Last week, I attended a tambour embroidery course with Elisabeth Roulleau at ArtTextil in Dachau, Germany. Elisabeth has been trained as an Haute Couture and soft furnishings embroideress at the famous Lesage School of Embroidery in Paris. Do check out her website for inspiration and perhaps a chance to study this fascinating type of embroidery with her.
So what do you need for tambour embroidery? Firstly, a frame. We used a cheap roller frame made by Elbesee in the UK. These frames are ok and in fact I use them for my Bavarian Hosenträger courses as they are really cheap and offer a decent solution. However, as always: if you intend to stitch a lot, do invest in a sturdier frame such as a traditional slate frame.
Secondly, you will need a tambour hook or Luneville needle (pictured at the top). It consists of a wooden holder and insert needles available in different sizes. You can find them on this website. You will also need fabric, threads and of course pre-strung beads and sequins.
As a complete beginner, it is easiest to start with a see through fabric such as silk organza. After all, you need to work with one hand under the frame. This hand slings the thread around the hook and feeds beads or sequins to the fabric and hook.
The thread used was a complete surprise to me. And a major re-think. Confession time: I sometimes do like Sajou products. Not only to look at, but actually to work with as well. In this case: Fil a Gant Applications Au Chinois, coton Glace. It is a coated cotton thread that smoothly glides through the fabric and is very strong. Pretty important as tambour embroidery gets completely undone when the thread breaks. For the record: all other Sajou products are still suspect until otherwise proven. The other thread we used was a fine metallic thread (probably from Sajou too, oh dear).
And then the stitching. Not so easy with a hook. But just be patient and you will succeed. So did I. The hardest thing to remember is to push the fabric open with the smooth side of the hook before you try to retract the hook. Otherwise you get stuck and you'll lose the loop of your chain stitch in the making. My other major, and not yet fixed, problem is my high thread tension. It is perfect for all other types of embroidery, but completely doof if you do tambour embroidery. Elisabeth constantly had to take me hands and make them relax. If she ever gives up embroidery, she should definitely consider becoming a masseuse :)!
And this is the end result after three days of hard graft. I might embellish it even more sometime in the future. However, at the moment I have more pressing things to stitch. We worked with sequins, beads, bugle beads and metallic cord during class. I added a blue line of chain stitches with a flat thin lurex ribbon thread at home to add a bit more colour. As you can see, the whole piece is rather bling. And it is rather different from my normal stitching style. Good to get me out of my comfort zone.
The next step will be to return to the basics for a while and get my thread tension sorted out. This will mean that I will do miles and miles of lines with the basic chain stitch without any beads or sequins. Once sorted, I will make another piece on silk organza. Once that's done, I will progress to using a non-transparent fabric. That will open a whole new can of worms, I am sure of it! Feeding beads to the fabric and hook whilst I cannot see them, must be a bit of a challenge.
To sum it up: Elisabeth is a great teacher and I learned a lot. Although Haute Couture embroidery is not my cup of tea, I will perfect my technique so that I will be able to incorporate parts of it into future projects. I paid €325 course fee for 18 hours of tuition in an eight person group + €60 materials including hook and frame. A good Continued Professional Development investment, me thinks!
If you would like to try your hand at tambour embroidery and you are not able to find a suitable course, have a look on Mary Corbet's fantastic site.
What do you think of tambour embroidery? Would you like to give it a go? Or what else are you stitching right now? Do leave your comments below, I love to read them!
Jessica M. Grimm
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