If you’re relatively serious about embroidery, you probably have a good selection of favorite tools on hand – those things beyond needle, scissors, and hoop. Here’s one of my favorite tool investments – and it doesn’t cost much!
The EZ Tack-It kit is quite handy to have – so much so, that I have two kits! I came across another one while I was shopping a few months ago, and bought it to keep on hand for our guild.
The EZ Tack-It is used to assist you in setting up embroidery projects on stretcher bar frames. Unlike scroll frames and slate frames, on stretcher bar frames, you tack your fabric all around the edges. Stretcher bars provide excellent tension, and, in my opinion, are quicker to set up than a slate frame.
So this is how it works: you assemble the four sides of your stretcher bar frame. If you aren’t familiar with these things, they come in packs of two sides in a given length, and you can assemble a four-sided frame by buying two packs that will accommodate the dimensions of your project. You can find them in Michael’s in the needlework section, and you can also buy them at many specialty needlework shops. Online, you can find them at different embroidery shops, like Needle in a Haystack. They’re pretty inexpensive ($2.00 – 3.00 / pair). Don’t confuse them with canvas stretcher frames, which are much wider than these! But – well, to be honest, I’ve used the canvas stretchers, too. You can find those in the art department of hobby stores. They aren’t as nice as the embroidery stretcher bars, and you do end up “wasting” a bit of room on your fabric, because the frame itself is a good inch or so wider than the embroidery stretcher bar frames.
Anyway, back to the Tack-It. You’ve got your frame assembled, and you’ve got the fabric for your project ready. I always suggest pre-shrinking if you need to. You want to know where the middle of the top (horizontal) side of your fabric is, and this is where you start tacking – in the middle of the top edge of your fabric. You pick up a tack with the magnetic tack pusher (that’s the big round red thing in the kit), and you insert it into your frame in the middle of the top bar. You can insert the tacks either on the back of the bar, or the very top of the bar. It’s better not to insert them on the side of the bar facing you (if you’ve got your frame laying on a table, I’m talking about the side of the bar facing the ceiling), because you may get frustrated by threads catching on the tacks as you embroider. I prefer the side of the bar “around the corner” from this – the outside edge of the frame.
So you tack your fabric from the center to the outside, then you go back to the center and continue across your fabric to the other outside edge of the frame. Each of the tacks should be placed about half an inch to an inch apart on the frame. Then you move to the opposite side of the frame, doing the same thing. You want to pull the fabric taut as you tack the second side, but you’re not going to get drum-tight tension, since you’re only working on the second side. Then you move to the third side and repeate the process, pulling your fabric to keep it taut and even. Be careful, though! You don’t want to warp your fabric. Just pull tight enough to establish good tension.
When you do the fourth side, you end up with drum-tight tension. A frame mounted like this will keep good tension for a long time. I’ve been working on my silk work sampler, for example, for almost four months, and the tension is still perfect. When I worked the Agnus Dei piece, I never had to readjust or fix the tension of the fabric.
The Tack-It kit makes it really easy to push the tacks into the frame. The handle of the magnetic tack pusher fits in the palm of your hand, to give you good, even distribution when pushing the tacks in. The magnetic tip keeps the tacks in place while you’re working with them. And the extractor makes it easy to pull out tacks if you need to. Best of all, because your tension is good, you are not likely to end up with puckers in your fabric when you remove it from the frame.
I store my Tack-It kit in a jar, with an abundance of extra tacks. The kit comes with 60 steel-topped tacks, which is enough for at least one large-ish project. Since I generally will have more than one project going at a time, I have extra tacks – I just bought regular “brass” thumb tacks from the hardware store. They work fine.