Lately I’ve been slightly obsessed with heavily embellished textiles. I’m not entirely sure what started it, but I do remember surfing around on the youtubes and stumbling upon this video about a beading technique used by the French couturiers, especially by Lesage, the company who creates much of the embroidery you see in haute couture collections. This, of course, sent me spiraling down a rabbit hole of research. This is what I have learned from research alone.
What is tambour beading? Well, you could check out the website with the name in it’s title. Although it is a rare type of attaching embellishments onto textiles, it’s still regarded as the fastest and finest technique. The word tambour literally means “drum” in French and refers to the fact that the fabric must be stretched tight, like the top of a drum. Another name for it is La Broderie en Chainette et au Tambour.
What do you need? First you need a frame to stretch your fabric over. This frame should be supported by a structure that allows both your hands to be free. Then you have a tambour hook, which is a very tiny pointed latch hook. For this process you need to have beads or sequins pre-strung, which is why you will often see vintage sequins sold in worms – not the creepy earth-dwellers, just pre-strung sequins. You will transfer the sequins onto the tail of a bobbin.
How does it work?Tambour embroidery usually works from the wrong side of the fabric, which works pretty well for sheer fabrics. If you search around on youtube you’ll see videos of people doing it from the front side, which I can see you doing if you don’t have very nimble fingers (for feeling and separating the beads/sequins) or if the fabric is thick and opaque. Once the beads have been transfered to the bobbin, you can take a needle to pull the tail out onto your working side, the wrong side. After this you do not need the regular needle anymore as you will be using the tambour needle. With this needle you will push down near where you came up, holding onto the tail, to the right side. from here you take the bobbin thread and wrap it around the hook, turn the needle, and pull out.
When you come up you’ll turn your needle back to it’s original position. Since this is the first stitch you’ll need to lock it by backstitching. Take the needle down through the very first hole and repeat the process. The stitch should be locked now. Now you proceed along the path that you want beaded. You’ll want the stitch length to be half the diameter of a sequin or the length of a bead. You’ll punch down, grab one of the beads further down on the thread and push it up against the fabric. Grab the thread on the other side of the bead, wrap, turn, pull, turn back.
So, like I said, this is all from research and not from actual experience. I know that here in the USA it’s pretty difficult to find someone to teach this technique, but a couple do exist.
The guy in the video that I linked to earlier in this post is Robert Haven of the University of Kentucky. He is talked about on Saturday Sequins and Fashion School Daily. According to FSD, Haven is the only tambour embroiderer in the United States certified by Lesage officially. That’s really amazing!
And of course if you want to be a fancy-pants, you can always go to L’Ecole Lesage, the most renowned and official source for learning this art. I hope to one day be able to take one of their classes, though I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get certified – all those hours might drive me insane!
In any case, like I said at the beginning of this post, all of this information, including the how-to bit, is from research I’ve compiled over the last couple days. I am no expert by any means. I do hope to receive my tambour needle sometime in the next week or so. I purchased mine from Lacis, recommended by Robert in his youtube video. Hopefully I’ll be of some assistance to others who want to learn this particular technique, so I will be updating here my progress – mistakes, successes and all!