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.
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.
But this is where it gets interesting!
You can take your slate frame beyond basic, by having it custom painted and personalized by Rachael.
What makes you happy? Sunny sunflowers? Roses and pansies?
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!