Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Tool Talk: Custom Slate Frames!


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The slate frame is possibly the Best Embroidery Frame that you can invest in.

Slate frames have been around for centuries, and it’s no wonder. In concept, it’s quite a simple thing – horizontal “roller” bars are held apart from each other by vertical slats or stretchers. The vertical bars pass through the ends of the horizontal bars, which sport a twill “tape” to which the fabric is sewn, top and bottom. Space and tension are maintained by pegs stuck in the holes in the vertical bars. The fabric is further tensioned by lacing it on the sides, until it is truly the drum-tautest fabric you could want.

You can adjust your tension on your fabric, by tightening the laces or adding another peg of space in the vertical bars.

Projects set up on a slate frame can stay there interminably, until they’re finished. And when they’re finished and removed, you just have four slats of wood and four pegs to store.

Whether your stitching forte is cross stitch, needlepoint, surface embroidery, whitework, crewel, goldwork – it doesn’t matter. A slate frame can handle them all!

If you’re not sure what a slate frame is, you might find this article on dressing a slate frame handy. You’ll see what the frame is, and one way of setting it up.

Custom slate frames for hand embroidery

There are only a couple drawbacks to slate frames in general, but all of them are counterbalanced by the pros of using one.

The first drawback, here in the US, is that they are hard to come by. They’re not the standard frame type used in the American market, so they’re not very common. Because of this, they are made only here and there, by individual artisans in small batches, and they can be pricey. But a slate frame will last a lifetime, so it’s a good investment.

The second drawback is that they take a little longer to set up, compared to just about any other type of embroidery frame. When you use a slate frame, you have to allocate a good half hour or so, just to getting the frame set up. The more you do it, the quicker it becomes. And, on the very pro side, once it’s set up, you can leave it set up as long as it takes to complete your project – whether that’s a week, a month, or five years.

Given the lack of a regular, findable supply of slate frames on the US market, I was pretty excited when I saw that Rachael at Diamond K Folk Art is now making slate frames. She has three sizes available – small, medium, and large – and they are made out of either poplar or red oak. They’re very sleek looking! And although I haven’t tried one of hers myself, they look like they are quite beautifully made.

Custom slate frames for hand embroidery

But this is where it gets interesting!

You can take your slate frame beyond basic, by having it custom painted and personalized by Rachael.

Custom slate frames for hand embroidery

What makes you happy? Sunny sunflowers? Roses and pansies?

Custom slate frames for hand embroidery

Or perhaps something a little more whimsical?

Whatever your fancy, for an additional fee, you can have your frame customized with ink and paint. Rachael uses India ink and watercolor paints, all sealed with a non-yellowing varnish for protection.

I think the way the page is set up, you order the frame first (at the top of the page) and then you go through the customization options below that, if you want it custom painted.

Slate Frame Resources

These are the current places in the US that I’m aware of, that offer slate frames now:

Diamond K Folk Art – and you’re looking for a gift for yourself or for the embroiderer in your life who already has everything, then maybe you should go the route of a customized slate frame.

It looks like Thistle Threads has slate frames available. I don’t know if they are just for those who are enrolled in classes at Thistle Threads, but they are on their public shopping site, so you might inquire if you’re looking for them.

And, if you scroll down on this page at Needle in a Haystack, you’ll find that they take special orders for the slate frames from Evertite, which involve a 6 – 8 month turnaround. I have some of the Evertite slate frames – they’re very hearty and well-made, but slightly different from others I’ve used. They have heavy round rollers for the horizontal bars. They definitely require a stand or trestles, as they are quite heavy to hold.

As for outside the US, I don’t have a list of resources, I’m afraid. I don’t know of any resource in Canada for slate frames, or in Australia or New Zealand. If any of you know of any in your particular country, you’re welcome to leave the information in the comments below. In the UK, slate frames are much more common, so I’m sure readers from the UK will have no problem finding slate frames closer to home!

Stands & Trestles

Trestles are usually used to support slate frames, but they’re also difficult to come by here in the States, and those that you can have custom made are very expensive.

I’ve found that the Just a Thought floor stand from Judy O’Dell, which I reviewed a while ago, works great with medium to large sized slate frames.

Small and medium sized slate frames clamp easily into the Needlework System 4 stand with frame clamp, too, as long as the horizontal bars are flat, not round. Large ones are a bit cumbersome. Of course, if you have two Needlework System 4 stands with frame clamps, you can clamp very large frames, one on each side, and use them that way – but that would be a pretty pricey set-up!

If you have any questions about slate frames or any resources to share, feel free to leave a comment below!


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(32) Comments

  1. I love the Millennium frame! You have the frame put together and the fabric attached in less than a minute! It keeps the fabric quite taught and doesn’t loosen up!

  2. I use my slate frames with the Lowery Work stand, and it is fantastic. Both hands are free to work those pesky little stitches that need extra fiddling, and the fabric stays drum tight forever! I can even stitch in my recliner.

  3. Dear Mary

    You can buy them in the UK from RSN, and other places which is good to know. I do like the personalised decorated slate frames very pretty and if you are a beginner then it’s worth investing in a slate frame especially as they are so pretty and just the right equipment for embroidery projects. But I already have the System 4 stand and the Millennium Frame from Needle Needs which is great. But the custom slate frames are lovely. Thanks for sharing these delightful frames with us and for the information on where to purchase them.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. I showed a picture of a slate frame to my husband and told him I wanted to buy one. He gave me a look, disappeared into his shed and reappeared a while later with a frame. Apparently they are not that hard to make if you have the right tools (and a shedful of bits of wood). It is definitely not a thing of beauty, but works very well.

    I use hook tape (the kind used for corsets) pinned or sewn onto the fabric to dress the frame.

  5. Well, maybe someday, if/when I start to do larger pieces I’ll treat myself. 🙂 Thanks Mary, these type posts are so informative and you’ve done all the work for us. I plan to keep this in a “file” for future reference.

  6. Mary, I’m wondering…do you prefer a slate frame to your Millenium frame (or vice versa)? And if so why? (I’m remembering your great review of the Millenium frames, and have been considering saving for them out of my “small” needlework budget.)


    1. Hi, Alissa – I like them both, for different reasons. I’ve had good results with the Millenium frame, and it is So Very Easy and Quick to set up. So that’s a big plus. But if I’m working on something that is really long term, and I want excellent, adjustable tension from all sides, I just feel better using a slate frame. With the Millenium frame, you can lace the sides, but it’s a pain in the neck to do so, because you’re working around the adjusters that you unscrew on the side. Sometimes, the Millenium does not provide even, taut tension all the way to the sides of the project. It really depends on the size of the project, how much fabric excess you’ve allotted, and that type of stuff. So, it’s hard to say I prefer one over the other all the time – it really just depends on the project. I know some folks were having a hard time getting their Millenium frame orders filled, too. I hope that has changed, though, and that they’ve caught up on their orders (their site says they have frames in stock now, so that’s a good sign!). Another thing you might consider is that, long term, there’s more to “break” on a Millenium frame. It’s a much more complicated piece of equipment, compared to a slate frame. This is their replacement policy on broken parts: “Under most circumstances, we will replace accidentally broken frame or stand pieces for free or reduced cost. Please contact us with exact details of what needs replacing and the circumstances under which the breakage occurred. We may also require you to send us the broken part so we can assess the damage.” That can get pretty expensive, if you’re ordering from the States. So that’s something to consider, too, I think.

  7. Have a friend with a Millennium frame and she loves it, said it was worth the wait.

    I found a local woodworker who has made some slate frames for me and I have been selling them for him to local reenactors. We let the purchaser mix and match the stretcher and roller lengths and that flexibility is handy. Also he makes 8 in and 12 in ones which I love for smaller projects.

    And much as I like using pegs for a proper period ambiance, they tend to loosen if you have to move your frame around a lot. I found cotter pins are much more secure, especially if they are slipped into plastic tubing first.

  8. Thank you for the very helpful posts. I could not find contact information on the Diamond K site, but from what I have been reading on Needle ‘n Thread as well as their site, I believe I would have to go to a large slate frame rather than a medium (see dimensions below)for the Lavender & Lace “Angel of Love”. The cut fabric for that is 16.5 x 24.

    Medium~ 24″ horizontal & vertical bars(4), with working area apx 19 ” x 20″
    Large~ 36″ horizontal & vertical bars(4), with working area apx 31″ x 32″

    Also, I do not have a floor stand, and my instinct is that this would be awfully unwieldy without one. Can you share your thoughts on that, Mary? Thank you!


    1. Hi, Jean – you don’t actually have to have a floor stand with a slate frame, but it does help. The larger they are, the more unwieldy, as you put it! What you can do is rest the front part of the frame on a table and put a weight on it to hold it in place (like a covered brick or something like that), with the majority of the frame extending off the table. You can also prop each side on a small table – like small TV tables or the like – and sit up to it, between the two tables.

    2. You can also find trestles in DIY shops. In France, it’s easy to find the basic ones for less than $10 a pair !

  9. Just a note-the Millennium frames work great unless you live in a very dry climate. I loved mine until it dried out in our 12 percent humidity and the peg inside fell out. Slate frames aren’t subject to that kind of problem.

  10. Oh, these are too cute! Luckily, my husband is a really good painter with ink. I can see a weekend job appearing on the horizon next time he is free :). I actually find it really hard to have RSN quality (that’s high and will last more than one lifetime) slate frames made for an affordable price here in Germany. I went back to ordering them from the RSN for my students. That really hurts at the moment with the low Euro…

  11. I had always assumed that slate frames were, well, made of slate! And that was why they were so special and expensive and heavy. But from the third link you gave it sounds like it’s just another name for the wooden scroll frames I’ve been using forever. Is there any difference in quality between the peg kind and the rolling kind? Would you recommend one over the other?

    Here’s a UK site which offers both peg and rolling frames: http://www.siestaframes.com/acatalog/Needlecraft_Tapestry_Frames_and_hoops.html

  12. Maybe I’m the only one, but when you mentioned these frames before, I always thought something like slate tiles must have been involved, although I couldn’t imagine how. Now I’m guessing the name is because they resemble the frame from an old school slate. Even if my guess is wrong, I’m glad to know you folks aren’t talking about small, medium, or large slabs of slate.

  13. I’m in New Zealand and don’t know of any local suppliers (although The Embroiderer in Birkenhead may be able to supply them).

    Last week I ordered one online from Arts and Designs in the UK (http://www.artsanddesigns.com/cgi-bin/viewDetails.pl?catnumber=1487755501). I’ve ordered things from them before and have been very satisfied with their service. I’m hoping the frame will arrive this week. (I thought a slate frame would be best for the Hazel Blomkamp projects I want to do for the reasons you described.)

    Last time I ordered from Needle Needs delivery still took a very long time (I’m not convinced ‘in stock’ means they can simply pack and ship), but their products are worth the wait. I love my Millennium Frame.

    1. Hello Irene, I’m a fellow Kiwi and following on with your comment about Needle Needs I was lucky enough to be given the go ahead to order one of their Millenium frames for my birthday in July. I sent the order with payment on the 15th July and am fully expecting to have to wait for up to 12 weeks delivery. I saw the In Stock note beside the frame on their website but after looking at their listed upcoming venues and dates for shows and displays I realized their site had not been updated since about 2011 so I would say that all indications as to whether their stock was available or not would probably not be accurate. So I just have to be patient along with everyone else who puts their order in. Going by previous comments from Mary and her followers it will be worth it.

    2. Hi Cheryl,

      Cool birthday present, I’m sure you’ll love it.

      I hope they will tell you when they ship it. They ordered some extra bars in different sizes last year, I think, and when I checked with them after about three months they had just received them back as undeliverable. I didn’t know they had been in the country (I think they had been left the post office) and the courier company had not tried to ring me. They were sent straight back at the courier’s expense and I was a very happy camper when they arrived!

  14. An idea for trestles to support slate frames are table legs. In the UK Ikea used to sell wooden ones for their table tops and one pair I bought were £8 each – few years ago now but they may still sell suitable legs.

    The idea came from students at the Royal School of Needlework as it was what they bought for use at home with their slates.

    I’m not sure what Ikea or other such stores have now but its worth checking out.

    1. If you mean, literally, just legs ready to put on a table, try your local lumber yard or “unfinished furniture” store (altho the latter seems to exist only in larger cities).

  15. Hi Marie,
    Such slate frame is solid, mine measures 86 cm wide (34 “) of 63 (25”) long, I can use the format I need and it dates from the time of Louis Philippe (1830 -1848). The last person put copper nails on the fabric strip so they do not rust and it works. I set on wooden trestles 50s It cost me less than a new in France and more ugly. For those you against us are downright entertaining show, I think it’s worth the cost of investing in this kind of tool.

  16. Forever Embroidery Studio in San Francisco does slate frames and trestles. They used to stock the RSN San Francisco Satellite, so it is as good as the “RSN” standards, yet made in the USA. The trestles are nicely adjustable and have a cool logo brand on them. The slate frames are a nice size 24in.
    If you questions about these traditional embroidery tools see the website foreverembroiderystudio.com

  17. I have found 3 places in Australia which may be of some help to others.

    These are:-
    Mosman Needlecraft in Mosman NSW The frames were listed in one of their newsletters
    last year edition 17 I believe, even though I can’t find them listed on their website itself. But it may be worthwhile shooting them
    an email to enquire if they still stock them.

    Christina’s Craft & Gifts and Primke Designs stock them and they are Australian made in Ash/Oak. Several sizes available for quite reasonable prices. I believe is in SA

    Jane Nicholas lists on her website the contact details for a supplier in Berri SA from whom they may be ordered.

    I have deliberately left out links to the websites as I have tried more than half a dozen times to post this information only to be returned to the top of the page and I’m not sure why this is happening.

  18. Mary, about 8 years ago I wrote you note about my appreciation of the Needlwork Floor frame. My Floor frame survived Katrina, 4 weeks subsmersion in flood waters! and cats for the last 8 years. Like me it a little worse for wear but is still going strong. I am thinking investing in some scroll frames so I can needlepoint Christmas stockings for my grand kids. Thank you so much for your site.
    Juliet V

  19. Jean,
    My stand is a Lowry. It is light but sturdy, easy to set up, easy to use, easy to move, and easy to store. It is an investment but well worth it.

  20. I purchased the 24″ slate frame from Rachael Kinnison. It’s beautifully made.
    I blame myself for not paying closer attention to the details as this frame requires lacing on all 4 sides. That’s fantastic if your project is of a size that you can manage having all the fabric exposed. My current project is too large for this frame to be practical.
    So, a word to the wise, would be to check to see if the slate frame you’re considering had scroll bars for top and bottom to manage larger projects.

    1. Very Sound Advice! I’m just getting ready to do a review on a slate frame that also requires lacing on all four sides. It’s a nice frame, but the lacing on 4 sides does alter the way I have to consider the whole project set-up.

  21. Just sent you a question about slate frames in the System Four Stand. Not sure how I missed this info in your review that reads: “Small and medium sized slate frames clamp easily into the Needlework System 4 stand with frame clamp, too, as long as the horizontal bars are flat, not round.” That will work for my purposes as I own flat bars. No need to respond further. This has been a good day.

    Armida Taylor

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