Cotton tulle is a machine made, hexagon net used in lace making techniques such as Carrickmacross lace, Limerick lace (which often involves tambour chain stitch), Coggeshall lace, tambour lace in general, and in all kinds of other embroidered laces made on net grounds.
I used cotton tulle in the tambour embroidery video that I shared with you the other day – not so much because I use tulle as a ground fabric very often, but because you could easily see what’s going on behind the fabric.
But the use of the cotton tulle generated some questions, which are worth addressing.
This is the tulle that I used, up close, situated over a one inch square on my cutting mat. It’s available at Lacis.
Before I go any further, I want to direct you to Susan Elliott’s blog, Plays with Needles, where she features an absolutely gorgeous piece of vintage tambour embroidery worked on tulle. That’s just so you know what can be done on good tulle!
And I should also add that good tulle is not inexpensive. The stuff above is 18 hpi (hexagons per inch). Lacis carries two types of tulle this gauge – one is $52 / yard and the other $75 / yard. Like I said, not inexpensive, especially when considering nylon tulle is pretty commonly available at craft and fabric stores for around $4 / yard (or less).
But good cotton tulle is much different from the nylon tulle sold at craft and fabric stores. The difference is in both the material it is made from and the structure. With cotton tulle, the interlocking cotton threads that make each hexagon create a strong (very strong) tulle suitable for all kinds of fine needlework techniques.
The inexpensive, widely-available nylon tulle on the market today does not stand up well to embroidery and other needlework techniques, and it is unpleasant to work with. It’s like working on wispy plastic – plastic that snags and tears very easily.
Most nylon tulle doesn’t work well under tension, either – it tends to tear in a hoop, or when tightening up a frame.
But cotton tulle is a strong net fabric. It’s a beautiful fabric. And it is a worthy ground fabric for the techniques of hand embroidery and lace worked on machine-made net.
All that having been said, I’m not advising you to invest in good cotton tulle for practicing tambour work! You can use any fabric – even $1.99 / yard muslin (or calico) to practice. Save the good fabric for your masterpiece, once you have the technique down.
I bought this cotton tulle when I visited Lacis several years ago. I only have a couple little pieces left. To use these pieces, I have to enlarge them a bit so that they fit in a hoop or on a frame.
To enlarge a piece of good fabric, I always use an inexpensive fabric (usually a cotton muslin), cut to the size I need for the frame or hoop.
Here’s how I enlarged the tulle:
Folding the edges of the tulle in about 1/4″, I situated the tulle in the middle of the muslin and pinned it all the way around.
A short stint at the sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch or an overlock stitch or a couple lines of regular straight stitch all around the square of tulle (through both layers on the turned-under edge), and the tulle was fixed to the muslin.
Then, I turned the fabric over so the muslin was uppermost, and pinched the muslin to separate it from the tulle. Carefully, with a pair of small scissors, I cut away the muslin from behind the tulle, right next to the sewn line.
This resulted in several scraps of tulle that were now large enough to fit in a hoop or on a frame.
You can enlarge any type of fabric this way so that it fits in a hoop or frame. You can also sew strips of muslin around the perimeter to enlarge the fabric (though with tulle, it’s easier to do it this way, with the whole piece of fabric behind the tulle). So if you ever have a leftover wee scrap of your favorite linen or silk or velvet that you want to frame up, but it’s too small for a frame, enlarge it with an inexpensive but sturdy fabric.
The tulle worked well as a relatively see-through fabric for demonstrating tambour work on. And, because it’s such a sturdy fabric, I was able to pick out all the demo stitches, and I still have a nice piece of good tulle to use later, for further demonstration. And when that’s done, I can pick out those demo stitches, and use the piece of tulle as a ground fabric for a little project.
I did, incidentally, try to use the cheaper nylon tulle from the local fabric shop for the demonstration. It was a disaster! It tore to shreds in the hoop, even with reinforcing fabric around the hoop to soften the contact; it snagged and ripped on the tambour needle at every given opportunity. And it simply wasn’t worth the $4 / yard I paid for it for this purpose. My level of frustration high, I turned to my hoarded scraps of cotton tulle, and was much happier for it!
Yep, the right materials make all the difference!