Couture explorer: Beading and tambour embroidery
It’s time for a new blog post series! In this Couture Explorer series, I delve into different techniques used in couture sewing. I am trying my best to learn the technique and then I show you how to do it! I don’t claim to be any good with these techniques but I will do my best and share the material I used in studying the techniques. In the first post, I will learn how to make bead embroidery in both using tambour hook and without.
Bead embroidery and tambour beading
If you have ever looked at haute couture fashion shows, you have seen the breathtaking embroidery designs that combine thread, sequins and beads to create fantastic elaborate designs that decorate evening gowns, collars or perhaps jacket cuffs. In haute couture, those intricated patterns are created by hand. Sometimes whole skirts are full of intricate swirls of both beads and thread. How are those made?
The answer is often tambour embroidery. Tambour embroidery is made with a tambour hook that closely resembles a sharp crochet hook. With the hook, you can basically crochet through the fabric and make progress very fast. The beads and sequins can be threaded to the yarn and included between the “hookings” to make long rows of beads.
You’ll need to work from both sides of the fabric. The tambour hook is pushed through the fabric from one side with one hand and the other hand will then wrap the thread around it on the other side. The hook catches the thread when it’s turned around and then the thread is pulled through the fabric and the previous stitch. The actual pattern (especially when working with beads) is formed on the “wrong side” of the fabric. This is why it helps to use a transparent fabric like silk organza as a base so that you can easily see what you are doing.
Where to find tutorials?
YouTube is a great resource for learning. I quickly found two channels that had very nice tutorials on how to both prepare your fabric and how to make the basic embroidery. This video showed how to mount the embroidery frame. Then I watched several videos by Sarah Homfray that taught me how to make the stitches. To be honest, the embroidery looks easier than it is. When I got to try the technique myself, my hook tended to snag threads of my silk organza or split the thread that I was working with. Or then I dropped stitches!
I did not see how tambour beading could be used for adding separate beads that are not in neat rows, but I have sewn beads on a garment once before, so I knew that there wasn’t anything special in it. You’ll only need a needle that is thin enough to fit through the holes in your beads.
I decided to combine these techniques to create a small design. But let’s first talk about materials.
Here is a short list of the materials that I used:
- tambour hook
- silk organza
- frame (I used parts of a silk painting frame.)
- stapler and staples
- cotton twill tape (3 or 4 cm wide)
- embroidery thread
- buttonhole twist
- polyester sewing thread (the regular kind)
- beads and sequins
- needles (also some thin ones that can go through the holes in your beads)
I bought my tambour hook set with three different hook sizes from Amazon:
You can choose the hook that is best suited for your work and screw that in.
Mounting the frame
As I mentioned, I used parts of my silk painting frame. The frame was not optimal since I wasn’t able to have the sides at the same level, but it worked well enough.
I already had a little bit of silk organza in my stash, so I cut a rectangle of it. To be able to mount my silk to the frame, I stapled twill tape to two opposite sides of the frame. Then I was able to baste my silk organza to the twill tape:
I used silk buttonhole twist but you could use any kind of thread, although it helps if it’s sturdy. Regular topstitching thread would work just fine.
Then I tightened the silk over the frame. The sides were pinned to twill tape that was wrapped around the two sides of the frame:
Tambour basic stitch
The first thing to master was the basic stitch and how to go both away and towards you. I learned that you’ll have to switch the direction in which you are wrapping the thread and turning the hook when you switch directions. I started with DMC Cotton Perle thread in Gold and made a leaf and a flower stem.
You’ll need to align the hook with the screw in the holder so that you know where the hook is. You’ll go through the fabric with the hook pointing towards the direction you are going. Then (assuming you are going away from you) you’ll wrap the thread in the anti-clockwise direction, all the way around the hook. Then turn the hook 180 degrees in anti-clockwise direction and pull the hook back through the fabric while stretching the hole with the back of the hook so that the hook goes through nicely, without snagging. When you switch directions and go back towards you, you’ll wrap the thread and turn the hook in the clockwise direction.
Then I tried making a flower by using Raiman Rayon Machine Embroidery Thread.
I liked the look that the cotton perle thread made. However, the machine embroidery thread was a bit too flimsy and thin and didn’t make a nice effect. It might have worked with beads but then a normal sewing machine thread works for that, too.
The chain stitch is formed on the side you are working on with your hook. The other side shows a straight line of stitches:
You can use whatever side you prefer. You can also flip the fabric and the frame over if you want to work from the other side.
I have these yellow, orange and red glass beads that are 2-3 mm thick. In tambour beading, the beads need to be in the tread when you begin. I used a thin needle to thread the beads into my thread. I pulled the starting thread to the working side and secured it with a few stitches like it was shown in one of the videos. Then I started making the line of beads.
Assuming you are right handed, you’ll hold your beads in your left hand. You’ll go through the fabric, use your left hand to push one bead in place and then wrap your thread around the hook which locks the bead in. Then you’ll finish the stitch the same way as you did when you were making the basic stitch.
This is how the work looks from the working side:
And this is the chain of beads created on the other (or “right”) side:
Sequins are basically flat beads. You can put them either next to each other or overlap them as I did. I was a bit unsure at first in which way the beads should be threaded in. Finally, I think that it doesn’t really matter. It depends on how you want your embroidery to look and how you are flipping the sequins when you finally place them on. Try it out and see for yourself. This is how the sequins look from the other side:
The hummingbird embroidery
I had trouble finding a good pattern even after spending hours online. I finally selected this picture of an embroidered hummingbird online that I’m unable to find anymore. Anyway, I printed it out in the scale I wanted and used an erasable marker to draw my design on the silk. Then I took my tambour hook and embroidered the outline.
I have plenty of different beads and sequins in storage and I experimented with different bead and colour placements until I was happy. I wasn’t able to make any longer rows of beads so I decided to switch the embroidery style.
Starting with the tail of the hummingbird I then worked here and there adding more cotton perle stitches to define the details and to add some satin stitches. I made my best to follow the color patterns in the original picture even if my colours were completely different and I used beads instead of just embroidery floss. I am pretty happy in how this little fella came out. I am thinking of making a mirror-image pair for it so that I can appliqué them on as a pair. Then I want to make a little, beaded purse and practice my tambour beading more.
It’s always fun to learn something new. Besides the hook, I didn’t really need to buy anything else, since all the rest of the materials I could find at home. I expected a much messier result than what I finally managed to make. Unfortunately, the pictures don’t really make my little hummingbird justice. I found it hard to catch the way the light is reflected from the sparkly beads and sequins.
I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial. If there is a technique that you are particularly interested in and that you want me to learn to cover in my Couture Explorer series, comment below! Thank you for reading and Happy Sewing!
I have been trying to look for a tambour or kantan hook, but I cannot find any stores near me that sell them. I also need it pretty soon, so unfortunately buying it online will not work. Is there any way I could make a tambour hook myself? Like with a needle or wire or something? Thanks!
You could try using a tiny little crochet hook. The tambour hook is pretty similar except a bit sharper. Also, perhaps you could sharpen it a bit if you have tools for it? The only way is to try!
I have been reading about the Tambour beading technique and came across your blog post. Your hummingbird turned out beautifully, especially in light of the fact that you’re new to the technique! Thank you for sharing it.
I have been looking for tutor in this field. Your work are beautiful and I am interest in learning more pattern