Tambour embroidery is a fairly obscure craft that I picked up last year. It’s a hybrid of crochet and embroidery that makes chain stitches worked with a combination hook/needle. It’s perfectly suited for beading, because of the way that it creates a looped chain that slots around the beads. Most couture embroidery and beading – the kind you see on those gorgeously elaborate red carpet gowns – are done using tambour. When it’s worked on tulle or gauze, it makes stunning lace. And (my favorite use) it’s a fantastic way to work detailed line-embroidery in plain thread really really fast. I’m impatient, so I appreciate that.
Tambour embroidery is well worth learning, whether you’ve embroidered before or not. I use it more than needle embroidery these days, unless I want to work a variety of different stitches. Today I’m just going to talk about how to get set up, and give you some resources in case you want to get started right away. In future posts, I’ll share more about how to actually work the embroidery.
- A tambour needle. A lot of the other equipment on this list can be fudged or fiddled with, but this one you can’t really avoid. The needle has a handle with several different needle attachments, all of which have a hook in the shaft. After you stab the needle through the fabric, you hook the thread and pull it back up to make a loop in your chain. I use this needle set from Lacis, which is the standard one you’ll find most places. You may or may not be able to find this at your local craft store – most likely, you’ll have to shop online.
- A frame/hoop and stand. You need both hands for tambour, so you need to have a hands-free set up. The two primary commercial options for this are a hoop with a stand, (either table top, sit-on, or free standing), or a tambour frame like this. I haven’t tried any of those choices, so I can’t speak to which are best. Instead, I jury-rigged my own system in an effort to save a little money, which has worked well for me. I use this cellphone holder, bent into a “c” shape. My embroidery hoop goes into the heavy clamp (which is meant to attach to a table, etc), and I hold the other end between my legs while sitting down. It works for me! You should base your choice on where you like to embroider, how much you’re willing to spend, and whether you’re willling to look like an idiot..
- Base fabric and thread. Pretty much any fabric you like to embroider on will work fine here. Same with threads, although some are better suited than others. One benefit of tambour is that the thread doesn’t get pulled through the fabric as much as it does in regular embroidery, so you can use more delicate or prone-to-fuzz threads.
Mary Corbet, the writer over at Needle ‘n Thread, has written the best resources that I’ve found about how to start tambouring. You can find her beginner post here, with a helpful video and great advice.
If you try tambour, or you’re a tambour enthusiast already, I’d love to see what you make! Show it off in the comments or through the contact link.