Learning Tambour Embroidery

For a long while I’ve wanted to have a go at tambour embroidery, specifically of course, tambour bead embroidery.  This is a couture technique, and not widely practised in the UK, but in theory it allows you to add beads and sequins quickly to fabric, so it seemed interesting!  After a bit of research I discovered that the reason it is a specialist skill is that it is really quite tricky to do, so I rejected my original idea of learning alone and instead started looking into courses.  Luckily for me I ended up with 2 options – a 1 day introduction at the world famous Royal School of Needlework (RSN) at Hampton Court, and a 2 day course at Hand & Lock, the wonderful London based embroiderers.  The RSN course was cheaper and closer (we only live 10 minutes away) and easier to manage from a childcare perspective than a full weekend, and although it was shorter and didn’t specifically cover the bead/sequin side (unlike the Hand & Lock course) it seemed like a good way to try tambour work, so I waited for one to be announced and then booked.

So then a few months later I found myself arriving at Hampton Court nice and early (before it opens to tourists) on a very wet and cold Sunday morning.

We’d been instructed to meet in a room behind the main ticket office, which by the looks of it is usually used for school trip lunches, and over the next 20 minutes it filled up with ladies waiting for their courses.  We were then given our passes by an RSN staff member and walked in the back entrance (past Elizabeth I’s kitchen) to the RSN studios, which are located up a private staircase in the Georgian wing.  Our classroom for the day overlooked the amazing formal gardens which run from that wing to the river – an amazing and very evocative location (no doubt a source of inspiration for RSN students and teachers over the years).

Our tutor for the day was Caroline Homfray – friendly, knowledgeable and very patient (luckily for some of us).  The class had an interesting mix of attendees, from serious amateur embroiderers who’d been on many courses, to teachers, former RSN students (the RSN don’t teach tambour on their main degree course – boy were those girls quick to pick it up) and then a couple of random people like me who work in fields other than embroidery such as couture bridalwear and knitwear (and beadwork – me).  We all worked at very different paces which Caroline handled extremely well – I must admit I was relieved to be somewhere in the middle.

The tambour hook is I must say quite hard to master – it’s probably the fiddliest textile technique I’ve ever tried (and I’ve had at least a go at quite a few).  By lunchtime although I was producing a neat chain stitch I was still finding it quite trying, and felt a bit like this might end up having been an interesting day out, rather than something I was going to continue with:

But during the afternoon I got slightly more comfortable, got faster, and spent a lot less time accidentally unravelling what I’d just done (the tambour chain stitch unravels at the slightest pull, worse than knitting, so the most important thing to learn is to remember to secure the thread).  I went home with a good mastery of the chain stitch, being able to add one off beads, and having seen Caroline add strings, and when I got home I set to and practised – that evening, and then every evening for the next week.  Getting the strung beads on was a really important step for me psychologically  – I hadn’t expected to learn it in class, but Caroline gave us a good demonstration and more importantly made sure we were fully competent in the crucial basic chain stitch, and were able to turn corners and fasten on and off properly, so then adding the beads wasn’t too painful on top of the foundation she’d given us.

So then I rummaged in my stash and found some varigated threads, and more beads, and kept playing until I’d utterly ruined Caroline’s tasteful sampler, but had the hang of things and felt ready to tackle my own designs.

Which meant some shopping – for organzas and tulle (in tambour beading the beads are added to the underneath of the fabric, and I’m not ready to use opaque fabrics yet!), for strings of sequins, and for threads.  In my stash I had lovely hand dyed threads for machine embroidery (must do some more of that!), beads (obviously) and on Etsy I found a tiny number of sellers of tambour supplies where I bought strung sequins (both vintage and new) and gloving thread (a strong waxed cotton thread which is normally used for hand sewing leather gloves, but works well for tambour work as it doesn’t split so is easy to hook and copes better with sharp beads than the standard sewing thread we’d used in class).  The strung sequins are a delight to work with, and once I started using them I really saw what an exciting new range of textures and effects will be available to me – from simple lines to complex layers and patterns.  Very exciting, although I need to keep practising to get my speed up.

And here’s what I’ve done so far – very, very early days, and I really now need to find some more time to focus on this (it’s been a month since I did any now).  As well as teaching me a new beadwork skill it’s really re-awoken my old love of embroidery, so expect to see a lot more combined threads, fabrics, beads and sequins in my future work.


Caroline Homfray works with her sister Sarah Homfray, who has an excellent shop and website, and they both have a very informative YouTube Channel.

The Royal School of Needlework hold classes at Hampton Court, near London, and in other UK locations and around the world.  The class was really very good, and the location amazing – their programme is well worth a look, and their exhibitions, work and students are really inspiring.

I got my sequins from Fileusedetoilesandco, Oh Belka Tresors, and De La Broderie.  They should keep me going for a while…..

The lovely Sajou gloving thread came from De La Broderie, and from Penelope Textiles.

I’ve replenished my stash of silks, tulle and organza from The Silk Route (who sell conveniently hoop sized squares), and gone a bit mad buying yet more hand-dyed threads and fabrics for future mixed technique projects from Stef Francis.


In my Folksy Shop

A while back I decided to make life easier for myself by taking my faster moving items (tutorials and materials packs) out of my Folksy shop, basing them solely on Etsy.  That way I didn’t have to fret about the materials packs being sold in two places at once, or manually e-mailing out the tutorials.  This was particularly important because most of my customers are over in the States, and tend to buy things while I’m asleep!

But because my Etsy shop is busy, it’s kind of sucked up my attention, and I’ve rather neglected my Folksy shop.  This is a shame, because it’s got some lovely pieces in, and they deserve a good home!  And they could probably also do with some new friends from the legion of half finished or finished but undocumented works which are cluttering up my new storage (more on that another day).  So I’m going to be working on refreshing the shop over the next few months, and thought I would start by reminding myself (and you) about some of the lovely pieces in there, starting with my Egyptian Collar.

A few years ago (OK a lot of years ago since it was pre children and the oldest boy is nearly 8) we went to Egypt.  This was the result of a long obsession by both myself and Dr. Indecisive Beader with all things Egyptological, and it’s inspired quite a few pieces in the years following.  This necklace was inspired by the amazing collars we saw both for real and in various paintings.  And as a special offer it is currently reduced from £75 to £60.

Egyptian Collar £60

The collar forms part of my ‘minerals’ series – pieces focussed around a central stone. The stone in the collar is a lovely matte Chrysocolla, and it’s captured with Miyuki delicas, then joined onto a herringbone band, which uses changes in bead size to form a flat, circular collar which sits really nicely round the neck.

More Cabochons

So I’ve been playing again on the cabochon front. A chance discovery during a session of poster paint salad spinner painting with my youngest (google it) led to a very painterly set using the run off which reminded me of Monet’s Water Lilies.

That led immediately to another set using the kid’s paints, doll’s cups, and basic acrylic dirty pour techniques.

And then another couple.

Because these are all made using water based paints I won’t be selling them as I’m concerned about their durability in wear (although I am making things for me with them!) but panic not, because I’ve moved onto doing mini pours with actual acrylic paints, which are waterproof when dry, so will (hopefully) lead to some saleable versions. I say lead to as this is a whole new technique, with a new set of challenges, particularly around colour selection, so I’ve got a way to go. It took a year to get the Pebeo method right, so it may be a while, but it’s fun trying.

As well as the different patterns formed the acrylics come in a wider range of colours than the Pebeo, and are of course mixable, so I can finally make cabs with some of the colours Pebeo don’t offer such as fuchsia, pure white, black, and lime . Which is good as I use a lot of fuchsia!

Anyway, watch this space and I’ll let you know how I get on, and if and when I have some ready for sale I’ll let you know. In the meantime I have some lovely Pebeo ones for sale in my Etsy shop, and hope to list some more over the next week or so. If you favourite my shop in Etsy you’ll see any updates or new products in your personal front page, or keep an eye on my Facebook page (I post all shop updates there but Facebook might not show them in your newsfeed, so it’s always a good idea to pop in every so often and see what I’ve been posting).


Boomerang Bling – Sabine Lippert

I wrote a while back about all the lovely patterns I have stored up which I was waiting to work on, and I’ve finally actually managed to make one. Sabine Lippert is a favourite of mine – I find her patterns really relaxing to bead, but I’ve not made many of her bigger pieces, largely because of the volumes of beads needed. As a stash lover I’m always a bit uncomfortable actually using my beads……. But as of recently I’m now able to buy some beads in wholesale packs, so when I bought a lovely big bag of 3mm matte sliperit fire polished beads, and a good sized pack of 3mm fuchsia preciosa bicones which worked beautifully together, the time was come to grab some etched sliperit 4mm fire polished and seeds out of my stash and make the lovely Boomerang Bling.

It’s a completely genius pattern – essentially CRAW or PRAW but with some clever twists and additions, but largely unebellished meaning the basic network and form really shines through, making a beautiful 3d fabric of beads. After the first few components I really got into the design, and was able to bead the remainder without constantly referring to the pattern, which was really relaxing.  And it’s woven in one continuous rope, which means less stopping and starting and minimises the end weaving in.   I made one tiny change, which isn’t noticeable – because I was using etched beads I didn’t have any 15s (which form the tip of each boomerang component), so I stuck with the 11s.  Which still look great – thank you Sabine!

Christmas Secret Beadalong 2017

Do you know I’ve done every one of Jean Power’s Summer Beadalongs, but never a Christmas one?  I’m not really sure why – it’s a very busy time of year for us, whereas in the summer I’m usually away with the family, with quiet evenings to work.  And I guess I’m also not a big kit buyer (all of the previous Christmas beadalongs have been kit only). So this year when Jean told me that she was releasing it as a pattern rather than kitting it, and that even better, it used standard delicas rather than the tiny 15 delicas and 15 seeds she featured in the previous year’s, I said ‘well I’ll do it then’. And do it I did. And I really enjoyed it.

I didn’t always manage to stick to the daily allocated beading – initially I got a bit ahead and then I had to have a big break and went from ahead, to right, to very behind, but it was an enjoyable process. The amount of beading was actually really just right for December – if I hadn’t had other pieces on the go (unplanned Christmas brooches, sudden ideas which just had to be tried, and several batches of cabochons), it would have been perfect. Each night’s work was under an hour for me, so had I not been distracted I could have made up for nights out and away from my beads comfortably.

But the pattern is lovely – very Jean, annoyingly clever, and the finished result is splendid. I went for a ‘change colour every row’ approach as that seems to be becoming my thing for peyote with delicas, and I love the finished effect, which used purples and fuchsias. It’s used up a few more beads from my stash, and meant I didn’t have to buy more to have enough of a single colour. The central crystal AB Swarovski crystal was also from my stash, as were the lovely fuchsia 2xAB bicones.  It’s now hanging from our desk light – it was far too lovely to send up into the loft when we took the tree down!

Jean has been making lots of these, and working on some variations using acrylic stones, different sized petals etc. I have a coral acrylic stone in my stash so I’m going to have a go at making a pendant sized one when I get some time – have a look at Jean’s various blog posts to see what she’s been up to and what that could look like. And if you fancy making one yourself then the pattern is still available here.

Oscar’s Bauble – Materials Packs

After a bit of a push over the weekend (assisted by Granny who had the smallest boy for a sleepover), I’ve got some Materials Packs for my new bauble listed in my Etsy shop.  Available in traditional and less traditional Christmas colours, and in spikes or gumdrops they would brighten up a seasonal display and are lovely to bead.  Plus they are only £12 which means with the tutorial at £7 you get a super kit for just £19 – a perfect present for a beader (or anyone who likes nice things if you’re prepared to bead it for them first!).

Crystal Marea Spike

Oscar’s Bauble

Oscar’s Bauble was originally made as a fully beadwoven babies’ rattle.  It formed the winter part of my entry for the Stitch N Craft Challenge in 2014.  In 2013 just as I was working on the piece our second son Oscar was born – a winter baby, the beads I had to incorporate for the challenge were soft cream opals, palest pinks and blues, and they matched his lovely delicate skin tone, so I made him a rattle.  It has a tiny bell, a cellini spiral candy cane handle with lovely pink opal chatons at the base, and the main body is a dodecahedron made of hexagonal gumdrop bezels.  


Whilst I don’t think I could repeat the rattle as a whole (there was a particularly challenging join to the handle involving a 20 bead hole needing to meet up with a 7 bead spiral), the bauble works really nicely on it’s own, with gumdrops or spikes, so I’ve finally written it up as a Tutorial which is now available in my Etsy shop.  Hopefully in a week or so I will also have some Materials Packs for it as well – it’s taken nearly 4 years to write up the Tutorial though so for now I’m just focussing on getting it published!


Techniques – Circular Peyote

Difficulty Level – Intermediate.  Knowledge of 3d beading is useful, and you’ll use the concepts of ‘step ups’ and ‘point rows’ so if you already know about these that will help.

The finished bauble measures 5.0cm in diameter made with Gumdrops, and 6.5cm with Spikes.

What will you need?

12 qty Czech Gumdrop beads 7x10mm, or Czech spikes 7x17mm

11A 11g Size 11 seed beads, colour A (main colour)

11B 8g Size 11 seed beads, colour B (highlight colour, forms the petals/star)

15A <1g Size 15 seed beads, colour A (although these are not seen so you could use any colour).

Something to hang the bauble with – fine chain, thread or fine ribbon or cord.

Beadweaving needles, thread of your choice, scissors.