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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Tambour Embroidery: Excursion & Discoveries


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Remember last week, when I shared with you some photos of this Big Project – re-creating and repairing some pieces of ecclesiastical embroidery?

Well, when I first got suckered into the adventure (did I just say that?!), one though that resonated quite loudly in my head while discussing threads, techniques, fabrics, and whatnot was the fact that I am woefully inadequate when it comes to using the tambour needle.

And so, with dogged determination, I’ve set about to improve. So this is a little tambour embroidery excursion, and I’ll discuss some discoveries along the way.

Tambour Embroidery

For those who are not familiar with tambour embroidery, it is embroidery done with a tiny hook. It’s normally associated with bead (and sequin) embroidery, thanks to its prominent role in the couture clothing industry. All those designer beaded and sequined outfits that hit the fashion runways every year? The embellishment is mostly worked with a tambour hook.

The advantage of tambour beading is that, though done by hand, it is relatively fast. Skilled tambour embroiderers work with impressive speed, encrusting their various projects with all kinds of sparkle and texture in much less time than it would take to do the same with a regular needle. And, for the attachment of beads and whatnot, it’s also very secure.

If you’d like to see some explanation on how tambour beading is done, this video on tambour beading by Bob Haven is a good place to get an idea of what it’s all about.

While tambour bead embroidery is done from the back of the fabric, tambour embroidery (without the beads) is done from the front of the fabric. I’m primarily interested in tambour embroidery rather than beading, but the principles of both are pretty much the same, except one doesn’t involve beads and is a bit quicker to work.

Tambour Embroidery

Tambour embroidery produces chain stitch. It can also be used certain ways (from the reverse, or with a slightly different tool) to produce straight stitches, but it is most often associated with chain stitch, and in historical examples – and especially in ecclesiastical work – it’s the chain stitch that dominates.

Tambour Embroidery Discoveries

I already knew how to work the normal chain stitch with a tambour hook before I began this particular excursion. But Golly Moses, it was a slow, laborious process!

Tambour Embroidery

My two or three previous forays into trying tambour embroidery went like this: pick up the hook, try to get the line started, sit there for five or ten minutes in frustration, producing three shoddy looking chain stitches, and then move onto something else.

They hadn’t taught me much.

So, my first discovery about tambour work on this particular excursion was this: just like any skill, practice is essential.

Normally, an opera singer doesn’t belt out a perfect aria the first time her mouth opens; a piano player doesn’t crank out one of Beethoven’s sonatas upon first acquaintance with a keyboard; and a baseball player doesn’t hit consecutive home runs the first time he picks up a bat.

And a tambour embroiderer – or any kind of embroiderer, really – doesn’t produce exquisite embroidery with normal speed and accuracy upon first contact with needle and thread.

Just like mom always said when pushing the piano lessons, “Practice makes perfect.”

Well – if not perfect – practice at least improves things. And a regular schedule of practice is actually the key. Practicing once, and then six months later practicing again, isn’t going to get you very far!

So I decided to build a daily relationship with my tambour hook, and every day for the past 9 days, I’ve spent at least half an hour – sometimes an hour – practicing with it.

Guess what? It worked! I can now wield a tambour needle with better accuracy, better speed, better consistency in the stitches, and with few frustrating episodes. I’m not finished practicing or discovering, but I’m a lot more confident with that little hook than I was before.

Tambour Embroidery

Another discovery: tambour embroidery is So Easy to take out! No “frogging” here! Just catch your thread accidentally on your sleeve button as you move your arm away, and your embroidery will disappear like magic – with a cool zipper sound, to boot!

Sometimes, that’s not a good thing.

But when you want to remove those three or ten or forty or five hundred shoddy stitches, it’s positively dreamy.

Tambour Embroidery

Another discovery: Some threads that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole for regular chain stitch work up beautifully and easily (in comparison) with the tambour hook!

The biggest surprise? Soie Ovale! Soie Ovale is a flat, untwisted silk, positively gorgeous, but difficult to work with if you’re not used to it. It makes a beautiful tambour stitch.

Another discovery, made more obvious with the Soie Ovale: Direction of stitching makes a difference – if you don’t want a subtle, stripy effect in your tambour filling (rows of chain stitch), the lines should be worked from the same direction. I think it’s slightly more obvious in threads with no twist.

Tambour Embroidery

Another discovery! A happy discovery! A discovery that has thrilled me to the core!!

If you’ve been hanging about with me on Needle ‘n Thread for a while, you might remember this goldwork Tudor-style rose, whereupon the goldwork is done with a fine, flexible couched thread called …. tambour thread. I’ve used the #7 gold tambour thread for lots of projects – it’s a beautifully fine gold thread, perfect for small spaces that need filling. And it’s easy to couch.

But there’s a reason it’s called tambour thread, I suppose. It works divinely with a tambour hook! I think I was using a size 120 needle in the handle, for those who have a tambour hook and want to use a goldwork thread.

Tambour Embroidery

Another discovery: I’ve finally realized the full potential of this spool holder!

Tambour Embroidery

Another discovery: it is most helpful to put tambour needles, handle, and all peripheral related tools into one container, and to keep it available on your work table to drop spare hooks into as you’re working. It’s really easy to lose stray tambour needles when they aren’t attached to the handle.

And stepping on one of them is Not Pleasant.

And that leads me to a final discovery: tambour embroidery offers a whole new reason to accessorize!

Needle cases. Decorative boxes for storage. A pretty spool holder. A fancy tambour handle. Or two…..

Yes, we all know how it is, don’t we?

In any case, we may explore tambour embroidery down the road the a bit if there’s interest. I’m not really planning on taking up with the tambour hook for extended amounts of time. I just wanted to get more proficient at it, so I’ve been playing with it towards that end lately.

Where to Find a Tambour Hook Set

You can find the tool used for tambour embroidery available here in the Needle ‘n Thread shop. This is a three-hook set, with the most common sizes of hooks in the set. The set includes the handle and the three small-medium-large tambour hooks that fit into the handle.

Questions? Comments? Have your say below!


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(136) Comments

  1. Please more tambour information! I’m just getting into Regency era costuming and finding out that this particular method is one used very often in embellishing clothing of the time. I would love to know more!
    Thanks so much, I love your website!

  2. I am so glad you made this post. I purchased a Lacis Tambour Embroidery Set about a year ago. I have been making repairs to old church vestments. I tried using the needle but then put it away. My problem was as I pulled the needle back up through the fabric (I was practicing on satin fabric) the needle would catch on a thread of the fabric. Please continue to post about your experiences with this embroidery method and I will follow your advise to continue practicing.

  3. Nancy, I have recently purchased a starter set of needles and handle for tambour work. I tried it once with wool, and was disappointed with the result. Your article gives me hope for the future. I promise to practice, practice, pratice until it’s perfect, or at least much improved. Thanks

  4. I have been fascinated this technique every since I saw a lovely piece in Williamsburg. I
    will watch your progress with great interest.

    1. Hi, Jo – Bunka is more like punch needle embroidery. The thread actually threads through the shaft and the needle, and it makes little loops or lines on the fabric, depending on how you do it, instead of chain stitches. ~MC

  5. I’ve always wondered about tambour work and I remember it coming up in a conversation I once had with someone who had studied at Maison Lesage. She said you can’t get hired as a couture embroiderer unless you could place something like 100 beads/sequins per minute. My dream of someday working as a “petite main” went right out the window that day.

    I’d also always wondered why it is called “tambour” work. I suspect that I know, because the French word for “drum” is “tambour” (all those years of studying French paid off cause I can still remember this word!), so maybe it describes the fabric set tightly in the hoop. But I could totally be making that up.

    Thanks for this information, Mary, it’s fascinating.

    1. Hi, Joanne – I think you’re probably right about the name, though I’m not 100% sure – that would be my guess, too, though. There’s also the sound that accompanies the work – just a little popping noise that kinds of nice and soothing, when you’re going along with a good stitching rhythm….

      100 beads a minute? Yes, I think I’ll skip that line of work, too. Funny thing is, I am timing myself. It’s an interesting exercise to see how speed increases with practice – a lot like learning to type!

  6. I absolutely LOVE tambour embroidery! I worked at a bridal house for a couple years working on a lot of tambour needle embroidery pieces for the gowns. Tambour embroidery is great for that basic chain stitch. You can bead both from the bottom side of the fabric or the top. Personally, I prefer to bead from the top. That chain stitch in between the beads adds an extra look to the project that I think is just beautiful. It is so quick if you’re doing a lot of beading, especially if you’re working in lines. It can also be used to create long floats quickly as well. We used this technique mostly for leaves.
    I will say it is not the easiest form of embroidery to get used to. It took me a few weeks just to get the hang of it enough to work slowly. While learning and practicing I suggest embroidering on a single layer of tulle. You are able to see your thread on both the top and bottom of the fabric and being able to see the holes helps you get the motion down without catching the hook on the fabric itself. It also helps if you watch where the opening of the hook is and when coming back up through the fabric, push away from the opening of the hook, it wont get stuck on the fabric. Once you get the motion down and your speed up, transitioning to a more opaque fabric is a lot easier. You want to be able to hold the hook in the same position each time so you wont need to watch the hook. The trick is all in the quick twist of the wrist.
    I would definitely be interested in expanding my knowledge and learning new techniques. I will also be willing be expand on my knowledge as well if you should happen to want it.


    1. Wonderful information, Leighann! Thank you so much! When you bead on top, do you use the chain stitch, or do you bring the hook up from below? I know some people use a latch hook needle (more common in Indian embroidery, I believe), and stitch from below. I started practicing on sheer silk organza before moving to cotton and linen. It works well, too, because you can see through it. I like the idea of tulle – good idea. It’s pretty easily accessible at local fabric shops, and the synthetics are inexpensive. Thanks a bunch for your input!! ~MC

    2. When I bead from the top I still keep the hook on top and continue with the chain stitch. I like to see what I’m doing. When doing a straight line of beads one after another you cant tell much of a difference. Sometimes I will add one chain stitch between the beads. That extra loop in there adds a little extra design and can completely change the way the beads look when finished. It also looks great with sequins. You can create a row of sequins and still see the chain stripe.

    3. Please, see Comment 70. I tried to reply but I guess I clicked the date by Leighann’s name instead of the reply link. Need another cup of coffee…

  7. I would be very interested in tutorials on tambour. I am wondering if it would work well on crazy quilting motifs. Thank you

  8. I too have tried tambour with very disappointing results! The first problem was getting the correct thread…the thread the sources I read recommended was a heavier DMC sewing thread that has been discontinued. I tried all sorts of other spool thread and they were all too fine. I also tried coton a broder but it just split and snagged. I will try the silk thread and see if I have any success.

    The other problem I had was turning corners or changing the direction of the chain. It seemed impossible to make a sharp turn! How is this done..or do you just have to fill in with a continuous curve?

    Looking forward to seeing and learning more!

    1. Hi, Laura – For a sharp tip or corner with tambour embroidery, I anchor the chain by pulling the actual chain to the back and feeding the thread through the loop and tightening it, and then I start another line. So the sharp tips on those weird swashy things in the first couple pictures are not made by a turn, but actually by the ends of lines butting together. With thread, please don’t start with the Soie Ovale silk!! No, no! If you have problems with coton a broder, you should probably practice to resolve those problems before going on to silk like the Soie Ovale. However, Soie 100/3, which is tightly twisted silk, makes a nice tambour chain stitch – but it’s very tiny. I’d suggest working with a cotton thread like the Sulky Petites. They are less expensive for the yardage you get, and easier to work with, and they make a stronger, more visible line. I’ll follow up for some tips for practicing, a little bit later. But I hope that helps a little bit! ~MC

  9. Dear Mary,
    What a blessing you are!! I’ve been wondering about tambour, both the proper meaning of the word and the way the hook works for a while. I thought it would be a great addition to my goldwork efforts.

    It would be wonderful if you would put an instructional video together. I seem to be very hamfisted with the hook.

  10. Dear Mary

    Well I’m hooked ha ha! just been looking at all the different sites on spool holders (Etsy) some are really lovely in the shape of rocking chairs I would have purchased them but they only deliver in the US. Back to Tambour looked at Bob Haven great video but I would need more detail to accomplish even the beginnings of Tambour embroidery/beading I love the beading, would love you to show us how to embroider Tambour. Why do you do this Mary I was quite happy with the thought of starting Shisha and now my juices are flowing for Tambour embroidery/beading as well as I’m thinking of embellishing my clothes, and thinking of eggembroidery again ‘sigh’. I would have to take up needlework as full time operation to accomplish all the needlework I want to do. Thanks for sharing.

    Regards Anita Simmance

    1. LOL! Sorry, Anita, for hooking you onto something else! On the bright side, tambour embroidery and shisha can be very effectively combined! So just think of it as an expansion of shisha. Or think of shisha as an embellishment for tambour work! 🙂

  11. I was so sure that tambour was the embroidery for me — until I tried it. It was so frustrating! Of course, I did not have any instruction or videos or anything… and I did not have the patience to practice as you do…

    I would love to “get over the hump” and be able to work tambour embroidery with satisfaction. More please!

  12. Its always interesting to see how ideas run in cycles. For the past couple of years I have been adding shisha mirrors (and anything else shiny and relatively flat) to my embroidery. And now you talk about tambour – a skill that I’ve just taken up in the past few months. I love the range it has from Regency gauze, to sequins on high fashion clothes, and the rich vibrant colors on Kashmiri embroidery and Persian Resht. And its easy to find tutorials on how to do it – sort of. But usually they fail to mention that its important to line up the hook with the screw so you know how your hook is facing, and that little twist that lets it grab the thread. I have found that because not a lot of people in the States are doing it, there is a lack of basic practical information available about what type of fabric works best, with what kind of thread and what size needle to use – how to match hook size and thread gauge so that the hook does not split the thread. For those who already do it they already know, I guess they assume that it would be obvious. Also, finding the right thread has been a real problem. But the best advice that friends have given me is definitely practice, practice, practice. When I first picked up the hook it was like the first time when I was little and my grandmother taught me how to hold a needle – so awkward and unfamiliar. But after a while it gets easier and smoother and more intuitive. I hope you post more about this with all kinds of little details and closeup pics. Thanks so much.

  13. Thank you for this post, Mary. I read all your posts and have enjoyed learning new things. I have often wondered about tambour work. I have several chain stitched textiles from the middle east and wonder how one can be sure whether they are hand stitched or machine stitched. Isn’t there a chain stitching machine (an Irish machine perhaps?) Would such a machine have been available for sewing susanis or interior hangings for yurts60 years ago?

    1. Before the lock stitch sewing machines were invented in the late 1800s, all machines were chain stitch. you can still buy machines (new or vintage/antique) that do nothing but chain stitch, and some regular sewing machines can be set up to do chain stitch. I had one for a while, but decided it was taking up too much space for what little I used it.

      I think the only way to tell if an item is hand or machine done is if maybe there might be small differences in stitch sizes in hand done items? Or perhaps in the thread used? I don’t think the machines would have been able to use as wide of variety of threads as a hand stitcher.

  14. I would love to see some of your resources on the tambour hook. Like you, I have one, and have picked it up and tried it with some frustration. I am designing a piece for our guild challenge and I think I would like to include some tambour work in it.

  15. I am fascinated by this technique and would love to know some books that have information on this method. Please either send me some info or give us more on your blog! This is what I have wanting to learn to improve my beading embellishment and didn’t know I need to learn this! Thanks!!

  16. I would love to see your list of instructional resources on tambour embroidery. I have not tried it yet but like the idea using it with those threads that are difficult to chain stitch embroider.

  17. I am so glad I stumbled onto your site a few months back. I am new to hand embroidery and like most things I am self taught. It is so much easier with your video tutorials! Thanks for adding to my new obsession! ahahhha

    I am very intrigued by the tambour needle and what it does. I just may try it. I am fascinated by the ability to put on beads. It doesn’t look easy but…….

  18. I have seen several examples of Ethiopian embroidery–both ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical–and much of the surface decoration is rows of chain stitch. I assume that it was worked as tambour embroidery, but I have not seen any Ethiopian embroiderers in action…

  19. The French have a word for it, don’t they always? Beauvais. Here is a description:
    Point de Beauvais stitch, a chain stitch done with a very small crochet hook, is made up of many tiny stitches, one inside the other. The work is very fine and allows for a very rich blend of colors. The thread is worked from beneath the cloth using a very fine crochet hook, resembling a regular needle, to push and pull the thread, forming interlocking loops on the top surface and making a real “chain stitch”.
    The examples I have seen were usually monograms.

  20. About a year or so ago, I attempted once again to learn how to use a tambour needle. I found only one tutorial that wasn’t about beads. After struggling mightily for whole minutes at a time 😉 I put the needle away again. I would LOVE it if you did up a tambour tutorial. Your tutorials always make sense to me. And knowing the length of your tambour learning curve gives me hope that if I put in more time, I too will finally ‘get’ it.

  21. I too would love to learn more about tambour embroidery. I’ve wanted to learn how to do bead embroidery for some time. I didn’t realize that the couture clothes used this type of embroidery. Thanks again for a wonderful website and keeping needlework alive!

  22. I certainly know how to unpick tambour chains because I recycle beads, sequins, etc. for my crazy quilting embroidery (senior citizen, fixed income, yada yada). I have ordered a kit from Lacis and I would love some instructions, videos from you! Can I just say you make the most awesome clear and detailed videos!

    Bev in Utah

  23. I was taken with Tambour at a street market in Bratislava, Slovakia a few years back. I attempted it when I got home but with little success. The urge to try it again has never left me and I’d love further info and tutes.

  24. I would love to hear everything you have to say about tambour embroidery. I’ve done some, but didn’t have a teacher or anything so it was trial and error. I finally was able to do a decent looking chain stitch, but oh, those beads. Like you say the stitches come out sometimes too fast. Like when you drop the hook…the thread and the beads go with. Much later I came upon an old article about it and the #1 thing for successful tambour work as far as that author was concerned was the setup and especially the sitting position in relation to the hoop. I can’t remember where I saw that or who wrote it. I figured that had a lot to do with my discomforts and stitch difficulty. I’d also like to hear about your set up, if you feel like talking about it.

  25. Hi Mary!
    I would be interested in your insructional resources for tambour embroidery. Do you think one could do this with other forms of embroidery as an enhancement to a piece? I have been experimenting using cross over techniques from one type of embroidery to another across different mediums and am having fun. Please advise. I look forward to your inspirational instructions and comments regarding embroidery daily.

    Thank you so much,
    Kind regards
    Theresa Stevens

  26. I always wondered how this worked. I would love to have a list of the instructional resources and it’s great to know supplies are just up the road a piece with my go-to needlework store, Hedgehog Handworks! Thanks for the great blog post

  27. I’ve been itching to get into goldwork so your newletter showing goldwork chains worked with a tambour hook has me “hooked!” I’m working on a project now that is really an experimental, learning project for me so I’m interested in using different techniques. I’ll be looking forward to more on tambour embroidery & I’m going to check out the Hedgehog website. Thanks for the information!

  28. I’d be interested in a tambour tutorial… Of course, I’m currently working through some holiday crafts based on the Lavender Honey little things, and I have Tanja Berlin’s needle painting class coming up, and my knitting class that I just started. And I’m really looking forward to the monogrammed letters. Oh, heck. What’s one more thing!

  29. Yes! I bought a tambour hook last year and really want to try it. I’ve been a bit intimidated about what frame to use that will make the fabric taught enough. It have ring hooks and snap Qs. I don’t think either is adequate. Also, what type of fabric is appropriate? The tambour work I’ve seen has been on gauze or on a cotton canvas. Again, these are quite different materials! The only thing they seem to have in common is that the needle can easily slip between the threads.

  30. I love it! I was wandering what tambour embroidery was, and was going to write to you to ask about it.
    I’m sure going to try it. Thatnks.

  31. Wow. That is really interesting. I would love to try my hand at it. You said you used a 120 needle with the gold Tambour thread. The Hedgehog link does not include a 120 needle. Would the 110 needle work? I would like to know more specifics about this, like what thread with what needle and what kind of thread do they use with beads and sequins and the needle size with beads and sequins. So yes, more posts I hope.

    1. Hmmm. Might have been the 110 – I have a whole range of sizes, beyond the three standard sizes that come in the set, but if I recall, I took it out of the tube of needles that comes with the set, so it was probably the 110. I’ll double check, though. Probably both sizes would work. Not sure I’ll pursue the beading / sequin aspect, but there are many, many books on the market about tambour beading. I know Lacis carries a good selection, and you can probably find several on Amazon. But I’ll definitely revisit the subject to discuss the embroidery part and the resources and so forth that I’ve used.

  32. Another great article and technique to learn! Yes, please, more info on tambour embroidery. I can already see some very practical surface embroidery uses for the look this provides. Thank you for always expanding my stitching horizons. 🙂

  33. I don’t think I’ve ever seen tambour work, but it sounds interesting. I’m thinking of all the redwork outline projects that were done in chain stitch. Would tambour work in that situation?
    Please keep us informed of resources and hints on tambour work.

  34. Another interesting post!

    A friend of mine has a great alternative to ‘practice makes perfect’. It’s ‘practice makes progress’.

  35. I am a fashion designer and instructor and I teach a couture-style bead embroidery course at the Columbus College of Art and Design (Columbus, Ohio). Part of my course deals with tambour beading. While I’ve found that yes the tambour beading is secure, there is a much greater risk for the work to become damaged in contrast to other techniques like couching. For very costly commissioned garments, I tend to use couching. But tambour is indeed a lovely, efficient technique that can be applied to dazzling effects.

    Mary, if you feel inclined to venture into the realm of tambour beading, let me know. I’d be happy to send out some Japanese seed beads for you to experiment with, gratis.


    1. fascinating!

      is the risk greater, because once the thread is cut, all the chain stitches will unzip?

  36. While travelling in Normandy, France last year we visited a little village – Bourg-Le-Roi. Here we saw tambour embroidery demonstrated. The work was very fine using quilting cotton on silk. The material is stretched very tightly on a frame standing on the floor. The museum/workshop is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

  37. Alas!! yet another technique I want to try. Actually pleased me because I am so happy that I cannot run out of things to teach myself.

  38. I love doing tambour work! For some reason it is incredibly soothing and quite addictive.

    It was struggle to learn by watching youtube films and the like. But then I bought Broderie d’art de Lunéville by Bruno Faure and La broderie de Lunéville by Roland Gravelier en Mick Fouriscot. I heartily recommend both books (they are in French, but with lots of photos and drawings).
    The direction in which you twist your hook when pulling the thread through is important. Faure recommends: when working from left to right and from top to bottom, twist clockwise. When working from right to left and from bottom to top, twist anti-clockwise. This really makes a huge difference.

  39. Please post more information! I bought a tambour hook and frame more than a year ago, but just do not know how to get started.

  40. I’ve had a tambour kit for about 6 months. I needed this column to get off my duff. Woild love to see more.

  41. Hi Mary,
    I’ve wanted to learn tambour work for such a long time. I would appreciate your writing a post which includes the resources you have found. Thank you for your help.

  42. I would be interested in a list of instructional resources on tambour embroidery as I would really like to learn this technique.

  43. This is what I’ve been hoping for. Please give us more info on tambour work. The video by Bob Haven that you referred me to recently was helpful but I’m much more interested in it’s use for embroidery. Glad to know I’m not the only one who had trouble figuring it all out on their own.

  44. I’ve seen those needles and always wondered what they were for! Thank you so much for doing such an informative post. Now I am itching to try my hand at tambour beading . . . heaven knows I have enough beads to keep me busy. Not that I need ANOTHER craft to try! Like Doreen, I’m happy that I will never run out of fun things to keep me busy! I look forward to more posts on this topic.

  45. Mary, I had gotten a hook with a number of needles, but I was never able to get anything satisfactory out of it. Your post and links just might get the hook to work for me. I love your website and it’s wealth of information, and I would very much like to see more about tambour work.

  46. Hi Mary, yes please, lots more tambour posts. This is an aspect of needlework that I am also exploring, have you checked out the Brodely site, they have tambour hooks that re really nice in violet wood and in ebony. Also needles in sizes wider than lacis have. They sell sequins in worms and Pom poms! Prestrung! I’ve been blogging a little about my findings, there are heaps of tutorials in you tube for aari, zari and long and short stitch using a needle very simillar to the tambour hook.

  47. I’ve never tried tambour embroidery, but I have made tambour lace (aka Coggeshall, Lierse, Carrickmacross, and probably a few other names – each country seems to have it’s own.) The lace is made on cotton (preferably) tulle with a hexagonal mesh (a must). Many different effects can be made with the chain stitch by the number of holes in the mesh the stitch goes over, which sides of the hexagon are stitched over, etc. Googling the names above will give lots of information. To get you started, try http://www.coggeshallmuseum.org.uk/lace1.htm

    Manipulating the hook takes a bit of practice to get an even tension, but I found the lace making easy to learn.

  48. Interesting lessons and great explanations. I am into 17th and 18th century needlework so your observations and explanations really interested me.


  49. Wish I had known about this before I embroidered an entire Irish dance dress! Buying a hook today. Can’t wait to try it.

  50. Next week, I get a full SIX hour class with Robert Haven doing Tambour Beading. What great timing!
    Now I’ll look forward to trying embroidery with the tambour needle too

  51. I found a youtube video using a tambour needle that had a flip up hook guard that seemed to be much easier to use. Any reason to use the hook you have since it requires multiple revolutions?

  52. this question is actually about today’s post. Where does one get the linen towels? do you have a source that has ones with pre-stamped designs? Too big a hurry to get some gifts done to draw the design myself, unfortunately.

  53. Mary: Oh, thank you for explaining the tambour hook and how it works! I have always wondered, and now it makes sense! Your projects are beautiful, and I love the autumn leaf. Maybe you will even show us beading? Honestly, I have learned more from your blog than any other I follow. I have purchased Blue Max lights that have been a blessing to my husband and myself after our cataract surgeries, and have found some great vendors! Thank you for all you do! You are a very gifted woman! A Fan, Amy in LA

  54. Thank you for the quick introduction to Tambour. The big difference i see from when I attempted it is the hook. I used a Clover which has a latch hook design. That little piece that closes the hook with each stitch just seemed to get in the way. I can’t wait to try it with the open style hook.

    1. I also didn’t know about using the thread right off the spool. I’m sure I must have been cutting lengths to use.

    1. Hi, Masha – it’s difficult to say without seeing the back of the piece. With folk embroidery (especially the second link), I think the norm in most countries was regular chain stitch, especially when other heavier stitches were involved, but in that second piece, the overlapping loops that run through the piece are very typical of tambour work, too. The key would be to see the back of the pieces. If they are regular chain stitch with a needle, the backs of the stitches will look a little more irregular with some tiny spacing between the stitches. With tambour work, they will begin and end in the same hole, and the line created on the back will be much smoother and more regular. -MC

  55. Hi Mary:

    I am a little behind on reading the daily newsletters because of the crazy craft show work…but today i told myself i would clean up my inbox…sigh. you hooked me again (pun intended) and i just ordered a set of tambour needles. i was inspired by the beadwork that whatshername…you highlighted her pearl work quite a while ago and i’ve a ccross stitch piece that i want to do that will have a beaded mat around it. tambour may just be what it needs. i’ve chosen a very simple line corner from your files (the one with the roses) to use and i think using pearly type beads in tambour would accent the cross stitch piece (it’s just a poem but needed dressing up a bit. anyway, tambour will be something i get to after the christmas craze. just finished a xstitch stocking, am close to finishing another xstitch and am working on a knitted scarf that i started on in september….however, when i start on the cross stitch poem, i plan to put a little tambour “practice” section in the rotation so i will ready, skillwise, to do the beaded border when the poem is finished…that is once i figure out how to hold the hoop and leave both hands free at the same time….lol. i know, i know there are all kinds of stands out there but where to put one to work with is the main question. my husband is getting to very near his saturation point as far as my “hobbies” go and i do not think he would be happy to include a stand in the family room, especially since i brought home a labrador puppy and bought a LARGE crate for her which is in the family room that is getting smaller by the day and it started out as a 15 x 20 foot room….lol. thanks Mary, keep up the good work!

  56. Mary and Leighann,
    Sorry, I’m coming into the game a little late here.

    I’m not understanding how beads are added on the same side as the chain stitch. The way Robert Haven explains, the beads are pre-strung on the thread underneath the work and added on the opposite side from the chain stitch. So in this other method, is one bead added at a time poking the needle down through the bead and pulling the next loop back up through the same bead? I watched a tutorial from Threads Magazine on using a sewing machine to do this in a similar way. I think using the tambour/Cornaly needle is more “sporting”. I’ll try it.

    Mary, your new video tutorial of the basic stitch rocks. Looking forward to learning how to execute a corner!

    1. I think beads are normally added from below the fabric. I know there’s a latch hook needle that could make it easier to do it from the top…. But I haven’t tried it….

  57. My Comment 70 is in reply to Comment 10 from Leighann. Sorry for the comment clutter. Pouring another cup of coffee now…

  58. Hi! I am from India. I don’t get this Tambour Needle here. Can you tell me how much it costs and how can I get it? thanks.
    B Vijayalakshmi, India.

  59. Hi Mary!
    Do the stitches of a tambour needle come off when you pull them out? How will the fabric hold the stitches? I want to buy the tambour hook but confused about how the stitches are held. Please reply. Your reviews are very helpful & interesting.
    May GOD always bless you!


    1. Hi, Shaz. When you come to the end of a line, you pull the last loop to the back of the fabric, take the working thread through it, tighten the loop, then anchor the working thread in the backs of the stitches. -MC

  60. Hello,

    Can you tell me what I need to buy as a beginner so I can learn tanbour embroidery. I really into the historical embroidery than the modern.
    Could you help me with what supplies and books or a dvd to buy.

    Thank you, Sandra

    1. Hi, Sandra – If you check out my index on tambour embroidery articles (here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2013/11/tambour-embroidery-index.html), you’ll find some book reviews listed and a link to my video. (It’s a short video). The best book on the technique, in my mind, is the one by Yusai Fukuyama, which is listed there in that index. You can find that book, and the tambour tools at Hedgehog Handworks (www.hedgehoghandworks.com). Hope that helps! ~MC

  61. I saw Tambour work done on the silk fabric in a town in India. It was beautiful and the man who was doing the work made it look easy. After I got home I did much research and found out it is an original Indian embroidery method that is still being done on many different fabric backgrounds.

  62. I’m trying to use tambour stitching on wool fabric, but I can’t figure out which needle size to use, as the fabric weave is relatively tight, so it inevitable snags when I try to pull the needle out, regardless of how straight I hold the needle.

    Do you have any advice?

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks Maya! And do you have an opinion regarding what type of thread to use use with that needle size/fabric? Yesterday I spent several hours trying and though I managed to make a teeny bit of progress finally, I’m waaaay far from making this an endurable practice. But I just love the idea! I did try on plain muslin and that sort of worked, but the wool fabric is giving me trouble!!
      Thanks for your help! 🙂

    2. @Natalia – You are welcome:-) I have never worked on wool because I’m allergic to it. Make sure that whatever thread you are using fits fully into the crook of the hook so that when you pull it through it won’t split. If your embroidery thread is also wool, this may be a problem as it tends to be fuzyy and harder to get the hook to grab it all. Its best if your thread is a tight clean spin. I use Lizbeth #20 tatting thread. The fuzzier your thread and the fuzzier your ground cloth, the more likely you are to snag and tangle.

  63. I have mastered the tambour chain stitch but the hook keeps catching the linen I am using when I pull up the thread. I am using 2 ply crewel wool with the large size needle but even if I make a row of holes first, the hook still catches a tiny thread on its way. I have asked and asked what fabric to use for best results but my question is never answered. I am using embroidery linen but don’t know what count it is.
    Hoping you can give advice, thank you.

    1. Hi, Mo – when you. Bring the hook out of the fabric, make sure that you are putting pressure on the back of the hook (the smooth part). If you put enough pressure on the back of the hook, you’ll be able to remove the hook without snagging the fabric. Hope that helps! -MC

  64. i’ve found the best way to avoid the hook snagging, is to pull up at a fairly sharp slant (30 degrees?) making sure the smooth back of the tambour needle is pressing against the fabric

    this temporarily makes a slightly larger hole in the fabric, allowing the hook and thread to pop thru without tangling or snagging. and, the hole closes right back up, as if it was never there!

    for my particular hands and mind, this means holding the needle above the fabric with my right hand, working my chain stitches from left to right (rotating the hoop often!), and pressing the smooth back of the needle to the right

    i hope that makes sense!

    hooray for this really lovely new to us technique!

  65. Hi,

    I’d like to learn tambour beading for freelance
    work in fashion/or maybe running my own little business sometime. What is the best way to learn?
    Would it be better to attend a college course, or is it possible to learn using a good book? If so, can you tell me of any books that may be useful to learn from?



    1. Hi, Sarah – I have some books listed on this page: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2013/11/tambour-embroidery-index.html, with in-depth reviews and photos, so you can see what they’re like.

      Whether or not you want to take a college course is up to you. I’d be more inclined to find a private teacher, or someone who teaches for groups and guilds and the like, and take a class that way first. See if you can learn what you need to know for what you want to do. If you want to take a course, get a degree, or certification or what-have-you (perhaps you want to work for a fashion house or something similar?), then you’d have to pursue that through one of the “big schools” out there – Hand & Lock, or Ecole Lesage in France (http://lesage-paris.com). But if you’re interest is just to work free lance on a small scale, then I’d look for someone who teaches smaller classes with some guild or local group (you might have to travel for it), before deciding to make the investment in a college course. In the US, we have Robert Haven who teaches in different places. Maybe you have someone similar in the UK?

  66. Hello there!
    I just got a tambour needle for Christmas and I love it. I’ve been a seamstress since before I could walk and I’ve done some hand beading, but embroidery has always intimidated me for some reason. This is probably a rookie question, but I’m having trouble finding thread. I bought a sample pack of Sulky 12wt petites and I love that kind of thread compared to others I’ve tried for tambour (regular sewing thread, the random skein that you have to untwist one infuriating strand before you can even use it, even string), but I’m having trouble finding it anywhere but amazon. Do you have any suggestions for me, please? I’m overwhelmed with choices and I don’t know what to do! If I were to get some kind of other thread for it, could you give me specific sizes or brand names? I /really/ don’t know what I’m looking for, but I’m enjoying playing with my tambour hook so much that I don’t want to get frustrated with not knowing what thread to buy! Thank you!

  67. I discovered the hook on Amazon which led me to investigate what it did. I thank you for what you have posted. I’m struggling to find threads that are twists instead of ply and that come in enough length that you can take advantage of the continous thread. I’d love to hear any other suggestions. I would love to find some other needle holders because who doesn’t love to hold a well crafted and beautiful tool in their hands. I found another book too….”Tambour Work” Yusai Fukuyama. While it didn’t have much information that I didn’t previously have, I learned a better way to create a sharp angle and the book also has good illustrated instruction for beading with the tambour hook. Thanks for helping me get started with this.

    1. i have ordered some different sized hooks and a holder from Lacis.com . the Lizbeth size 20 thread has been working well for me. Hobby Lobby sells it if you are in the US. just google it for more sources. it comes in different sizes that you might want to try. i like using the thicker threads.

  68. I am frustrated to no end with this kind of embroidery. I have been trying my hand at it for about 2 years now off and on and just cannot ever get the hook to come back up through the fabric. I am trying on a regular cotton fabric that I have to make a tablecloth but have never been able to get more than 3 stitches done before giving up. I have mastered most embroidery styles from all corners of the world but just can NOT get this one. Is there a certain limit to the threads per inch on fabrics that I do not know of? I thought this could be done on any fabric. Please advise me about this because I just cannot give up. I never do with any kind of needle work. I have done many japanese embroidery projects and the style is so similar that I thought I would enjoy tambour but …

    1. Hi Brenda – you can do tambour work on any type of fabric, really. I like something with a closer weave, personally, but anything will work. If you try it on tulle or organza, you’ll be able to see your down hand easily while you learn. The key is to put pressure on the back of the hook (the smooth side) as you pull the hook up and out of the fabric. When I learned, I started really, really, really slowly, each stitch seeming to take an age. But I wanted to make sure I was doing it right, and getting the movements down correctly. I set a goal for myself, to practice the basic stitch for half an hour each day – not necessarily on any project, but mostly, at first, just on a doodle cloth, working in straight lines, then in returning lines, then in swirls and circles. As I practiced over a two week period, I got faster and faster, until it was almost like handwriting – it just clicks and becomes almost automatic. So I’d say don’t give up on it – but go really slowly at first, a little bit at a time, not expecting anything, but just getting the movements of the stitch down. Then practice each day a little bit, and eventually, it’ll click.

  69. Thank you so much for all the advice! 🙂 I will do exactly as you described and I will work on tulle at first but I am like you and prefer tight weaves. Your work is beautiful. I hope to be able to say “I got it!” soon. Will let you know. Thanks again.

  70. Hi!

    Really like your website, every time i research embroidery i end up here at one point (:

    I have a question regarding tambour (or aari, which is what i’m learning at the moment and is very similar but instead of tambour needles you use a fine crochet hook).

    What do you to to prevent your thread from tangling?
    With needle embroidery i have the habit of twisting my needle in the opposite direction of the ‘curl’ i am creating, but for tambour/aari you need to twist the thread. I tried alternating twist directions but that a) didn’t seem to help too much and b) isn’t always possible, like when you’re zig-zagging.

    This could all be shoddy technique on my part, but knowing which seemingly impossible route i should choose would help greatly with persevering!

    All the best,

  71. Hello,

    I was wondering your process on marking up your fabric (silk organza) with your design? Can you describe this step by step? I’m taking the professional course at Lesage right now but my teacher told me to check out your website for recommendations because there are different techniques. Do you use a pen?

  72. Hi
    Just wanted to say thank you for your generosity in passing your knowledge on and sharing. I only learnt of Tambour Embroidery just recently and I am waiting for my hook to arrive so that I can delve into the “unknown”. I have enrolled in an introductory course for early 2017.

    1. Hi, Pam – You’ll need a tambour needle (or hook) set, which you can find at Lacis.com online – just search their catalog for “tambour.” For thread, I think Sulky Petite’s are great to practice with. Other than that, you can pretty much use any fabric, which should be held taut in a hoop or frame. It’s not a big investment, if you already have hoops or frames. The needle set runs about $18.

  73. Hi,
    I’m a learner. I bought aari needle and thread. Tried to work out. But I’m facing problem with the fabric thread which is stuck with the aari needle when I’m pulling up the zardoshi thread. So can you please let me know where am I doing wrong? Needle size some 0.5mm. I’m not aware of any of the needle size. So please guide me.

  74. What clamp frame do you recommend for tambour embroidery ? I read a book by Amanda Lee and she mentioned it. Made me interested in trying it. Not really a comment but could use the help. Thank you.

    1. Hi, Kelly – You can use anything kind of frame for tambour work, depending on the type you’re doing and on what type of fabric. For example, I’ve used hoops, stretcher bars, and slate frames. You’ll want either a stand to hold your frame or you’ll need to be able to rest the edges of the frame on some kind of support, so that you can work with both hands. I use a Needlework System 4 stand with the frame clamp most of the time, but I also have a set of trestles that hold slate frames, for larger projects. So it really just depends on the type of project you’re doing. Hope that helps!

  75. Hi Mary
    Wanted to say, So pleases to find this posting a few weeks ago.
    I bought the hook and watched your video, along with Bob Haven and the Homfray sisters here in the U.K.

    Your video showed the technique so beautifully and practised a little each day.

    I can’t thank you enough, I have got into it and am hooked!

  76. Buenísimo tu artículo!
    Es una excelente incitación para trabajar duro y conseguir resultados excelentes!!
    Te lo agradezco mucho!

  77. Hace tiempo, comencé con este tipo de bordado. Como soy encajera, lo dejé olvidado sin haber logrado los mejores resultados, y volví a los bolillos.
    Hace unos meses, lo he retomado, y opino como tú, la práctica lo puede todo. Casi lo tengo dominado!!!
    Ahora estoy aplicando cuentas y perlas, en el anverso y también el reverso del bastidor.
    Es una labor que brinda mucha satisfacción.
    Gracias por tu artículo. Es gratificante intercambiar ideas con quién se comparten los mismos intereses!!!
    Un saludo cordial!

  78. I’ve used latch tools for machine knitting. But now I see a real potential for using this tambour tool for joining embroidery together. I’m off to try it out. ooops got to buy one first. Thank you for this info.

  79. I am interested in learning Tambour embroidery. It has been difficult to find anyone in my town in South Africa that knows what a tambour hook is never mind tambour embroidery.
    Please can you advise which instructional resources were the best.
    Many thanks

  80. Hi! Brand new to tambour and man, is it frustrating!!! I keep catching the fabric, losing the thread and yanking holes in the fabric. I’m trying different size needles, different weight threads and different fabrics. Does it make a difference if I spend lots on a hook as my cheap and cheerful one is the work of some demon!!! I’ve tried linen, organza muslin and chiffon. Any ideas???

  81. I have had lots of tambour adventures. So simple they said- but I did not agree until I finally figured out the simple twist- after days of fighting with fabrics and threads thinking that was the problem. Numerous projects later, I find information easier now then when I first started. My mission was tambour for regency clothing.
    Some discoveries- do not use soft embroidery floss for garments that will be worn. I tamboured a waistcoat for hubby using Madeira silk floss. Lovely to work with and I love how embroidery floss spreads filling in the stitch. BUT(!!!) – After one ball- wearing a tail
    Coat over the waistcoat the abrasion from movement caused the silk threads to fuzz. Lesson learned after months to complete that project. So, where to find a heavier , strong thread for tambour on clothing????I am just back from driving to a town with a shop carrying size 40 thread I thought might work but alas after some test samples- more threads for the discard pile. Finca size 16 best(a bit too heavy) I have found but it is cotton. Where to find silk in that weight???? If anyone has a suggestion I would welcome input.

  82. May I ask where you obtain your thread holder? I looked around the web and cannot find one even similar to yours.

    Thank you,

  83. I know this is a decade-old post but I have to ask – what metallic thread are you using on those chain-stitches to have them looking so…chain-y? I use Fil a Chinois in size 40 metallic and a very, very small stitch length and it still doesn’t look anything like that!

    1. It’s actually called tambour thread (size 7), and it works beautifully for tambour embroidery. In the States, you can buy it anywhere goldwork threads from Access Commodities are sold. It wouldn’t be classified as a metallic thread, but a goldwork thread.

  84. Hi and thank you for all you do. I was recently in the Cleveland Museum of Art and there were some alter pieces. It had to be tambour stitch but from what could be found on line it was too early for the technique. Do you have some clue as to when it started being used/ “invented” and so on?
    I am 70 and have been interested in this stitch for decades but before the internet it was impossible for me to find the tools and such in small town America.
    thank you,
    Kathy Fein

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