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A touch of Haute Couture...


Hi Everyone!

You may have seen me pop up on the By Hand London instagram page now and then, I'd like to introduce myself, I'm Jessica! 

I've always been a very crafty person, I love the satisfaction of having made something myself. As a result I've tried my hand at a lot of different creative things over the years, searching for that "thing" that I could do for hours and hours and really find my own style.

Just before we moved to London my interest in embroidery was starting to re-emerge. I made my plans and when we arrived I booked myself into the Royal School of Needlework and attended a beginner Goldwork embroidery workshop. I then promptly decided it was not for me and put my unfinished piece in the UFO pile, never to be seen again. Around the same time I found I had some hours in the day (yay kids napping at the same time!) and started dressmaking. Sewing has continued steadily since then.

Here I'm going to mention that my past self was a competitive ballroom dancer and Brazilian samba dancer, with the occasional salsa performance thrown in for good measure. I LOVE dancing, I love getting dressed up, I love sparkles. 

Costume part made and decorated by me for the 2016 Notting Hill Carnival with the London School of Samba.

While sewing continued and my skills grew I really missed sparkle in my life. The best I could do was dig out the goldwork embroidery from my UFO pile... and a passion was born. I don't know why now, a few years later, I loved the process so much. Maybe it was because it was so quiet and slow and two toddlers are noisy and fast. I find embroidery to be very calming.

Completed beginner Goldwork stitched by me. Designed and taught by Jen Goodwin

From here my love of embroidery has lead me on twists and turns and eventually to learning and improving in the Tambour technique. 

There are a lot of different types of embroidery as you know. Some that spring to mind are cross stitch, free or surface embroidery and cutwork embroidery such as broderie anglaise.

When you start delving deeper into the work of embroidery you will discover techniques such as Goldwork, Needlepoint & Tapestry, Stumpwork, Crewelwork, Whitework, Silk Shading and many many more forms of more traditional and spectacular forms of embroidery. 


When you have a passion for sparkles as I do, and a passion for fashion as many sewist might you will have noticed all the beautiful embroideries on Haute Couture clothing. How is this done? The answer, in part, is Tambour (or Luneville) embroidery. 

Jean Paul Gaultier dress embroidered by Maison Lesage. I was lucky enough to see this dress in person at the V&A Museum as part of the Fashioned from Nature exhibition.

These are all examples from the Chanel Haute Couture - Spring/Summer 2019 show. 1. The flowers are made from tiny cut pieces of fabric; 2. Floral look embellishment made from feathers; 3. An example of bead and sequin tambour work; 4. The embellishment is created from real flowers coated in resin and then hand stitched into place. 

The earliest examples of Tambour embroidery were imported to France and England from places such as India and China.  It is named for the drum shaped frame originally used - ‘tambour’ being the French word for drum.

The Haute Couture tambour bead embroidery we see today evolved from the original Tambour thread embroidery. 

There is only one stitch in Tambour embroidery, the chain, using a fine sharp hook instead of a needle. The hook is punched through tightly stretched fabric to catch the thread and draw it up creating the chain stitch. 

You may have seen chain stitch done with a hand embroidery needle (below), the tambour method has a similar result. Creating a chain stitch with the tambour hook allows a smooth and continuous stitch. When adding beads this allows for embroiderers to stitch much quicker (with practice!) then a traditional needle and thread method.

Traditional method of chainstitch. Tropical Bird by Yumiko Higuchi 

The challenge with Tambour embroidery is that you are working from the back of the fabric with the beads and sequins of your chosen design being fed from underneath. Beginners will work on a sheer silk organza with more advanced embroiderers being able to work with opaque fabrics.

The Basics.

The first and most important stitch in tambour embroidery is setting up your frame. You can use a hoop or a slate frame. Some great resources for setting up your frame can be found here. At home I have a slate frame resting on trestles at table height so it is nice and easy to work and can be put away when I need the space. 

Once your chosen fabric as been stretched drum tight you can begin.

Tambour beading diagram by Claire Barrett of Hawthorn & Henley 


Once you have mastered the chain stitch it is time to add beads. And once beads have been mastered, sequins.


The Hook - Sometime people mistake Aari Embroidery for Tambour embroidery. Although the end result is quite similar Aari embroidery is worked from the right side of the fabric with the beads or sequins being fed into the thread from the hook rather than being pre-strung on the working thread as with Tambour. As a result, the hooks for each technique are quite different. The Tambour hook placed into a holder allowing the embroiderer to change hook sizes depending on the work. The Aari hook, longer and looking more like a tiny crochet hook, is set into the wood and not interchangeable but still comes in a variety of sizes. You can find a more in depth article about the two techniques here.

Beads  - The most commonly used beads in Tambour embroidery are seed and bugle beads which come in a rainbow of colours and a variety of shapes and sizes.

Threads - Though you can use many types of thread in tambour embroidery you want a thread that will not snap or fray. A snapped thread could mean the undoing of hours of work. The thread that is recommended and most widely used for setting beads is Maison Sajou - Fil au Chinos. It is a high quality durable, easy to work with, beautiful thread and comes in both matt and metallic colours. Other types of threads such as silk or rayon are also often used for filling and decorative stitches.

Sequins - The most common sequins you will find used in Tambour are flat and cup sequins. Again coming in thousands of colours with multiple different finishes and a variety of sizes. 

Tambour embroidery supplies available from De La Broderie  1. Tambour hook; 2. Slate frame; 3. 3 cut seed beads; 4. Maison Sajou thread; 5. Flat matt sequins

Where to learn

There are places in London you can learn tambour embroidery. For small group classes the Royal School of Needlework or the London Embroidery School. You can find beginner kits at Well Embroidered and intermediate/advanced kits and supplies at De La Broderie

If you would like to get serious with your Tambour Embroidery I highly recommend Ecole Lesage in Paris. Maison Lesage as a rich history in Haute Couture Embroidery (to learn more check out this book!) and the school offers classes in French, English, Japanese and German.


1. Haute Couture dress embroidered by Maison Lesage for Chanel; 2. Professional Level embroidery stitched by Julie Romero.

Other embroiderers offering classes with Levels to work through and build skills are Karen Torissi, Julie Romero, Couture Bead Masters (online) by Charlotte Appleby

I hope you've enjoyed this brief insight into this wonderful embroidery technique. Check out #tambour #tambourembroidery #luneville #lunevilleembroidery #lesage #ecolelesage for inspiration on Instagram. 

Jessica xo

Comments on this post (3)

  • May 08, 2020

    There is a lovely film I saw many years ago called « les brodeuses » where a young girl’s life is totally changed through her passion for tambour embroidery. I recommend it. It also shows how the tambour embroidery is done.

    — Bernadette

  • Apr 13, 2020

    i have seen this work up close and it is more beautiful than can be believed.

    — sa

  • Apr 13, 2020

    Hello Jessica
    Such a fabulous post. I did a workshop with Karen Torissi, in Sydney, many years ago. You have motivated me to try again as I now have so much time on my hands. Thank you for such beautiful images and great links.

    Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

    — Ros Grant

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