A Potted History of Tambour Beading

What is it and where did it come from?

What is Tambour Beading?

Most experts agree Tambour beading (or something very like it) originated in India in the seventeenth century. However, the technique as we know it now, was popularised in 18th century Europe as an embroidery technique featuring beads and sequins. The fabric that the embroiderer works on is often transparent and is pulled tight on the frame, like the surface of a drum. Which is where the name comes from; the word tambour is French for ‘drum’. By the start of the 20th century Tambour Beading was established as the ‘haute couture’ technique of choice by leading European couturiers.

'Sequin baby' from the SS15 Hand & Lock collection was fully embroidered with tambour beading.
Often embroiderers will work on a transparent fabric allowing them to see both hands.

The technique itself involves beads or sequins on a thread and a small hooked needle with a wooden handle. The sequins or beads are fixed one at a time on the underside of the fabric, while the embroiderer uses the hooked needle to create a chain stitch on the top of the fabric. The challenge is working on top and underneath the material at the same.

The technique is versatile, produces spectacular effects and is relatively speedy compared to other beading techniques. Popular in bridal couture and on catwalks, it’s a perfect way to elevate any design to jaw-dropping status.

Opaque fabrics present more of a challenge but an experienced embroiderer will be able to work this way.
Tambour beading is a continuous chain stitch so the embroidery is often recognisable from the continuous unbroken lines of beads or sequins.

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