Tambour embroidery, introduced to the Western world by France, is a continuous worked chain stitch formed with a tambour hook, which forms a loop similar to a crochet chain. The stitch is formed on the fabric with the thread held underneath in one hand while the other hand inserts the hook down through the fabric to catch the thread. The needle is brought back through the same hole, forming a loop. The following stitches are formed a short distance from the previous stitch, catching the loop of the last stitch at the beginning of the next.
The Chinese introduced this embroidery technique to the French during the later part of the 18th century. The French term “tambour: (meaning) a drum” best described the technique that required the ground fabric to be first stretched taught in a frame before the stitching was begun. The embroidery yarns used for a tambour stitch could be: a single strands of floss, twisted silk, metal or fine silk chenille threads. Even though the stitch itself was simple, the elegant yarns coupled with the intricate shading and elaborate designs tended to create extraordinary thread painted works of art.
For further reading on embroidered handbags see my series of articles for the November/December 2007 PieceWork Magazine, on my collection of vintage embroidered handbags, I also created a project for this issue entitled La Vie En Rose.