Tambour beading

I have only (knowingly) seen tambour beading a few times. To my untrained eye, it looks like a cross between crochet and latch hooking in execution; crochet with a hook that pierces the fabric. You crochet with the thread running on top, and beads or sequins added on the bottom. The tambour hook pierces the fabric from the top down, catch the bead, and pull the thread back up to the top of the fabric and do a chain stitch. Move the hook over the length of your desired stitch, and repeat. If you work with organza or another transparent fabric, you can see what you’re doing at least somewhat, otherwise, your bottom hand is threading the bead over the hook by feel.

I read something today that prompted me to go looking. Here’s a blog post by Cruz Barrientos, a couturier in Florida. He shows some of his early and later samples, front and back, and you can click on the pictures to enlarge. His link to Virginie Courdimanche (in Paris) doesn’t work, but here is her blog (in English). Her work is beautiful and delicate, and she has diagrams for a nice tutorial on tambour work. Barrientos also links to a Luxe.tv spot on La maison Lesage à Paris. All in French, but watching the 4:37 minutes of video rewards you with glimpses of beautiful work, work in progress, and towering shelves of beads and sequins and thread supplies I would love to see in person.

UPDATE 11/3/09: Please read the comments for more information from Robert Haven, an associate professor of Costume Technology at the University of Kentucky.  I wrote a new post about tambour beading with the information he provided.

37 Replies to “Tambour beading”

  1. I’ve tried tambour work with a regular metal crochet hook. I didn’t quite get it, but it’s an good idea. Some of the older books like Terese Dillmont from DMC describes how to do it, and has some projects


    1. Maybe if I knew crochet, it would be easier? I’d be wanting to look at the beadwork side all the time to see how I was doing, and flipping it over. Definitely beautiful, I agree!

  2. Hi,
    Special tambour hooks are available from Lacis by mail order. I think there might be a book or two for learning but I cannot be sure.
    Therese de Dillmont is a historic French author who wrote an encyclopedia of embroidery stitches and techniques. It is an impressive volume but it assumes that the reader has the proficiency of handwork which women in the 19th and early 20th century had. It is not really possible to learn from there if one is a beginner. I admire her encyclopedic knowledge of handwork.

    The biggest practicioners of tambour work nowadays are in India. You can get tons of tambour embroidery on clothes without beads. Some of this might be done with a sewing machine. Most sewing machines can be set up for chain stitching without using a bobbin thread. But when you add beads, you cannot fake it with a sewing machine.

    Essentially you draw the design lines on the wrong side and space your stitches on the wrong side to be even. The right side on the bottom takes care of itself. And if you should rip something, it will unravel all the way unless it is well anchored.

    A very strong and substantial embroidery stretcher ring is a must to keep the fabric drum tight at all times.

    1. Lacis was where I looked a couple of years ago when I was considering buying a hook – and I think there was a book or two as well. Therese de Dillmont sounds more like enjoying pictures for my level of experience!

      I do have a shirt (which I wear as a blazer) that I think is made in the way you are referring, by machine in India. It always garners compliments when I wear it.

      Yes, I can see how it would all unravel – chain stitch!

      I think it would be fun to try.

      1. If you have the book The Complete Guide to Beading Techniques by Jane Davis, there is a simple tambour beading tutorial in there.

  3. I actually teach tambour beading and other French Haute Couture embroidery techniques. I just updated my website and thought you might want to check it out. To visit, just click on the links below or paste the URLs into your browser.
    Professional Portfolio
    2008 Summer Bead Class
    2010 French Embroidery Masterclass

    The technique is not really difficult to do just a bit tricky to learn. It takes some time to master the technique after that the work goes quite rapidly, which is why it is the favored technique at couture embroidery ateliers like Lesage in Paris.

    1. Robert, thanks so much for the comment! I loved the pictures and further information on your website – you have a great position at UK, and have taken some incredible courses abroad in tambour and more. I am very impressed – and impressed with what you’re doing to continue this art. Thank you!

      I can see how it could become quicker once you’re adept. I will try it sometime. Do you have a favorite book or online resource you can recommend? I’m a few states away from you and your classes.

      1. Dulcey,
        I learned in a one on one situation many years ago from a lady who learned the technique from her grandmother in Puerto Rico. My sabbatical at Lesage last year opened up all the possibilities of the tambour techniques.

        I don’t have any instruction books and the few descriptions of the technique that I have seen illustrate the technique but nothing replaces a watchful teacher who can watch the technique and know exactly how and why the hook is snagging the fabric, thread etc.

        Give it a try, I am working at my frame just about every day. If not working on beadwork for a UK production I am doing pieces to send to competitions or just for the fun of it.

        1. I can see how this technique would definitely benefit from a live teacher correcting technique. I will give it a try – it may be a while, but I will, thank you! If you ever decide to write instructions, I would be interested.

  4. Hi Dulcy and Robert
    I have been following your string. I would love to learn how to tambour embroider and bought a book which is a bit complicated but has some good ideas. The tutorial above is also great.
    I am in Australia – not known for our tambour work! I have tried finding a class but think I’m just going to have to learn by trial and error.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Would it be great to take a class from Robert? It is hard to find classes – he went to France! Lacis has the hooks, and where I will go when I want to learn. I would be interested in seeing what you learn, when you give it a try on your own!

      1. Sandy
        the best way to start on your own id to just practice first with the hook and no thread. The set screw that hols the needle should be aligned with the hoo on the needle. THIS IS CRUCIAL! Plunge the needle into the fabric , rotate it 180 degrees and on the up stroke put a slight amount of pressure on the back ( the opposite side to the set screw) of the needle ant it will slide up without snagging the thread. Practice this until you can do it without looking! Then move on to thread, then bugle beads then seed beads and sequins. Dont give up.
        i think I included a small clip of the technique in the masterclass web page if not let me know and I can send one . I have clips of the surface movements and from underneath. They might help you. Shoot me an email with questions anytime

  5. Thanks Robert
    I’ve had a look at the masterclass and it’s pretty good. I’ve also found another book by Jane Conlon on embellishments on fabric which is much easier to udnerstand.
    I like the idea of practicising without thread and beads
    Will let you know how I go.

    1. Sandy
      There is an outside possibility I may be coming to Australia to teach tambour beading, perhaps as early as next year sometime. A couple of ladies I met last year at he RSN ( frantically stitching trough a concentrated certificate course together) are sniffing around their various needlework guilds/groups to see if there would be interest in having me travel there for a master class or two. Still very tentative , so stay tuned!

      1. Hi Bob
        thanks for the update. I would be very interested in a masterclass. As you know Australia is HUGE but a masterclass on the eastern seaboard would be fine for me. Karen Torrisi, a professional beader from Sydney, has also offered to come to Brisbane (where I am) to teach some ladies so by next year a masterclass would be great.

        1. Hi Sandy:
          I am looking around on the net about learning Tambour Beading. I am in Brisbane. I heard that the Embroiderers Guild Qld will ask Karen Torrisi to teach if they get enough participants I expressed my interest to the Guild. So hope the number is right and classes will be held.

  6. Hey all
    I have embraced the 21st century and have posted a “Tambour Beading” close up video in Youtube. I did it for my UK (Univ of KY) fabric embellishment class this semester but it is available to anyone. I think it helps remove some of the mystery of what is really going on with the stitch process. It is far clearer and more close up than the short clips on the master class web site. Take a look and let me know what you think.

    Give it a try…you know you want to! Enjoy

  7. Thanks for your kind words Dulcey.

    I have to emphasise that Kate Sinton’s particular class is
    thread tambour, not beads and is definitely for beginners who, we hope, will want to go on to raise their game.


      1. Actually the Kentucky Center For Crafts is just down the road in neighboring Berea. Berea College was actually founded as a college dedicated to preserving high quality hand crafts.

  8. Hi all
    I recently attended the first stage of a two stage workshop with Karen Torrisi in Brisbane, Australia. We had around 15 ladies attending and learnt about tambour thread embroidery. I am not quite the master but I’m better than I was in 2009! The second stage workshop will be in March where we learn to put beads on the fabric. So far, I’m absolutely loving it and may post a picture of my work later.

    1. Yay, Sandy! Good idea to spread out the class meets, then you can become more proficient before adding beads. Are you going to make some little tambour embroidery Christmas presents as enforced practice? 🙂

  9. I’ve just hit upon your blog and your post on Tambour Beading.
    You might like to see a sample of the art in the UK on my wife’s website and Facebook page.

    There are very few continuing the craft in the UK; even though it is ideal for haute couture.

    Much of the work is now farmed out to India and the Far East, but quality issues means more work is being sourced domestically even if the price is significantly higher.

    1. Barry, thank you for the link to your wife’s work! It’s beautiful, and I’m glad to see that there are more people interested in couture tambour beading. With its labor intensity, I understand the challenges of keeping it alive. I wish her continued success, in creating and teaching.

  10. Hi Barry
    Thanks for the link. I am a real novice. I’ve been learning tambour beading for only 1 year but have a reasonable proficiency now and have made a few articles. This Monday I’m off to another workshop – to learn sequins and cornelli work. I think this will be my last as my teacher, Karen Torrisi is off to London to work – given that the couture industry in Australia is almost dead. Karen recently won the Hand and Lock Prize – see http://www.karentorrisibeading.com.au/portfolio/winner-hand-and-lock-uk-embroidery-prize-2011


    Your wife’s work is beautiful – tell her to keep it up.

  11. Hello!!

    I hope isn’t too late to post a comment in this thread! 🙂
    Sandy, like you I live in Australia and I absolutely love beading work and I’m looking forward to take tambour beading classes and know more about this art.
    I have some books and tried to start by myself sometimes, but it’s really hard to move forward without formal classes.
    I’ve been trying to get in touch with Karen Torrisi (who is the reference for the beading art here in Australia), but so far without success.
    Sandy, do you know if she is still teaching?

    Anyway, any advice on how I can start will be very welcome!!


    1. Hi Vanessa
      Karen moved to the UK about 18 months ago to follow her dreams of beading professionally and making money…. Australia is a small pond.

      I am not sure where you can learn to tambour bead and it is very very hard to learn on your own – as I know.

      There are some good Youtube videos – Robert Haven’s is excellent. But again, you really need someone to take you through the basics, including attaching your fabric to a frame and use of the needle. If I hear of anyone who is doing it I will post you..

  12. My wife and her partner run monthly tambour beading workshops in Walthamstow, North East London. Class size is small 3 at a time, or they’ll run individual sessions. The workshops are beginners, intermediate and advanced. They also run workshops for the Women’s Institute and the Embroidery Guild. In the Autumn they are running a Workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  13. Hello,
    I want to learn and master the tambour beading. I live in California, USA. Could you please share some information if there are any classes held in USA? If near to CA, I would be more lucky too!


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