Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Bird of Paradise – A Tambour Embroidery Practice Project


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There once was a girl-bird named Gertrude McFuzz
And she had the smallest plain tail ever was.
One droopy-drop feather. That’s all that she had.
And, oh! That one feather made Gertrude so sad!

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I was practicing tambour embroidery, trying to get up to speed with a tambour needle (or hook).

Tambour embroidery – essentially the chain stitch worked with a tiny hook on the surface of the fabric – is one of those techniques that I’d dabbled in. Though I had managed to make the hook work the way it’s supposed to, I never went beyond that, to the point of picking up speed and developing any kind of ease and accuracy.

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

I set up a practice regime, committing myself to practice just random lines of chain stitches on a piece of scrap fabric, for a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Before I did anything “fun,” I had to get in my practice time in with what’s turned out to be a rather addictive little hook.

After developing a little more ease with the tambour hook, I set up this linen towel to practice on.

Then, instead of practicing random lines or another linear pattern, it was time to move on to practicing filling with tambour embroidery.

To that end, I grabbed this little Bird of Paradise embroidery pattern, a 6″ scrap of shadow work linen that I expanded with some muslin, and a selection of threads.

At first, I started with some silk threads (the red thread in the photo above is Soie Ovale), because I am a sucker for silk. But then I realized the folly of wasting silk threads on practice.

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

So I switched to cotton threads – specifically these Sulky Petite Blendables from Anita’s Little Stitches, which work really well with the tambour needle, and are on spools, which is always a plus when tambouring about.

And I started filling. I had no color plan. I just worked in different sections of the bird.

First, I started with the wings, in a darker blue-green variegated combo. Then I moved on to the body, working the outline and any lines on the pattern in the same darker blue-green combo. (The color is called Peacock Plume).

Then I switched to a lighter blue-green combo called Ocean Blue, and began filling in the body.

The poor little Bird of Paradise was looking a bit less than Paradisal.

But… it’s practice!

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

I really had no intention to go crazy with any colors. I was just going to stick with the blues.

But then, something happened. I switched to a purple-pinkish combo (the thread name is either hydrangea or iris – not sure which) on the wing feathers.

At this point, I admitted to myself that this bird was going to look odd, indeed.

The wing feathers were great practice for filling small spaces, and starting and stopping to create sharp turns.

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

Strange – odd – yes. But … it drew me in. I just had to continue!

I love it when practice sessions become the most Looked-Forward-To Event of the Day!

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

When I approached the first tail feather, I realized I was making a choice from which there would be no turning back.

If you do this to the poor bird, I told myself, you will be transforming it into a regular Gertrude McFuzz!

Having a weak spot for Dr. Suess’s strangely drawn characters, though, I threw caution to the wind. I went for a brilliant orange-yellow-brown combo called Autumn and attacked the tail.

And of course, I could not leave my bird with just one droopy-drop feather!

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

The tail is Fun! A bit vibrant. A bit discordant with the blues and purples above. But fun, nonetheless!

Bird of Paradise Tambour Embroidery Practice Project

I’ve christened her Gertrude. We’re enjoying each other’s company during my daily half-hour ritual with the tambour needle.

I’m not one hundred percent certain where she will go from here. But when she gets there, I’ll show you!

Tambour Tutorials

Lots of folks have written in, asking for tambour tutorials. I have accumulated all the necessaries to work up some tutorials for you, including a new camera lens, so eventually, you’ll see some tutorials here on Needle ‘n Thread. We’ll also look at a few more books and learning resources in the future.

But I don’t want to swamp Needle ‘n Thread with consecutive daily posts on tambour embroidery. Variety being the very stuff of life, the information will trickle out, mixed in with the Daily Dose of Embroidery Chatter, in the same way that most subjects develop here on Needle ‘n Thread.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, have your say below!


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(57) Comments

  1. Poor Gertrude McFuzz was in desperate need,
    Her lonely tailfeather was piteous indeed,
    So Mary applied her hook with due speed,
    Now Gertie will be glorious when finished…

    Oh h*ck, I never was any good at this sort of drivel, but I can see that this is going to be a lovely little piece when you have her finished… I’m looking forward to seeing her completed, and to a Tambour Tutorial! I’ve never been able to get the hook thingy to work right, and I do best when SHOWN how to do something. Thanks for keeping us abreast of her progress…

  2. Gertrude is looking downright flashy! I love the variegated threads on her! This tambour work certainly looks interesting. I was looking at your first post on tambour and you mentioned that you thought you had done some of the work with a size 120 needle. But Hedgehog Handworks only sells a set with sized 70, 90 and 110. Did you find the 120 somewhere else or was this a typo? Lacis doesn’t even say what is in their kit. (I really don’t like their website).

    1. I used the largest of the three needles, Cynthia. On the Lacis site, it says it is a 120, on Hedgehog, it says 110. I’ll look a little closer – I do actually have more needles than they sell with the regular hook set. They have smaller needles available and larger, so I’ll go through and look again to see. I suspect it’s a 110, but whatever the case, if you have the three needle set (the one Hedgehog sells is the same one that Lacis sells), it’s the largest among them.


  3. Oh, Gertrude is lovely! I only think she looks a little bit odd because the poor girl does not have an eye yet. In all honesty, when I saw her she made me smile and what is better than that?

  4. That’s a Dr. Seuss story that is new to me! I thought I knew of everything he’d written. Thanks for the revelation!
    Gertrude will look more balanced if her top-knot feather has some yellow or orange in it. I do love variegated threads!

  5. Mary, Gertrude is beautiful. She is becoming quite the flashy lady with all her colorful feathers. I have been using some of the Sulkly Petite – it is very nice to work with.
    I am sure many will be asking this…. will you be sharing the pattern ?
    Now, I know I must learn Tambour. This must be another one of those reasons I bought thread that I said at the time “I have no idea what I am going to do with this, but someday, something will come up that it will be perfect”
    This is one of those ‘somethings’
    Thank you for all your experimenting to share with us, give us another needleart and inspire us.

  6. Oh – you did share the pattern – I had just looked at the pictures before…now that I reading, I found the link for the pattern
    Thank you ~

  7. Dear Mary

    I do love girl-bird Gertrude McFuzz and I hope she cheers up now with more then one feather and more then one colour! Oh yes please, please more tutorials on Tambour would be so great I would love to know how to turn the needle as it comes through the linen as I tried it and it just got jumbled up. Your peacock is beautiful I love the colours so vibrant I’m sure Gertrude is a happy peacock now. I really, really look forward to Tambour tutorial thanks.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. Hi Mary –
    I suggest that you consider changing the color of Gertrude’s tail. Unfortunately, the autumn-like colors are in a completely different family from the blues and violets. If you would like to add warm colors to the tail, I suggest you try something in the rose, peach or yellow lines.

    Thanks so much for introducing us to tambour work. I’ve heard of it, but had no idea how it was actually done. It’s on my list of things to try.

    Enjoy the day!
    Mary Ann

    1. Well, I know what you mean, and I thought along the same lines, but my thread choices in this thread are limited to what I have in hand. She’s just practice – I’m not too concerned about the color combinations. If I were going to work her as a stitching model for a project, I’d redo it, with several other adjustments, too. I’m definitely going to expand my color choices in this weight of cotton thread, though, so that, in future, I have more to choose from! -MC

  9. Hi Mary
    When you say you expanded this small piece of linen with muslin, do you mean that you attached the muslin to the sides of the linen?
    Thank you

  10. Mary, I love your website and have learned so much since I found you on Pinterest. I have done embroidery since a small child but never beyond the basics. Your tutorials have opened up a whole new world. Thanks. Connie

  11. Hi Mary
    I have really been enjoying your posts lately as we have been doing shisha work in our guild for a crazy quilt embellishment and because I have always been interested in tambour work. Can I use a very fine crochet hook for the tambour work or is the proper hook essential?

    1. Hi, Elizabeth – you can use a very fine crochet needle. But the difference is that the tambour hook is quite sharp at the tip – like a needle – so that it easily pierces the fabric, which means you can use it on dense fabrics. But a crochet hook is generally dull at the tip, which would make piercing any densely woven fabric very difficult. You could definitely use it on a more open weave fabric, though. -MC

  12. Dear Mary, thank you very much for your efforts helping us to re-discover this old amazing technik. But, I have a heart question: Could you please, make a video tutorial about tambour embroidery. I think the world of embroidery needs that and I woud be deeply thankful. Best wishes from Bremen.

  13. Gertrude will become a keeper. Your work is perfection, Mary.
    My mother hooked beautiful rugs in her later life. I think she used a hook. Is this like tambour work?
    And, can’t wait to see the completion of the Medallion Flower. Carolyn in WV

  14. I just had to write in and tell you how much I enjoy your e-newsletters and your site! I found you rather randomly and I am delighted that you are out there! I have been an embroiderer for nearly 50 years, (I am 56) but I have never seen the variety of work you do and am in heaven!!! I absorb the history lessons with a passion, (I love history, especially European history) Sooooo Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  15. Hi Mary,
    as a kid I learned that you can do tambour work with a fine crochet hook as well. There existed a similar tool of which I don’t know the name: just like a tambour needle, but with a little latch (as on a carabiner hook) that opened when you inserted the needle when you pushed it through the fabric and closed when the thread needed to be pulled through. It was used to repair runs in stockings… And there existed an electric version as well. You put your stocking or whatever over a cup and then went to work. Right after WWII many women worked with it, repaired stockings and earned a bit of money…
    Hanny with a y

  16. I think there should be a little bit of the orange in the second feather from the outside on the right wing. Just part of a line. Then the front of the crest should be orange, not the whole crest, just a row or two up the front. Then, when the bird leans over to preen, the head will blend in with the tail and confuse those looking for a bird with orange on two ends.

  17. I love following your daily posts, but I thought you went on a tangent with tambour. Now, however, after following along for a while, I think you may have “hooked” me into trying it. (Forgive the corny pun!)
    I’m looking forward to your tutorials. In the meantime, I’m going to get myself a tambour hook.

  18. I think Gertrude is a beautiful bird and I would love to have this pattern and/ or a kit. I am looking forward to you your tutorials with gusto!
    Thank you for introducing me and others to Tambour Embroidery.

  19. Mary,
    I am dying to try this new technique. I quite understand the need for variety but if you could put a little ‘getting started’ tute, it would be great. It would give us all a chance to get practicing. Go on! Please? Lols

  20. Gertrude is a fine looking peacock. I am looking forward to the tutorial on tambour work. But, I have to admit I enjoy all of your tutorials.

  21. All I can say is WOW. I’d love to give it a try. I haven’t really had time to begin stitching but thoroughly enjoy your site & your information. My goal is to do some simple church linens. I ordered the church embroidery booklet some time ago but still have not set up a work area & other essentials seem to keep me more than busy. Please keep on stitching & sharing your extraordinary work with us. I’m looking forward to seeing more on Tambour & a a Tambour Tutorial. Yours truly, Mary Davidson

  22. I have been watching you posts on Tambour work with great interest. Whilst visiting India I saw the men working on this kind of work and became inspired to try. I bought the hooks etc a few years ago and then when in France visited a group of stitchers in Bayeaux. Their work was so quick, even and beautiful, with the finest of silk, I just gave up.

    I look forward to your tutorials as I think I could start on something like this. I have admired this technique for ages.

  23. Hi Mary
    Just a small question (albeit an ignorant one?):
    I recently read about Maroccan embroidery (on a popular local blog) done with a crochet hook which looked very similar to tambour. Would this be a variant or something completely different? Didn´t have time to investigate but have thought about trying…
    Continue to love your posts!

    1. I actually have a book on Moroccan embroidery. It does use a tambour hook or crochet hook. It involves chain stitch lines, and where they widen apart from each other, the areas between the lines are filled with a kind of herringbone stitch worked between the two chain stitch lines – it looks like a double Pekinese stitch, and in some cases, it is listed as double Pekinese, but the initial lines are chain stitch. – MC

  24. Mary, your posts are always one of the highlights of my day. I’m looking forward to the tambour tutorials and to watching Gertrude come to life.

  25. Mary
    I confess to being out of the loop for a few days. I have been more or less following this tambour “thread”. Could you post a video of you actually doing the tambour work? If you did I apologize for the query. I got very excited by tambour work a few years ago and bought hook, holder, extra needles and whatever else one would need to do the work. I cannot however for the life of me get the hook to pass through the fabric without mangling something and I cannot even get to the stage where I would worry about tension.
    Could you oblige with a video – with close ups? Thanks
    Oh see it helps to read!
    It seems I am not alone in hoping for a video. I’m with Elisabeth in CT!

  26. After a rather busy day during which I wasn’t able read my email until after dinner – what a delightful surprise to find Gertrude! I love her “oddness” & color mix! Keep it up!

  27. Thanks, Mary, for all the information on tambour embroidery. I’ve always been fascinated by the gorgeous embroidery done by the French fashion houses and now I know where and how to start. I’m hooked!! I ordered my Lacis tambour embroidery set and can’t wait to try it out. Laura, Va Beach

  28. Your work is of course fantastic. I am ready to cut through many projects on my to do list so I can give this a try.
    Would Tambour work hold up on something receiving much use such as a dish drying towel?

  29. Dear Mary,

    Gertrude is lovely in her own unique way. Granted, if a real peacock ever came at me with an autumn tree for a back end and an ocean on her belly, I may head the other direction. But, isn’t that what is most fun about our stitch work? The creativity- bringing to life the folly of our imagination! Love it!

    I can’t wait to see the tutorials.

    Best, Maureen

  30. Dear Mary,
    First, I must thank you for your website, I love it! Currently not doing embroidery as I stocked up on cross stitch kits. My sources did not offer embroidery outside of pillow cases.
    Then I found you and new sources!

    I have to tell you, I LOVE Gertrude! Is there a possible kit of her coming out? I can’t draw so it would have to be stamped, would love to do her for myself though I have never done tambour.
    Eager to see her when she is in her full glory!

    1. Hi, Roxanne – I’m glad you like her! I’ll be showing her finished and chatting about threads and such here on the website. The pattern is already available as a free download. You can always trace it onto fabric with a pencil or fine micron pen, which is what I did. I’m also working up some tutorials for tambour work, which will help beginners. – MC

  31. Mary, I have seen beautiful pillows in several decorator shops that I always assumed were chained stitched. After seeing Gertrude, I am now thinking they were stitched using a tambour needle. Many I have seen have been white thread on linen and usually sea seashells or birds.

  32. Beginner help, PLEASE.
    I do many crafts but my embroidery skills are limited. After separating floss, and not using all of the threads at one time, how do I go about storing them for future use / projects?

    I love this site. And since I have worked Tambour Crochet, it will be fun to follow the ‘Bird” project.

    Thanks. JeannieB

  33. Hi Mary~ I am a professional tambour embroidery designer and instructor who teaches private classes in Richmond, Virginia. I also travel to cities around the United States for private or organized classes. My study includes three courses of study with Bob Haven in the U.S., Ecole Lesage in Paris, France, and private study with Jan Timms in the UK. I am always looking to teach enthusiastic new students! Please see my blog http://www.stitchinginthepursuitofhappiness.blogspot.com for more information or shoot me an email jenstumpf@gmail.com. Nice work on your tambour! I hope you keep it up! Your chain stitches look terrific!

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! And for the blog link. Your beadwork is beautiful! And your trip to New York sounded adventuresome. Where’d you find the reasonable cotton tulle? I noticed that Mood has silk tulle – I wonder what the gauge is, and the shape (hexagon, diamond….) I may have to order a swatch! I have plans for a little more tambour work this year, definitely. -MC

    2. Hi Mary~ Thank you for your nice comments! I found the cotton tulle at Mood in New York. It is hexagon tulle and it is fairly small although I don’t know the exact gauge. The tulle section at Mood was so overwhelming that I gave up on pawing through the bolts and asked for it. They were very helpful and had not only white but ivory and a beige shade in the same small gauge. It was $40 a yard, which if you know about cotton hexagon tulle, is a thrillingly inexpensive price even though it sounds like a fortune. And it can be ordered online or by phone from Mood. Thanks for posting my information! Happy New Year!

  34. I am a stark beginner in tambour. Just bought first handle and needle set. Where can I find info on what size needle to use with what fabric and thread?

  35. hello i am very new to this subjet i have brought the hooks what fabric do i need to have please and where is the best place to buy supplies from i live in the uk
    thank you

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