft stores and are usually made of bamboo. Some unfinished wood hoops are better than others though. When purchasing your hoops, look for ones that have the outer and inner hoop evenly held together. If you seen any nicks in the wood or gaps in between the two hoops, those imperfections will affect the tension of your embroidery. One thing I enjoy about these hoops is that because they're unfinished, you can stain them any color you would like.
These are the high end option of embroidery hoops. Much like the unfinished wood hoops, finished beechwood hoops are available in a variety of sizes and shapes (circles, ovals, squares). These hoops are usually 2-3x the cost of unfinished wood hoops. You can tell these hoops are quality because they weigh more and have thicker wood circles than the unfinished wood hoops. The few beechwood hoop brands I've found are Frank Edmunds, Elbesee, and Nurge. I don't often see these hoops in big box craft stores, although Joann did have some under their house brand Top Notch recently. These hoops are more common in local and boutique craft stores. Etsy is another great option for beechwood hoops.
I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of plastic hoops. I don't really like the feel of them and have had my fabric ruined one too many times. That isn't to say they're not good hoops. The upside, is that like unfinished wood hoops, you can find these at most craft stores. I usually use plastic hoops for punch needle. This is because most plastic hoops lock into one another instead of simply being pressed together by tension. This is great for gripping the fabric, but if your fabric is delicate, it can ruin it.
Along with plastic hoops, there are plastic frames. Just to clarify, frames are not hoops. Plastic frames do not have a tension screw at the top of the outer hoop and are meant for display purposes, once your embroidery is finished. They will not hold your fabric taught if you try to use them to embroidery. I found the plastic frame pictured about at a garage sale.
Vintage Spring Hoops
I've found vintage hoops at estate and garage sales in both wood and metal options. Unlike most hoops seen at the craft store today, these hoops do not have a tension screw at the top. Instead, there is a spring attached to the outer hoop that acts as the tension mechanism. Another difference with these hoops, is that the inner hoop usually has some sort of felt strip along the outer circumference of the hoop. This strips acts as a grip for your fabric and can replace twill tape. One of the downsides of vintage hoops, besides the fact that they're hard to find, is that they don't work well with thick fabric. The spring tension is less adjustable than with a screw top hoop and can easily be over stretched.