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Wooden Slate Embroidery Frames

Slate frames. Those words may mean nothing to some of you, and to others who have taken the plunge head first into hand embroidery, you know that working on a slate frame is the best way to undertake a project to obtain the best results. And for the rest of the world who may be wondering what a Slate Frame is, let me introduce you.



Slate frames have been around for what seems like forever. They come in all kinds of sizes from small to large. Some frames are long enough to fill an entire room. When a slate frame is being worked on, it is referred to as a “dressed” slate frame. This is an undressed slate frame.  Now this may look a little strange, and yes, these frames struck fear in my heart when I first read that title almost a dozen or more years ago.  And the fear mounted upon hearing that these frames required dressing. How, one may imagine, does a slate frame get dressed, and what does it wear? Let me put your fears to rest. These frames are not as scary as they look and we shall break the process down to make it simple to accomplish. Knowledge is a great reliever of fear. I have every intention of dressing this frame, or one of the other three sizes available here at Ecclesiastical Sewing in a matter of a few days. So rest assured. If I can dress a slate frame, so can you. For now I will give you a hint as to what a Slate Frame wears: calico (or linen or muslin), webbing, and string make up its basic wardrobe. Pretty simple, right?

A slate frame is used in hand embroidery to hold the embroidery base fabric “drum tight” in order to provide even tension for working hand embroidery stitches. When the frame is drum tight, and properly placed on a set of trestle stands, the embroiderer has both hands free to work on the embroidery. This is the standard style of frame used by professional embroiderers because they know they will obtain superior results when using these frames with their finished work. This is the style of frame used by the instructors in the Royal School of Needlework when they teach the Certificate and Diploma Courses.

Many vintage books talked about using a slate frame, and a few give some general instructions as to how to “dress” a slate frame. Yes, that is correct: “dress a slate frame.”  I promise we shall come back to dressing a slate frame. But first, let’s take a closer look at what makes up a slate frame. Knowing the parts and pieces can take some of the fear of the unknown away.


Notice in this photo there are four pieces of wood which make up a frame. A slate frame consists of two arms and two slats with holes. The arms are slightly rounded and have a webbing attached. The slats have a series of holes that hold a peg or pin.


To fit together correctly, the arms have a larger hole or cut out that the slat fits into. So far pretty simple, right?


This is the smallest of the Slate frames which are available through Ecclesiastical Sewing. This frame is a 12 inch Slate frame. That may be a bit of a puzzle for some as just from the photo the wood appears to be longer than  12 inches. And if you guessed that, you are correct. So where does the 12 inch size come from? Let’s explain. The size of a slate frame is not determined by the length of the arms or slats. The size of a slate frame is determined by the width of the attached webbing which determines the width of the embroidery that can be worked on this frame.  In the above photo, the webbing measures 12 inches, and that measurement determines that this is a 12 inch slate frame.  When Ecclesiastical Sewing was deciding on the various sizes needed in a slate frame, we took into account embroiderers who do gold work embroidery and silk shading. Often those are smaller pieces of embroidery, and so, a smaller frame would be useful for that type of work. After all, when one has to dress a frame, why dress one larger than the size that is needed, right?


This frame looks larger and it is. This is an 18 inch Slate Frame. The tape on this frame will hold a piece of muslin or calico that is 18″ wide. This will allow for a wide variety of work to be accomplished without having a frame that is too large.


The wood selected for this first series of frames is oak. Oak is a solid wood that will hold up to the tremendous amount of stress and pressure that is placed on a Slate frame. When these frames are properly dressed, they are truly “drum tight.”  And once you have stitched on a slate frame that is drum tight, everything else fails to measure up.


There are occasions where a larger frame is needed, and this one will fit the bill. This is a 24 inch Slate Frame. This frame is designed to have lots of flexibility with the large number of holes on the slat. This will fit a long narrow embroidery as well as a large square embroidery.


Here you can see a comparison of the three different slate frame sizes. The 12 inch and 24 inch frames are still bundled up, and the 18 inch frame is open in the center. While the frames are sold individually, the parts are interchangeable if one owned all three sizes.

The State Frames are hand crafted from fine oak by a cabinet-maker in Montana.*  I have known this cabinet-maker for almost 30 years, and am always impressed by his high standard of work. When I asked if he would be interested in taking on this project of making slate frames, I was not sure of his answer, and I am now so pleased to be able to offer these lovely hand crafted slate frames for sale here at Ecclesiastical Sewing.

Made from oak, the wood in each frame has a smooth finish. The grainlines of the wood are visible. The arm holes are sanded smooth to ensure there are no rough or uneven spots. The tape has been securely attached.** We will soon have a set of the same frames in a beech wood as well. The frames are available in the sizes listed and are in stock ready for shipment. If you have a special size need, please contact us for a custom order. Lead times for custom orders are between 4 to 8 weeks.

Soli Deo Gloria

Be sure to visit our online store front Ecclesiastical Sewing where you may shop for Liturgical Fabrics, altar linen fabrics, church vestment making patterns, liturgical machine embroidery designschurch vestment trims and notions and so much more. You may also find us on  Ecclesiastical Sewing  on Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest. Sing up for our mailing list  at the bottom of the page on our online store front and receive a free copy of our Small Linens Booklet as our way of saying thank you for following along.

*The wood has unique natural characteristics and grainlines, which are visible and do these do not affect the performance of the finished product.  Due to the close proximity required by the hole placement, the oak grainline may be affected in a few spots by the high number of holes and  drilling required for the pin placement. This is a natural result of the wood grainline to this process, and is not to be considered a flaw in workmanship.

**The oak has a natural characteristic of hard and soft spots within the wood. The staples naturally gravitate to the softer spots in the wood as the twill tape is applied. Although the staples may not be in a perfectly straight row, the tape is straight.






Filed under: Ecclesiastical Embroidery, Ecclesiastical Sewing, Hand embroidery, Slate frame Tagged: Ecclesiastical Embroidery, Ecclesiastical Sewing, Hand embroidery, Hand Embroidery Tools, Slate frame
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