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!
I’ve gotten to spend the past two weekends doing one of my favorite things: dressing up and demonstrating needlework at Locust Grove! For these demos I was doing tambour embroidery, which was a very popular form of embellishment from the mid-18th century up into the early Victorian era, when it was eventually supplanted by machine work and fresh, new hobbies. It has never gone away completely, however, and is still used in embellishing couture clothing, and especially for bead and sequin work.
The late 18th century and Regency eras were the heyday of tambour whitework, which produces a beautiful lacy effect on either fine fabrics, or net. It is very fun to do and satisfying, and makes a great demo because it progresses faster than needle and thread embroidery, so guests can see a piece growing even if they only watch me work for a few minutes.
The first piece, which I finished at Gardener’s fair two weekends ago, I’ve been working on for quite some time. It is a fichu embroidered with a design from the August 1814 issue of Ackermann’s Repository.
I was very excited to finally finish up this piece on Sunday!
The second design is from March 1814. I am doing two strips of it, about 18″ long, which will make some lovely sleeve cuff ornamentation. I started working on these during our Farm Distillery opening this past weekend.
It’s been a great two weekends, but it will be very nice to have a quiet weekend at home. I’ll be moving forward once more with the bustle and petticoats for my Ravenclaw-inspired 1870s look!
Lacemaking has always been one of those crafts that has interested me, but that I never seemed to have the time to pursue. Things like bobbin lacemaking and tatting are time consuming and complicated to learn. I decided I wanted to learn one of the methods that involves embroidering designs onto mesh, instead of arranging threads to create a strip of lace. Finally, earlier this year, I went and did some research into the myriad methods of making. There are several different methods involving embroidery, and of them all, I landed on tambour for my first attempt. Tambour turns up in England around the 1760s, when lightweight muslins from India became popular. It requires only two tools: an embroidery hoop on a stand, and a sharp hook, which is used to tie a series of chain stitches through fabric. Here are images of the hook, and a tambour shawl from the 19th c.
The art was incredibly popular in the Regency, and can be used not only on mesh, but on fabric for dresses, cushions, and more. Tambour is easy to learn, and once you get comfortable with it, much faster than any other kind of embroidery. I picked it because of it’s speed, popularity, and the fact that the basic motion of it, using a hook to create interconnected loops, has similarities to both wigmaking and crochet, so I hoped to pick it up quickly.
*Edit–I’ve been doing tambour, and improving my technique for several years now, and if you are interested in starting to learn yourself, you can start right here on Fabric & Fiction, with my new Tambour Lace tutorial series!*
Brandon got me the things I needed to start doing tambour for my birthday in March, but then things go so busy that I never got the chance to start, though I had several projects planned. But in the past couple of weeks, I could put it off no longer, because guess what Ann Croghan needed for her wedding? A veil! Once again, these two lovely brides from 1820 and 1823 were my inspiration.
Both brides wear a lace veil attached behind their hairstyle with a triangular headpiece that sits on the top of the head. I set out to recreate the style.
First I scoured Ackermann’s Repository issues from 1821 and early 1822 for embroidery patterns I liked. I landed on this one from November 1821:
Since I was crunched for time, I decided to do only the border, and skip the allover pattern of smaller flowers and sprigs. I also skipped doing a more traditional marking method like sewing a running stitch around the design in favor of my trusty water-soluble marker. The event is coming up fast after all!
For the first few motifs, I was afraid I’d never finish in time. Panicked thoughts ran through my head. “Oh God, I had so many projects planned. This is terrible! I’ve made a dreadful mistake!” But soon enough I got the hang of things: the tension, the way you have to vary stitch size around tight curves and at corners, and eventually I was zipping along at a pace I couldn’t have imagined at the beginning.
The pattern is made up of alternating leaf and flower motifs, so I thought I’d show you how each one of these motifs went together, starting with one of the leaves:
The flowers definitely turned out to be the simpler, quicker part of the pattern:
But while embroidering is fun, getting rid of all those pesky thread ends is not. Each thread starts with something called a waste knot, which you can see in the third picture. The thread is tied to the mesh outside of the pattern, then brought through to the back so it’s in the right place for embroidering. Each of these knots had to be snipped, and both ends of the thread woven through the back of the embroidery to secure them (no knots in embroidery unless they’re part of the pattern!). I thought about counting how many thread ends there were, before deciding that that was insane. Suffice it to say, there were a lot!
Finally, I trimmed the veil edges into scallops following the shape of the pattern, and removed all of the blue marker. After a nice press the veil was ready to go.
Thread ends in and edges trimmed, there was nothing else between me and that silly little lacy triangle that perches on top of the bride’s head.
I used a bit of spare buckram from my last bonnet to make the triangle. Luckily I’m working on a wig for myself as well, so I could test out the size using the wig head. (More to come on that later!)
I covered the triangle in white silk batiste, which would give it a smoother finish, while remaining translucent, as the headpieces of the fashion plate brides seem to be.
And once again, what bride doesn’t need as much froofy lace as possible, so I attached two rows of gathered lace around the edges:
With veil and headpiece both ready, it was time to attach them. I gathered the top, un-embroidered edge of the veil, and arranged the gathers against the headpiece until I had enough space for a bun to poke through. I could have just sewn the ends together, but a few weeks ago I ordered some vintage silk orange blossoms (a very popular wedding flower) to wear in my hair, and the seller sent couple of cute little tiny roses on single wires with them.
I slipped the wire through the mesh of the veil and the lace on the headpiece, and wrapped the wire around to secure it. This way, I can easily remove the veil and use it for something else, or adjust it if the bun works differently than expected.
I’m now in real crunch time trying to make sure I get my wig done in time, so back to work! Come see the whole outfit in action at Locust Grove on July 18th!