If you’re just getting into historical crafts, and you need a little something to do with your hands while at an event that is cheap, portable, and easy to pick up, lucet cord may be a great option for you!
There is some controversy about when exactly throughout the course of history lucets were used: if you are interpreting in the medieval period, or in the 19th century, you’re probably pretty safe–between those two periods you may want to do a bit of your own research or check with the site or group that you are interpreting with before you demonstrate it at an event.
That said, lucet cord is simple to make, and makes a nice, strong cord that can be used for drawstrings, lacing, trimming, and any other use you can find for a nice bit of string.
What You Need
Here’s the great thing about luceting: you only need two things!
A lucet. This is the shaped wood that you will use to hold your loops of thread as you work. You can buy a basic one for $5-$10, or spend a bit more if you want one with some pretty fretwork or other ornamentation. Just search the word ‘lucet’ and you’ll come up with plenty of options, and you can also usually see them around at events from vendors that sell basic sewing supplies.
Thread or yarn. Exactly what you want to use will depend on the final use and look you are going for. Basic heavy linen thread will make a nice strong cord. Making a cord from yarn can make a great accent for knitting or crochet projects. In these photos I am using a green size 10 crochet thread because I was looking to match the color of a particular fabric. Experiment away!
I will go through the process in pictures first–there will be a video of the process lower down!
These next few steps can get a bit frustrating until you have built up a little cord. Because there are no knots yet, there is nothing to hold everything in place, which makes things a bit delicate. Be gentle and try not to get frustrated–it will get easier soon! You will be repeating these steps over and over again to create your cord, but I will go through them a couple of times so that you can see how it works as you begin to build up a bit of cord. It will seem complicated at first, but as the cord begins to build up, the process becomes simple and feels more natural.
Continue to work slowly and carefully until you have a little tail of cord built up, at which point you will be able to speed up a bit.
This is the point at which the process really solidifies and feels the same as it will through the rest of the cord.
You can see the tightening process in more detail in this video:
If you enjoyed this, it is just the beginning! This is a very basic lucet cord. There are many other variations on the art, including multicolored variations using different colored threads. Go out into the world and use more things, and perhaps I will add more tutorials here later!
Due to an overwhelming amount of demand on my social media as I’ve been posting process photos of my new green Spencer, I went ahead and put together a little tutorial on the style of trim I’m using.
Rouleaux are, quite simply, thin, bias-cut strips of fabric sewn into tubes. You probably have quite a few bits of rouleaux in your wardrobe without even realizing it in the form of spaghetti straps, coat hanging loops, and other utilitarian elements. However, these tubes aren’t just useful, they can also be beautiful.
Rouleaux trim is simply taking a rouleaux tube and stitching it down to a garment in the shape of a design, creating a beautiful, wearable piece of 3-dimensional art. While it is relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) today, rouleaux trim is was very popular in the early 19th century, particularly in the 18-teens and ’20s. I would not be at all surprised to see it crop up throughout the 19th century, but until I have examples of that, I will withhold a verdict. Similar techniques, however, were certainly employed though the 1800s and early 1900s using soutache braid, cord, or other thin, flexible items to create a design. If you want your pattern to match your fabric however, rouleaux is truly the way to go. All the early 19th century examples of rouleaux I have seen have been made with matching fabric to the main garment. They have also all been outer garments like spencers and pelisses, rather than gowns. That doesn’t mean those aren’t out there, just that I haven’t seen them–always keep an eye out for examples, don’t just take my word for it!
I’m going to show you how I do this technique. It’s the sort of thing that there are probably many ways to do, but this is the one that works for me.
You can read all about the spencer featured in the tutorial photos here.
Preparing the Bias Strips
Before you can make beautiful, rouleaux-trimmed garments, you’ll need to start with a whole lot of thin, bias-cut strips of fabric. It’s possible that some in the 19th century were done with strips cut on the straight grain as well, since it is a more efficient use of expensive fabric. I haven’t had a chance to examine any of these garments up close enough to be able to see the grain of the fabric, but based on how neatly the extant examples of rouleaux trim go around curves and tight corners, I would guess that many, if not all, are cut on the bias.
Note: What is the bias, you may be asking yourself? Bias cut pieces are cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric, rather than parallel to the selvedge edge (the finished, uncut edge of a length of fabric).
You can find the bias of a fabric using a marked cutting mat, a set square, or any other device that will show you a 45° angle to the selvedge of the fabric.
From there, you can simply cut parallel strips based on your first angled cut. The width that you cut your strips is entirely up to you (within reason), depending on how thick you would like your rouleaux to be. If you’re unsure, do a test piece a few inches long first, just to get an idea of what size you’ll get. I ended up going with half-inch strips, which got me a nice tube about 1/8″ wide out of my lightweight cotton twill fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on the thickness of your fabric.
I used a rotary cutter along my ruler to get strips. You can also use your ruler to draw lines and cut with scissors, whatever floats your boat and gets your some bias strips.
Next, you’ll need to sew your lovely bias strips into one very long bias strip. (Of course this depends on exactly what you are doing. If one bias strip is enough to do your entire design, obviously feel free to skip this part.
In order to keep your bias flexible, and your tube thin, you will need to sew the pieces together with the grain of the fabric, rather than across the bias. To do this, line up your two strips, right side to right side, at a right angle. At this point, you may have edges that line up nicely because they were the selvedge edges of your fabric, and are therefore already little 45° angles. If not, you will need to trim the ends to 45° angles so that they line up as in the photo above.
You will notice that the corners of each piece hang over the edges. This is exactly what you want. Stitch from one inner corner to the other. You want a nice, small seam allowance for this. This angled seam with keep the bulk of the seam allowance distributed along the strip, rather than all piled up in one place.
When you have finished sewing all your pieces together, press the seams open very well. You want the extra fabric from the seam allowance to be distributed as much as possible, so the last thing you want is for it to fold up on itself.
Sewing the Rouleaux
If you like, and if your fabric is light enough, you can bypass this entire method by sewing a narrow seam allowance on your machine, and turning the strip right-side out using a rouleaux turner (these little tools look like a thin piece of wire with a loop at one end, and a little latch hook on the other, and can be found at most fabric/craft stores).
HOWEVER, there are several reasons why you may want to/be forced to make your rouleaux by hand. First of all, you may prefer to hand sew for the sake of historical accuracy. Second, your fabric (like mine), may be a bit too thick to turn right-side out once you’ve sewn your desired size of tube, even with the seam allowance trimmed very tiny. I nearly cried when I realized the several yards of rouleaux I had sewn wouldn’t turn the right way out, no matter how hard I tried. I had already trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/16″, and every effort to turn the tube shredded the seam allowance until the piece was useless. If I wanted to use this technique, I would have needed to make my rouleaux much wider, which would have completely destroyed the delicate finished look I was going for.
Luckily, I put on my thinking cap, and came up with this technique inspired by the rolled hem in order to keep all of you from pulling your hair out the same way I did.
Start yourself off by pressing the edges of the very end of your strip into the center on the wrong side of the fabric, like so:
At this point, I like to hand the end of my strip to my sewing bird in order to take some of the tension out of my left hand. Using a sewing bird or clamp to hold your fabric in place is a great way to help yourself if you experience pain while hand sewing, or if you want to avoid pain in the future, or just generally want to make your life easier. If you don’t have a sewing bird or clamp, don’t worry. You can put the end under something heavy, use a regular old clamp to clamp in to the table, pin it to the knee of your pants, pin it to the arm of a chair or couch. Basically you have lots of options, but I do recommend that you find a way to hold one end still while you work. It will allow your to work much faster.
Here is a video illustrating the whole process of holding the folds in place, stitching, and pulling tight:
Attaching the Rouleaux
Before you can attach your rouleaux, you will need to draw or trace a design on your fabric. You can draw it out with a pencil or water-soluble marker, trace it with tracing paper and a wheel, prick and pounce, or use whatever other transfer method may strike your fancy. I based my design on the pink spencer shown above.
Note: I stitched my rouleaux to both the fabric and lining. Since the fabric is a light twill and therefore has a slight stretch, I wanted to make sure it had the structure of the linen lining to support the heavy trim. Your fabric may be sturdy enough to hold the trim by itself.
Note: these instructions are for a pattern that allows the ends of the rouleaux to disappear into a seam allowance. If your design is in the middle of a piece, far from a seam allowance, you will need to begin making your rouleaux by folding up the short end of the bias strip so that your tube has a finished end, and doing the same at the other end of the tube.
From now on, your stitch pattern will be as follows:
This process of moving the rouleaux above and below the stitching line as your sew will help keep tension even along the rouleaux, and ensure that it sits directly on top of the line, rather than leaning to one side or the other. Be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or you could end up puckering and shrinking your entire garment piece!
Continue to stitch in this pattern. Here is a video to help you:
Now that you have the basic process down, here are a couple more tips to help you at tricky parts of your design.
Tip #1: Tight curves
When going around tight curves, take smaller stitches through the fabric to help the rouleaux follow the pattern smoothly.
Tip #2: Sharp corners
When making sharp corners, make sure your last stitch in the fabric before the corner comes up precisely at the point of the corner in your design.
Tip #3: Close parallel lines
When sewing rouleaux designs, you will often find yourself travelling back along a line to create a double thickness of rouleaux. When this happens, it can become tricky to maintain the stitching pattern we’ve established above.
In this case, use the thumb of your off hand to press the working rouleaux up against the first line of rouleaux. Stitch down into the fabric, and then up through the rouleaux like so:
The first rouleaux will help support the second and keep it standing upright. Once the two lines diverge again, continue in the usual stitch pattern.
Once you have completed your design finish off your rouleaux and thread just inside the seam allowance of your garment piece.
Ok! You’re all ready to go and create beautiful designs using rouleaux trim!
As always, if your have any questions, or if your would like to request a future tutorial, feel free to comment below.
For today’s lesson, I am going to focus on one technique that will allow you to do a couple of very useful things. It’s a very helpful little trick to keep your work looking neat and tidy.
It’s not complicated, and once you’ve learned it, you’ll find that a whole new world of possibilities opens up.
As far as I can tell, this technique doesn’t have a name, so I’m going to refer to it as a “false stop” because that’s exactly what it is: behaving as if you’ve finished the work, but actually moving on instead.
My old lap hoop, sadly, has broken off of its stand, and I need to fix it, so this tutorial was photographed in a small hoop, clamped to the edge of a table. This is a great solution if you can’t invest in a hoop with a stand right now, but you have other embroidery hoops around.
Imagine you have embroidered a motif, like this cute little flower:
It’s finished, but there’s no clear way to get from the flower to the next part of your pattern. You could cut the thread, but goodness, who wants more ends to weave in when you’re finished?! Not I.
So instead, you follow these simple steps:
Now that you’ve seen how useful a false stop can be for moving your thread from one place to another without breaking it, I’ll show you another way to use the same technique: turning sharp corners.
You may have noticed that tambourwork doesn’t like to go around corners. The turning stitch tends to distort and stick up in an effort to make the turn. Fear not! This can be avoided.
This technique comes in incredibly handy while working a complicated tambour motif.
I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Now that you know how to get started, and do the basic stitch, you may as well start embroidering things a bit more fun than straight lines. I’ll start you off with something nice and simple. For this tutorial, I just sketched out a little gently curved vine with small, rounded leaves. It’s a motif that appears often in embroidery from the early 19th century, so it’s one I’ve done a lot.
You can extend this design to create a simple, lovely border for hems, ruffles, handkerchiefs, veils, sleeve cuffs, or just about anything!
Step 1: Transfer your design.
The first thing we need to do is get the design transferred onto our netting. I do this in one of three ways.
With a water-soluble fabric marker. I would have done this for this tutorial, but the only one I could find in my house was a white one, which would be absolutely useless on my white fabric! This method is fast and easy to remove, but no good if you’re planning to use the piece you are working on as a period demo.
With pencil. This method is also quick, which makes it my go-to. Pencil is dark enough to see well as you work, but generally rubs mostly out by the time a project is finished, and only needs a quick wash to remove it completely. If you are someone who stresses a lot about being able to remove the markings, though, I wouldn’t recommend this for you.
With a basting stitch. This is the superior method I have found, but it also takes a good deal more time and patience than the other two, so I often rule it out as too time-consuming. You simply run a basting stitch around the design with a needle and fine white thread. Later, you can either pull it out, or leave it in and trim the ends, as the tambour-work usually obscures the basting completely from the front.
Step 2: Find your path.
One of the great things about tambour is how quickly it works up. The best designs for this style of embroidery are those that can be worked all in one continuous line, especially when you are just getting started. An efficient embroiderer can create even a complex design without ever cutting the thread. (Our next lesson will cover how to skip from one place in a design to another without cutting the thread, and without pulling out your previous stitches.)
Many designs are easy to work out, you can see the path you will take just by looking, but if you are having trouble I would suggest copying your basic design on a piece of paper, possibly blown up larger, and working out the path there before you begin stitching. Believe me, it’s very annoying to get through most of a design and realize you made a mistake, and can’t get where you need to go! The last thing anyone wants is more ends to weave in because you were forced to cut the thread prematurely.
Step 3: Begin stitching!
If you read Lesson 1, then you already know how to start your thread, and you’re ready to begin stitching.
Once again, if you have any questions, or requests for future tutorials (tambour or otherwise), don’t hesitate to ask!
There has been enough interest in my new Tambour project, that I thought I would start putting up some how-tos! It’s not the sort of thing that I can do all in one go, so I will be putting up several lessons over the course of the next few weeks and months.
I will be focusing on lace in these lessons, since that is how I primarily use tambour at the moment. I may expand this in the future as I work on other projects, but all the techniques you see here are basically the same for work on woven fabrics.
A bit of history: Tambour is a form of embellishment that originated in or around India many hundreds of years ago, and eventually spread to Europe in about the mid-1700s as tambour embroidered textiles became popular there. While at first tambour-work was all imported, by the late 18th century it was a popular pastime for wealthy women, and became especially beloved as an embellishment for the diaphanous dresses of the 1790s and early 1800s. Tambour lace remained very popular until sometime around the 1840s, when machine-made lace really began to take over.
Today, I am going to walk you through three basic steps:
Preparing your materials and starting the thread.
The basic tambour stitch.
Finishing the thread at the end.
What you will need:
A free-standing embroidery frame/hoop. Round ones are usually seen in images of women working tambour at home, while large rectangular frames are used by professionals working on entire garment pieces. Your frame can be floor, table, or lap sitting, but must leave you free to use both hands.
A tambour hook/tambour needle–these come in a range of sizes depending on your fabric and thread. I believe the one I’m using in this tutorial is a #90, but to be honest I put it in the holder a long time ago, and I’m not completely sure! You can get varieties both with or without a latch. I prefer without, but feel free to experiment if you find that you have trouble holding onto the thread without one!
A hook holder–this is the wooden handle that holds your hook while you work.
Fabric–I generally work lace on cotton bobbinet, but you can also try your hand at silk net, muslin, linen, silk chiffon, or any number of other fabrics. I would not recommend trying to work tambour on tulle from your basic fabric store. This isn’t one of those times when starting with cheap and working up to the nice stuff is helpful. Basic synthetic tulle is too flimsy, and tends to catch on the hook, and you will end up pulling all your hair out before you go far. Please don’t decide you hate tambour because of an experience with synthetic tulle!
Thread–any non-divisible thread will do (i.e. no embroidery floss). I am using DMC Cordonnet Special in size 70. Embroidery threads like this are nice because they have a lovely finish, and they work up into crisp, substantial stitches. If I want something very fine to fill in motifs, I use plain Gütermann 100% cotton sewing thread.
A pair of pliers can also come in handy, but are optional.
I like to shop in the Lacis Museum online store for my tools. You can find both a lap frame like the one pictured in this tutorial, and a table-standing tambour frame on this page. You can find hooks and holders here. You can find all of these things other places by googling the items, but they all tend to be the same products sold through different retailers.
On my Pinterest page, you will find a board of Tambour Resources, which I will try to keep updated as I find new or interesting suppliers. Note that I won’t necessarily have personally tried all of the things pinned there.
Step 1: Prepare your materials.
You will want to transfer your design to the fabric before you place it in the hoop. Since I am just demonstrating the stitch at this point, I did not draw a design, but there will be upcoming tutorials in following a design where I will discuss it in more detail. I use a blue water-soluble fabric marker to mark designs if I will not be demonstrating to the public in period clothes while I’m working on them. (Always test your marker on a swatch of fabric first to make sure it comes out). Otherwise, I draw it in pencil, which generally rubs away enough to be un-noticable by the time the project is finished, or I baste over the design in very fine white thread that will be hidden by the work when finished.
Step 2: Secure your thread.
On the underside of the fabric, wrap the end of your thread several times around the pin until it feel secure. Leave the working end of the thread connected to the spool. If all goes well in a piece of tambour-work, you will not need to cut the thread at all until the end.
Step 3: The Basic Stitch
I suggest that you read through this entire step a couple of times before trying it yourself. Having all of the information in your head before you begin will help avoid confusion.
You can see in the video that I both wrap the thread and rotate the hook clockwise. Doing both in the same direction makes it easier to catch the thread in the hook. I then “unrotate” the hook counterclockwise above the fabric, so that it untwists the thread loop as I move to the next stitch.
Don’t worry too much if you drop the thread, or accidentally take your hook out of the loop. Simply put it back through the loop, and the next cell, and continue. Do be careful, though, if you pull on the working thread while the hook is not through the last loop, the entire work can unravel! This is great if you realize you made a mistake in the design and want to go back to fix it–you can simply pull the thread until the mistake is gone, reinsert your hook into the free loop, and carry on as if nothing happened. But it’s not so great if you just got the hang of things and accidentally pulled out all of the beautiful stitches you just painstakingly chained together!
Once you’ve gotten the hang of how to make the stitch, the most important thing to focus on is tension. If you don’t hold the thread taut enough in your off hand while you embroider, the stitches will be loose and sloppy once the hoop tension is released. If you hold it too tightly, it pull the stitches too tight, the fabric will pucker. Focus on letting the thread glide lightly between your thumb and finger below the fabric. Think of the gentle, flexible tension you feel when pulling out the bobbin thread on a sewing machine.
Step 4: Finish your thread.
Step 5: Weave in your ends.
I cannot stress this enough: do this as you go! How do I know this? Because I regularly leave my ends until I finish a project because weaving in ends is BOOOOOORING and I always want to put if off. But believe you me, weaving in ends is about 10,000 times more boring if you leave twenty or more of them until the end of a project and you have to spend hours weaving all of them in at once. Learn from my mistakes. Much better to do it as you go. Luckily, if you are good at plotting out a path for your design, you should be able to do a single tambour motif, or possibly more with only two ends to your thread. In later tutorials, I will show you how to skip from place to place in your design without needing to cut the thread, and other fun time-saving tricks.\
And now: weaving in ends.
Do the same with any other loose ends, and trim any excess thread.
You can lean more in Lesson 2, which covers following a simple pattern, including advice on transferring your pattern, deciding how to work through it, and going around curves!
Keep your eye out for more tambour tutorials coming soon, and if you have any special requests or questions, please feel free to ask!