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  • Lee Sigler

Always Learning – Tackling Tambour Beadwork

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

In the 1800s, women learned needle arts from their mothers and grandmothers and from each other. They also read the ladies magazines like, Godey’s Lady’s Magazine/Book and Peterson’s Magazine. These were published monthly and generally bound in annual volumes at the end of the year.

Today, we can read books and magazines and easily attend classes and learn from experts.

Lacis, in Berkeley, California is an amazing resource for vintage and antique fiber arts information, clothing, books, tools, and materials. They have a small museum for exhibiting collections. The current show is undergarments from the 1800s – 1920s. They also attract incredible experts and offer classes in fiber arts techniques.

I attended their class last week on Tambour Beadwork taught by a delightful person, Robert Haven. Robert’s passion and talents are evident in his ability to explain the beauty in tambour, teach the technique, and generate enthusiasm for the embroidery.

Vintage Tambour bead appliqué

Tambour has been used for creating decorative beadwork and embroidery since the 1800s. It was also used for creating fine lace on net. The origins of tambour are not well known but there are documented examples of early tambour work from China, India, Persia, and Turkey. It has been honed to a fine art in France for the fashion industry and is taught at the Ecole Lesage in Paris.

Tambour work is done on fabric – generally silk charmeuse – stretched tightly over a frame. The embroidery or beadwork is done with a tiny hooked needle that pulls thread up thru the fabric and produces a chain stitch. The technique can be used to embroider or attach beads, sequins, and anything that can be strung. The challenge is that the beads and sequins are attached to the underside of the fabric on a frame and you work on the top. This means learning to feel the work underneath and looking at the stitches on the top.

Vintage Tambour bead appliqué back - showing chain stitch

I did not find this technique to be easy and a lot of the other students struggled, too. But once you master this technique, it is a very fast way to apply beadwork and sequins as well as chain stitch embroidery. Robert Haven made it look so very easy! And I would recommend taking a class from him or attending any lectures he gives.

Tambour Class Student - needle on top of fabric and sequins being applied underneath fabric

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