Tambour Lace: Lesson 1

There has been enough interest in my new Tambour project, that I thought I would start putting up some how-tos! It’s not the sort of thing that I can do all in one go, so I will be putting up several lessons over the course of the next few weeks and months.

I will be focusing on lace in these lessons, since that is how I primarily use tambour at the moment. I may expand this in the future as I work on other projects, but all the techniques you see here are basically the same for work on woven fabrics.

A bit of history: Tambour is a form of embellishment that originated in or around India many hundreds of years ago, and eventually spread to Europe in about the mid-1700s as tambour embroidered textiles became popular there. While at first tambour-work was all imported, by the late 18th century it was a popular pastime for wealthy women, and became especially beloved as an embellishment for the diaphanous dresses of the 1790s and early 1800s. Tambour lace remained very popular until sometime around the 1840s, when machine-made lace really began to take over.

For a more detailed look at the history of tambour in Europe, check out this post by Two Nerdy History Girls.

Today, I am going to walk you through three basic steps:

  1. Preparing your materials and starting the thread.
  2. The basic tambour stitch.
  3. Finishing the thread at the end.

What you will need:

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  • A free-standing embroidery frame/hoop. Round ones are usually seen in images of women working tambour at home, while large rectangular frames are used by professionals working on entire garment pieces. Your frame can be floor, table, or lap sitting, but must leave you free to use both hands.
  • A tambour hook/tambour needle–these come in a range of sizes depending on your fabric and thread. I believe the one I’m using in this tutorial is a #90, but to be honest I put it in the holder a long time ago, and I’m not completely sure! You can get varieties both with or without a latch. I prefer without, but feel free to experiment if you find that you have trouble holding onto the thread without one!
  • A hook holder–this is the wooden handle that holds your hook while you work.
  • Fabric–I generally work lace on cotton bobbinet, but you can also try your hand at silk net, muslin, linen, silk chiffon, or any number of other fabrics. I would not recommend trying to work tambour on tulle from your basic fabric store. This isn’t one of those times when starting with cheap and working up to the nice stuff is helpful. Basic synthetic tulle is too flimsy, and tends to catch on the hook, and you will end up pulling all your hair out before you go far. Please don’t decide you hate tambour because of an experience with synthetic tulle!
  • Thread–any non-divisible thread will do (i.e. no embroidery floss). I am using DMC Cordonnet Special in size 70. Embroidery threads like this are nice because they have a lovely finish, and they work up into crisp, substantial stitches. If I want something very fine to fill in motifs, I use plain Gütermann 100% cotton sewing thread.
  • Scissors
  • A needle
  • A pin
  • A pair of pliers can also come in handy, but are optional.

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I like to shop in the Lacis Museum online store for my tools. You can find both a lap frame like the one pictured in this tutorial, and a table-standing tambour frame on this page. You can find hooks and holders here. You can find all of these things other places by googling the items, but they all tend to be the same products sold through different retailers.

I buy my bobbinet from several different retailers including Renaissance Fabrics, Mary Not Martha, and Originals by Kay.

Step 1: Prepare your materials.

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Insert your hook into your hook holder and tighten the screw. Keep the hook facing in the same direction as the screw so that you always know which way the hook is facing without needing to look at the hook itself. This is VERY important. It is easiest to manipulate the hook if you keep it quite short. Mine is coming out of the holder about 3/4″.

You will want to transfer your design to the fabric before you place it in the hoop. Since I am just demonstrating the stitch at this point, I did not draw a design, but there will be upcoming tutorials in following a design where I will discuss it in more detail. I use a blue water-soluble fabric marker to mark designs if I will not be demonstrating to the public in period clothes while I’m working on them. (Always test your marker on a swatch of fabric first to make sure it comes out). Otherwise, I draw it in pencil, which generally rubs away enough to be un-noticable by the time the project is finished, or I baste over the design in very fine white thread that will be hidden by the work when finished.

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Put your fabric into your hoop. Tighten the screw enough to hold things still, then pull the fabric as taut as you can and tighten the hoop more. Do this several times, until the fabric is as taut as you can get it, and the hoop screw will not tighten any further. I use a pair of pliers at the end to make sure I get it as tight as possible. The word ‘tambour’ means drum, and this art is so called because the fabric needs to be as tight as a drum head. This helps keep the stitches from puckering once the fabric is released from the hoop.

Step 2: Secure your thread.

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Place a pin in the underside of your fabric, off to the side, several inches from where you intend to begin your embroidery.

On the underside of the fabric, wrap the end of your thread several times around the pin until it feel secure. Leave the working end of the thread connected to the spool. If all goes well in a piece of tambour-work, you will not need to cut the thread at all until the end.

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Step 3: The Basic Stitch

I suggest that you read through this entire step a couple of times before trying it yourself. Having all of the information in your head before you begin will help avoid confusion.

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With your non-dominant hand, hold the thread beneath the fabric. With your dominant hand, insert your hook through the fabric. The hook itself should be facing in the direction you intend to move. The handle should be approximately perpendicular to your fabric.
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Wrap the thread around the hook, rotate it so that the hook faces AWAY from the direction you want your line of stitches to go (in this case the hook is facing directly towards the camera, and I intend to stitch along the line directly away from the camera), and pull up a loop of thread.
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Rotate the hook so that it once again faces in the direction you want to travel. This ensures that the thread stays securely in the hook while you move to the next stitch.
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Insert the hook into the next net cell along the line you are embroidering. This first real stitch will be the trickiest, so don’t worry if you drop it and have to start over a few times.
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Rotate the hook back away from your line of travel as you wrap the thread around it so that the thread catches in the hook as you draw it back up.
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Draw the hook back up, bringing the new thread wrap up and through the first loop you created. I cannot stress enough that the hook MUST be facing away from your line of travel, towards the stitch you’ve already made when this happens. This allows the hook to travel through the point of the chain, rather than catching on the loop of the thread. You can also facilitate the hook coming through the fabric by putting a slight pressure on the holder in the direction of travel, so that the back of the hook is pressing gently against the net. This will give the hook as much room as possible to clear the fabric without catching.
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Continue to follow these steps to create the signature tambour chain stitch. a. Rotate the hook to face where you want to go. b. Insert the hook into the fabric. c. Wrap the thread and rotate the hook back towards the existing stitches. d. Pull the new thread loop up through the fabric and the last thread loop.

You can see in the video that I both wrap the thread and rotate the hook clockwise. Doing both in the same direction makes it easier to catch the thread in the hook. I then “unrotate” the hook counterclockwise above the fabric, so that it untwists the thread loop as I move to the next stitch.

Don’t worry too much if you drop the thread, or accidentally take your hook out of the loop. Simply put it back through the loop, and the next cell, and continue. Do be careful, though, if you pull on the working thread while the hook is not through the last loop, the entire work can unravel! This is great if you realize you made a mistake in the design and want to go back to fix it–you can simply pull the thread until the mistake is gone, reinsert your hook into the free loop, and carry on as if nothing happened. But it’s not so great if you just got the hang of things and accidentally pulled out all of the beautiful stitches you just painstakingly chained together!

Once you’ve gotten the hang of how to make the stitch, the most important thing to focus on is tension. If you don’t hold the thread taut enough in your off hand while you embroider, the stitches will be loose and sloppy once the hoop tension is released. If you hold it too tightly, it pull the stitches too tight, the fabric will pucker. Focus on letting the thread glide lightly between your thumb and finger below the fabric. Think of the gentle, flexible tension you feel when pulling out the bobbin thread on a sewing machine.

Step 4: Finish your thread.

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When your design is finished, pull the last loop out long. This helps keep the work from unraveling while you turn the hoop and cut the working thread.
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Lift your hoop and snip the working thread so that you have enough of a tail to thread onto a needle.
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Flip your hoop back down so that the top side of the work is facing you, and pull your long loop so that the end of the cut thread comes up through to the top of the fabric. You will now have a thread end coming up from the middle of your final stitch.
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Insert your hook up from the bottom of the fabric in the same cell as your final stitch, but NOT through the stitch itself.
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Wrap your thread end around the hook.
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And pull the thread end back down to the wrong side of the work. This may not seem like much, but it is all it takes to keep the stitches from unraveling.

Step 5: Weave in your ends.

I cannot stress this enough: do this as you go! How do I know this? Because I regularly leave my ends until I finish a project because weaving in ends is BOOOOOORING and I always want to put if off. But believe you me, weaving in ends is about 10,000 times more boring if you leave twenty or more of them until the end of a project and you have to spend hours weaving all of them in at once. Learn from my mistakes. Much better to do it as you go. Luckily, if you are good at plotting out a path for your design, you should be able to do a single tambour motif, or possibly more with only two ends to your thread. In later tutorials, I will show you how to skip from place to place in your design without needing to cut the thread, and other fun time-saving tricks.\

And now: weaving in ends.

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Thread one of your trailing ends onto a sewing needle.
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The back of your work should look basically like a row of small back stitches or machine stitches. Insert the needle through one of these stitches and pull through.
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Insert the needle through the next “back-stitch” and pull through. Continue this for at least an inch or two, or until you feel comfortable that the thread is very secure. Since this line is very short, I only did about a half inch to show. Make sure that you do not pull these stitches too tight, or you will pucker your chain stitch on the right side! You can also use your hook to weave the ends through, but I find it goes faster with a needle.

Do the same with any other loose ends, and trim any excess thread.

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The work from the back.
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The chain stitch from the front.

You can lean more in Lesson 2, which covers following a simple pattern, including advice on transferring your pattern, deciding how to work through it, and going around curves!

Keep your eye out for more tambour tutorials coming soon, and if you have any special requests or questions, please feel free to ask!

Ravenclaw 1870s Hat

The time has come! It is finished! Here we are, the final portion of my 1870s Ravenclaw-inspired outfit. You can read all about the gown that goes with this hat in my Ravenclaw Gown posts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

As soon as I decided I needed a hat, I knew exactly what kind I wanted. I absolutely adore these jaunty, curled-brim numbers. The first two images are where I got most of my inspiration.

I patterned the hat myself, since that’s something I’ve been wanting to practice more. Mostly, this was done through a couple evenings of trial and error using posterboard mock-ups. With each try, I adjusted the width of the brim, the curve of the crown sides, and the size and shape of crown until I was happy.

Mocking-up the brim was a bit of a guess, since the poster board doesn’t hold curl the way that wired buckram does, so I had to basically guess that it would actually make the shape that I wanted once it was wired, since I couldn’t get the center front to bend down at the same time as the sides were curled up.

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My real hairstyle will be much nicer–my wig was still styled for 18th century from Fort Frederick, so I just bullied it into a basic 1870s shape so I could check the scale of the mockup. Can’t wait until it’s styled all pretty for the photoshoot next week!

I used the posterboard pieces as the pattern to cut my buckram. Since I couldn’t find double buckram anywhere (apparently it has gone from this world?), I ended up using some buckram interfacing to beef up the heavyweight buckram I had, Two pieces each on the crown sides and crown top, and one piece on the outside of the brim.

I just basted the buckrams together, making sure to hold the crown sides and brim in their curled positions while I pinned and sewed to make sure there wouldn’t be any trouble getting the shapes.

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The crown sides are sewing into a tube with large ‘X’ shaped stitches down the center back.
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You can see how, with the interfacing basted in place, the brim begins to hold some of its curl.

When the buckram is prepared, there is a piece of millinery wire stitched around each edge except for the inner brim with a modified whip stitch. Instead of just wrapping the thread around, moving forward each time, there is a stitch around the wire, then a stitch around the wire moving forward, then a stitch around the wire in the same place, then a stitch around the wire moving forward, you get the idea.

In order to protect the outer layer of fabric from the potentially damaging buckram and wire, there are several barrier layers put in place. Firstly, each of the wires is covered with a piece of bias tape.

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Once the bias tape is in place, the three pieces are ready to become one.

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First, the crown tip and sides are stitched together. The bias tape makes a useful base for stitching.

The seam allowance on the inner brim is clipped all around so that it can bend up inside the crown and be stitched down.

Now that the wire is in place, and the hat is all once piece, it’s time to really finalize the shape of the brim. I did this by curling the brim sides around a rolled up towel, and steaming the buckram with my iron. Since buckram is stiffened with a starchy glue, it softens up with steam, and hardens again as it dries. Bending the wire got the edges of the brim where I wanted them, and the steam helped get an elegant curve into the buckram itself.

The second layer of protection is called mulling, and usually consists of a layer of flannel or other soft fabric all over the buckram form.

Finally, after all this, it’s finally time to put the outer fabric on! In this case, the hat is covered with dark blue velveteen, except for the inner brim.

The brim is clipped at the seam allowance and stitched around the edge. I don’t love using glue for covering hats, so velveteen is a great material for me, since stitches disappear easily in to the pile. I used concentric rows of stitches to make sure that the velveteen stayed smooth against the inner curve of the brim.

The crown top is nice and easy. The velveteen is simply smoothed over the form and stitched around the edges.

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The crown sides are also simple in concept, but more tricky in practice. The seam allowances are all pressed to the inside, and then everything gets smoothed down and stitched in place, with the center back seam edges carefully butting up against each other, not overlapping. All these layers create enough bulk without adding any extra.

The inner brim is a bit more fun, since it is covered with ruched bronze taffeta. It is simply a long strip of fabric, three times longer than the circumference of the crown/brim seam, with a gathering stitch run along each edge.

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I gathered it first along the outer brim edge.
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And then along the inside.
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And then stitched it all in place.

In order to cover up all those raw edges, the brim is bound with blue taffeta bias tape.

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The inside of the crown is lined with linen, with a few loops of hem tape in the seam so that I have a way to pin the hat to my hairstyle.

After that, it’s all trimming!

The hatband is made from bronze taffeta, twisted and folded in order to create something a bit more interesting than a plain band. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of futzing around to make something look artfully disheveled.

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The join in the back of the hatband is covered with a sort of half-bow in the same fabric–one loop, wrapped in another piece, with one long trailing tail.

Finally, I played around with feathers for a long while before I settled on one Lady Amherst pheasant tail feather, curled on a scissor blade like ribbon so that it follows the curve of the crown.

I gotta tell you, I am completely in love with this hat. It’s so exciting!

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Keep an eye out on my social media in the next couple of weeks! Next Wednesday, I’ll be doing a big, fun photoshoot with both this gown and my Adora Belle Dearheart costume. It’s going to be an exciting day!

 

Ravenclaw 1870s Gown 4: Bodice

Wow… what I had hoped would be another week or two of work on this bodice has turned into months. To be fair, not all of that was working on the bodice, since the bodice work ran into prep time for the Fort Frederick Market Fair, and I had to take a break from the Victorian Era to spend some time in the 18th Century. I hope you’ll all agree that it was worth the wait!

Truly Victorian’s 1871 Day Bodice made the perfect blank canvas for me to play with. I modified the back pieces in order to create the peplum I wanted, but otherwise I used the pattern as-is.

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Cutting out the mock-up.

Truly Victorian includes a system in the pattern booklet to help you get a fit as much like a custom garment as possible. Using certain measurements, you decide which pattern size to cut each different piece of your bodice. My back pieces were one size, my front and side another, and my sleeves a third. It seems weird at first, but it worked great. The mock-up fit well right out of the gate!

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The bodice, like the skirts, is made of silk taffeta, flat-lined with cotton organdy, apart from the sleeves, which are lined with cotton lawn for less stiffness. It has flat steel boning along the seams and darts.

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The bodice front has two darts to help it shape around the waist.
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Sewing the bodice together in my undies so I can try it on as I go.

The peplum also has a ruffle of feather-like shapes. You can see the gown that this was based on in my research post. I originally cut this with the shapes all one even length, then trimmed it down to a shape that I liked while it was draped over the bustle.

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Before I could attach the ruffle though, lots of details had to fall into place!

Firstly, I made a triple row of piping in alternating colors to go around the bottom edge of the bodice.

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Finishing the inside edge of the piping.

Testing things out on the dress form:

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Getting shaped sleeves the right way around on the first try is so satisfying!
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Stitching the sleeve lining into the armscye by hand.
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And they fit!

The front edge of the bodice is faced with some of the blue taffeta:

And the neckline and sleeves are bias bound with more taffeta. It’s the easiest way to finish off the raw edges, and since they will be completely covered with trim, the binding will not be visible.

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The feather peplum also has quite a few layers of decorative elements that needed to get done before it could be attached to the bodice.

The top, connected part of the peplum is covered with a layer of velvet, which extends partway down each of the feathers in a triangle shape that mimics the velvet appliqués on the skirts. Each of these triangles (of course), has its very own piece of bronze piping.

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Piping around the entire feather peplum!

Using cord or braid to create a design on a garment was a popular embellishment technique throughout the 19th century. I used brown crochet thread to create more detail on each of the feathers.

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When that was finished, I backed the feathers with another piece of taffeta to hide the stitches and complete the piping.

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Stitching the peplum to the bodice just behind the triple piping.
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The finished peplum draped over the skirts.

Ok, one section of embellishment finished, on to cuffs and collar!

There are rows of small knife pleats along the neckline and wrists, bound at the edge to match the pleats on the skirts.

The cuffs also have a band of feathers similar to the peplum, but in this case the chevron shapes are only at the feather tips, and since there is no velvet, I put a Fleur-de-lys in between each feather to fill in the empty space.

They are also backed with blue taffeta. There is a layer of organdy backing on the embroidered piece in order to help it keep its shape, since it will be defying gravity a bit.

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Stitching the feathers to the sleeve so that the raw edges abut those of the pleats.

Those raw edges were covered with a band of velveteen, piped with bronze taffeta.

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The finished cuff!

The neckline didn’t get any feathers. They’re all done, thank goodness! But it does get a velveteen appliqué. This starts at the back as a reflection of the same shapes I used on the skirts, and the ends extend up over the shoulders and cross in the front, where they will be closed with a brooch.

I used pins to smooth out a piece of  velveteen and sketch out the shape I was looking for.

I then piped the edges in bronze, and backed the parts that will not be sewn down with blue taffeta.

And then I stitched it down:

The final result:

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For a fun contrast with the taffeta bodice, I covered the buttons with the velveteen, and embroidered a small feather on each with bronze silk thread.

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The buttons, however, aren’t functioning. I was afraid that a velvet covering on such a small button would be too delicate to withstand a lot of use without shredding, so the bodice actually closes with hooks and eyes.

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There we have it! It hasn’t quite hit me yet that this enormous, months long part of the project is finished.

All that’s left now is a hat!

Once that’s done, I’ll be doing a big photoshoot of the whole outfit with Ben Marcum Photography. I’m just showing the bodice for now because I want to do all the starching, and pressing, and adjustments, and get all the bits together with a beautiful backdrop and wig and everything before I spoil the effect!

Eep! I can’t wait!

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