Since the thirteenth and fourteenth century, embroidery using a hook to form chain stitches was popular in the middle and far east.
This technique was introduced into France in the mid-eighteenth century, and from there to England and the rest of the world. At this time, it was called Tambour Work, called because of the frame that was used – a frame that resembled a small drum called a tambour.
Of course, this frame is very familiar to us know as it’s the circular embroidery frame most popular now. Prior to this introduction, most European embroidery was done on a square or rectangular free standing frame.
Tambour embroidery is worked using a hook rather than a needle, which is thrust through the fabric to grab the thread and draw it back to the top of the fabric and then the stitch is laid. The resultant stitches are very similar to chain stitch and could be as large or small as the skill and intent of the embroiderer made them. In many ways, tambour technique resembles how a sewing machine works.
The technique of stitching tambour work is tricky, but once you master it, you will find that you can stitch very quickly and evenly.
Like many embroidery techniques, tambour work was practised both by amateurs and also by professional workshops.
The technique was used professionally to produce “sprig muslin” – which was very fine muslin fabric worked with embroidered flowers. Tambour work was extremely popular for these large professional jobs because of the speed an experienced embroidery could stitch at.
When worked on net, tambour work forms a beautiful lace effect, which became very popular for fichus, handkerchiefs, caps and trims. Some of the earliest embroidery machines were setup to produce tambour work and large workshops were setup in Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, England and Ireland.
In Coggeshill, England, and surrounding villages there was a thriving industry in making tambour work lace which lasted until the early 20th century.
Tambour Work Today
With the revival in interest in historical forms of embroidery, Tambour work has become more popular.
Legacies of the original enthusiasm for tambour work lie in the frame that is the most popular for embroidery now. The hoop frame gained popularity and continued to be used after the popularity for tambour embroidery declined.
It is now easier to obtain tambour hooks and several online stories sell them, as well as larger needlework store and specialist lacemaking stores.
Tambour work now is more often use for lacemaking and is worked on net of various gauges.
When trying tambour work for yourself, you need to be careful of the materials you use.
Muslin, handkerchief cotton and similar weight fabrics are idea as the hook pierces them cleanly.
A number of people have experimented and find that the best thread to use is one strand of a twisted thead – such as plain cotton floss. Silk can be used, but it should be a mercerised twisted style of thread. Some people have had success using a very fine perle style thread.
Rayon is not recommended as it is too slippery.
Once you have mastered the technique, you can experiment using flat spun silks.
If you are a fan of Jane Austen, and would like to experience some of the type of embroidery done during that period, then you should definitely explore tambour work.
Tambour Work Lace
Great tutorial on Tambour Work at the Embroidery Addict blog
Tambour Holder & 3 Needles Lace Making Chain Stitching
Tambour Beading With a Ring Frame
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© 2010 Megan McConnell