Tambour Lace: Lesson 2

Welcome to Tambour Lace, Lesson 2!

If you are just getting started, here is the link to Part 1, where you can learn the basic stitch, and how to finish the ends.

Tambour Lace: Lesson 1

Now that you know how to get started, and do the basic stitch, you may as well start embroidering things a bit more fun than straight lines. I’ll start you off with something nice and simple. For this tutorial, I just sketched out a little gently curved vine with small, rounded leaves. It’s a motif that appears often in embroidery from the early 19th century, so it’s one I’ve done a lot.

You can extend this design to create a simple, lovely border for hems, ruffles, handkerchiefs, veils, sleeve cuffs, or just about anything!

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Step 1: Transfer your design.

The first thing we need to do is get the design transferred onto our netting. I do this in one of three ways.

  1. With a water-soluble fabric marker. I would have done this for this tutorial, but the only one I could find in my house was a white one, which would be absolutely useless on my white fabric! This method is fast and easy to remove, but no good if you’re planning to use the piece you are working on as a period demo.
  2. With pencil. This method is also quick, which makes it my go-to. Pencil is dark enough to see well as you work, but generally rubs mostly out by the time a project is finished, and only needs a quick wash to remove it completely. If you are someone who stresses a lot about being able to remove the markings, though, I wouldn’t recommend this for you.
  3. With a basting stitch. This is the superior method I have found, but it also takes a good deal more time and patience than the other two, so I often rule it out as too time-consuming. You simply run a basting stitch around the design with a needle and fine white thread. Later, you can either pull it out, or leave it in and trim the ends, as the tambour-work usually obscures the basting completely from the front.
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With any of these methods, I start by pinning the fabric down smoothly and securely over the design. You want to make sure it moves as little as possible while you are copying.
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The pencil looks frighteningly dark while it’s over the paper design, but most of that is really just the drawing showing through. Since I am right-handed, I like to begin at the top left corner of the design, and work my way down and too to the right. That way my hand can’t smudge the pencil as I go.

Step 2: Find your path.

One of the great things about tambour is how quickly it works up. The best designs for this style of embroidery are those that can be worked all in one continuous line, especially when you are just getting started. An efficient embroiderer can create even a complex design without ever cutting the thread. (Our next lesson will cover how to skip from one place in a design to another without cutting the thread, and without pulling out your previous stitches.)

Many designs are easy to work out, you can see the path you will take just by looking, but if you are having trouble I would suggest copying your basic design on a piece of paper, possibly blown up larger, and working out the path there before you begin stitching. Believe me, it’s very annoying to get through most of a design and realize you made a mistake, and can’t get where you need to go! The last thing anyone wants is more ends to weave in because you were forced to cut the thread prematurely.

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In the case of this design, each pair of leaves is worked together, in a figure-eight pattern. Up the stem, over the top of one leaf and around, over the top of the other leaf, around, and on up the stem. This may seem counter intuitive, and you may be tempted to work the leaves in a heart-shape instead–over one leaf, around the bottoms of both, and back down the top of the second. However if you do this, you will find yourself with a very sharp point to work as you turn from the top of the leaf to go back up the stem. Sharp points are best avoided, as they slow you down if worked properly. (The next lesson will also cover how to work points without creating an unsightly bump in your stitching where one stitch is straining to go around the corner.)

Step 3: Begin stitching!

If you read Lesson 1, then you already know how to start your thread, and you’re ready to begin stitching.

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Bring your thread up at the base of the stem.
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Begin to work the basic stitch you learned in lesson one, up and over the top of the first leaf. You could begin with either the left or right leaf, it makes no difference, as long as you follow the pattern.
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Sometimes, as you work, there will be no cell in your direct path, and moving to either side would distort the design. In this case, you may have to skip over a bar between two cells in order to get to the next available cell. These stitches will be slightly longer than the others, but not enough to be obvious in the design. Make sure you do not pull the loops too tight, or you will risk puckering the fabric.
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Continue down the bottom of the leaf, and up over the top of the adjoining leaf. Where you cross the original line of stitching, you should be able to stitch right over and into the same cell as your previous stitch. You don’t want to skip over a cell completely as this will create one longer stitch, which can detract from the beauty and evenness of the work.
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Continue to stitch around the bottom of your second leaf until you reach the place where the threads all meet in the middle.
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At this point, in order to maintain your neat, even stitches, and to keep the design crisp, you will need to stitch down through place where all your lines of stitching meet. There won’t be room anymore to simply stitch in the same cell, and you will have to go through the center of your previous stitches. Move slowly and carefully, especially your first few times, and don’t get frustrated if your hook catches in the stitches as you pull the thread back through. Minute rotations of the hook are usually enough to help you find a place where it can come through. This part can be a bit tricky, but the result you get will look much nicer than skipping a stitch over the area.
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Continue up the stem and work the leaves as before. As you go, insert your hook each time in the next cell that most closely follows your sketched design. If you are unsure exactly where to go, err towards the outer edge of the pencil line as you get used to going around these small curves. Once again, we will go over making sharp points next time! As before, if there is no good cell to go to, skip over a bar, and make your stitch in the next available cell.
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Repeat this process over and over until you come to the final leaf.
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Stitch up and around one side of the leaf, which way you go makes no difference.
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Continue around until you get back to the point where the leaf meets the stem. Make your final stitch in the same cell as the end of the stem, and pull your thread out long.
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Clip the thread under your work, being sure to leave enough of a tail to weave into the back of the design. Make sure you don’t pull on the thread while you do this! The last thing you want is to pull out your lovely work before it is secure!
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Return to the front of the work and pull the long thread loop until the tail comes up to the top.
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And use your hook to pull the thread tail back down through the same cell but crucially, NOT through the last stitch you created.
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And there you have it! Simply weave in your ends as you learned in Lesson 1, and your work is done!

Once again, if you have any questions, or requests for future tutorials (tambour or otherwise), don’t hesitate to ask!

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