Tambour (seemingly known interchangeable as tambour beading or tambour embroidery) has been a technique that I’ve wanted to try for a long time. Tambour is usually a technique uttered in the same breath as ‘haute couture’ as it is often the technique of choice for adding the glitz and glamour to wedding and evening dresses.
When you think of embroidery, you usually think of a needle and thread, but tambour is worked with a hook, very similar to a crochet hook. It’s also a little bizarre as you have the back of the work facing you as you stitch with the ‘live’ thread or beads underneath. The reason for its popularity though, is because when you’re not fumbling around like a true beginner, it’s an incredibly efficient technique for applying beads and embellishments to fabric.
When I had the chance to try a class with Tambour and Clutch, it seemed like the perfect excuse to learn something new. However, I never thought I’d feel quite as out of my depth doing chain stitch as I did starting tambour!
Chain stitch is the basic stitch of tambour embroidery and the finished effect is very similar to what you’d expect from a ‘standard’ embroidered chain stitch. To start with, we were working on an open net to give us an easy counted fabric to work with and make it easier to see what we were doing when fumbling around with the hooks.
Having the feel of how to manipulate the hook from doing a lot of laceweight crochet was definitely an advantage but the thread still seemed to find a million new ways to leap out of the throat of the hook and entangle itself with the trestles. Another interesting quirk in tambour is that working north to south vs south to north involves wrapping the thread to make the stitch a little differently. Although it is logical when you think about the stitch is formed, when you are a beginner wishing you shared ancestral heritage with an octopus, it feels like an unnecessary complication.
I have moaned in the past about the plight of the left handed crafter and how irritating it can be to turn up to classes and not only be treated as some kind of pariah but to be dismissed as being too difficult to teach. However, in this class, the lefties had a whole instruction pack of their own, every diagram carefully customised to account for the slight changes to the stitches. Although tambour isn’t really a technique that’s any ‘harder’ for left-handers, and you’re really just reversing all the directions, I thought this was a very nice touch and made for a refreshing change!
The next challenge was figuring out how to get beads onto the fabric. This is a little bit of a dexterity challenge but I thought I was getting into a good rhythm with it, that was, until I tried to place my first bugle bead.
This was one of the few moments where I was longing for the accuracy of a needle and thread, with any potential time savings of the technique being lost with repeatedly stabbing the fabric in an attempt to place beads. The length of the bugles makes them a lot trickier to judge and place than seed beads, as well as to maintain a good tension.
It’s a long way from a Ralph and Russou piece but moving onto organza was a lot less intimidating than I thought. Although it is unforgiving with letting you rearrange the fibres to close up any holes, organza is a lot less fragile than I would have anticipated.
I’m going to have to work on relaxing my tension a little. This a common theme in all my crafting, I always have to cast on over two needles or bigger needles for knitting or intentionally add less twist when I’m spinning so I don’t end up with yarns with similar properties to steel. However, tambour is not a technique to be intimidated by and who doesn’t love something that is an easy way to add some bling. I’m looking forward to experimenting more in the future and the glorious stash of beads that will no doubt come with it.