Embroidery: the Ancient Egyptians who used it on their garments to enhance the beauty of the robes and illustrate their personal wealth. Other ancient cultures such as the Babylonians and Phoenicians added it to their garments.
In the 1700s, the tambour frame (a precursor to the modern-day embroidery hoop) was used to make tambour lace. The frames helped to hold the fabric taut to allow for the delicate stitching needed for creating the lace. Over time, the frames were re-designed and came to be called "embroidery hoops." These hoops were often made of metal, bone, or ivory while the hoops of today are made from plastic and wood.
The embroidery hoop made the delicate work of embroidery easier by stretching the material into a smooth canvas, allowing for the intricate needlework. But embroiderers would need to move the hoop down the fabric as they worked. It could be a tedious process and certainly interrupted their work.
The invention of the adjustable embroidery hoop helped to make this much easier than it had been for previous generations. People no longer had to move their embroidery hoops down to the new section because the adjustable hoop could be set beforehand.
Helen A. Harmes patented her invention in 1903. In fact, her patent was granted approval on November 17, 1903, and potentially led to a renewed interest in embroidery. She had been living in Washington, Missouri, at the time, and the idea came to her as she embroidered. There had to be a more effective way to embroider without having to move the hoop down the fabric.
Harmes' invention was offered in catalogs so that people were able to purchase the adjustable embroidery hoops, and she seems to have been able to make some money off her invention. It was her most important contribution to the art of embroidery, and people still use adjustable embroidery hoops in their needlework today.
Feeling inspired? Watch and learn how to embroider a set of dinner napkins: